Terry & Mampho
"WE WANT TO BUILD AN EMPIRE AND CREATE A LEGACY FOR OUR CHILDREN."
It all unfolds at the sophisticated FotoZA Gallery in Rosebank, one of Joburg’s trendy rooftop hotspots, as award-winning actresses, besties and now entrepreneurs Terry Pheto and Mampho Brescia launch their innovative business venture, Let’s Learn Toys. As with all things Terry and Mampho, the event is classy and elegant. Gauteng’s Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi is among the esteemed guests, as are businesswoman Johanna Mukoki, casting director Moonyeenn Lee and many more A-listers. The room is packed with camera crews from leading lifestyle and entertainment shows; they’re here to cover the launch and help spread the word about this new venture.
A decade of friendship between the two actresses has led to this beautiful celebration. Their persuasive skills are evident as they convince influential people to support their kiddies’ toy range. We’re in awe. Theirs is a unique take on entrepreneurship in a world full of celebs launching books, reality shows and fashion labels. Terry and Mampho have found a niche market based on their mutual need to empower and uplift children through the medium of educational play. The toys are available in a wide variety from an online store, letslearntoys.co.za. Some 2 000 toys have been sourced both locally and abroad, with some of these pieces designed exclusively for Let’s Learn Toys. The company caters to children from the age of 12 months to 18 years.
“Let’s Learn Toys is a passion project; it’s something that Mampho and I always wanted to do,” says Terry. “We didn’t always plan to start with toys, but we’ve always wanted to start a business. We’re both very ambitious and want the best for our children.”
Mampho adds: “We didn’t grow up with educational toys. That’s why they’re so necessary. Plus, my four-year-old daughter, Rainn, is another motivation for me. I had the opportunity to study all over the world, and I understand competition. I want my daughter to think beyond the ordinary and to know that she can be anywhere on this planet and have the confidence and ability to compete. I started an education fund for her even before I found a partner because I want her to attend an Ivy League university of her choice without a lack of finances stopping us. I paid part of my university fees and I never want that for my child.”
The Isibaya actress says the idea for Let’s Learn Toys was born after she and Terry asked each other what any other parent wanted to do when spending time with their children. “Navigating motherhood, marriage and a career is not easy at all,” reveals Mampho, “We put so much pressure on ourselves, that’s why it’s always an internal conflict to have another child. I’ve just created another baby through Let’s Learn Toys, and I want to nurture it and make sure that it flourishes. It’s a tough balance but my husband is amazing. He’s a very handson father.” After struggling with her husband of 12 years to have children for more than five years, the couple decided to adopt their South African-born daughter Rainn. Mampho doesn’t know if they’ll adopt again but her daughter brings her much joy and she’d love for her to have a sibling. “I named her Rainn because she’s exactly like the rain; she’s right as rain. She came after a drought. It was a salvation when she came. People always say we did a great thing by adopting but no, she did a great thing by choosing us.”
Mampho says wearing many hats as mom, wife, actress and now businesswoman, comes at a huge sacrifice. “I’m very self-absorbed, just like most actors. We live in our own world. For me, motherhood is about creating small rituals, like when I come off set I take off my make-up and I’m back home as Mampho. The best thing about my family is that they aren’t bothered by fame. They know the real me and that’s who they care about. As couples, we all fall into the trap of living past each other because we’re so busy. It’s easy to forget about the romance in a marriage. But my husband – who’s so loving and supportive – makes it easy.”
Although she isn’t a mom, for Terry, Let’s Learn Toys is an opportunity for her to give her nephews – aged three, seven and 13 – the tools she never had while growing up. “With everything I do, I have them in mind. They’ve inspired me so much, and I want to give them the opportunities I never had, like attending great schools. I travel a lot because of work, so when I come back home, I bring gifts. But what kind of presents are they? It can’t always be just guns and dolls.”
The pair reveal that their range of toys encompasses role-playing pieces. If your child wants to be a doctor or an engineer, for instance, there are toys to help them visualise and make that dream a reality. There’s also a corporate social investment component to Let’s Learn Toys: some pieces will be donated to pre-school learners in disadvantaged areas.
