Bold, Black & Beautiful: The Neo Momodu Story

Bold. Black. Beautiful. And a force in the corporate world. The story of a South African media mogul. Neo Momodu.

I was born and bred in Soweto and raised in a family of political activists. My parents and maternal grandparents were incarcerated under apartheid laws during various stages of my childhood. The most notable, was the incarceration of my grandfather, Zeph Mothopeng who spent most of his life in and out of prison including serving a 15 year jail term on Robben Island, for instigating and organising the June 16 uprisings. My early childhood was therefore characterised by constant harassment and brutality by the security forces of the apartheid Government.

"Suffering is the stark reality that still haunts many black South Africans to this day."

I can go on to relate my story from a perspective of suffering and disadvantage which, of course is the stark reality that defined my childhood and teen years; and to a large extent, a reality that still haunts many black South Africans to this day. I choose however to tell a story of hope, victory and of overcoming adversity. I am a third generation of educated and qualified professionals.

My maternal grandparents were qualified teachers, a profession which my mother also followed. My father studied music and established the first black orchestra – the Soweto Youth Orchestra, in 1965. He attained the Licentiate of the Royal Schools of Music (LRSM), London in violin teaching in 1973. In 1998 he became the first black person to achieve the Bachelor of Music degree from UNISA. He was also bestowed the Order of Ikhamanga, which is the highest honour by the President of South Africa for his contribution to the development of classical music in the black communities. My paternal grandparents are also recipients of the Order of the Baobab, making mine a family of great achievers.

"Through books, I became aware that there was a world bigger than apartheid."

I was exposed to books and reading from a very early age and was taught about the importance of education. Although I was a student of inferior Bantu education, my parents, and in particular my mother who is a community leader and teacher, opened up a world of many possibilities. Through books, I became aware that there was a world bigger than apartheid, bigger than South Africa and I also came to know of black role models like Martin Luther King Jnr, Malcolm X, Maya Angelou, etc. who made it possible for me to dream BIG.

These are the people, including the role models in my own community who inspired me to study hard and I ended up with excellent matric results which earned me a British Council Scholarship to study in the UK. Life in the UK was tough but my previous experience and adversity built my character and resilience which enabled me to survive and prosper. I came out victorious with a law degree and life experience which I dare say, has moulded me, to become the phenomenal woman I am today!

Mine has been a very successful career. By the age of 30 I had already held key positions at Primedia Broadcasting and Radio 702. I joined Primedia Broadcasting in 1996 where in time I became Group Communications, Regulatory and Strategic HR Director. Thereafter I returned to the UK, to broaden my HR skills and in 2003 I joined the SABC for four years. I left a safe career to start my own company, Progressive Consulting CC providing communications solutions to government and private sector clients, before succumbing to the lure of the GCIS position of chief director of government and media liaison. This position was the highlight of my career because I had the opportunity to work with policy-makers and was able to influence communication decisions all the way to the highest office in the land, the Presidency. In this position, I earned the respect of my colleagues, ministers and political principals resulting in my appointment as project leader for the communications team during the state funeral of former President Nelson Mandela. I developed and implemented communication strategies which enabled millions of people around the world to experience Nelson Mandela’s funeral. I am eternally grateful and humbled by this experience.

Today I am part of Media24’s executive management team, spearheading engagements with key stakeholders and driving a “proactive” corporate narrative in my role as head of corporate affairs, a position I have held since April 2014. I am also chairperson of the Publishers Support Services formerly, the Print and Digital Media South Africa (PDMSA), an industry body representing print media owners. My experience and knowledge of the South African media industry led to my appointment by the President of South Africa, to the Media Development and Diversity Agency (MDDA) board where I am able to influence the sustainability and development of the community media sector.

At the heart of my journey is a passion for transformation and the upliftment of women, in particular, black women. I am no longer prepared to be the only black woman in meetings. My goal is to develop black women to ensure that they take their rightful place in the corporate world. As a member of the transformation committee at Media24 and the IAB South Africa (a body seeking to grow the digital industry), I am part of teams that are focused on initiatives aimed at creating diversity and inclusivity.

"Diversity is not reflected in corporate South Africa."

One of things I love about South Africa is our diverse society. The sad thing however, is the fact that this diversity is not reflected in corporate South Africa. There is a hierarchy and at the very bottom of the list are black women. This has to change. As black women, we are not only faced with the problems of racism but also sexism. Black women are not only qualified but also capable of leading successful organisations. I despise the narrative which suggests that black women are incompetent and must be led. Look around you and you see formidable women like Thuli Madonsela, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Wendy Luhabe, Ipeleng Mkhari, Basetsana Kumalo, Zandile Nzalo, Ferial Haffajee, Bulelwa Mabasa and many more. These are leaders in their own right and they have demonstrated that not only is black beautiful and bold, but also exceptional in the corporate world and government.

My mission is to keep inspiring young women to strive for excellence whilst at the same time laying the foundation for corporate South Africa to embrace diversity and change. To all the black women in the corporate world, keep grinding hard and making moves, even if that means owning your own business. On this 60th anniversary of the women’s march to the Union Buildings, remember that our ancestors fought 100 times harder just for us to sit where we sit and hold the positions we hold today. For that and more, we are forever indebted for all that they endured and sacrificed for us.