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Dancing queen in and out the office

Submitted by on Wednesday, 10 September 20082 Comments

Basetsana Kumalo is CEO and executive chairperson of Uzalile Investments and president of the Business Woman ’s Association. She tells DAVID GEMMELL how she keeps in trim for all her different roles.

I see the national Under 21 woman’s football team is called Basetsana?

Yes it means, ‘girls’. It is a Setswana name. I was one of three girls, the third one, so on the notion that it would change the sex of the next child, they called me Basetsana.

Did it?

Yes the next born was a boy (laughs), who came a year after me… so it worked!

You grew up in Soweto; did you have a happy childhood?

Born and bred in Soweto – I had an incredible child hood. I come from a God-fearing, loving background. Mother was a teacher and dad was a bus driver. We didn’t have a lot to go around in terms of material wealth, but that didn’t matter, we had a lot of love. I had a carefree and happy childhood. I didn’t want for anything and I have fond memories of my growing up in Soweto. My sisters used to fight all my battles… (laughs). More than anything, I had a very secure childhood where we were allowed to have a voice in the home, where our opinions mattered and I was made to feel I was special as a child.

Was it very health conscious?

You know David, for us meat was hard to come by. So we had meat only once a month when mum and dad got paid, which meant we really grew up on vegetables. I suppose now that I think about it, when I look back it probably was very healthy.

How carefully do you watch your diet?

I try, but I’m not very good at it. I love my food… (laughs), and I love to cook. I am an experimental cook and there are always people who love to come over and eat with me, but I have to be health conscious, because I live with a man who is particularly health conscious! My husband is very pedantic about his food and hugely disciplined – pedantically disciplined! There is a lot of stuff he doesn’t eat – like he went through a phase of not eating chicken because there was lecithin, or something in them. He won’t eat carbs at night; he doesn’t eat bread; he drinks beetroot juice; he only drinks green tea and so he has taught me to be a little bit wiser with my choices and when I do the shopping, I shop around what we all can eat.

What about weight?

It’s a constant challenge for me. Oh I do have a weight problem!

Have you ever been overweight?

After I had my son (he is three years now), I had this baby weight which was not going anywhere. The piles of fat were there and they were just not moving. It was quite depressing. Also I have an asthmatic chest so I cannot run. For me running is for horses… (laughs), and I never stick to a gym routine. I always join a club, go for three months and never go back because I just didn’t enjoy it, but until I tried Bikram yoga nothing worked. It is fantastic you feel so good afterwards. But for me to keep in shape and keep my weight down is a constant battle.

What’s the least healthy thing you do?

I do have a sweet tooth – I just love cake. I cannot walk past a bakery and not go in… (laughs).

What would your death row meal be?

I probably would have dumplings and oxtail. But I make mean peri peri prawns, so I would have to have them as well.

What time do you start your day?

I’m not really an early bird. But between 11.00 pm and 3.00 am I cook with gas. My staff often get emails from me at the most unusual hours. I suppose I tend to get up at about 7.00 am and I get ready, I drop my son off at school and come to work. Then in the evening I go home and I make dinner. My husband won’t eat anyone else’s food.

What else do you do in the evenings?

I work. I get an average of about 200/ 250 emails a day – from people either wanting me to mentor them; or everyone has a great TV proposal; or a great business idea; or they want to launch a magazine, all that sort of stuff. And if I miss one day I’m toast… (laughs); you can’t believe how they mount up! But you only need 4 or 5 hours sleep; so I love staying up late – it’s so quiet, and I can think and strategise. People often comment on the time I sent an email to them.

As an ex-Miss South Africa (1994) and first runner up in Miss World (1994), how do you deal with the perception that beauty queens are airheads?

That they there is not much between the ears? (Laughs). It’s a perception one has to live with. What it has done for me, is it’s made it important for me to be a person of excellence in whatever I do. If I have to make a presentation, I make sure I am 120% prepared; if I go to a board meeting, I read my board pack until I am fully equipped. It has pushed me to work extra hard, it has pushed me to excel; for me to be taken seriously, there isn’t room for mediocrity in what I do as a business person. So Miss South Africa has been an excellent platform for me to try and realise my full potential. Also it helped to get people to return my calls. I think when I wanted an appointment they all wanted to have a look at me – so it opened doors for me. But what mattered, was what I would do when the door got opened. I am a work in progress and of course I always will be. I think if you ever wake up one day and think you have arrived – that is a sad day; for anybody.

How do you deal with always being in the public eye?

It has its pros and cons, but I’m not even going to begin to complain. I always say to myself, ‘I signed up for this gig, so I have to take the good with the bad’… (laughs). When I got into this business I gave a large part of my private life away. It’s funny but sometimes for instance when I am in the supermarket, the cashier will say to me, “No you shouldn’t be eating that…” Your business becomes their business. But you have to have a sense of humour about it.

You seem to have everything – good looks, fame and fortune – what keeps your feet on the ground?

I have people who remind me who I am and where I come from. My brother and my sisters help to remind me of the values we were brought up on; of trying not only to better your own lot but everyone’s. I also believe, ‘of whom much is given – much is expected’, and I live by that principal.

Do you ever get depressed?

Yes – when I lost a pregnancy in Dec after 20 weeks, that’s hard. You are half way there – how can you not be depressed about that? But not a lot of things get me down. I am glad I am a South African child, I’m glad I was born on this part of the continent. But I also don’t live in La-la land. I’ve been held up at gun-point three times; I’ve had my house burgled; I’ve lost two of the pillars in my life, my parents; I’ve had a miss-carriage and I have had a stalker. But it’s not going to make me cynical about life, even though it has been a bit eventful.

It’s fascinating to hear the other side of your life. I know people who haven’t had a gun pointed at them even once, and they are still unhappy. When are you at your happiest?

When I look at my son’s face – he rocks my world! (Laughs).

How do you relax?

I used to play golf but I haven’t been on a golf course for a long time. But I love to dance – hey David! I have girl’s nights out where we dance and we paint the town red and we have a fabulous time… (laughs), and I love to cook. I find it very therapeutic. I’m an experimental cook – I cook without recipes; so I do have a number of outlets to relax.

What do the Kumalos do for holidays?

We are hooked on cruising. You unpack once and you have this moving hotel, so it’s not like other holidays, where you are so tired when you come back, you need another holiday. My husband and I went on our first cruise for our honeymoon and we have been hooked ever since. So religiously every year we have to go on a cruise.

If you could choose to be stranded in any place in the world where would that be?

Indigo Bay in Mozambique – it’s simply paradise.

Who in the whole of history would you like to sit next to on a long flight?

Can I have two?

Ok – one either side.

The Dalai Lama and I’m going to be clichéd, really boring and say Madiba.

Tell me something about Basetsana Kumalo that no one else knows?

I hate needles. When I go for blood tests or injections I’m in trouble. When I see a needle my palms sweat and I hyperventilate; I’m almost on the verge of passing out…


  • Nomfundo Dzingwa said:

    Bassie, is such an inspiration..Ive been reading so much about her, I would realy like to be successful and invest at Uzalile Investments.

  • Simphiwe said:

    Basetsana is the most billiant women in SA. We are so proud and learned a lot from her.

    Keep it up!!