Minnie Dlamini hasn’t given a detailed interview in three years. Deliberately so. Her brother Khosini died in September 2019 after having suffered a ruptured brain aneurysm and being on life support for 23 days before succumbing to his condition. “Devastating. Absolutely devastating,” she says of the ways in which his death has affected the family.
“We were at Christmas at home this year with the whole family, with my kid and my brother’s kids, and someone was missing. It’s not easy. I mean, three years seems like a long time but every time I hear something or… I woke up this morning missing him, and I walked in here in his pants – because I took one of his pants that I really like – and I walked in wearing them because I just missed him a lot this morning.” We stop the interview momentarily as she gathers herself after breaking down in tears.
Off camera she explained that she didn’t speak to media during this period because she didn’t want the burden of trying to make sense of this devastation in her life through interviews when she was still trying to wrap her head around it herself. Her vulnerability broke through the silence of the set reminiscing on her brother’s life and her grief was palpable in that moment.
Talking about her family life growing up, her eyes light up. The bond formed between the siblings was the design of Jabulani and Queen Dlamini, the parents who were deliberate about reinforcing the importance of family and provided the foundation for the rest of their lives.
“I can’t say that I have one fond childhood memory, I think my childhood was perfection. I grew up with my mom, my dad, and two brothers and we just had a really cool family. Still do. My parents were very strict, so I grew up in a very strict household, but my parents were very big on family time. We ate breakfast together every weekend, one weekend a month we always had a family weekend where no-one’s allowed to leave the house. We’re watching movies and cooking and braaiing and just spending time together playing cards and…
“You know, my parents spent a lot of time in making sure that we spent enough time getting to know each other, loving each other, and really understanding the importance of family.”
She also owes them the structure that mapped out the beginning of her career. “My parents put me in drama class at the age of three because I was very loud and energetic and the teachers were like ‘she needs to release this energy’. So I was in dance class, I was in drama class, I was in singing class and I loved to perform, I loved to speak, and it was always something that was in my nature. And growing up, things that were associated with that always followed me. When you’re really small and in grade 1 and we’re doing a play, all the teachers were like ‘so Minnie’s gonna do this’ just because I was the one kid that was never really scared to talk in front of a large group of people.”
She feels like entertainment chose her even when she wanted to study politics or go into a corporate environment. “This business chose me in every possible way, and at every point where I tried to ignore it, it just kept following me.” She says, “This business, in so many ways, even when I tried to go the more structured path, the safe path, this business just kept knocking.”
She studied at UCT, changing her degree after her first year in varsity. “The first moment I knew I should’ve actually taken that route was matric. I matriculated with 100% for drama in Matric and I was the top student in the country. I still went on and studied politics and Ecos. But that was the moment where I really should have been like ‘well, there isn’t a bigger sign than that to know that this is what I should be following.’ I studied those things for first year and I realised this is not what is making me happy and in my second year I basically re-did first year and I studied drama.
“I was very happy but I realised I was in a place to fight for [my career in the arts]. I decided that this is what I wanted for myself and I said I can do four years of school or I can try myself out. And luckily I entered the competition and I won and that’s what changed everything for me.”
The competition she speaks of is one that called for entries to become a presenter on the Friday night music show on SABC1 that had become a staple in every music lover’s watchlist. We were introduced to it as One, then it changed to Live and much later, Live Amp. With a list of presenters that include Bonang Matheba and Luthando “LootLove” Shosha, it was a hallmark of SA entertainment. While it was her first job in television, her first encounter with a live studio set was when she won Little Miss South Africa in 2002 and was interviewed by the late Vuyo Mbuli on Morning Live.
“I remember walking in with my mom and I said ‘Mama I think I wanna do this one day, I wanna be on TV one day.” She continues, “That was my first encounter; SABC Studios, Morning Live Studios. Still, if you see that studio today, its absolutely fantastic. You walk in and you walk through the live control room, then you get into the set, it’s just magical. And I remember falling in love with it at that moment. But my Live experience, that really changed things because for the first time it wasn’t that this could be, it’s if I work and I do this well I could win this and this could be my life.”
She left Live studios and went on to become an actress. “Acting was always my first love, presenting was just something – I’ll be honest with you – that fell on my lap. I grew up MCing lots of different events because I could speak. I did Toastmasters, I did public speaking, I was Junior Best Speaker when I was a kid. Speaking was always something that I had, I never thought in my wildest dreams that that’s what I would do as a career, I thought definitely I’d be an actress. So when the opportunity came for me to act, I ran with it.
