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Footsteps from torture to teamwork

Submitted by on Tuesday, 15 April 2008No Comment

Murphy Morobe is CEO of Kagiso Media. He tells DAVID GEMMELL about the footsteps on his path, involving invaluable
lessons about work and play.

How is life different now that you no longer work for  government (Morobe was formerly President Thabo Mbeki’s head of communications till 2006).

I think one of the more palpable differences is that I feel I have more control over my time- especially when it comes to weekends. For a change, I feel the weekends really belong to me, which contributes to my better state of wellbeing and mental health.

What do you do for your holidays?

Earlier this  year  holiday for  me meant going hiking on the Otter Trail. I went hiking with a group of friends; The third time in the past 8 years that I’d done this trail.. If I had to decide what  annual holiday pilgrimage would be, it would be to do the Otter Trail.  b

But I’ve tended to spread my holidays throughout the year rather than take it  all at once.

I believe you had a bit of drama on one of the Otter Trails?

I’m not a swimmer. On the Otter Trail, one of the most difficult spots is on day four, to cross one of the biggest river mouths, the Blouwkrans. Crossing at  high tide can be tough and at times impossible.   Anyway, I had earlier watched my hiking mates having great fun snorkeling in the rock pools. Feeling rather left out, convinced myself that nothing is impossible and I can also do that! Encouraged by my mates, donned the flippers and snorkel-goed and dived in. I was comfortable while I could see the bottom, but as I moved deeper into the pool and it got deeper and deeper, I started getting anxiety attacks. I lost my breathing rhythm. Started faltering. Fortunately one  of my Survivor-type friends was at hand to help me back to the edge.  In the process I got seawater into my lungs, which took the rest of the day and night to cough out. Leaving me significantly weakened. Thanks to a combination of cordyn and whiskey I was able to induce much needed sleep and rest to be able carry my backpack the next day. Of course there was still the Blouwkrans river mouth crossing to contend with .

Weren’t you a little traumatised from the day before?

I did get a fright – but in the nature of hiking is that it’s always important to think of “team” rather than “self”. Anyway At the crossing they tied a long ski rope around me, I hung onto my backpack and we planned it carefully. At that point I knew I had to trust the other guys and trust them completely. So I thought about it, then I decided to trust fully. It’s interesting that once I did the trusting fully, it became easy, whereas when you think of doing it on your own, without using your available resources, you probably could never  never do it.  I was able to get across quite quickly with little difficulty. – despite my previous day’s swimming experience. I think this provided a valuable  lesson about the importance of teamwork. As I cooled my feet off in the shallows of Natures Valley at the end of the hike (see photograph), on this page) I realized how invaluable indeed this lesson about teamwork was.

What do you get up to on weekends?

I am a gym fanatic. I spend a lot of time at the gym. Most of my mornings start at the gy., even Saturday and or Sunday. I go to the Virgin Active in Melrose. On weekends though, gym gets beaten by my preference for being on the golf course.  Most enjoyable mornings – as early as 6am at the golf course.

What do you do at the gym?

Mainly /cardio vascular  and muscle toning exercises. As  you may know, what tends to happen at gyms is that we naturally all develop a relationship with particular exercise machines that  become our buddies.  My gym-buddy machine is the Stairmaster. I enjoy walking  up stairs, that my attraction to the stairmaster.. I spend a lot of time on that – anywhere from 30 to 50 minutes.

Do you do any weights?

I do the super circuit as well. I find the super circuit very efficient in the way it manages my exercises and time. That’s my gym ritual..

What time does your day start?

I can do with very little sleep; I generally can do with about  five hours of sleep a night. So I’ll be out of my house to the gym at about 4.45am. quarter to five. My “get-up time” is about 4am. four in the morning.

You get up at 4am? What do you do when you get up?

I think. I  figured out that my system actually works better if I ease myself into wakefulness.

Do you get up easily or do you have to force yourself?

I don’t particularly like sleeping; I prefer to be awake most of the time. When in sleep mode I generally  don’t toss and turn. in bed – I tend to sleep in the same position  because when I move, it’s time to get up.

Given that you get up so early, what time do you go to bed?

