The Joburg Post interview with CEO & Founder of MySportsBook App: Walter Mokoena

By Tshegofatso Makola

In this week’s edition of the Joburg Post interview, we have renowned media personality, Walter Mokoena who is also the founder of MySportsBookApp and the former special advisor to the Minister of Sport, Arts, and Culture in the Republic of South Africa.

We get to have an in-depth conversation with Walter as he shares his life journey, accomplishments, lessons, and some of the ways he wants to contribute to society at large.

You began working at a very young age, landing one of your first jobs as a sports freelance writer at the age of 19. Is a career in print/digital media something you have dreamed of doing for a long time?

Yeah, I think I have always wanted to report or write about Sports, particularly football because I was just so passionate [about it]. I thought that I was going to be a professional football player, but if that didn’t work out, I would try to do something that involved football or sports, whether it's reporting about it on radio, newspapers, or TV- anything that would get me into the sports journalism business.

Let’s talk about your upbringing, what was that like and how have you seen that transcend into the person you are today.

I was born in this Bantustan (in the days of Bantustan) and I lived in Bushbuckridge until I was about nine years old, and by the time we left there, I hadn't [ever] been in a classroom because our school only had from Sub A ( what you guys call grade R) from Standard five. So the classroom was only Standard three, Standard four, and Standard five, and the 'Principal's office'. So the first four years of school, [saw] you study under a tree.

Some are not aware that you studied in Paris for a year, what sparked the choice to further your studies in France?

My mother passed away in 2008, so I thought I wanted to go somewhere far away to reboot France became the country of choice for me and I thought that it would be a country where I could learn French (which I speak read, and write now). 

My kids have only ever been exposed to French schooling. Being there, I needed to learn the language, so I naturally go to the University. So I went to the Catholic University of Paris and I spent two years there majoring in the French language. I needed to get my French proficiency to a certain level.

We know that your first-ever magazine SoccerLife 442 was quite a big move, some may even argue that it was too ambitious, why did you sell it?

It was proof to myself that I could do this thing and own a football magazine on my own, and I started well. The CEO of what is now Sunday Times and what is called Arena Holdings now had given me a call and asked whether they could buy my magazine.

I said, "well, we've only published one copy".

So it was called 'DiskiLive' when it was on the shelf, but later we changed it to 'SoccerLife 442' and it was bought after one edition.

Let’s move to your work in Government, we know that you joined the Department of Sports, Arts, and Culture as an advisor. Most journalists and broadcasters leave the field to go to the government for various reasons (often money), what was your reason?

I always say that in the government, there are three positions you can't apply for: the Minister, the Deputy Minister, and a special advisor. I received a call to serve the former Minister of Sports, Arts, and Culture, Nathi Mthethwa, out of the blue. He had asked to see me and when I went to see him, the meeting lasted a few minutes.

He asked me to be his advisor for Sport and that was it and he said "I'm appointing you with immediate effect."

So it was a call to service. For me to be given the opportunity to serve the country was a great opportunity and honour.

You spoke a little about improving the civil service, are you willing to build the civil service?

Yes, I'm always available. As I said earlier, when I got a call to serve in government, I accepted it and I think that I got a fair amount of experience because being an advisor, you operate at such a top level where you really get to see how government functions, the interphase between the administrative, the executive and legislative part because you interphase a lot with parliament, Portfolio committees and the executive. So yes, the answer is that I would be willing.

I think a lot of us should be prepared to roll up our sleeves because this is our country and we cannot let it slide into this anarchy, because right now in South Africa, the country is really sliding into anarchy and it's in a state of lawlessness. There is criminality. It's absolute chaos.
How did working in the Department alter your view on politics or governance?

Working in government is a very difficult task. It is a lot more complex and there are a lot of things that need to be taken into consideration. I think a big part of what I learned is that South Africa still has a long way to go to build a capable and professional civil service that would work irrespective of who's in power.

If we can get that right, I think we can get the country moving. It's also a function of leadership: You get a lot of people who aren't suitable for the job but they get the job because they know this one and that one.

We all have a role to play and I think that we must all look to contribute in whatever shape or form [and] it doesn't have to be at the top level.

Government isn't just a structure in the Union buildings, governance, government, and its work happens all across the world in communities, urban centers, and schools, including the work that we do to work towards a better society.

How do you remain relevant as Walter Mokoena, and not the ex of “whoever”, and someone’s “baby daddy”?

I always believe that you have to reinvent yourself and create demand for services and, I've been in this game for 25 years, so whoever would have crossed my path would have known.

Your career has evolved over the years from writing, to broadcasting, and digital media. What is the next step for Walter Mokoena?

I think I want to make myself available to be of service to communities, society, and humanity at large. Whatever I do from now on, I think will be a contribution towards bettering society as a whole.

Chatting it up with Walter Mokoena proved to be quite insightful. We learned French along the way, but most of all, we learned the importance of serving the country, in whichever way you can.

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