“And of course at the time, the role was just a role of dreams. I grew up watching Generations and all I wanted to do was ‘one day I wanna play Connie Ferguson’s daughter’ and here was the opportunity for me to play Connie Ferguson’s daughter on The Wild. It was a dream come true.”
I ask if she counts the ways in which she’s privileged as one of the reasons that she got ahead. She says, “I think it’s very important to understand that my privilege came and went very quickly. My parents, when I was born, I was born into a family that had done well. My parents had just moved into the suburbs, I grew up in the suburbs, so for a while my life was very cushy. But when I turned about 13, 14, my dad lost everything and financially things became very difficult. And I actually started working at the age of 14. I wont say where because I was underage, but I definitely started working and I would contribute to the home. Whether it was electricity, or… I paid for my own clothes, I paid for myself to go to UCT, I paid for my brother’s school fees to go to aviation school. You know, those were the things that I would take care of. I’ve always been someone who understands that I whatever my circumstances are, I can get up and I can work and I can still make sure that I live the life that I want for myself, regardless of what’s been afforded to me or not. What my parents did give me was the support; they gave me the structure, they gave me the grounding that I needed to fight for my dreams and fight for the things that I wanted. And at a point, yes, financially it was there. But for a big chunk of my life it wasn’t.”
“One thing I’m so grateful for is that my mother really did hold the fort down and I saw the roles shift where my dad really had to take a back seat and let my mother run things and run the household financially. We never went without food, we never went without clothes, we never were left wanting. And I appreciate that so much. I got to see a woman who was still able to be a wife and support her husband and still let my dad be the head of the family but hold the reins and hold down the fort the way that she needed to. So a great example of a marriage, a great example of two people together, fighting together, regardless of who’s more powerful at whatever given moment, and using whoever had the strength at the time to be able carry us all through. And I appreciate that so much.”
She’s had a guest appearance on Generations, played a lead character on the Mnet series The Wild, and also on the soap opera Rockville. She’s had a host of TV presenting and hosting opportunities, but now she’s the lead actress on a new movie, The Honeymoon, showing in cinemas from the 31st March.
“It was probably one of the most daunting experiences for me because when I first got the role I was playing a married woman who had been married for eight years with two seven and eight year old kids. I had just gotten married and I had no kids. I was like, I’ve obviously got friends with kids, I also have a lot of friends who don’t have kids, I’m trying to navigate this new space, where do I pull from? It was very daunting for me to accept the role. Kudos to me, by the time we started shooting, I’ve been married for a while, I had my kid, so I think I was able to find spaces within myself and spaces that I could foresee myself being in to be able to draw from to create this character.
“It was a lot of fun. I worked with some incredible creatives. My co-stars are just incredible women. Incredible women who are family women, married with kids, and they were able to help me navigate my space as a new mom. I learned so much from that space outside of just being an actress. I learned about sisterhood, I learned about how to be a strong woman, and I learned how to be brave on that set, in so many ways. And I’m grateful to the women that I acted with for that.”
Having run the gamut in her presenting career, one of the ways that we’ve seen her challenging herself was by going into sports presenting. Asked how daunting it was, she says, “When I went into it, it wasn’t daunting at all in the sense that I grew up playing sport. I got my provincial colours for tennis, I played so many different sporting codes in school, I was athletics captain, I was house captain. So sport was my thing. I didn’t fear my ability to go into the space, my fear was how would people receive it and the challenges that I would face in that space.
“Because for me, there were a lot of women that came before me that were in that space. You think of Nomathemba on Woza Weekend, you think of Carol Manana, you think of Lebo Motsoeli, just to name a few. There’s a lot of women who walked that path before me. But I made a conscious decision to walk the path very feminine. I think I was one of the first girls to wear heels on a soccer pitch, and a dress, and full face-beat. And [production] were like ‘we don’t have these things’ and I was like ‘fine, I’ll bring my own.” And it took a lot of people who were rigid and set in their ways to say ‘OK we’ll let you do this thing’ to fast forward to today where every woman you see in sport has a gorgeous face beat, is dressed in the most beautiful fashions and heels. No woman is now forced to compromise their femininity when they present what they do. I was one of the first to do it and I’m so proud of that. But it was a very scary time because you’re walking a space with a lot of resistance.
“And if it wasn’t for the powers that be… The great Bab’ Irvin Khoza who is a huge custodian of football in so many ways – outside of just the PSL and Orlando Pirates – but just football, and just the culture of football as a whole, he was one of the very first people to endorse me, and endorse the change. And that was something that I’m so grateful for; was that if I didn’t’ have the support of some of the most powerful men in the business, I wouldn’t have been able to carry on and have a five-year long career in sport. Longer, actually, because I started in 2013.”
