The Joburg Post Interview with CEO and Founder of MySportsBook App: Walter Mokoena
By Neo Poho
The Joburg Post interview with Walter Mokoena continues as we look into his childhood and how he became an SRC President, his thoughts on the state of sport in South Africa and how Randall Abrahams told him he will never make it in broadcasting.
Let’s first talk about your childhood, at 16 you were already a leader by virtue of being an SRC President, did that play an impact in shaping up your character and the person you would ought to become?
Well thanks Neo for that question, yes it really played a huge role in shaping up my character and personality because remember such a position requires someone that is tough and not someone that is soft because how can one lead when they are soft?
So it really made me tough in terms of being a leader and brought out some great leadership qualities in me.
Funny enough I got involved very reluctantly because it was during the times when there were no campaigns and getting people to vouch for you like how it's done now, so I was chosen by the executive committee that was formed through the class captains at that time, I for one was also a class captain.
So immediately after the executive committee was formed, they elected me to be the SRC President.
I have always said people generally know who must lead them because leaders are not appointed – that is just a process but leaders emerge you can look at some of the greatest leaders in the world, its people that have emerged to become leaders because they are always looking to help other people and inspire the next person so I think I also emerged from the rest.
Speaking about some of the greatest leaders in the world, who is your favourite leader in South Africa?
Unfortunately my favourite leader in South Africa is in his resting place in Qunu, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, one of the greatest in history, one of the greatest human beings I have ever worked with, I am a disciple of Nelson Mandela and I think his life is out there for people to see what he actually stood for, but I have other leaders who are mentors to me like former Minister in the Presidency Dr Essop Pahad he is a great leader too and a very close friend by the way.
Speaking about your character and childhood, who would you say has also influenced your life in your upbringing?
That would be Betty Velephi Nene, my late mother she was my absolute pillar of strength and I think what I have become is a small representation of what she was, so she really is someone that played a big influence in my life even though there has been other people but my late mother stands above the rest.
You always talk about your mother and never really share much about your father …
Well my father is a creature of silence, he is man of few words and we have a great relationship together, you know with parents they usually say the son is more closer to the mother and the daughter is more closer to the father, so that’s how it has been with me but I have a great relationship with my dad.
Beginning your broadcasting career at P4 Radio Cape Town after matriculating, would you say you have always wanted to pursue a career in broadcasting?
Definitely, I have always wanted to do broadcasting, infact before even going to P4 Radio, there was one notable interview I went to at Y-FM - during the early days of Y-FM in 1997
At that time the station manager or programs manager I don’t quite remember well, was Randall Abrahams and during the interview he told me I must go and choose another career because I will never have a career in broadcasting.
Guess what? as I walked out of the interview I told him that I am going to become one of the greatest broadcasters in the history of South Africa and every time we now bump into each it’s a awkward situation because we would then walk in a way that would make us avoid each other.
However, what he did actually taught me in life if someone says I can’t accomplish something that sparks up some fire in me to accomplish it and accomplish it even better.
Then I remember in 1998 I went to Cape Town to try play football at Cape Town Spurs but that didn’t work because it was always raining in Cape Town and where I came from whenever it rained, we would not train but here at Spurs whether it rained or not, the team would train so I would normally stay behind until the coach told me to never come to training anymore.
Since football didn’t work out I then took a decision to pursue radio and one day I just decided call Shado Thwala who was at P4 Radio who then connected me with the news editor, at that time the news editor at P4 Radio was Andrew Bolton.
I then spoke with Andrew and told him I need a job in the sports department and he said I should come the following the day for an interview, so I went to the interview and got the job but as I left he told me the radio station doesn’t have money to pay me I then told him they don’t have to pay me because all that I just want to do is learn and that's how I got my first radio gig.
Amongst some of the people that have really contributed to your broadcasting journey is the late Bob Mabena, what are some of the things Bra Bob taught you that really played a significant role in the advancement of your journey?
