Nomonde Gongxeka-Seopa

Nomonde Gongxeka-Seopa (41) has had so many jobs in the broadcasting and communications sector that it can be quite difficult to keep track. She has acted (prominently) as Hazel in Yizo Yizo. She has worked in the nongovernmental organisation sector, toiling in front and behind the cameras and administratively in Soul City. She has also worked as head of programming at SABC1 (between 2008 and 2013), and also as a fundraiser, helping to channel funding towards some of its developmental projects.

Though her current role as a councillor at the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) is a new one, she has served at the body in a disability consultative forum representing the SABC.

“I have a passion for children and youth with disabilities,” she says. “If you look at TV screens, or the radio, we were trying to push for regulations that make licensees create more visibility for people with disabilities.”

Passionate about the dignity of marginalised groups, Gongxeka-Seopa says issues surrounding the visibility of disabled people must always be at the forefront, with measures put in place to ensure the compliance of players in the broadcasting sectors.

Although the councillors have a list of issues they seek to prioritise, such as reducing cellphone tarifs, data transferance, and indigenous content quotas, she says all these plans need to be underpinned by a market inquiry and research in order to understand the impact of proposed actions.

“You can’t issue regulations without doing a market study, because you could find that for example reducing call costs could harm operators,” for example.

A student of drama and dance at Funda Centre, Gongxeka-Seopa initially studied accounting, a decision she says was “correct, but not correct” in that it was driven by money. “I just saw that this was not me.” “I told my parents that I wouldn’t survive. I am a figures person, but I couldn’t see myself waking up every day up to do that.”

Deciding to pursue journalism instead, Gongxeka-Seoka walked straight into the set of current affairs show Inside Info in 1996.

“The SABC was trying to redefine itself at the time by bringing in new voices,” she remembers. “We researched and produced our own stories. It gave me a hands-on experience, and I continued to work in front and behind the scenes, editing my own programmes, writing my scripts. When an opportunity presents itself, one should grab it with both hands.”

As head of programming at SABC 1, Gongxeka-Seopa was driven by a “developmental agenda”, prioritising shows such as Cha-Cha, and launching Zone 14. She sought new frontiers for staple award shows like the Samas [South African Music Awards], turning them into live broadcasts.

As a way of influencing the direction of broadcasting and telecommunications in South Africa, Gongxeka-Seopa studied for a master’s in ICT policy and regulation from the University of Witwatersrand. It was a difficult process, one she had to interrupt before returning in 2014 to complete it.

“I went back to my studies to finish the research component, because I was trying to be a model mom,” she says. “I had to show the kids that you have to finish what you started.”

Recently, Gongxeka-Seopa, the mother of three, shared her experiences in broadcasting and telecommunications by writing a book. In 2016 and 2017, she worked as a researcher for ICANN, an organisation dubbed as the “United Nations of the internet”.

Her advice for young women is: “You need to find your inner core, your inner strength, what you love best, and be driven by that. Sometimes work is tough, but I wake up because I love what I do. In my career there were times where I had to volunteer. You get skills from volunteering. People I volunteered for are now part of my critical networks.”

Kwanele Sosibo
Kwanele Sosibo
Kwanele Sosibo is the editor of Friday, the arts and culture section of the Mail and Guardian.
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