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From Bonteheuwel To The Boardroom

Updated: Nov 12, 2021

You may know the dynamic Rozanne McKenzie from Jacaranda FM or from her many TV anchor and presenter roles, such as Omgee Engele, Besigheid wat saak maak and Kopskuif on DStv’s Via. We chat to her about life in broadcasting and the launch of her new production company.

As I sat down to my Zoom interview with Rozanne, I was struck by how incredibly driven and hardworking she is, while being conscious to show up for her family. She’s just arrived home from the Jacaranda FM studio so that she can join her family for her eldest child’s pre-school graduation happening shortly after our interview. That morning she was out the door at 5:30am to swing by the gym before work. The life of a working mom with a full-time career and a brand-new business – Rozanne McKenzie Media.

You grew up with your single mom in Bonteheuwel on the Cape Flats. How has this experience shaped your life?

It has informed all of the decisions that I’ve made in my life – the good ones and the bad. It’s probably the best thing that could have happened to me. My grandparents took care of me before I was old enough to stay by myself, and I think if I had come from a two-parent family I would never have had that close relationship with my grandparents.

I was lucky enough to go to a model C school, so I think it was good for me to still have one foot in Bonteheuwel so that I didn’t ever forget what it was like to grow up not having everything handed to you. I saw how hard my mom worked [as a nurse] to make sure that I had a better life than she did. Now, I also want to work hard to make sure that my life is good and that I can make an impact somehow. If I had grown up in the suburbs, I don’t think I would be as driven as I am now.

How did your production media company come about?

I started Rozanne McKenzie Media in 2018 and from then on, I just got really busy. I still had my career, so I wasn’t pushing to create or launch anything. Toward the end of 2018, I decided to pitch some ideas for TV programmes and toward late 2019, my idea for the show that I currently produce, Omgee Engele, was accepted by the channel and we found a sponsor. It just took flight.

I produce, do voiceover and presentation skills coaching, and teach people how to conduct interviews as well as how to be an interview subject. It’s been a big year, with lots of learning curves as I pushed my company forward.

Chris and Rozanne with their son
Chris and Rozanne with their son

As a woman of colour taking your seat at the table, what has been your experience so far?

As executive producer, I have to make so many big decisions and that’s what I’ve always wanted to do: to work collaboratively with people, but also be in control. Realising that I have to voice my feedback and give projections on an episode before submission to the channel, was a big learning experience.

Another thing – and I don’t think I’m the only woman of colour who’s experienced this – is that when you address any kind of conflict, often you are viewed as the “angry black woman”. You are that stereotype of always creating [an issue], and all because of not wanting to keep your mouth shut. That was a huge lesson. Now I will say what I have to say and how you interpret it is unfortunately not up to me… ek gaan my sê sê, and I’m not going to back down if it’s something I believe in.

Because of my media persona in front of the camera or behind the mic, people often see me as smiling, positive and lighthearted, so another lesson I had to learn was how to break free from that persona and step into business mode as a boss who needs to make company decisions.

Getting there was definitely a process, because along with many other women, I have severe impostor syndrome where I think: “Am I supposed to be here?” Learning not to question your position in an organisation is so important and that doesn’t happen overnight, but once you acknowledge that you can do the job it can only help you progress.

Mentorship is very important and luckily, I’ve had such awesome people cross my path who have made me [believe in my abilities] and not question my own knowledge and skills.

I also strongly believe that women of colour have to work so much harder to prove that we belong. If the bar is down for everyone else, the bar can’t be up for me because I’m from Bonteheuwel. It shouldn’t be that way.

The standards to which we are held are just so much higher and the pressure is so much more to prove ourselves, while other people will just walk into a room and be accepted as competent. The more women of colour are in decision-making rooms, the more we can elevate other people like us – and help them realise that they are not window-dressing but are there for a reason.

What’s it like running your own company on top of everything else you have going on?

What I find difficult is that it’s just me at the moment. When we work on a project such as Omgee Engele, I have an amazing line producer who works with me to make the show happen on paper. Then I hire a crew and we work on that project, but once the project is done, it’s just me. When it comes to pitching and doing everything else at the company, it’s up to me. I won’t lie ­– having a full-time career, a company, and a family is hard work. There’s this hustle culture of “they sleep, you grind”. While some of that is inspiring, working your fingers to the bone when you are so tired that you can’t function optimally is not a great idea.

I try and divide my time as best I can. For instance, if I have been at Jacaranda until 4pm, when I get home it’s bath and bedtime for the kids, spending some time with my husband [Chris Bishop], and then in the evening I will work on my company. Whether that’s writing lesson plans or coaching session plans or working on pictures, I try and schedule everything so that it doesn’t become too much. Chris always tells me to make a list – and I love lists. So how do you eat an elephant? One spoonful at a time – that’s how I approach everything.

With husband Chris, Fallon and James
With husband Chris, Fallon and James

How does the pitching process work?

The pitching process is tough, because you can think your idea is great and the channel will reject it. As a newer company, it’s a bit of a gamble. With Omgee Engele, I approached Jacaranda FM to ask if I could make a TV series out of Good Morning Angels and they were 100% on board. I then had to pitch to the channel, Via, and while they liked it, there were things that needed to be tweaked to fit into their show format. There was quite a bit of back and forth, taking feedback and redrafting. Ultimately, it’s about constantly being able to grow from the feedback you get.

What are you most proud of in your career?

I’m proud that I’ve stuck it out and that I’ve been able to evolve, regardless of the challenges that have sometimes been thrown my way. I’ve been on shows that have suddenly been canceled. In 2019, for example I worked on eNCA’s Nuusdag. I had wanted to be a news reader since I was a little girl.

Then I got offered this job reading news on a news programme, in Afrikaans, with a strong focus on non-white Afrikaans-speaking communities. There were stories about Bonteheuwel, there were stories about a place in the Free State that residents renamed Gatvol because the people were fed up with the lack of service delivery. The stories that you don’t see in the mainstream media. I loved that job. I loved being in that newsroom and being the person relaying the news.

That ended with literally two days’ notice, and it’s happened to me before. Being able to do what I love and get paid for it is something I will never take for granted. One of the main reasons I started my company was because I don’t want to be dependent on contracts and having two days’ notice anymore. I wanted to be more in control of my life and to take a step in the direction of being an industry leader and someone who calls the shots.

How did you handle the emotional and financial fall out?

It was tough and I buried my emotions in loads of junk food. Now I make sure that I have a little bit of money put away for rainy days. I also make sure that I do more than one job so that all my eggs are not in one basket.

Who in SA would you love to collaborate with?

The artist Lady Skollie who has recently won the 2020 FNB Art Prize. I think she’s so amazing. One day I’m going to be able to afford a Lady Skollie to hang in my house.

And then Mia Arderne who wrote Mermaid Fillet. I want to make a movie of this book! It will cost the earth because of all the magical stuff she’s come up with, but if I could make a movie, it would be that.

How did your life change after becoming a mother?

Before becoming a mom, my life was so chilled because I did whatever I wanted to do, whenever I wanted. Now I have two little people to answer to: Fallon, my daughter (3) and James (6). They are a handful. Chris and I can’t just go away for a week to Mozambique on the spur of the moment – we must plan around the school holidays.

When I found out I was pregnant with James, my whole life changed. I changed so many habits, I started thinking less about me and more about them and a lot of my motivation is to provide them with the opportunities that I didn’t have. I don’t want to spoil them, but I also don’t want them to struggle – just like my mom didn’t want me to struggle.

Advice for new business owners

Author: Leanne Feris

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