How SuperSport Superstar Motshidisi Mohono went from hating rugby to being its biggest fan
Sweltering in the sun, watching the First Team play rugby at her mostly Afrikaans high school, Motshidisi Mohono developed an instant dislike for the sport.
Sweltering in the sun, watching the First Team play rugby at her mostly Afrikaans high school, Motshidisi Mohono developed an instant dislike for the sport. “All they do is bash into each other, and we just sit and cheer,” she thought.
And yet, the more she watched, the more she learned about the thrill and the science of the game, and the more she got swept up by the cheering.
And just as the oval ball charts its unpredictable course, bouncing this way and that, so has Motshidisi defied her own expectations, shifting her career ambitions from accountancy to broadcasting, and channelling her initial animosity into an award-winning passion for the game.
As a member of the SuperSport team, she was named Journalist of the Year at the SA Sport Awards, for her stellar coverage of England’s tour of South Africa in 2018, and the unforgettable Springbok victory at the Rugby World Cup in Japan the following year.
Today, as one of the most vibrant and celebrated commentators on the sports scene, Motshidisi stands as proof that people can change, and that sport can change people. She sat down with Ruda for an engaging and candid chat about her personal and professional journey.
Transcription of Ruda Talks Change with Motshidisi Mohono
RL: Hello, and welcome to another session of the Change Exchange, where we talk to people about the Change Moments in their lives. You know, it happens to all of us when your life suddenly takes a different tack. And sometimes, it’s because of circumstance and sometimes it’s because of decisions we make, but it’s always interesting to see how people come to those points and how they respond to it. And … uh … today I have a lovely guest, Motshidisi Mahono. She’s a rugby girl. She’s a rugby host on SuperSport. The first woman to anchor a final in the World Cup last year. Lots of other things, but we’ll get there. Motshidisi, I’m so glad to meet you.
MM: Good morning. Good morning, Ruda. It’s so good to be interviewed by a veteran in the game, thank you so much for having me today.
RL: Were you the first woman globally to anchor a, a, a World Cup or, or was that, or just South African?
MM: I actually, can’t be sure. I’ll definitely ask the team to, to just put in a bit of work in, in, in making sure that we know exactly, um, the context of that! But what a phenomenal day it was, 2 November 2019. It’s etched in my heart and mind forever.
RL: I’ll get back to that, but I want to take you back to … the beginning, first. You grew up in Katlehong, but then, you went to an Afrikaans high school. How and why, and how did you experience that?
MM: So … um, I was in Alberton Primary, um, and Alberton is, is like a town. Uh, one of the towns that’s closest to, to our township, Katlehong. But my mom works in Alberton at the Union Hospital. She’s a nurse and my dad worked in Alberton; he was a sales consultant for various furniture stores. Uh, Bradlows being one of them. So, we’d literally go to school, after school, walk to dad, do our homework. If mom was working, wait for her, drive to mom, pick her up, and go home. So, that town became like, um, my, my, my resting place, most of my day was spent there. So, one of the top high schools there is Marais Viljoen. So, it was Alberton High and Marais Viljoen, And I was very, very clear by probably early grade seven that I wanted to go to, to Marais Viljoen. It’s a dual-medium school. So, it’s English and Afrikaans, but predominantly Afrikaans. And I went there because it was the best, and I considered myself to be the best. So, I wanted to be in the best school. Um, it was a huge challenge … uhm … coming into the school, especially early on. Um, you would think that in 2002, the, the idea of a new South Africa, the idea of, of different races working together, school together, et cetera, would, would just be second nature, but it wasn’t. And I found that the seniors in particular were, were … very difficult, you know?
RL: Were you still very much the odd one out? How many black kids were there?