And they are affordable too. Expect to fork out from as little as R29 for a toy. For now, the toys are available in South Africa
“I’VE JUST CREATED ANOTHER BABY THROUGH LET’S LEARN TOYS. I WANT TO NURTURE IT AND MAKE SURE THAT IT FLOURISHES.”
“IN THE 10 YEARS THAT WE’VE BEEN BESTIES, I’VE NEVER FELT INSECURE OF MY SUCCESS.”
only, but Terry and Mampho plan to expand the business abroad. “We want to use this as a platform to build an empire and create a legacy that will outlive us,” says Terry.
Entrepreneurship is never easy. The pair had to roll up their sleeves and do a lot of groundwork. “We partnered with people who knew more about the toy business than us, and who’d been operating in this industry for a while. They gave us different perspectives and pointed us in the right direction. We had to do a lot, from meeting with different suppliers, to organising shipments, monitoring the exchange rate and a whole lot more,” explains Mampho.
Both actresses have done well for themselves and have faith that their new project will also be a success. We first met Terry, whose real name is Moitheri, when she played the lead role of Miriam in the Oscar-winning film, Tsotsi , in 2005. It served as a launch-pad for her stellar career and Terry has gone on to realise huge successes. In 2011, she landed the role of heart surgeon Dr Malaika Maponya on the popular US soapie, The Bold and the Beautiful. This year saw her win the Best Supporting Actress prize at the UK National Film Awards in London for her role as Naledi Khama in the movie, A United Kingdom. It tells the story of Botswana’s King Seretse Khama’s controversial marriage to a white British woman. The role also earned her a Best Supporting Actress nomination at the British Independent Film Awards. Soon after that, Terry caught the attention of this year’s American Black Reel Awards for Television (BRAT), receiving a nod in the Outstanding Actress category alongside Oprah Winfrey, Nia Long, Sanaa Lathan and Loretta Devine for her impressive role as Winnie Mandela in the American mini-series Madiba, in which she starred alongside Laurence Fishburne.
This September, she jetted off to London for the fourth annual International Achievement Recognition Awards. She garnered the most nominations, for her roles in Winnie and A United Kingdom. Terry took home two awards: for Best Actress in Film, as well as Best Actress in TV/Drama. “I always doubt myself and the work that I put out there,” she says. “For these two projects – A United Kingdom and Madiba – I trusted myself more for the first time. I was willing to take risks and let go of all my insecurities. It’s great that the risks are paying off. I don’t think it’s an accident that these nominations and awards are happening now; the work that I’ve been putting in for the past 13 years in the acting industry is finally paying off.”
There’s so much more that Terry has done. She has appeared in the movies Catch a Fire, Goodbye Bafana, the 2012 film How to Steal 2 Million – for which she won Best Supporting Actress at the Africa Movie Academy Awards – and Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, in which she starred alongside Idris Elba as Evelyn, Madiba’s first wife.
As fate would have it, Terry’s bestie Mampho also auditioned for the role of Evelyn. “We don’t compete; when we audition for roles, either one of us has to get it,” says Mampho. “For Evelyn, we read the script and prepped together, encouraging each other to do our best.”
That’s the kind of friendship the two have. They’re truly supportive of each other. “You can’t be friends with someone who competes with you or wants your life,” adds Terry. “That’s a recipe for disaster. In the 10 years that we’ve been besties, I’ve never felt insecure of my success. She’s always the first person to congratulate me when I do well. She prays with and for me, and vice versa. In an industry like ours where we’re always pitted against each other, it’s not the case with me and Mampho.”
Mampho is undoubtedly one of South Africa’s most recognised actresses, popularly known as the scheming and manipulative Iris Zungu on Mzansi Magic’s Isibaya. She’s been playing the villainous character with ease for four years now. She got the role without really auditioning. Mampho had just moved back to South Africa from the US in 2012, and Desiree Markgraaff – who heads up The Bomb Shelter, the production house that produces Isibaya – told her about the new show, adding that she’d be perfect as Iris. Desiree was right. There’s a cool vibe that Iris brings to the world of onscreen villains. She seems unaffected by all the drama that happens in her life and, as a result, viewers have a love-hate relationship with the character. “A villain is always fun because you get to be a baddie without any consequences. I really enjoy Iris; she talks without considering other people’s feelings. She’s very straightforward and says things that we wouldn’t naturally say. With the success of Isibaya the character catapulted me into a well-known actress. I’ve been an actress for many years, but with the rise of social media and the state of the entertainment industry now, Iris and the soapie put me into the realm of celebritydom,” says Mampho about her popular character. During her three year stay in Los Angeles – a decision Mampho made after starring in the
“YOU NEED A FRIEND WHO’S THERE FOR YOU EVEN AT YOUR LOWEST POINT AND SHINES WITH YOU DURING THE BEST OF TIMES.”
