Black Diamonds speaks to a man who has pursued every avenue that his talents have offered him. A Future Leader and Force to be reckoned with, indeed!
BD: From what we have read about you, it seems you have accomplished a lot already in your life, so we are really curious to know how old you are.
TA: I am 24 years young.
BD: You didn’t have the easiest childhoods?
Precisely… I was born on Monday the 18th of February 1991 at the Koos Beukes Clinic in Soweto (Diepkloof), which is just a stone’s throw away from Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital. When I was a couple of weeks old my mother and I went to live with my uncle and his wife in Soweto Pimville, while my grandmother went in search for a home for us to move into. She then took my mother and I to go live with her in Houghton where she worked as a domestic worker. A couple of months later, my mother found a place to hire in Pimville Zone 3 where a young lady took care of me while my mother went school. My grandmother later on managed to find a place for us to rent in a church missionary house in Meadowlands zone 2 and around the same time in 1993 my younger sister was born. Unfortunately my mother was not able to take care of both my sister and I, this then led to me moving in with my grandmother from my dad’s side in Saxonworld where she also worked as a domestic worker. I was about 2 or 3 years old. I resided in Saxonworld with my grandmother and aunt who is my father’s older sister whom played a vital role in my life as she became a mother figure toward me but she sadly passed on in 2001 when I was 10 years young…
BD: That must have been a huge loss?
TA: For sure… I would occasionally see my mom and dad, let’s say about 5-8 times a month, which was really sad as I always longed and prayed for a home where I would happily live with both my parents and sister as the other kids I saw, did. I guess this was just an unfortunate pipe-dream. There is a moment I will never ever forget, sitting in a garden alone and crying while relentlessly praying for my dad to show up, I felt alone and needed my dad and suddenly as I prayed a certain scent of perfume came to my nose. This scent was the same scent I remember my dad used to have and oh how it brought joy to my little soul for my dad had come to visit. At that moment I realized how powerful and filling prayer is.
BD: You mentioned your grandmother. This seems to be quite a common person in the lives of South Africans.
TA: Ow yeah most of our grandmothers have played huge roles in our upbringing, and I thank them. My grandmother, Evelyn, retired from her job as a domestic worker in Saxonworld as the family that employed her was in the process of moving out of the country and she decided to take her pension and move to her hometown in Klerksdorp, where she bought a house in the year 2000. It wouldn’t have been viable for me to move to Klerksdorp and live with my grandmother, as I had already started schooling in Joburg and also both my parents lived in the area as well. I then went back to live with my mother at the missionary house in Meadowlands in the year 2000 when I was about 9 years old. I then lived there for about 4 years before we moved out to find another place to live in. Moving out of the missionary house was quit a dramatic story as the church was making renovations to the church building and the electricity bills at that time rocked up and the church leadership then expected us to pay the bill or else we will be told to leave the residency. I remember, this was quite tough on my family and since we couldn’t afford the bill, we then decided to leave.
BD: You moved around quite a bit!
TA: Yes! After moving out of the Missionary house, we managed to find a house to rent in. By that time I had grown a tad more mature as I was already in my second year of high school. However, during the year 2007, the house owners told us that they needed the house back and we should, again, look for a new place to stay. My uncle, Prof Meshack Afitlhile whom is currently a Lipid Scientist and a Professor at the Western Illinois University in the USA, and has forever had great faith in us, made huge sacrifices and took it upon himself to buy us a house that would accommodate our family. Sadly my mother passed away a year later after we had moved into the house due to an illness we all didn’t have much control over.
BD: How did you cope with the transition?
TA: It was no big deal. Being exposed to both suburban life and life in the ‘’hood,’’ I could relate to both worlds and this works for me till this day. In the suburbs I was always indoors and that taught me to be content with spending time alone and being at peace with myself and in the locations (township) I spent a lot of time playing soccer, chasing girls and learning local games which taught me to have fun and how to build relationships with others. This leaves me with a thankful heart for how my life turned out when I was younger.
BD: You went to Jules High School in Johannesburg, Was it the ideal school for you? Why did you go to this school?
TA: Changing from a posh Saxonworld Primary School really meant taking a leap into a new world when I started in Jules high school in 2005. During my grade 7 year I had always had it in mind that I would end up in a school like Parktown Boys, Jeppe Boys, Drakensburg Boys, King Edward or any other schools at that level forgetting my family’s financial capacity in to account at the time.
BD: And the result?
TA: Looking back I’d say that Jules High School was the best move that my mother made even though it didn’t fit my expectations at the time. The school provided me with both the experience of a suburban and township environment and life. I learnt much more than words from a book but I was challenged in so many ways to face circumstances that were outside our school walls. Jules High school refused to spoon feed me or anyone but give opportunities to those who strive and thrive for best, which is also where I was introduced to organizations like JA South Africa (Junior Achievement South Africa). I must say that I had my crazy moments and days there and super bad days too. Jules high school is a good school but like any other school the learners attending there are the ones who make their own final decision about how they want to turn out. My decision was to simply, I just wanted to be great and be the best that I can ever be.