MM: Quite a few, quite a few but not in the majority, not at all, really in the minority, maybe when I started in grade 8, about a hundred. I would say a hundred. Uhh … a school body of uhh … a thousand, four thousand. So, there wasn’t a lot of us, but it was not necessarily, you know, in primary school, I never had the notion of majority or minority, or black and whites. I was just a kid who went to school with a kaleidoscope of people, kaleidoscope of colours, kaleidoscope of, of personalities as well. So, it never dawned on me to be conscious of my blackness, you know, and I think high school is where it became stuck. And I had to, um, realise that, like a tree, when the wind blows, I have to get stiff. I have to get tough so that I’m not blown over. And it took a while for me to get in there. I mean, I remember telling my parents, my dad in particular that, uhh … I don’t want to be in the school anymore.
Those kids don’t like us. They have no reason not to like us, um, as the seniors, especially because I would never get it from my peers, but the school taught me so much, so much that I’m using in my life today and introduced me to, to rugby. As, as grade eights, we’d had to wait to have to go and watch the first team play in our blazers, in the sweltering sun. Uh, so I hated it. I thought … uhh … this is just the sport for bullies, all they do is bash into each other. And we just sit and cheer. Like it makes no sense, no sense at all. I grew up watching sports with my dad, I played netball. I understood cricket. So, I watch cricket as well. And here’s this brute sport, that I have to now get accustomed to and also get accustomed to the culture.
RL: And the whole school goes mad for rugby, of course. there’s a, there’s a kind of, you know, there’s a kind of madness that takes over, first team is on the field …
MM: The whole school. And, you know, they swagged up, they got their blazers on, walking around, like they’re kings of the school … because they are kings of the school. If you play for first team, you’re considered a king. Um, and that’s really how I got into it. I watched the parents come out, uhm … every Saturday to just support these sons. And I’ve got a, got, got a glimpse into rugby culture and the work that not only the players put in, but the coaches and the parents, because the family support is so big. It is so, so big. Um, uh, a job. High school taught me to be strong. It taught me to understand different kinds of people, different kinds of cultures. Uh, by the time I left, I could speak more languages than I could count. Um, because you have to adapt. You have to learn how to … some better not to adapt, but the early days, I mean, grades eight and grade nine, very difficult. Yeah.
RL: You could have done anything. Um, as you said in another interview, you were an overachiever, you … all paths were open. You chose to do accounting at UJ. How did you … Why?
MM: Um, because I just loved the subject and I was really good at it. And you know, in hindsight, I wonder about placing a decision like that on what are you going to do with your life? What are you going to do with your career on the shoulders of 16, 17, and 18-year olds? You know? Um, but in that time, accounting just, I love numbers. I love balancing books. I love the allure of the vocation. I loved that I was going to make tons of money, tons of money, so that I could be the cool kid. And make sure that my parents were taken care of. Um, so accounting became essentially my first lap, and I did well at it. I think that was the other thing I didn’t, I didn’t open my mind to anything else because this is the thing that I’m really good at. So, I might as well. Um ….
RL: And then, you coasted through first year, but then you stumbled in your second year. Um, tell us why that happened. And was a, was it a kind of wake up, wakeup call?
RL: You lost the bursary. So, it was very relevant for them.
MM: I did. I lost my bursary, um, because my marks were not, were not good, and I would never hold a company, uh, responsible for the next year when I haven’t brought my parts to the table. And I think in hindsight, it was a time management thing. It was, it was pouring my heart and soul into this, into this radio gig, into doing radio, into becoming this great newsreader, a great, a news producer as well, and not being able to put in the same energy into my schoolwork. And I remember having the conversation with my parents, my dad, my mom, because she knew that I was always a top student, was just like, okay, but it’s clearly not the work. What is the actual problem? And I was like, I just want to get the balance. I’ve had to be working for eight hours and then studying another eight hours. And I dropped my hat off to anybody who works and studies at the same time. It is not easy at all, but my dad was like, okay, so what’s the plan. And I was like, no, the plan is … I’m going to work. I’m going to study. I’m going to get my time management, right? Because now I have to work, because I have to pay for school. I’m not putting that burden on my parents. So, I came in the next year, guns blazing, you know, I made sure, I’m in an evening class, I’m sitting there with my energy drink. Um, I’m awake, I’m alert. I’m sitting with my friends, most evenings, guys, what was happening in this class? I don’t understand this. I don’t understand that. So, I started opening myself up to a community of people that would be able to assist me.
