Meet YouTube vlog­ger Co­conut Kelz

Her com­ments can be con­tro­ver­sial but in­ter­net sen­sa­tion Co­conut Kelz is on fire. Le­sego Tl­habi tells us why she’s hav­ing the time of her life


SHE votes DA, thinks Mmusi Maimane is the Barack Obama of South Africa and even though her dad works with “like, Cyril and them” she re­ally doesn’t like the ANC. She wore “MK chic” to an anti-Zuma march, her BFFs are “Mich” and “Sê” and she dressed in black for a week in sup­port of white farm­ers who are be­ing killed “in their 10s and 12s”. “I have a lot of friends with farms and I’m al­ways al­lowed on,” she points out. Ash­win Willemse is “just so ag­gres­sive” and re­ally, when you think about it, there’s no such thing as white priv­i­lege, guys. “I mean, my friend Natasha’s dad is like, a su­per­dark-skinned guy and when he comes back from hol­i­day he’s like, ‘Oh my God, Kelz – twinzies!’ So how can that be white priv­i­lege?” This is the out­ra­geous world of Co­conut Kelz, the YouTube vlog­ger who has opin­ions about ev­ery­thing that, like, re­ally mat­ters. And she un­der­stands what’s go­ing on in this coun­try be­cause she, like, knows it all: she’s a black girl who went to a white school so she has a real grasp of stuff. It’s satire at its best – a laugh-out-loud dig at the is­sues con­sum­ing SA and get­ting South Africans hot un­der the col­lar. And Le­sego Tl­habi, the woman be­hind it all, had no idea it would be such a hit. Kelz is an in­ter­net

‘It’s eas­ier to make some­one en­gage with some­thing or some­one once you’ve dis­armed them’

sen­sa­tion with thou­sands of fol­low­ers on Twit­ter, Face­book and In­sta­gram and a reg­u­lar slot on Ra­dio 702’s week­end break­fast show with host Phemelo Motene. “I re­ally didn’t know she’d be so pop­u­lar be­cause she’s quite con­tro­ver­sial,” Le­sego (29) says.

Kelz is a fic­tional char­ac­ter who arose out of real-life in­ter­ac­tions, she ex­plains.

“She was born at school be­cause I’ve al­ways been opin­ion­ated. I used to share my views on Face­book, kind of in rant form. Un­der the same posts would be tons of com­ments from lots of dif­fer­ent white peo­ple who’d say things like, ‘We don’t see colour’ and ‘We don’t see race; why don’t you move on?’ so af­ter a while I felt like it was a joke.”

Frus­trated by peo­ple who didn’t seem to get what she was say­ing, Le­sego de­cided to make those same state­ments back to her crit­ics in the hope they’d see a dif­fer­ent point of view.

“Kelz is also a play on the type of per­son who peo­ple imag­ine comes from a pri­vate school and on peo­ple who have only white friends. Kelz al­ways has a mes­sage.”

Le­sego was in­spired to cre­ate her af­ter watch­ing satir­i­cal sketches on com­edy shows such as Satur­day Night Live and The Pure Monate Show.

The aim, Le­sego adds, is to make peo­ple laugh and get them to en­gage. “It’s eas­ier to make peo­ple en­gage with some­one or some­thing once you’ve dis­armed them.”

And with so much bad news and neg­a­tiv­ity in the coun­try Le­sego hopes the one thing peo­ple take away from Kelz is “we shouldn’t take our­selves too se­ri­ously”.

LE­SEGO has al­ways wanted to be in show­biz but it wasn’t easy per­suad­ing her par­ents. Her mother, Penny Osiris, and fa­ther, Brian Tl­habi, are both doc­tors and wanted her to do a more “se­ri­ous” course once she’d ma­tric­u­lated from the ex­clu­sive St Anne’s Dioce­san Col­lege near Dur­ban in 2006.

“I went to do a BCom at Wits [the Univer­sity of the Wit­wa­ter­srand] but dropped out six months later.”

She begged her par­ents to al­low her to study drama but they still said no. So in 2008 she en­rolled at the Univer­sity of Cape Town (UCT) and stud­ied me­dia for two years be­fore drop­ping out again. It was at this point her mom fi­nally con­ceded her child’s true pas­sion lay in the arts.

With Penny’s back­ing, Le­sego went to Brunel Univer­sity Lon­don in Eng­land to study the­atre and fol­lowed up with an eight-week course at a mu­si­cal the­atre in New York.

“I loved my time in Lon­don,” she says. “That’s what gave me the con­fi­dence to do some­thing like Kelz. Be­fore I’d won­der, ‘What if peo­ple laugh at me rather than with me?’”

Her time away also showed Penny and Brian they’d made the right choice in send­ing her to an arts school. “Now they get it and are su­per sup­port­ive.”

An­other per­son who en­cour­ages Le­sego’s cre­ative side is her step­mother, broad­caster and com­men­ta­tor Redi Tl­habi. In fact, she adds, Redi was in­stru­men­tal in per­suad­ing her dad to al­low her to fol­low her heart.

“She told him how she was a cre­ative too and she’d made it work, so I could too. I hope one day she and I will work on a project to­gether.”

KELZ isn’t all Le­sego does. She’s been work­ing as a scriptwriter, pro­ducer and DJ since her re­turn to SA in 2014 and has been a con­tent pro­ducer for V En­ter­tain­ment, con­tribut­ing to such shows as All Ac­cess Mzansi and Squad Deep on MTV Base. But it was Co­conut Kelz that thrust her into the spot­light. Kelz gets sup­port from all over South Africa, Le­sego says. “From the apartheid gen­er­a­tion, the co­conut gen­er­a­tion, white and black peo­ple. “I’m not try­ing to diss any­one or hurt feel­ings.” And ob­vi­ously, Le­sego adds, she doesn’t per­son­ally agree with Kelz’s views. “Co­conut Kelz is the op­po­site of me. I don’t sub­scribe to any­thing she says.” While she ini­tially strug­gled with peo­ple ex­pect­ing her to be Co­conut Kelz all the time, Le­sego be­lieves she can have a ca­reer where she can be her­self as well as her al­ter ego. She con­cedes there’s con­fu­sion that comes with be­ing “two peo­ple” when it comes to MCing events. “Some­one will ask me to MC a func­tion and I’ll agree but when I show up they’ll be like, ‘Kelz, you’re go­ing to . . .” Le­sego wants to es­tab­lish her­self as an ac­tress too. But, while Kelz is pop­u­lar she’s go­ing to take full ad­van­tage of it. She has big plans for her al­ter ego next year. “I can’t talk about what ex­actly is hap­pen­ing but there are TV shows, books and things.” Le­sego also hopes Kelz leads to her own­ing a pro­duc­tion com­pany. “I want to be in con­trol of ev­ery as­pect of my ca­reer. I want to cre­ate shows and be in all of them, like Oprah. I want to be a con­tent cre­ator for­ever. I want to write for­ever. I want to per­form for­ever.” And, like, if Kelz is any­thing to go by, why not?

ABOVE: Le­sego be­hind the mike at Power 987. TOP RIGHT: The YouTube vlog­ger with her dad, Brian Tl­habi. ABOVE MID­DLE: Her step­mom, Redi, en­cour­ages her cre­ative side. RIGHT: With mom Penny Osiris.

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