BD: Tell us about your parents
TA: Though they had separated, I must confess I had great parents!!! My dad “Clive Chester Buzani Modongo” passed on – on the 24 June 2002 when I was about 11 years young… It’s amazing when I look through my family albums and hear from people about how I look exactly like my dad, speak and move like him. Whenever I go through his photographs I tended to get lost in his eyes and only then i realize what people love about my eyes. I thank God for the days that we spent together, for all the lessons he taught me are making a better man today and even a greater man as I journey into the future. Great Dads Live Forever!
My late mothers passed on 19 July 2009. I truly thank God for her beautiful unforgettable and wonderful soul ,as a result I am now growing to understand the true ingredients of the gentleman I have grown to be and my firm belief in Love, Peace, Joy, Faith in myself and ultimately in God – are all the true works of her motherly and genuine hands and heart.
Looking at her works in my life and the many other lives that I know of, I still stand in awe and inspiration when I think of the power and impact that of how simply Loving someone genuinely could have upon their lives Forever… as the bible say “God is Love, Love is God,”
Both my parents have taught me to always Love someone and to be a dear reflection of the beauty that God has invested in me.
BD: When your parents passed away, you became your sisters’ provider. How did you step into those shoes? How old were you and how old was your sister at the time you assumed this role?
TA: This was one of the most challenging times of my life because I suddenly had to shift my thinking from just being a mere boy into thinking like a man, and acting as one. It was July 2009 during my matric year and I had to focus on my school work, handle my sudden rise in popularity from my role on the SABC 2 drama series – 90 Plein street and to come back home every day to facing a different reality. I was 18 at the time and my sister was 16, so you can only imagine the stress that a parent normally goes through when their daughter turns 16, which in a sense was also my biggest worry. Luckily my sister wasn’t the headache I thought she’d be. She was, however, extremely stubborn and thick headed at the time but I understood why; We grew up both being the children at home and taking instructions together and all of a sudden she had to take instructions from me! That was a new ball game all together. In a sense, over the years, this has brought us together as we learned to overcome many difficult circumstances and challenges together. However my stepping into this role was made easier by the rest of my family who always played a supporting role to the two of us whenever we needed them and I thank them for everything!
BD: You chose to become an actor and motivational speaker, what inspired this career?
TA: It’s quite interesting. In fact there really isn’t anything that initially inspired my acting career. In high school I always had ambitions to become an Actuary and if that didn’t work out I had being a Corporate Lawyer as my second option in mind. I was invited by some friends of mine to an acting academy (Youth In Trust) and I was told that there were some HOT girls there and a few famous actresses that we could hit on, and there I was on a Saturday in 2008 at the academy ready to impress the ladies. I noted that the best way to charm them was to be best at the acting that we were taught through all the workshops. Suddenly the facilitators were impressed by my untapped talent and they pleaded with me to attend every Saturday, which I did because the ladies were starting to be impressed as well and started to get close. I was then later invited to audition early 2009 and to my surprise a week later after the audition I got a call from my agent telling me that I got the role, this felt so unbelievable!
BD: Your mum was still alive then?
TA: Yes she was. I remember how she committed herself towards helping me because I was in matric and had to find a balance between work and school. So she would help me out with my school work when I was on set and passionately helped me read through my script and performance. My mother was keen on seeing the show particularly because I would rave and talk every time about the experience I had on set. Two months down the line after the shoot my mother became extremely ill and had spent most of her days in hospital, it was tough.
BD: We can only imagine what you went through.
TA: There was hope! I started to see the 90 Plein str. tv adverts and couldn’t wait to tell Mama that it was to be played the next week Tuesday. I rushed to the hospital the next day and told my mother about it. She was in a critical condition and wasn’t in a condition to be away from hospital. My mother pleaded with the doctors to release her on the Tuesday to watch the programme with us at home. On the Tuesday 9pm we all sat as a family waiting to see “Tivo – Thabo Afitlhile” but 60 minutes later there was no sign but only to realize that I was going to start appearing from the following week.
BD: It must have been disappointing.
TA: Indeed, because as it turned out, unfortunately my mother couldn’t make it to the next week, as she passed on before she could see the fruit of all the efforts she had put in to helping her son into a new career space we both had never imagined. Ever since then this became my single motivation and inspiration behind my acting career, making it more than just a mere passion but something much deeper which I honestly and continuously fail to find words to describe.
BD: Is this where the motivational speaking comes from?
