Min­nie Dlamini: Di­a­mond in the rough

Min­nie Dlamini-Jones (28) has been a deeply-loved fix­ture on the star cir­cuit for at least eight years, since win­ning a TV pre­sen­ter search com­pe­ti­tion. Now har­bour­ing some­what tainted views about the celebrity scene, she’s turned her hand to ex­ec­u­tive pr

Destiny - - Contents - Writ­ten by Sheena Adams. Pho­tog­ra­pher: Judd van Rens­burg

There are few “be­fore-they-were-fa­mous” ac­counts of celebri­ties more in­trigu­ing than Dlamini’s. Soc­cer star boyfriends, six-fig­ure prod­uct en­dorse­ments and a 5,5-mil­lion so­cial me­dia fol­low­ing came off the back of a Dur­ban child­hood that saw young Mi­nenhle en­ter­ing beauty com­pe­ti­tions and per­form­ing in mu­si­cals. A blurry im­age of 12-year-old Min­nie grin­ning on the arm of for­mer Pres­i­dent Nel­son Man­dela in 2002, decked out in a for­mal blue cor­duroy pants suit, an­nounced an early ti­tle – Lit­tle Miss South. It wasn’t all easy, though: her fa­ther lost his job when she was in her teens and her fam­ily had to rely on sup­port from friends and rel­a­tives. Fast for­ward eight years, when she moved to Jo­han­nes­burg for Live – the SABC1 TV show that would in­tro­duce her to SA.

Dlamini was a film and me­dia stu­dent at the Univer­sity of Cape Town in 2010 when she won the Live pre­sen­ter search com­pe­ti­tion. Ap­pear­ances in block­buster soapie Gen­er­a­tions, as well as an­other lifestyle show, Mzansi In­sider, soon fol­lowed and she de­cided to drop out of univer­sity and fo­cus on en­ter­tain­ment. It’s a de­ci­sion which, talk­ing to her now, she seems to re­gret.

Seated in a noisy Sand­ton restau­rant with her brother and now man­ager, Maphe Dlamini, close at hand, she’s sage about the in­cen­di­ary op­por­tu­ni­ties that arose early on to build the per­sonal brand she’s dubbed “SA’s di­a­mond”.

“Things haven’t worked out in the time-frames I’d have liked, but I’ve al­ways wanted to be ahead of the game and in­spire peo­ple to think be­yond the lim­i­ta­tions of our in­dus­try. When I first got into TV, they gave me six months. Eight years later, I’m still rein­vent­ing the wheel,” she says. Her en­ter­tain­ment gigs mor­phed into act­ing roles in Rockville and The Wild, as well as a pen­chant for sports shows which ce­mented a loyal and large fan base. Be­com­ing the face of Ed­con brand LE­Git in 2011 also cat­a­pulted her ca­reer to star­dom.

Now mar­ried to her long-time sweet­heart, re­spected TV ex­ec­u­tive Quin­ton Jones, and vol­un­teer­ing that she’s very ready to have chil­dren, she sug­gests that the star­dom cons have been se­vere.

HARD TRUTHS

Over­all, says Dlamini, the lo­cal en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try de­serves its rep­u­ta­tion for fick­le­ness. “It’s hor­ri­ble,” she sighs. “It re­ally is. I’m grate­ful for ev­ery year that I get to be in this in­dus­try and I’ve loved get­ting to live my dream ev­ery day, but it’s been a lot of hard work con­stantly try­ing to fig­ure out what will keep me in this space the long­est,” she ad­mits. She adds that be­ing in the en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try of­ten leaves her feel­ing de­pleted. “This busi­ness is about me, es­sen­tially. I have to com­pletely im­merse my­self in ev­ery­thing I do. I have to be on point and on form all the time, so I’ve learnt – with age and wis­dom – to keep my moods and per­sonal is­sues at bay. I want peo­ple who work with me to find me ef­fort­less and pleas­ant.”

How­ever, she’s be­come more philo­soph­i­cal about the choices she’s made. “I dropped out of univer­sity, so – to wear my heart on my sleeve, if you will –this is all I have. It stands to rea­son that in that sit­u­a­tion, you’re go­ing to take a few knocks. I don’t mean I com­pro­mised my­self, but I chose a route which was dif­fer­ent from get­ting a de­gree and a set in­come for the rest of my life. I took a risk, so now I have to make it work as best I can. How­ever, I re­alise that when I’m 35, I’m not go­ing to ap­peal to the same brands I ap­peal to now. So what’s 40- and 50-year-old Min­nie go­ing to do?”

She adds that she’s wary of her chil­dren suc­cumb­ing to the pres­sures she’s faced; there are many other ca­reers she’d con­sider “safer for the heart”.