2009 Oscar-nominated movie District 9, the actress met with many agents, and auditioned for different roles. She even auditioned for
Scandal – known in Mzansi as The Fixer – but in the end, the show’s directors wanted a known American actress, hence Kerry Washington was chosen. While abroad, an ambitious Mampho also met with filmmakers, including Oscarwinning director Phillip Noyce, and was a part of a number of movie/TV series pilots.
Hollywood is a different beast, she says. “You compete with many talented actors that side. It’s tough competition and there aren’t that many roles for black women. I was fortunate enough to find an agent and manager really fast through auditions and workshops. It was a great experience; I had the time of my life! I met everyone on the cast of the popular mini-series
Revenge, for which I’d shot a pilot. I mingled with the likes of Sean Penn and the cast of the movie Black Swan. I built relationships with directors, who then introduced me to many other influential people.”
But in 2012, Mampho had to leave it all behind. She’d reached a point in her life where she wanted a child. Her husband had been commuting between SA and LA; his business in the travel industry is here in the country. “I chose love and marriage, and I’m glad I did it. It’s all great to have a flourishing career but sad to have no one to enjoy it with.”
Raised by strict parents who emphasised the importance of academics before acting, Mampho juggled both while still a learner, and continued to audition for plays while studying for a political sciences degree at Wits University. In 1998 she presented a show called Reality Check. Since then, she’s appeared on
Generations, Isidingo, Home Affairs and MNet’s Jacob’s Cross. Last year she also appeared on SABC 1’s Mfolozi Street. She has also presented DStv’s The Home Channel. Major film roles include her starring in 2015’s The Jakes are
Missing. Did you know that Mampho is fluent not only in SeSotho and isiZulu, but also in Japanese? She received a scholarship to study in Tokyo, in Japan, after completing her degree.
Of her future plans, the actress says: “My life is so full right now. I have to be careful not to clutter it. I’m a mom and our business venture is new, and I want to handle it with care. I’m also working with My Italian Link, which promotes Italian luxury brands. It’s exciting and makes sense to me. I was approached by the company because they thought I was the perfect candidate to link Africa and Italy. I’m married to an Italian man, and so I understand the language. I’ve done quite a few things in the industry, it’s just that I never had aspirations to be an it girl or chased the career for fame. It was for the love of the arts.”
Terry chips in: “My friend is a brilliant actress. I love her as Iris. She’s the modern
‘umfazi wephepha’ and I love how Isibaya has changed her. She comes from a different world and the cultural aspect of the show gives her more knowledge of that. I believe in her so much. Her acting is one of the most attractive things about her. She excels in everything she does, be it acting or speaking foreign languages.”
But, the success the friends have hasn’t come without challenges. For Terry it’s rejections. “I went to more than 20 auditions abroad and I didn’t book any of the jobs. It’s so easy to be discouraged. It’s tough because you’re hungry and you want to work. Luckily, the good thing about awards is that they open more doors. After winning my award in the UK earlier this year, I was approached by a London-based director for a role in a film called Faces. I acknowledge that I’m flying the SA flag high and I have to take a moment and be grateful. I also have to pat myself on the back and say ‘well done!’. There’s a lot of work behind the well-meaning headlines but nothing happens overnight.”
For the Soweto-born Mampho, the challenge is always being told she doesn’t look or sound South African. “I don’t get where the misconception comes from. In fact it’s stopped bothering me. I can’t change how I look but I can act.”