RL: After completing your degree. Um, you went to Metro, right? And you, you say it in the same interview that I watched yesterday, um … That, you found that you had to learn the journalism skills, that you knew would come, coming across well, but you needed something else. So many people don’t realise that … What exactly was it that you felt you needed to learn?
MM: You know, YFM was just the perfect playground because you learned everything. Everything that I know as, as a broadcaster, as, as even a journalist, I learned there, at ‘Y’. And, and honing that skill over three and a half years, we, we had to work hard and my editor, my “boomer” editor was not playing games. We were a very young newsroom, but he still expected the very best from us. And I think the move to Metro, where I’m no longer producing the news myself, um, and I’m, um, I’m not necessarily involved in the production … The script just comes in and I have to be read off of it … But I also realised that, but my, my, my host might want to ask me something. So, now I have to get into the culture of still knowing what’s going on as if I’m producing the news still and be able to banter back and forth with the person on whom I’m reading. So, that’s the added skill that I, that I need in order to also flourish at Metro and coming into Metro to the back of my audition as well. So, 2011 was like a big change. Yeah.
RL: Was that the year that you entered the lady rugger competition, uhm… for SuperSport and you, you came third, but it opened the door …
MM: It did, it really, really did. Um … I remember even when the, as we’re going out … The newsroom knew about it and they were like, no, you have to go, you have to go audition. I’m like, guys, it’s rugby … and they were like, its rugby, you will learn, go for it. You know? Um … and I remember being at Ellis Park and thinking, what on earth am I doing here? Why? Uhh … you must represent us, don’t drop the ball. You know? Um … and I did the audition. I think I was the eighth person to get green-lighted that afternoon, what was the late evening now. So, even the producers had packed up and we were going straight to the judges. And I remember going in, um, reciting the lines and … And, the camerawoman … See, I’ll never forget her face. There was just something about how her face lit up when I was done that told me, Ooh, ooh, something happened there. Something happened. Yeah … Um … came third eventually after 1,500 entrants. And it was extraordinary. It’s extraordinary how, sometimes you do things and you don’t actually realise who’s watching, you know, you might not get the prize, but someone has seen something special in you, and they want to end up working with you, or they have the power to take you to the next level of that craft. And I’d never done television in my life ever, ever, ever, never stood in front of a camera. But I think my work in radio and just my self-belief and my self-confidence made the difference on audition day. And in the days leading up to the finale.
RL: Uhm … what is it like? Now, being a black woman in rugby? Have you seen that whole scene change and shift? I mean, role models like yourself, like the guys, Siya and Lukhanyo, and Mapimpi, um … it, it must make a huge difference for kids coming up.
MM: Oh yeah. Oh yeah. I think as far as representation is concerned; it is huge. It’s huge to see someone who looks like you, who’s been through almost the same things that you have been through, flourishing at the highest level, because then it gives you extra belief that even your dreams can come true. So, definitely that’s a big one. It has changed. I think, um … people are opening up more and more. It has taken a long time, obviously because, uhm … men especially, will tune in, see a woman. And they’re like, what does she know? You know? And I had a lot of those kinds of comments, even when I took the final, um … there was a gentleman that tweeted me and said, “I switched on my TV and I saw this lady, and I was like, what does she know? But you’ve blown me away.”
RM: Oh, great!
MM: And I, and I … I was like, that’s not really a compliment. I mean, extended grace. I responded kindly, but that’s actually not a compliment. It’s not a compliment. It’s not a compliment that you didn’t even give me the benefit of the doubt when you saw my face. You assumed that I’m just there because … you know, uhm … but slowly …
RM: Tell me, tell me about the experience you walk into whatever the, at the booth, at the, at the game, or you sit with the guys, how are you accepted?
