Hot Lunch

‘I’m learning to have space for grace and forgiveness’, says Katlego Maboe

Aspasia Karras with Katlego Maboe

20 November 2022 - 00:00
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Katlego Maboe at Shift Espresso Bar at the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town.
Katlego Maboe at Shift Espresso Bar at the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town.
Image: Michael Walker

I meet Katlego Maboe for breakfast at his favourite coffee shop at the V&A Waterfront.

It is practically lunchtime for him, he has been at it since 4am. It’s the life of a morning TV show host.  

Shift Espresso Bar is in the part of the Waterfront in Cape Town where all the Italian high-design stores as well as the basketball court and skate park are located.

It’s a highly curated corner of an aspirational, sanitised urban landscape designed to appeal to a certain kind of denizen who likes to skateboard but also wants to sit on editioned chairs.

I dodge a Ferrari on the way in, and watch two SUP boarders paddle past on the canals. The cafe is  buzzing with a cosmopolitan morning crowd, taking meetings and looking appropriately chic.

Katlego has moved to the southern suburbs to be close to the Espresso production hub, but tells me he came here a lot when he lived on the Atlantic seaboard.

He is still the open-faced, professionally charming young man you know from the TV, and that Outsurance ad.  

He has the high-achieving golden boy demeanour you would expect of a bright a cappella singer who was raised by his grandparents and his single mother, who was a teacher.

He is quick to point out that he is not the same Katlego as before

He was expected to do well and he did, studying chartered accounting at Potchefstroom University.

“I suppose I understood the sacrifices my mother had made for me as a child, and I had received a bursary to study there, so the choice was to do that or to pursue a career in music.

“I was lined up to be an opera singer, and she just said to me, you know the love of music will always be there but there’s an opportunity to study something very solid in an industry that will support you should the music thing not work out.”  

The entertainment industry did work out rather spectacularly after university, but he is quick to point out that he is not the same Katlego as before.  

Around his neck is a cross that he touches reflexively every time the conversation gets intense. And, unsurprisingly, it gets intense pretty quickly.

He has been through the mill over the past few years. We are ostensibly here to discuss his return to our TV screens, after a hiatus of two years.

He is back on Espresso in the morning and is the celebrity host on Tropika Island of Treasure All Stars, taking the celebrity contestants and their partners through their challenges and the elimination rounds in the Seychelles.  

He is delighted to be part of the celebrity cast reunion.

“For me it is the third season, and the 10th  for the show. It is such an adventure, and having my skills stretched and taking people on a journey to win the R1m prize, wondering am I doing enough to take the audience at home with us? Am I giving enough of myself to make it relatable, to make it real, to make it tangible?”

I joke and tell him I see potential for a show shot on a tropical island that combines Tropika Island of Treasure with the three other reality shows currently blowing up our screens: Love Island, Survivor and I am a Celebrity... Get me Out of Here.

It could be brilliant. He laughs good naturedly — he has had his fair share of existential challenges in the past two years on all these fronts.

He was very publicly cancelled after his former partner accused him of abuse, and went through a protracted court case that resulted in his vindication and reputational rehabilitation.

But when it was all going down in flames he was dropped from his life as he knew it. How did he cope?

“A lot of prayer, and finding new environments to cultivate self-awareness. Hiking was one of the things that I did quite a lot of in the beginning and surrounding myself with people I felt understood where I was and where I was trying to move to, really focusing on the person I wanted to be and having a clearer picture day by day of who that was, and I would then try my best to move towards being that person. Because I didn’t necessarily have the power to change the conversations that were happening behind closed doors and boardrooms.”

How do you defend yourself in such circumstances? “For me it was a process of allowing the law to take its course. I went through two years of legal struggle. I told the truth and waited for the truth to reveal itself. It was terrible – someone told me that I was the most googled person in 2020 at some stage, for all the wrong reasons.

“Be that as it may, I take full responsibility for the fact that I made one of the most horrible decisions in my life, being unfaithful at a time that was very important for myself and my ex-girlfriend in us being pregnant and expecting a child.

“I will never make excuses for that. But most importantly I have a son to think of who will have to deal with this in his future, and he’s already got a fair understanding of the world as he is four years old. So one day when technology finds its way into his hands, he will see everything. The video will be there forever.

“So I had to think about what kind of example I would want to set for my son, if he had to be confronted with devastating consequences in his life, whether they were born of his actions or not.

“What would I want him to do in that situation. And of course the mother of my child, who I place value on.”

Part of his purpose is to cultivate a positive relationship with his son, particularly because his own father was absent and died before he could build a relationship with him.

“He is called Phoenix. I think presence is the most important thing I can give him. In the heat of the moment when I felt stretched out to every corner of the earth I needed to find moments to bring myself together so that I could be his dad. Because he didn’t understand what was going on. So I was hyper-focused on being present. I am trying to give him the best of what I know and what I have learnt. And always just be honest with him.”

What has he learnt from this period in his life? “I’m learning to have space for grace and forgiveness and understanding that we all make mistakes.

“I suppose the wonderful part of this whole ordeal is that because it took away this one big part of who I am, it made me realise I was so much more than that, I was still a friend, I was still a brother, I was still a son, I was still a father, and I was still someone who mattered.

“And having grace and forgiveness for myself, and not always pushing the needle of wanting to be the poster boy of whatever idea of perfection I have.”

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