TA: Yes! See I believe that there is always hope, no matter what! The other primary inspiration behind my motivational speaking was the realization of my ability to connect with people and see them rise beyond where they are. Nothing beats the joy of serving people and connecting with them at the same time, nothing.
BD: You have had roles in a number of other films and theatre productions. Tell us a bit more about your acting career.
TA: I was trained at the YIT (Youth In Trust) Arts Academy over a period of 5 years and later on studied performing arts at the Market Theatre Laboratory. I have done about a number of etv ekasi films, two Sabc drama series, featured as a lead actor on the “Confessions to Moroti Wastosti: Lottery ticket” alongside with our late Legend Ntate Senyaka Kekana, Mandla Spikiri and Jairus Jakarumba from Trompies being their ever first film to be featured in, and a handful of student films. For more info and videos of some of my show reels your welcome to visit my website www.thaboafi.com
BD: And the film making? How did that start?
TA: Well, somehow during my years at the Market Theatre Laboratory I discovered my ability to write through a teacher of mine by the name of Monde Mayepu, leading me to add play and screenwriting to my career cv. One of my successful written films, in which I also played the lead, is “Lesedi: The battle for my son.” It features Bafana Mlangeni (Sibeko) from Emzini Wezinsizwa and the Queen of Gospel Dr Rebecca Malope which was her first ever film to be featured in. By God’s grace and being supported constantly by the people who believed in me, I also served as researcher for Rhythm City under the Creative Director (Eric Mogale) whom has and is teaching me a great deal about television production. I guess being quite ambitious and leveraging my business acumen has drawn me to towards developing myself to one day become a globally acclaimed Film Maker.
BD: So you are currently pursuing studies in Marketing and Strategic Management and yet you already a cofounder and CEO of a marketing and communications based organisation. How did this happen? Tell us about the organisation.
TA: Innvexx Consulting is a Marketing and Communication company that helps brands play a meaningful role in people’s lives. As a service based organization Innvexx Consulting strives to influence a positive change in our community by addressing challenges that face our society through creative talent, project management and technical proficiency by providing innovative and effective business and social solutions. Visit our website for more info www.innvexx.com
BD: You started a promotional clothing agency. How did this come about and are you still running this agency?
TA: Yes it was my first and it was packet with huge learning curves. Things didn’t work out as I had planned but I will one day communicate the story in my autobiography. My entire focus is the success of Innvexx Consulting.
BD: You also head a web based communication and collaboration platform for learners and teachers? What is this? What is it about exactly and how did you come to doing this?
TA: Yes its wonderful e-Learning Solution more like your facebook and skype integrated as one, it is managed under Innvexx consulting on behalf of eSoftware Solutions. You can find a video that will give you an in-depth understanding of the platform and what it is on: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zZfpDfycouE
BD: The list is endless. You sit on (MANCO) the Management Committee and head the Marketing and Membership committee of the Black Management Forum (BMF Soweto).
TA: The BMF is a non- racial, thought leadership organisation founded in 1976, with the main purpose of influencing the socio-economic transformation of our country, in pursuit of socio-economic justice, fairness and equity. The BMF continues to be vocal on these aforementioned matters and has been keeping Corporate South Africa in check and encouraging participation of the broader South African stakeholders. The organisation stands for the development and empowerment of managerial leadership primarily amongst black people within organisations and the creation of managerial structures and processes, which reflect the demographics, and values of the wider society. Whereas the BMF is not apolitical, it is nonetheless non-partisan. The BMF is however not neutral on matters of transformation- it is unashamedly pro-transformation. I serve as the Marketing Manager for the BMF Soweto Branch which envisions seeing a transformed and self-sustainable Soweto community, with a highly skilled and well educated workforce; a world-class education system; and a vibrant, productive knowledge-based economy.
BD: As a motivational speaker, what message would you give to our upcoming black diamonds out there on careers, aspirations and life?
TA: “You are the creative force behind your life, as you think and act – so shall you become, and above all trust in God with all your being and power”
BD: Tell me, how do you do all of this? How do you juggle everything and what keeps you going?
TA: I know that it may sound like a cliché answer but it is all through the grace and strength of Christ. I don’t think I’d be capable if it was not because of my faith, it’s beyond the norm. Reading and studying the bible almost daily sharpens my thoughts and knowing that God is with me is all that keeps me going and going, and even going stronger and more powerful. It’s actually not that hard.
BD: Final words?
“My triumph will come from the positive I have on the well-being of the citizens of our nations, My fame will come from the numerous smiles I look to put on the hearts of many, My happiness shall come from the different lives I aspire to have an impact upon and finally bring more and more glory to God.”
(Thabo Afitlhile and The Late 1976 June 16 Hero “Tsietsi Mashinini” – Statue)