She who has no fear


Thabang Mashigo is a force of nature who is, quite simply, beyond description. After all, she believes that labels are the very things that limit our potential. Following the standing ovations she earned at our TLC and SMME events, we grabbed the opportunity for a one-on-one to find out more about the lady who could change your life.

Thabang, you’re a phenomenal speaker but the way you connect with your audience is mind-blowing. Where did this talent come from?

I was trained at the age of six years old by my father to be a public speaker because he saw the talent in me. Usually, adults just dismiss children as being talkative little chatterboxes, but here was a parent who didn’t dismiss who I was. Rather, he saw it as an opportunity to train me. He couldn’t know what the future would hold but he knew that his child had too many words in her mouth so he thought “let me give her structure, let me polish it and let me aid in her grammar”. So he fed me with sophisticated books and, from the age of six, I was reading a variety of more adult authors. On the one hand, that was really, really, heavy but, for me, what is so important is that, upon the realisation of our gifts and talents, it takes somebody greater than you to affirm you, especially at that age. My speaking is not a technique, rather it’s a gift, so that is why it hurts or it is very disappointing to hear people claiming to be speakers when they don’t really know the art behind it.

What is that difference?

What makes me so different is content. If I haven’t experienced the content then it’s not relevant to me and my audience. It’s got to be something that is spiritual for me. I dream content and I see it has four sides, so that it is something I get, just like people have epiphanies and lightbulb moments which, for me, is the call of content and messages that we should be delivering as speakers. One valuable thing I have learned is that, where people see counsel is where your wealth is and, for me, since the age of six, my counsel has been speaking and being sought after, speaking in a wide range of venues, from church to the British League in the UK, Bangkok for the WEF, Germany for the Berlin IV and in France, so really, all my life I have known this art, which has expressed itself.

Who have Thabang’s clients been up to this point?

My clients range from Liberty Life to your Mineworkers Provident Fund, your Mining Qualification Authority, but I have also done a couple of things with the Department of Small Business Development as well as the Department of Women, Children and People with Disabilities. These are the projects that have kept my business going, but the core has been speaking. People will come to me, having seen me speak, and then they want training or a workshop or they want a content developer or research, so the services that we now offer from my company have come from my core, which is speaking, and this is what makes it so special to me.

You’re a woman whose work is overflowing with messages. What is the core message you would like to share with readers about their own development?

You will ultimately either know your purpose or you will be comfortable with the space that you are in, but the trick is to be able to translate your talent and your gift into a viable business. It has to be viable. Your talent and your gift must be able to make financial sense and that is where education comes in. Education is the skill that sharpens your gift. It can’t just remain a skill. You can’t just go to school and study journalism if you don’t have the inherent ability to know how to write. Your talent and your education and ability to combine the two and make it into a viable business is what we should be talking about in the African diaspora, and when it comes to emancipating Africa’s economy. We’ve got to go back to entrepreneurship.

Education is vital for the nation as a whole, but what is the key behind that education?

From my experience it has to be the right education. That’s why today we have talent managers and career days, because we have so many people who are depressed because they are in the wrong industries. I have a BA degree in Political Science and International Relations and I have an honours degree in International Relations. I am a diplomat by profession because I specialised in diplomacy and negotiations and South African foreign policy. I am also currently completing my Masters in Public Policy, but there’s no way that the services that I offer in my company links to what I have studied. I am now starting to pursue project management because I’m working in so many fields which manage a lot of their projects, yet this is something which is completely separate to my education. Education means the ability to master what you are called to influence. That’s what education is, but we’re not talking about the formal qualifications. I was speaking on SAfm recently with my colleague Dr Cino Shearer, and we were saying that today who would have known that you could have a career as a publicist, or a proofreader or draw cartoons for a living. These careers are based on talents, so our challenge is to find out how we can develop a talent- and performance-driven economy. School has to help us, and education has to help you to apply your skill and sharpen your gifts. That’s what education is, but it has to be aligned to the greater goal, and that’s why I admire how different cultures raise their children.

What differences have you seen among our own cultures?

When we look at the black community, people just say “go to school and get an education” because they are looking at superficial careers. Become a doctor or an architect. Or a mechanical engineer. These are all worthy and noble professions that society needs, but at the heart of it these are careers that boost your title… yet it doesn’t boost your sense of being. When we look at white communities we see more participative parents, for instance mums who negotiate with their employers so that they work three times a week and have the rest of the time to devote to make sure their child goes to certain activities, such as ballet, karate and soccer. To be honest, we don’t see that in African communities. The ability for this attitude to break down lies in us being able to harness the spirit of individuality.

What other examples have you seen from around the world that we can draw inspiration from?

In Africa, as well in the communities of Burundi and Uganda you find a lot of females who are marrying other females, so we look at sexual marital relations for the mere purpose of how do we preserve our legacy and our inheritance. In those communities they believe that woman are not supposed to own assets or certain properties, so if you marry another woman - especially an older woman - there is a sense of safety. In those communities people marry for financial security more then anything related to sex or any physical desire. However, although they are married to those woman, they are allowed to go meet other men for companionship... but as soon as one of the woman is pregnant they have an obligation to raise that child together.

Look at cultural triumphalism. Today China is the second largest economy in the world and it is raw and based on cultural triumphalism. China was colonised by Europe, but when they arose as part of the industrial revolution (and duplicating certain means of production and mechanism). It was based on their work ethic and their culture. Their attitude was that they were going to use those attitudes to bring forth wealth within their nation. If you look at their work ethics it’s crazy - shops in China open at 11 and they close at 11 the next morning, and they teach their kids from an early age the value of a strong work ethic. We look at it as child labour, but they are already grooming their children for a work ethic at school, where they have classes from 8 to 5 - full period - because they are training their minds to think. It is through that mental struggle you’re forced to stretch yourself and your capability, and they do this from a young age, as my father did in developing my talent.