Well Bra Bob was a fantastic guy because remember after I left P4 Radio, Gavin Mkhari who is now the Chairman of Power FM called me and told me that there was a vacancy at Kaya FM and persuaded me to go there and audition so I took a 17 hour bus ride from Cape Town to Johannesburg to audition and the vacancy was for the sports editor so I nailed the audition and got the job.
So when I started at Kaya FM I did the breakfast show with Ernest Pillay then when Ernest moved from Kaya FM, Bob Mabena came, well you know Bob he is an absolute legend that one grew up watching on studio mix in the days of Radio Metro and now to be working with him was an amazing experience.
He was a great guy, more like a big engine that was driving me forward and I learned a lot from him about broadcasting and how to sort of execute some things in the radio space, may his soul continue to rest in peace.
One of your biggest breakthroughs was in 2000 when you joined SABC 1 to do a show called Mabaleng and the rest is history, in your 13 years working for the public broadcaster what are some of your greatest highlights that you will forever cherish?
Well firstly I did 10 years throughout of unbroken services at SABC and immediately in 2003 I got thrown into my first World Cup – the Rugby World Cup and I was asked to present that World Cup, that for me was the first highlight because I grew up not knowing there was a sport called rugby.
My second highlight is the 2006 FIFA World Cup because I am still the only person in South Africa who presented a World Cup on his own, it is recorded in the SABC archives, I presented 52 lives matches of that World Cup in 2006.
However, the biggest highlight that stands above the rest is the 2010 FIFA World Cup because I was the face of the public broadcaster for that World Cup, it was absolutely unbelievable working with the likes of Dwight Yorke, Felipe Scolari and Paul Ince just to name a few, it was amazing and nothing can ever top that up.
What’s your take on sport in South Africa, is it still developing or has it developed?
Well honestly, I think sport in this country at the moment summarising it in one word, it is a disaster and I say this because I know what I am talking about, I have worked with the federations through the office of the Minister of Sports, Arts and Culture as the special advisor so I say it is a disaster because I have seen it all.
Sport in South Africa can do so much better but right now we are just achieving accidental success, you get Banyana Banyana winning the WAFCON, the Springboks winning the World Cup yes that’s great for the country but honestly, it’s just accidental success and I don’t think the government is taking sport in this country seriously.
You are a strong believer that if young people can expose and equip themselves with knowledge at a young age then they are bound to go far in life, what is your advice to young people who want to pursue a career in journalism and broadcasting?
Young people should read, I cannot over-emphasize this any longer, young people should read and read more, we now live in the information age and it requires one to read because all the knowledge and every information you need that can empower you in any field is in books so young people should read it’s as simple as that.
On a lighter note, how do you stay motivated and inspired in your work, and what do you do to maintain a healthy work-life balance?
I always try and seek to find out what is the meaning of my effort in everything that I do, I always want to know why do I do the things that I do and what is it’s role in society and how is what I am doing contributing to producing public goods and goods that will be of benefit to society so that’s how I stay motivated and inspired in my work.
As for maintaining a healthy lifestyle I do my aqua sessions in the pool, yoga and I meditate while I also try to eat well.
On that note what’s your favourite dish?
Well I still love my Phuthu with Inkomazi, one of my favourite because it’s easy to cook, it’s tasty and surely gets one full so Phuthu with Inkomazi will always go down as my favourite dish.
What are the top 5 things you would like to do before you retire?
Well for me it’s always to empower young people because the lack of investment in our young people will ultimately result in the future being stolen, if we don't invest in young people there will be no future for them to inherit, so anything that really plays a positive role in making sure young people are empowered is at the top of my list.
I also want to use my brand, skills, experience and knowledge more in the public domain to influence young people because young people are lost in this country.
I know you said five things but I have cut them to two because other than empowering young people and making this country is a better place for young people to inherit in the future then really there’s nothing for me to do.
The Joburg Post Interview