“I pray to God that my chil­dren don’t go into this in­dus­try, but if they do, I’d want to know that the sec­tor’s in a more lu­cra­tive space, be­cause I’ve been in it,” she says.

She’s talk­ing here of the un­for­giv­ing ap­proach she’s taken to­wards brand engagements, which set a fi­nan­cial stan­dard for the en­dorse­ments she ac­cepted. The Mo­tions hair deal she struck in 2012 was fa­mously pegged at R1 mil­lion. She con­firms that amount, adding that she man­aged to blow the money in un­der a year. Three years later, she signed an ex­tended mar­ket­ing con­tract with Ned­bank for the Ned­bank Cup, be­lieved to be worth an­other few mil­lion rands. She cur­rently has a brand en­dorse­ment con­tract with French Cham­pagne GH Mumm. These deals set the bar for her earn­ing ex­pec­ta­tions and since then, she’s de­ter­minedly turned down projects for amounts that she’s felt were be­low her worth. As a re­sult, the big-money projects in her ca­reer have been un­pre­dictable – and spaced quite far apart.

“We all just want that one big brand en­dorse­ment. That’s the real cheque. If you’re the na­tional face of a global brand, you can do a young ‘Mama, I made it’,” she says.

“I’ve al­ways wanted to be the face of a beauty range and have worked with some in­cred­i­ble busi­nesses in the past, like Unilever. I was the face of Mo­tions in 2012, which was a great ex­pe­ri­ence; I def­i­nitely wanted to do more of that. So I waited. And I waited. My team would pitch to dif­fer­ent brands, but there just wasn’t an align­ment. On one oc­ca­sion, they weren’t look­ing for a brand am­bas­sador. On an­other oc­ca­sion, I wasn’t what they were look­ing for, as it hap­pens,” she re­calls.

BE­HIND THE LENS

Last year saw Dlamini pick­ing up the reins of a com­pany she’d reg­is­tered in 2012 called Beau­ti­ful Day Pro­duc­tions, which she runs in part­ner­ship with her hus­band – him­self a for­mer pro­ducer for Ur­ban Brew. Its first of­fer­ing was Be­com­ing Mrs Jones, the wildly suc­cess­ful three-part wed­ding series the cou­ple self-pro­duced which be­came the high­est-rated show in Vuzu Amp’s his­tory. The com­pany’s just con­cluded its sec­ond na­tional TV series, an ad­ver­tiser-funded show with Volk­swa­gen called Spirit of Mzansi, which has won ac­claim for its novel real­ity-show format that man­ages to in­te­grate the VW Amarok in a way con­sumers ap­pre­ci­ate. The show in­volved four teams of two com­pet­ing in a timed ad­ven­ture race in the ve­hi­cle for a cash prize of R250 000. Broad­cast on Mzansi Magic, its first episode alone gar­nered 450 000 view­ers.

Dlamini ex­ec­u­tive-pro­duced the show with her hus­band and cred­its her leg­endary Cre­ative Di­rec­tor, Freddy Louw (who cre­ated YoTV, among many other for­mats), for help­ing win them the con­tract.

She also ac­knowl­edges a loyal re­la­tion­ship with MultiChoice for play­ing an in­te­gral part in the suc­cess of Beau­ti­ful Day Pro­duc­tions. “It’s a re­la­tion­ship that’s be­come re­ally amaz­ing in my ca­reer, as MultiChoice prides it­self on say­ing: ‘You can be more.’ It’s very spe­cial to me that it’s sup­ported my tra­jec­tory. It’s al­ways been ready to sit and talk to me about my di­rec­tion and how it can help me get there.”

One of her first jobs af­ter mov­ing to Jo­han­nes­burg from Dur­ban in 2010 was in­tern­ing at Ur­ban Brew, where she met her hus­band. She says that prac­ti­cal ex­pe­ri­ence helped set up the suc­cess she’s now en­joy­ing with Beau­ti­ful Day. “They taught me how to pick up a cam­era, shoot and even edit a lit­tle. I hate edit­ing, but that ex­pe­ri­ence showed me what pro­duc­tions are all about and how to plan and de­velop the in­fra­struc­ture to de­liver a piece of cre­ative work.”

She’s cur­rently shoot­ing some ad­ver­tis­ing work for MultiChoice and also “pitch­ing con­stantly on briefs”.

“You don’t re­alise how many ‘no’s’ come out of the pitch­ing process, but that’s the na­ture of the beast. If I go out for an au­di­tion, out of five op­por­tu­ni­ties, I might get one, if I’m lucky. With pro­duc­tions, too, some­times it’s a hit and some­times it’s a miss. Still, it’s ex­cit­ing to con­stantly play with dif­fer­ent con­cepts. It can be te­dious, but it stretches my cre­ative mind,” she says.