MM: Oh, fully, fully. And I can say that from day one. In fact, I think, I think in my early days, I was the one with a lot of self-doubt, a lot of self-doubt because I’m like, it’s like high school all over again. I’m the anomaly. I’m the odd one out. I’m a woman. I’m a black woman. I’m in the sport. That’s predominantly white, predominantly male. Uhm … and here’s this girl that’s coming up, uhh … trying to learn, making sure she knows what she knows. Trying to tell these beautiful stories. Because at the Varsity Cup level where I started, it was the stories of triumph, the stories of young men that are coming through the ranks. And then next thing you know, they are getting their franchise contracts. Next thing you know, they are playing for the Springboks, but you interviewed them two years ago when they were just leading Tuks or just leading at UJ or at Wits. So, it’s, it’s, I had to learn to not look without my confidence and my, and my knowledge and to find myself, I had to look within, I had to refine my craft from within. I had to grow in my confidence, in my confidence of myself and confidence of my knowledge in, in, in, in saying to myself, you know what you’re doing? You know what you’re doing? You know what you’re doing, you know? And the more and more that built then it’s, then, then it’s easier to be comfortable. It’s easier to go into a commentators meeting and sit there comfortably. And I, and I’ve always known to ask questions even when they sound stupid, because it must be someone that’s wondering the same thing that I’m wondering. Uhm … but from day one, the team, the whole team, a crew, a talent, all of them just had my back and they were like, yo! let’s go. Let’s be great.
RL: So, tell me about the day of the World Cup. Uhm, you phoned home that it wasn’t the night before on that morning and said …
MM: Uh, “ek kan nie, ek kan nie”. I, I remember waking up and it was actually raining in Joburg. So, I knew that was a good omen, uhm, because in my culture, that means great blessings. And it had not been raining in the lead up. No, but it rained on that day. So, I knew it was going to be a good day and, but also nervous, terribly nervous. And I was driving to the office, listening to my music, trying to soothe myself. And then I parked the car at work and from a distance, I could see the guys getting a coffee at the coffee station, but they were all in there in the Springbok jerseys. And I’m like, Sheesh! They believe, they believe like I believe. So, I got out the car and I’m like, guys! Are we winning the World Cup? Mots, what kind of questions are those men? Yes, of course we are winning the World Cup, get inside, go do your makeup, Hurry, Hurry. And I walked in, still nervous, sat in the makeup chair. I’m saying my little prayers, getting my face done. And then, I get on set. We take a couple of pictures and then I sit, I’m going through my notes. Uhm … and then just the enormity of the moment just caught me. You know, uhh … I’m getting emotional, just thinking about it. And then I’ve called home and I was like, mom, it’s too big. It’s too big. I’m scared. I don’t know if I can do this. I don’t know if I’ll be able to show up the way I want to show up. Wow. I’ve never spoken about this and cried. This is weird, Ruda. What are you doing to me? And she said, of course, its big. And … that’s why you’re there, because it is so big. You know, you are capable, you are worthy, you are strong enough. You’re big enough. So, pray and then call dad, call your grandmother, tell them to be in the room with you, tell them to take up that space with you, ask them to guide. You, ask them to shine their light, take a deep breath and go. And she prayed for me. And then I was like, okay, I’ve got to go. It’s five minutes to air … hung up on her. And then I did that. I prayed, I asked my dad to be in the room, I asked my grandmother to be in the room. Those are the two big losses that I suffered over the two years prior to the final. And my dad died literally two days before the Rugby World Cup started. So, even in those early days, I couldn’t be part of the team and the productions. And then that just felt calm and light. Calmness and a sense of light. And I remember my director, Iviwe, was like, are we ready to go, are we ready to go, two minutes to the biggest show in the world, guys let’s go, let’s go. Let’s go. And three, two, one. And it just rolls and … something else switches on, like people who do like television know, like you can be as nervous and as scared as all hell. But once you see that red lights, once, you know, the cameras are rolling, there’s just, there’s just your, your, your, your talent. Your being takes over and, and you just calm and you just go. And I remember, right, it’s …
RL: Very similar to a sportsperson, say a tennis player. That the moment you start you … at the … on the best days, you get into that flow. And they’re so fantastic.
MM: That’s the word.
RL: Tell me about your, your Instagram show that you’ve started. Why and how, and how is it working out?