In the same way that the actress she looked up to as a little girl – Connie Ferguson – transitioned from in front of the camera to owning her own production house, so has Minnie Dlamini. She heads up Beautiful Day Productions, her production company that was founded in 2012. “How my production journey started is when I got to Johannesburg I dropped out of school, I’m only on air for one hour on a Friday night, so Monday to Friday during the day I have absolutely nothing to do. So I knocked at the production [that produced Live, Urban Brew] and I’m like ‘can I just come intern? You don’t even have to pay me, just teach me how to do this stuff.’ Because it was interesting.
“I started off pouring tea, next thing I was doing language count, next thing I’m holding cameras, I’m shooting camera three – which is nothing, I’m just putting the camera on a tripod and pressing play. And then I was writing scripts, and then I was in the brainstorming room of how we can change the show up, what kind of artists needed to be in there, I was booking the artists. I ended up becoming the production assistant on Live and that’s really where I got to sink my teeth into the business because not only was I working on Live but Urban Brew at the time was such a great company because they had so many different shows that they were producing for so many different platforms. From gospel show, to SABC shows, to Multichoice shows; an array of shows, different cultures, different backgrounds, and I got to sort of go learn little bits of the business in different spaces, how shows were made. And that’s when I decided I love being on screen and I can’t wait to immerse myself into this business in a way where I’m able to be one of the people that create. And that’s when I started my business in 2012. I knew that one day someone is gonna get tired of seeing me on screen but I wanna be at the point to continue to create longevity in this business. I can move away from the camera and go behind the scenes and be a part of creating the content that South African, and hopefully the world, viewers can see and watch.”
Her wedding special, Becoming Mrs. Jones, was the first show that her company produced. “That was actually a lot less stressful than the actual planning of the wedding itself. But because I was just really excited. I saw the vision, I saw it in my head immediately, I worked with some incredible creatives on the show and it ended up being a hit. It was the most viewed show on the channel and probably one of my proudest moments for my first production. And then after that, one of the productions that I’m even more proud of is the show that I did immediately afterwards, which was Spirit of Mzansi. It was a competition-reality type show. And the reason why I was excited about that show was that I was excited to produce a show that didn’t have me on it. I didn’t want it to be that it was going to be good or successful because of just me. I wanted to prove my chops as a producer.”
In her wedding special, she told the story of how she met her ex-husband working behind the scenes as a producer. I ask how much of that knowledge has been imparted to her, and how much of his experiences as a producer helped her in her journey. “I think what it did is that it opened up a space for me to be able to meet a lot of different people from a technical perspective and what I realised is that what I wanted to do was surround myself with people who had been in the business for a really long time. I’m not delusional about the fact that, at the time, I was young, I was inexperienced, I had a vision and I needed to be able to push forward but I needed to surround myself with people who were experienced. That was very important to me; to meet and work with people who had been in the business longer than I had.”
Outside of the film and TV productions that she’s helmed – Vuzu Amp’s Becoming Mrs. Jones, Mzansi Magic’s Spirit of Mzansi, Showmax’s No Love Lost, Kyknet’s Pa, and Channel O’s Own The O – she’s produced a number of content pieces for brands and worked on their digital campaigns.
I ask her what the hierarchy is like between Minnie Dlamini as a brand versus Minnie Dlamini as a professional. “In so many ways I’ve tried to separate the two but they really don’t separate. As much as I might try, when you’re dealing with people in business, when you’re dealing with the Minnie Dlamini brand, when you’re dealing with them from a production perspective, they’re still meeting me. So I can’t run away from it. So it’s important for me to always make sure that when I do walk into a boardroom and I’m speaking business, I understand that I can bring my Minnie Dlamini flair and I try use that to my advantage when I’m pitching, but at the end of the day the work needs to be at the highest level. I’m not getting the job because I’m Minnie Dlamini, I’m getting the job because of my capabilities and what I’m saying that I can deliver on.”
What’s she setting her sights on in the near future is producing what she would like to say is her first film. “I have produced two films already for Showmax, which I’m very proud of, but I produced them during COVID. There were a lot of issues and for me, what I’m grateful for that experience is that it taught me what to do, it taught me what not to do, it taught me how much I need to put of myself into a project, how much I need to remove myself, so I learnt a lot of lessons. And I’m ready to produce a film with all the lessons that I’ve learned, with the people that I’ve met along the way, and create something that I think could really take this country by storm.
She values the way that women who’ve come before her have paved the way for her to realise her dreams. She notes Connie Ferguson as a producer, Connie Chiume as an actress, and a host of other professionals in film and TV in SA. As the industry grows, she says, “I’m definitely where I am because of the path that other people have walked before me.”