It’s been almost ten years since MTV Base Africa launched, thrusting media personality and entrepreneur Sizwe Dhlomo into our living rooms. As the first ever VJ to represent the continent for global youth brand, MTV, Sizwe is an African Trendsetter who continues to wave his African flag high. He is taking with him the energy of the continent’s music and youth culture to stages and red carpets across the globe.
Sizwe may inhibit an effortless onscreen persona and a quiet confidence now, but the Durban-born South African has come a long way since his first taste of TV fame when he won the first MTV Base VJ search in October 2005. Fast forward to today, Sizwe has hosted countless TV shows on the channel, including the MTV Africa Music Awards. He also hosts a radio show and is a sought after club DJ. His most recent ventures include opening a few fast food franchises, plus he owns a popular Johannesburg eatery and hot spot, making him one of the most recognizable, respected and successful young media personalities on the continent. Sizwe also brings to the table a deep commitment not just to uniting young Africans in song, but also to initiatives like MTV Base Meets… where the likes of Aliko Dangote, Morgan Tsvangirai and Michelle Obama impart knowledge to, and connect with young people from across the continent.
AFRICA.COM: What does Africa mean to you?
SIZWE: As a person born into Africa, this is our time. Everyone is trying to come to Africa right now for whatever reason. They see something in Africa that I’m not sure that even Africans see themselves, because everywhere you go Africans are saying that they need to go overseas. Whereas people from across the world are coming to Africa, because they see that Africa is the future and it is our time.
There is so much potential in this country [South Africa] and the continent.
AFRICA.COM: How did you become a leader within the space you operate in?
SIZWE: I never wanted to be a broadcaster, it’s not something I thought about when I was younger. I wanted to be an accountant, but I ended up hating my accounting teacher. I studied electric engineering and programming, and then the MTV Base opportunity came about. I tried out and then one thing led to the other. The benefit I had was that we were such a small organisation when we started out. I could count on my hands the number of people who were in the office at any given moment. I was on my own in the beginning when the office was still based in London, and so I got to do everything from talent to video acquisition to production and I got deeply entrenched in that. That all helped because when I got in front of the screen, I knew everything that it took to get to that point. If you are that knowledgeable at it, then you get decent at it and that’s what I love about it. I think it’s also why I’ve been able to last as long as I have.
AFRICA.COM: There are two common narratives: “Africa is Rising” and “Africa Needs Aid”. Which is it, or could it be both?
SIZWE: I think the Africa rising narrative is real. I’m not saying that this is all we need to do. This new confidence doesn’t change the world and stuff, but it does start a conversation and from the conversation something can happen. I’ve seen an evolution on the continent, I’ll just speak musically which is my area of expertise. When we first started MTV Base, South Africans didn’t want to hear anything but South African music. If you were playing a Nigerian track, it was a tune out factor, if you were playing a Kenyan track it was a tune out factor. Now here we are a couple of years later and everyone is embracing everyone’s music. The list of African artists that have gone international right now is staggering, they are making waves everywhere.
People from across the world are coming to Africa, because they see that Africa is the future and it is our time.
AFRICA.COM: You’re part of what is being called a “new generation of leaders” – what does that mean to you?
SIZWE: South Africa’s former president Thabo Mbeki had this great vision for Africa. The African Renaissance, this renewal. But before any of that can be achieved you need to communicate to people first. So for me what’s driving this new generation is more about the conversations we are having. Because the more we talk about something the more we connect. That’s why programs like our MTV Base Meets… where we’ve connected young people with leaders like Morgan Tsvangirai and Aliko Dangote, for instance are so important. When you have viewers saying: ‘that particular program has inspired me to finish that degree’. That’s the kind of change we need. So I think the more leaders we have speaking to young people and the more our viewers can see our young people engaging with leaders, I think this will lead to them to being more inspired. Ultimately this leads to some sort of change.
AFRICA.COM: What is your message to young Africans wanting to make a difference, but are not sure where to start?
SIZWE: In my field of broadcasting, (or any form of media right now) everyone is looking for that next black African person who can bring everyone together. The person who can be articulate and pull together people from all walks of life. But the key is education and being yourself. We are currently on the search for our next MTV Base VJ and the advice I give contestants is, we want them to be themselves, because if it is meant to be then it will happen. When I started at MTV Base I looked up to people like Sway from MTV US, Trevor Nelson from MTV Europe. Also a very close friend of mine called Tim Cash who works for MTV News – they were themselves and that’s the thing that set them apart.
Follow him on Twitter: @SizweDhlomo