MM: Ohwww! it’s called Mindful Moments and I have it every Tuesday at six o’clock, and it’s really, I, I wanted to, to reveal a different side of me, both as a broadcaster, but just as a human being. And my team at Duma Collective had been saying for a while that, you know, um, everybody knows you as the sportswoman, let’s have conversations that are outside of sports, because we want people to understand that you are a whole human being and there are other issues, um, that you would like to talk about or like to enlighten people about. So, that’s why I started Mindful Moments. Um, it’s, it’s been so much fun. I’ve learned so much from it as well, because that’s what I wanted it to be. I wanted to, I wanted it to be educational. I wanted it to be informative. I wanted it to be enlightening. I wanted people to walk away from the conversations I have with uhm … the great people I’ve had on feeling, feeling inspired, but also maybe having had their perceptions shifted in some way. You know, we, we spoke about mental health, spoke about drug addiction. Um, we spoke about finances, your personal finances, getting your money, right. Uh, so many conversations that we’ve had about, um, the film industry, uh, the sports broadcasting industry. And yesterday, actually this Thursday, the 27th of October, I had my final one for season one, um, where I was just doing a Q&A with, with everybody that had been participating. And they just wanted to ask me some questions about my career. So, season two will be loading very, very soon, but it has been a beautiful labour of love. And I, and they are all there, if you want to ever go watch. And I hope you’re inspired, and I hope, if anything, I can change your mind about just one thing, then I have done my job.
RL: It’s such a different platform. Um, you know, it’s a completely new, new way of reaching out to an audience. Um, how many followers do you have? Or how many people watch? I’m not sure how to ask that.
MM: Uhm … 24,000 followers now on Instagram, my Instagram grows very slowly. Uh, but we, I get about 500 views on average. So, people will come in and out, and in and out. And then once I come up, the views start to grow, grow again. But usually when I’m live, I have a very small audience, but even that audience is, is worthy of the very best, which is what I always try and do for them to make sure that they just, they, they feel lighter when, when they walk away from my mindful moments.
RL: You know, the one thing, um, moving on to your family and your background. And so on. The, the one thing that really strikes me is that your parents must have been bringing you up completely amazing, because that confidence that you have that, that self-assuring, um, there’s no arrogance, but there’s a, I know who I am. I know what I can do that can only come from, from parents. And you were alone. Uh, your mum went away to work for about five years when you were in your early teens. And yeah, dad was just there. Tell me …
MM: He was a super star. Yes, my mom went to work, uhm … in Saudi Arabia, for a period of five years. That was a very, very difficult time. And I could see the toll it was also taking on my dad, um, mentally, physically as well. But, but yeah, because we were some naughty little teens, you know, so it was an adjustment for him, but it was also an adjustment for us. And it made me realise how, um, just how much of a ray of sunshine my mother was, uh, to my dad as well. So, the one thing I will always respect about my father is his insistence that my mom must go and conquer this challenge. You know, he was never going to be the person to hold her back. He wanted her to go and to experience that life, to experience working in another country. Um, and just because we were the beneficiaries of it doesn’t mean that he was not rooting for her always.
MM: And, and I will forever, you know, hold him in high regard for that, because I feel like many women put their dreams on the backburner to raise their children. And, my mom was lucky to be with a person that said, I know you have the stream. You’ve been talking about it for a while. Even if it’s for a year. If, if, if you can cut it for your comeback, we’ll be here. You know, it took a toll on him, but he was resolute. And I think that’s why I’m also so, so resolute, so strong. I persevere. My patience wins a lot then. And now that I’m getting older. Um, but that’s what my father was. He was, he, he persevered, he was strong. He knew exactly what, who and what he was. He was the most confident man you’ve ever met. He would charm your socks off. You wouldn’t believe that he was the strict person that I would have described to you as, as, as my friend. So, so that’s where I got it from. But the diligence, the calm, the kind heart, the generosity, I’d definitely say that’s, that’s, that’s more from mummy, because she’s …
RL: But it’s, it’s, it’s so important for a girl child to have that relationship with your father. A father is the first man you love, and how you, two people interact shapes, not only your view of yourself as a woman and what you’re, what you’re capable of, but also other relationships.
