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5 Minutes With Poet And Design Indaba Superhost Lebo Mashile

We asked Lebo Mashile for her thoughts on what makes SA design special – and her views on what every visitor to Joburg should have on their must-visit list.


Lebo Mashile | House and Leisure

Lebo Mashile wears many hats: she's a poet, performer, actress, theatre maker, former TV presenter, recording artist, speaker and mother. 

We sat down with Mashile recently to discover her thoughts on what makes South African design so special, her highlights of the latest Design Indaba conference (where she was again a truly memorable and inspiring host) and her advice on what every visitor to Johannesburg should have on their must-visit list.

5 Minutes With Poet And Design Indaba Superhost Lebo Mashile

How would you sum up South African design now? 

Design in South Africa is eclectic, ancient, modern, culturally rooted, responsive, influenced by various parts of the world and futuristic.

What do you most enjoy about what you do?

I like what I do because every day I am challenged and inspired in a myriad of ways. Even after nearly 20 years, I feel like I’m still a student of my craft. I use poetry to connect, challenge, mirror, provoke, heal, share, express and learn. 

And what's the part you would do without if you could?

The worst part of my job is the lack of protection mechanisms in the arts for artists and our labour. 

What is it like to host Design Indaba?

Hosting Design Indaba is a crash course in understanding some of the most expansive and exciting creative minds in the world. It’s exhausting, exhilarating and very rewarding. 

And what was your highlight of this year's conference, in particular?

My highlight of the 2019 conference was seeing how many African designers use history and culture – beyond colonialism and its resulting horrors – as a well of inspiration to reimagine the present and the future. 

What are you watching at the moment?

I’m currently obsessed with Dekalog, a Polish drama series from the late 1980s that I’m watching as part of research for a script I’m working on.

What are your hidden gems in Joburg’s inner city?

The recording studio at the Bassline in town, the Oriental Plaza and Bismillah in Fordsburg, and Little Addis Cafe in Maboneng. And don’t leave Johannesburg without bungee-jumping and eating shisa nyama in Soweto, visiting The Women’s Jail at Constitution Hill, watching a play at The Market Theatre in Newtown and enjoying a night of twerking at Liquid Blue in Melville. 

Where, in your opinion, can one gaze at South Africa's best views?

The Valley of a Thousand Hills in KwaZulu-Natal and the Richards Bay coastline.

Do you have a hidden talent?

When I’m tired I turn into a professional nap artist. It’s my other calling!

What are your kitchen cupboard staples? 

Olive oil, soy sauce, an assortment of pastas, coconut milk, numerous Indian spices, dried herbs, canned tomatoes, chickpeas, black beans, nori, brown and white rice, apple cider vinegar, herbal teas, lentils and pilchards. 

What is the best advice you’ve ever received? 

‘Let yourself off the hook.’ 

What would you say that working in the arts has taught you?

That there is a vast difference between the process of creation and earning a living from your creativity. Every South African artist should value their work. If someone is willing to pay for what you do, you should never give it away for free. 

What is the one one thing no one knows about you?

I could live off a diet of fresh fish and watermelon. 

What are your go-to comfort foods?

Indian and Ethiopian food, and my mother’s cooking. 

What do you always travel with?

Incense, crystals and candles. 

What's the one place  you have travelled to that you'll never forget? 

Medellín in Colombia for the International Poetry Festival of Medellín. 

What are you currently reading?

'Redefining Realness' by Janet Mock. 

And listening to?

Björk, Moonchild Sanelly and Maxwell. 

If you could change one thing about South Africa, what would it be?

To teach the true history of this country in schools so that every child has an understanding of what happened to us.

What advice would you give your younger self?

When I was younger, I used to think I had to make people okay with who I am. Now I know that people-pleasing is draining, and that boundaries are healthy.

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