A BEAUTY RANGE FOR ALL?

Dlamini says that wait­ing in­ter­minably for that call to front a beauty range ul­ti­mately sparked the idea of start­ing her own one, MD Beauty, which has been reg­is­tered in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Zeta Lab­o­ra­to­ries, a long-stand­ing man­u­fac­tur­ing com­pany of health and beauty prod­ucts based in Dur­ban. The nine-prod­uct range con­sists of three dif­fer­ently scented packs which each in­clude a soap, a shower gel and a body lo­tion. She has Clicks and Sho­prite signed on as dis­tri­bu­tion part­ners and, at the time of go­ing to print, she ex­pected the range to be on shelf by mid-No­vem­ber.

The range is pegged at the R33 mark and is ex­pected to com­pete vig­or­ously with other celebrity-en­dorsed skin­care brands. Dlamini played with her “di­a­mond” nick­name for the vari­ants in the range, which in­clude Coco Crys­tal, Trop­i­cal Topaz and Rose Quartz. The soap bar is also shaped like a gem­stone.

In­ter­est­ingly, the prod­uct was bankrolled via a R10 mil­lion grant from the In­dus­trial Devel­op­ment Cor­po­ra­tion (IDC), which gen­er­ously cov­ered the com­pany’s start-up costs. Dlamini says ini­tial sales pro­jec­tions sug­gest the com­pany has a good chance of mak­ing these costs back in its first year of pro­duc­tion.

She adds that she found the fund­ing process sur­pris­ingly easy. “Our engagements with the IDC were pretty pain­less be­cause my part­ner’s been deal­ing with them for a long time. So it was just a case of cre­at­ing a new joint com­pany for the deal.

“I’d also ap­plied for IDC fund­ing many times be­fore, so go­ing back all those times to work on strength­en­ing my ap­pli­ca­tions re­ally helped me.

“It’s not an easy process, but there def­i­nitely aren’t enough peo­ple com­ing up with good ideas. Many of us are sit­ting back and

com­plain­ing that not enough’s be­ing done for black en­trepreneurs, in­stead of tak­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity for our own fears. If a young black girl has a good enough idea and back-up re­sources, my view is that there are enough fund­ing sys­tems in place to sort her out re­ally quickly. Some­times you just have to get up and do it – even if there’s a chance of your be­ing re­jected.”

Her beloved mother fea­tures in the TV ad­vert that Beau­ti­ful Day Pro­duc­tions re­cently shot. “Be­ing very emo­tional, the ad was an ex­er­cise in tug­ging at heartstrings. I wanted peo­ple to know how in­cred­i­bly per­sonal this jour­ney was,” she says.

A HIGH-WATTAGE SIS­TER­HOOD

Dlamini’s main­tained a re­fresh­ingly hon­est and of­ten un­fil­tered im­age on so­cial me­dia, which of­fers gen­er­ous glimpses of her pri­vate life. Her cir­cle of friends in­cludes dy­namic young mar­keters, bankers and lawyers, as well as en­trepreneurs. “It’s beau­ti­ful to en­ter a space where we’re all on top of our game and sup­port­ing each other. It’s re­ally dif­fi­cult find­ing in­dus­try friends be­cause of how fickle this space is, but those I do have are peo­ple who’ve walked this jour­ney longer than I have and are al­ways will­ing to im­part valu­able knowl­edge,” she says. The cir­cle in­cludes Anele Mdoda and Unathi Nkayi. “Anele MC’d at my wed­ding – some­thing she nor­mally never does – be­cause she re­gards me as her baby sis­ter. Unathi of­ten calls me just to check whether I’m OK. She’ll ask: ‘Do we need to take the West­cliff stairs be­cause I’m look­ing hot­ter than you? Let’s go!’

“It’s great hav­ing peo­ple like that whom I can ask for ad­vice when mak­ing big de­ci­sions. My girl­friends have also helped me re­alise that the world doesn’t re­volve around my dumb is­sues. No­body will care by the Mon­day af­ter the Sun­day pa­pers!”

HOME BASE

Dlamini also lov­ingly cred­its her hus­band for pro­vid­ing a safe and se­cure home base, sim­i­lar to the one in which she grew up. “I wish I’d got­ten mar­ried a lot sooner. It’s been the calm cen­tre in the stormy life of Min­nie Dlamini. Mar­riage has given me a lot more ground­ing and I can’t wait to see Quin­ton as a dad!” she grins.

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