MM: And, and also shapes how you interact with the rest of the world. And, with other men in particular, you know, my father was always work hard, read your books, have an opinion. Would, we’d argue all the time. Even, he would tell me the sky is pink, and he would find an argument for it. And sit there, I was like, dad, it cannot be, this is what’s going on. You know? And I think without even knowing, he kind of shaped me for even the work that I’m doing today. That I have this, this confidence that even, I don’t know where it comes from, but it’s so innate that, that, that uhm … I may go away for a while and come back to you, but I won’t necessarily cower. And, and that’s what he honed in me. My mom is the, is the disciplinarian, quick to discipline, but she’s the calm, big smiles, generous, happy place, serenity. She doesn’t like chaos. My dad was the more … you see … So, that perfect balance is always needed.
RL: Then what would you … If you can summarise it, if you can find the essence, what if one day, you were to have children? What do you want to teach them that you learned from your parents?
MM: Oh, wow! To be grounded. I think to be grounded, you know, to be grounded and to really know who you are, to know, to know that you are here to also answer prayers, that are hundred, 200 years old. To know that you are incredible, just by being, you are incredible. To show up for yourself, for your family. For other people. My father was a huge time-man. He taught me to respect time, respect. people’s time. Don’t arrive late. Don’t show up late. And when I show up late, I’ll apologise for ten minutes because it is terribly disrespectful. And he told me that, if you are there at the time the meeting starts, you’re late. That’s what my father taught to me. But also, just hard work and putting in a hundred percent, you know, work smart, yes, but work hard. Nobody owes you anything. You’ve got to work hard. You’ve got to show up. But, from my mom, I would say also the diligence because my mom saves people for a living, you know, and she takes on a lot because she is an empath. She’s watching people go from breaking all their bones in a car accident to become this whole human being again. So, that patience, that patience with people extending kindness, even when they can’t, because they’re so frustrated with where they are. That generosity, not just of stuff, but of love, of, of time of understanding of, of hearing people and comprehending what they are saying. That’s what I would, I would teach them from my parents. They just had the perfect kind of balance. Uhm, so while we are firecrackers at home, we, we, we get to that place of ease very easily.
RL: And just to end on a, on a more practical note, um, where is that place for you? What does your home look like when you get home after a, a day that’s just been too long? What do you want around you? How do you recharge your batteries, and how do you structure your physical surroundings to do that?
MM: Ahh … that’s a very good question. I’m still awaiting my furniture because I’ve done quite a few changes. Uhm, but a home for me is now, uhm … coming home to stillness mostly, because the work that we do has us buzzing. So, it takes a while to get down from that high. So, once you come home to preferably silence or just laid-back music, uhm, I light some incense, open some candles, and come into a space of prayer and meditation. But when I go home, I go home to my niece’s hugs. I go home to, “Oh my gosh, tell me about your day”. Uhm, and, and to laughter and to love. And, and, and both of those for me are, are perfect. They represent home, where it’s warm, where you feel wanted, where you feel welcomed, where you feel welcomed that’s home.
RL: Motshidisi, thank you so much. And, uhm, all of the very, very, very best you still have, a long career ahead of you. And I’m sure we’re going to see much, much more of you. I said to my husband yesterday, when I watched an interview with you, the country’s okay, because the next generation is coming through, and they are gripped …
MM: On that, I absolutely love that we are, I think the younger generation, our generation, and maybe five, 10 years, the gap, you know, the nineties kids and the early two thousand kids. While they do things a lot more differently, especially because of the way the world works now. They really do want the best. You know, it’s not unorthodox. It’s not the methodology that we’re used to, but I hope even parents support them as well because their endeavour is still to be the best that they can be and to do the best for the world and to change the world. So, even if you don’t agree with their methodology to support them.
RL: Well, on that very positive note, we say goodbye until next time. And I thank my guest again. Thanks, Motshidisi.
MM: Thank you.