What do you see as the major problem that we as Africans have when it comes to competing on the global stage?

Culture and ethics plays an incredible role, but my motto is that being the best is great - because you’re number one - but being unique is greater, because you’re the only one. As an African, what drives me is that in 1873 Africa didn’t have borders. We didn’t have borders! This is what I am striving to understand: what is this internal division that we have? It’s not along racial lines, it’s around ethnic lines.What was Africa like before divide and rule? What was Africa like in the pre-Colonial era? My Masters thesis was on the social economic policies that reigned in pre-Colonial Africa and I found it a fascinating topic to dig into. What I want to ask is that, if we did it before Colonialism, then surely we can do it again now on our own?

What is at the essence of the work you do?

As a speaker, I am a character development specialist, so I develop characters and I help to define who you are and to discover your ultimate self-wealth. That is my core. I even consult to CEOs and executive directors who come to my office. At the moment we are about to develop a sleeping centre where people can just come and sleep. This is a problem, people: right now we don’t get to sleep properly. You can sleep from 11pm till 6am, but you have actually only slept - you haven’t rested. You need to rest.

How do people come to you to ask for your help? Is it largely word-of-mouth or from hearing you speak?

I must say that it is still a struggle because we are a society that is so shameful of our pain and we are so in denial of our struggle. We are a society that is in need of affirmation and that is why it is so difficult for us to speak about issues that are core. There is an old adage that says that people who are hurt and people who are nasty are people who are in pain. Everything that expresses itself as an addiction or as a behavioural hazard is a cry for help. When you look at drug addicts or an over eater, or somebody who drinks too frequently, or anything that is out of character or not your norm, such behaviour is expressing something in you.

I am a healer, a spiritual healer, so I really work with the amendment of energy outside of my speaking. After a talk or a presentation people tell me that they don’t know what they want from me outside of my listed services, but that they just want to have a meeting with me. As a coach or as a spiritual healer or as a speaker or whatever you are, the mission is to be asking people the right questions. When you come to me for a consultation, I don’t give you the answers, I just highlight the right questions so that I can unleash the answers within you. You have the answers, not me. I just have the right questions —you just don’t know how to get them out. All I am is just the tool.

Back to your own development, what else did your father do that made a major impact in building your talents?

My dad let me try so many things, from ballet to soccer to karate, and after I had tried everything I finally knew what I wanted to do. My dad allowed me to explore and that is what parents need to do and, as Africans, we need to allow our kids to do different things. We need to stop boxing people in or prescribing certain things to them. We have all been so boxed in for our entire lives by the system that we have forgotten to think or to be. As a result we have become so narrow-minded in our approach to life.

How did you give birth to your own potential to create a career based on your own unique skills?

Wow, I love that question! You know, I wish a lot of people were asking what you are asking and I will tell you why. It used to be so challenging living in a society where you had to have a title and a definition of who you are. We have tools and abilities within ourselves that need to be activated so that we can live fully purposeful lives, and not being boxed in or controlled by one school of thought is central to that.Personally, my biggest challenge was people wanting to define me. And that’s what made it so hard for people to buy into what I do because here was this thing that they had never heard about and that we can’t even define.For the first five years of my business I was exploited through and through. The first three years of my business I lived on my savings and I want you to write that because people need to know the realities of life as an entrepreneur. Before you start that journey you need to know that being a hustler is very hard. It is very, very difficult - I can’t even explain it to you.

Third has been a racial and a sexual challenge —gender and race. Being black and being female has been my biggest challenge of them all. There was no promotion and there was heavy envy. There was heavy intimidation and insecurities that would rise up in any transaction and either I would get paid a week late or I wouldn’t get paid at all. So those are the struggles that I have been through.But something interesting I have learned out of this is that if you are a female brand then your biggest clientele will be males - and if you are a male brand your biggest clientele will be females. This is a very psychological thing and that’s why it is important that your personal life must not synchronise with your business life. The moment you advocate your business life you’re going to lose a lot of clients.

Another challenge has been the lack of affirmation as a female speaker as we are not exposed and we have to fight for our ideas to be heard. You have to continually prove yourself, as skilful and multitalented as you might be. I had to prove myself over and over again for every job that I would get, even to be a project manager or simply sitting in on a strategy session. I would often have to hand over a proposal in the hope of getting the business... and that is high risk in business because proposals can be stolen and then they can run with it without you.I have had to work 10 times harder to get to where I am, but not anywhere remotely near to where I want to be, and that’s the honest truth.

But what was also important, and which I believe is a crucial lesson for everyone, is that you have got to have your own strategy and your own game plan, and maximise the benefits of your uniqueness. We focus so much on the outer things and the material trappings. I must have this kind of office with this kind of chairs and this kind of camera! There is so much emphasis on the outer, but the reality is that, for instance, when you are starting up, you can save operational costs and have your office at home. Maximise on what you have and that will help you to generate more.My secret was to ensure that I invested completely in my core and in developing my brand and, as a result, the right opportunities - the ones that were better suited to me and my skills - were able to locate me. I’m going to repeat that. You have to invest in your brand so that opportunities that are better suited for you can locate you. And that’s what I do for my clients as a Character Development Specialist.




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Issue 83


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