Posted on Thursday, August 5, 2021

On Being Fearless: Uveka Rangappa in conversation with Lebo Mashile

Lebogang Mashile is a celebrated, award winning poet, actress, musician, TV show host and activist. She also gained significant attention for her resurrection of the story of Saartjie Baartman - a Khoi woman who was exhibited as a “freak” in 19th century Europe. Lebo wanted to highlight the effects of slavery and hypersexualisation of the black female body. She has also hosted parenting show Great Expectations together with news anchor and journalist Uveka Rangappa. Uveka caught up with her old friend to talk about what it means to be Fearless …

You’re out there in the (very critical) public eye. You’re not afraid to speak your mind. What keeps you Fearless?

I have lots of fears, worries and anxieties. “Courage is feeling the fear and doing it anyway.” - Oprah Winfrey. I come back to this quote often. Faith is what allows me to push through my fear.

When we hosted Great Expectations, there were some long, tough days but you didn’t panic or complain. Your secret?

I panic before every performance. If I am not worried, then I know something is off. It means I am not invested. Doing a show like Great Expectations, I was always aware of the presence of guests who needed to be made to feel comfortable. For many of them, it was their first time on TV. Putting them at ease became my priority.

What makes you Fearful right now?

I’m afraid for our country in a way I have never been before. This last year has really been a rollercoaster - facing the unknown and waves of change. I worry about my kids. I was terrified both times before I gave birth. I worry about being able to take care of my family.

How do you use your craft to overcome or express your Fears?

Making art is the process of turning the unknown into something tangible. Every single time you face a blank page or the stage, you are walking into the unknown. But doing it over and over has taught me that fear can be transmuted into other emotions. It does not have to be permanent. Knowing this strengthens my faith.

In telling the story of Saartjie Baartma, what did “getting to know “Saartjie teach you about strength, courage and survival?

Saartjie Baartman’s story taught me how gruelling the experiences of our ancestors were but they were able to survive. We don’t talk enough about the fact that chattel slavery existed in the Cape for two centuries. We don’t talk about the many people who fought against it, who were willing to die for their freedom. Saartjie was silenced, but I am not. I can be abused and misunderstood, lied about and hated, but I still have a voice. Many of our ancestors did not. Having a voice, the ability to speak one’s truth, is a precious gift.

What are the most important lessons we should be teaching our children so they can be the best versions of themselves?

My Mom taught me to travel and not be afraid of exploring new places. She taught me that I can be multi-faceted. When we were growing up, she was studying, working, as well as participating in activism, and raising us all at the same time. She taught me that it’s okay to leave a relationship that isn’t working. She often stood against societal norms and while it wasn’t easy for her, it instilled in me the desire to stay true to myself even when it was difficult.

What advice do you have for someone about to accomplish a fearless 1st?

I don’t think fear makes you weak. Fear exposes where we feel vulnerable. The remedy for fear is faith and love. When you practice overcoming fear, you learn that fear does not have to be a permanent state. Fear can shift into other kinds of feelings, and that experience is exhilarating. The gift of overcoming fear is strengthening one’s courage. Courage is a muscle. It can be built, but courage also sits side by side with fear. That gives me great comfort: knowing that the most vulnerable parts of me and the bravest parts of me sit side by side.

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