The latest usually is about midnight. I read magazines or watch soccer. In the Premier League I follow Arsenal and here I follow Pirates, or I watch a video. The evenings are generally for reading.

What do you have for breakfast?

Jungle Oats and tea – oats is It’s the one food in the morning that my body seems to be able to process efficiently. I notice the difference each time I change to something else, my blood sugar levels alter somewhat. But I find that with oats am able to keep a fairly even keel (energywise) throughout the day..

How do you feel about getting older?

Sjoe! – I once was 40! I have grappled with this age thing in a whole lot of different ways, like when I engage with my nephew, or when I think about my pension, or when I engage with my friend’s children, the ageing dilemma becomes more and more stark. But in truth, I feel, in terms of  my current state of health and emotional wellbeing, I may as well be a third younger than I actually am. This thought obviously must fascinate my sons no end.

How carefully do you monitor watch your diet?

I try not to be too preoccupied with the diet thing. But at the same time, I tend to be fairly careful about how much and what I do eat. I am a big  vegetable eater, but  I can indulge myself with both red  and white meat. The only reason I will  (in fact must) slow down on red meat is the need to keep my cholesterol levels in check

Do you have a problem with cholesterol?

Not really. But the propensity is there. Which  is another reason I try to maintain a consistent exercise  regimen-  to keep my mental faculties sharp, but also to deal with these things that come with  ageing.

I usually ask my subjects how they deal with stress. In your case that seems somewhat shallow. You were  tortured by the apartheid police and that would be to me the ultimate in stress. How did you deal with those threats and the actual torture?

My view of the human condition is that we (humans)  hardwired for survival -  it has come through years of fighting for our stake in the hiracrch of life and nature. In the particular instances where torture resulted from my having been detained -  in those days, as activists, we used to talk about it. Whenever  our comrades were released from detention we would have debriefings whereby they would share with us their experiences of torture in detention.   They would tell us about the types of torture, who the policemen who tortured them the most were, etc. So in a way, you began to engage psychologically with the torture environment in the event you were detained too. Then it was not a case of if, but when. To me the important thing was that once you were clear about your  principles. and your conscience about the correctness of your decision, you would have the necessary  resolve  carry you through any form of torture visited upon you. Many were physically scarred for life and some even got killed in detention. But you learned to cope with the situation.

Now, ironically, when I tell people I do up to 50 minutes on the Stairmaster, and they say to me “that sounds like torture”, I find that quite funny. Even though you (similarly)  get to the point of  testing your own endurance levels, the outcomes with stairmaster are more pleasurable.

Fascinatingly, you are the only person I have ever interviewed who was once a possible candidate for the death penalty; so I suppose there is a certain irony to this question: what would your death-row meal be?

My best meal to say goodbye would be a deliciously cooked piece of chicken with fresh vegetables. Nothing to me beats that.

When are you at your happiest?

I am at my happiest when I am with someone I love.

With your eventful life, have you had any health scares that might have influenced your behaviour?

For the most part -Thank God- I’ve been reasonably healthy. To the extent that I have had any health scare, I had an uptick in my blood pressure, but through watching my diet and  exercising continuosly keep it in check. And if you have a happy work environment, which I do here at Kagiso Media, I think that also helps. I don’t take any medication at this stage.

If you had to be stranded in one place in the whole world, where would it be?

It’s got to be in the Karoo. Somewhere in the Karoo. Apart from anything else, I’m less likely to be flooded there, ha!ha!ha!

In the whole of history, who would you like to sit next to on a long flight?

Oliver Tambo.

What sporting goals would you still like to achieve?

I still have a tennis racket. But you know, one’s joints no longer lend themselves to youthful agility. After two previous cartilage repair jobs on my knees, am now restricted as to kinds of sport I can get involved in. That’s why hiking works, though it sometimes gets problematic.

Tell me something about Murphy Morobe that no one else knows?

I grew up with a terrible fear of lightning, after experience a little boy and his dog struck down when I was at lower primary school. But  in my later years, armed with better knowledge of natural phenomena,  I’ve come to enjoy (perhaps fascinated is a better word)  it. So I suppose the one thing no one else knows about me, is that when there is lightning at night, I would at times stop on the side of the road, switch off the lights and just marvel at the spectacle.Sounds weird I know. But just try it.

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