Local celeb – Hulisani Ravele
TV and radio personality HULISANI RAVELE, 29, opens up about her rise to fame as a child star, losing it all and re-establishing her career in the entertainment industry by finding purpose.
“IT MIGHT TAKE ME LONGER TO ACHIEVE MY DREAMS, BUT I’M CARRYING MY DIGNITY WITH ME.”
“Purpose, power and impact,” is the mantra that Hulisani Ravele lives by. Her father was a mechanic, carpenter and taxi owner. He loved cars, she recalls, and on any day you’d find him fixing one. He passed away in 2012 while working on a car – the jack lost its balance and the vehicle fell on him. “It’s not that I didn’t mourn my father, but what I took from his passing was that he died doing what he loved. I made a decision to leave the corporate world. I may have been good at it, but it wasn’t my calling. That’s when I set out a vision to be involved in projects that have purpose, power and impact as I wanted to touch people’s lives. I believe that I’m meant to do that through entertainment.”
Huli – as her fans call her – grew up in front of our eyes on SABC1’s YoTV, kicking off her career at the age of nine as a presenter of Pula and Friends. Today she works as a radio host at Limpopo’s Capricorn FM, as a co-presenter of The Vodacom Show on SABC2 and as a voiceover artist on Vuzu’s entertainment news feature V News. She’s even had to insure her voice, that’s how seriously she takes her job.
In November 2008, Huli, then aged 20, left YoTV after “the best eight years of my life that shaped me into the presenter I am today”. As every former child star says, it isn’t easy shaking off the “kiddies’ show presenter” label. Next, Huli worked on a 13-episode game show on SABC1 called Quiz Me, about municipal elections. While this was a more mature Hulisani, most viewers still identified with her as the young host on YoTV. This resulted in her disappearing from our TV screens for two years – not because she wanted to.
“New starlets were on the rise and all the jobs were going to them. I was still seen as a kiddies’ presenter. In hindsight, that was a blessing. I ended up in the corporate world as, during my last year of study for my BCom Marketing degree at the University of Johannesburg, I interned at SABC1 in the PR department.”
After that, things took a turn for the worse. She was unemployed for six months, which was unheard of for Huli, who’d worked most of her life. “I went into a mild depression,” she reveals. “I had to rely on people, whereas it had always been the other way around. My family stepped in to assist. My older brother would pay rent and buy me groceries. I had to move out of my place at the end of 2009 because I couldn’t afford to pay rent.
“That was rock bottom for me because everyone else seemed to be rising in their careers. I kept thinking: ‘I’ve been doing this for so long and I’m not getting any of this. I’m nowhere.’
“I’ve been an overachiever all my life, so when I hit these snags I felt like I was failing and falling behind.”
After one too many rejections at auditions, Huli stopped going to them and began working on a talk show, The Hulisani
Ravele Show, which she is currently pitching to TV channels. The concept of purpose, power and impact was birthed. She stopped doing meaningless gigs and focused her energy on realising her mantra. “In 2011 I did Vodacom Millionaires. It was the perfect time to reveal that I’d changed my name from CC, short for Cecilia, to using my TshiVenda name, Hulisani, which means ‘honour and respect’. I felt that this was me, and it was a way to show people that I was all grown up.
“I also wanted to take back control of my identity. When I joined an agency as a child star at age nine, the people there couldn’t pronounce Hulisani and went with Cecilia because it was easier for them to say. As an adult I feel if they don’t know how to say it, they’ll learn it.” Huli also worked for a digital agency, whose clients included the organisers of the South African Music Awards, which she left in 2014. “I left without a TV job lined up because I believed in the saying, ‘Find what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life’. I realised I had a purpose to fulfil in television, whereas before, because I grew up being on the small screen, it just felt like an extramural activity. The switch in my mind happened after losing my dad.” In June 2014, she got a call from news channel ANN7 to host
I Am South African, a show celebrating extraordinary citizens making a difference in the lives of ordinary people, as a lead-up to an awards ceremony of the same name. “It wasn’t a popular decision but the question was: Does this speak to what I do?
And the answer was: Yes. Is it the biggest channel? No. It’s about doing what you love and what feels right. I was at the point of taking my career seriously. In our business, if you don’t agree with the R2 they give you, they know someone else will take it. But I knew my worth, so I turned down the initial offer. Doing this was hard, because I saw everyone getting gigs around me. Plus, I didn’t have an income. I felt that God was testing me. ANN7 did the show with another presenter and the day after it aired, they called me back to renegotiate and give me the amount I wanted.”
The Soweto-born star says she can take such bold steps, thanks to her faith, which was sparked on a trip to Cape Town with her cousin. “I loved the way my cousin was one with God and how she spoke about Him. She’d left her corporate job to start her own thing and was at peace with herself and confident. I admired that. That’s how I am now, even if things don’t go my way. I’m at peace with it. And that’s the contentment I feel now. I think that’s what people are seeing.”
This year marks Huli’s 20th anniversary in the industry. “I’m not the sexiest or the most famous person, but people relate to me. I’m about being honest and not succumbing to any pressures of celebrity. That’s because I started so young in the industry. There’s something special about having people watch you grow.”
Huli seems unaffected by fame. She’s had the same car for 12 years and is focused on paying off her bond. She enjoys travelling, and has built her grandmother and mother a house. The star celebrated another milestone, graduating cum laude with a BA Honours in Motion Picture Medium from AFDA media school. She’s been a top achiever from primary school right through to varsity. Education was something her parents, especially her late father, were strict about. Huli says her latest qualification makes her feel more confident when pitching for TV shows under her company, Tshimbiluni Productions – a subsidiary of The Hulisani Ravele Group. “I don’t want to be just a face. I want to be an executive producer and not just own the concept but also understand its intricacies.”
When it comes to love, she won’t talk about her relationship, but is excited to turn 30 this January. “I grew up on TV and people see me as their sister. This has given me the power to stand in my light. It’s taken me a long time to understand that. There’s enough for all of u00s. I started changing my mindset. It might take me longer to achieve my dreams, but I’m carrying my dignity with me – and dignity is heavy.”