So, how did the two become such close friends? It seems they’re always together on the red carpet, at events and even when indoors. “Terry and I are intertwined. That’s why we’re able to work together and come up with these ideas, which we expand on and turn into a business. Terry is my daughter’s godmother, and my husband knows that Terry is the ‘sister wife’,” says Mampho. “Our partners have no choice but to accept the friendship!” Asked if they have other friends, Terry says: “I trust the love I have for Mampho. I’m not threatened when she’s with other friends. We have other people in our lives too.” The pair met on the set of Jacob’s Cross. Mampho played Zanele and Terry played her nemesis, Mbali. “It was love at first sight,” says Terry, laughing. “We knew of each other but had never met before. She asked me what my next
project was and I told her I wanted to be a Bond girl. It turns out that she had the same 007-girl aspirations. We hugged and lived happily ever after! Although we’re so different and come from different backgrounds – I’m from the Vaal – we have so much in common and love each other very much.”
Over the years, some people have tried to break up the two, but Terry and Mampho see through the negativity. “We don’t have a big circle of friends, and we’re too engrossed in our friendship to notice any external chaos or madness. We’re also too focused on our own growth and on being better as people that it’s easy to shut out the noise,” says Mampho.
In life, as with anything else, nothing is perfect. Both Terry and Mampho have dealt with the tragic loss of a parent. Terry’s father died from diabetes earlier this year. Mampho was her shoulder to lean on. In 2013, it was Mampho who lost her mother to a heart attack. Terry was there for her. “I remember she woke me very early in the morning, and said: ‘Buddy, mom has been rushed to hospital. Can you bring socks and other necessities?’,” says Terry. “I’m so grateful that I was able to be there for her. When my dad passed away, I called her first. There are no words to describe that kind of support. Anyone can just show up for you, but some people are there and it matters to know that you have someone who has your back – to ask you if you’re okay, if there’s anything you need, and so forth. Mampho understands that I’m the eldest at home and everyone is looking to me to make things happen.”
Both get emotional at this point. Mampho says: “I didn’t have a cultural upbringing. I’d never buried anyone before my mom passed away. I had no idea what happens, so I was a mess. Terry was there to help and guide me throughout the ceremony. You need a friend who’s there for you even at your lowest point and shines with you during the best of times.”
People bring different traits to every relationship. For Mampho and Terry, it’s humour. “Terry’s funnier – she has an incredible sense of humour and I think because she looks so stoic all the time, the things that come out of her mouth are unexpected and smart and witty. I’m always laughing,” says Mampho.
“I love how she always has a plan. I’m freespirited, but Terry always has a plan in terms of what needs to be done. I love that kind of strategy for our social life; it’s perfect now that we want to go into business because she has that foresight. I’m a ‘live in the moment’ type of person. Terry gets me and she knows when to say, ‘stop’.” Terry says: “We balance each other perfectly. She brings out the fun in me and I think my seriousness helps – or we’d be in lots of trouble! In Mampho I have a partner, soulmate, best friend and sister. Over the years, we’ve grown and learnt so much from each other and fallen in love. We also fight a lot and don’t agree on everything.” Mampho is quick to agree: “We fight about the silliest things; like why she’s away for so long.” But because the pair is so close, Mampho says she misses Terry terribly when she has to travel for work. “I feel like I’ve lost an arm and I’m in a bad mood all the time.” Terry has another film in the works, following the success of Ayanda
and the Mechanic, which was co-produced by her company, Leading Lady Productions. The upcoming movie is a short film shot in the US titled The
Locksmith, also produced by her. “I don’t star in it. I just produced and executive produced it. We’re deciding if we’ll go to festivals with it or pitch it to studios as a pilot.” As for starring in a local series or film, the actress, who has both a local and an international agent, says she’s very busy, but that doesn’t mean she isn’t reading scripts. Mampho will star in an international mini-series, which she can’t divulge much about. She also wants to branch into different genres, and continue to establish herself globally.
For now, the besties are excited about their new venture. “It’s the first of the many things we’ll do. We still have to co-produce together,” says Terry. With Let’s Learn Toys set to become a success, the businesswomen will surely become the moguls they’re intent on being.
Mampho: Top and Pants Marianne Fassler Terry: Top Marianne Fassler Skirt Zara Earrings Pichulik