Kabelo Mabalane has left the Kwaito-star life to launch a wellness centre
I'Pantsula believes fitness is the future, in part because working out can help to relieve the tension of living in a highly-strung society like SA, writes Palesa Buyeye
Kabelo Mabalane was a revolutionary figure on the South African music scene in the early 2000s. As a fresh face with a voice that demanded to be heard, he challenged the conservatism of the day, calling himself "I'Pantsula for life". Mabalane recently received a South African Music Awards Lifetime Achievement Award along with his group TKZee
Nineteen years after his first album was released, I'm sitting in Sandton in his newly launched wellness and retail centre Kumo, named after his son.
With this swerving off the music road, is he still I'Pantsula?
"I said for life, not seven days, two months or six months. For life," he laughs.
"It is the 'against all odds' spirit, all or nothing - that's what I've relied on my whole life."
Mabalane didn't fulfil his father's dreams of finishing school, but vowed never to end up with nothing like so many South African artists.
He believes fitness is the future. "As a country, we're outdoor orientated. But in Joburg we don't have many outdoor places to go. So we go to indoor facilities to get active.
"I've heard people say that in a highly strung society like ours, where there's a lot of crime, the tension makes people want to work out. And even in hard financial times people want to train," he says.
Although the majority of South Africans are black, the fitness industry doesn't reflect this. "It's great that there are more people of colour coming into it," says Mabalane.
His centre is an "eco-system" for athletes. It has a health bar, a technical gear section, a medical centre with a dietician, podiatrist, biokineticist, cryotherapy and physiotherapist, and a high-performance training centre - commonly known as a gym - still under construction.
Although the concept is ideally for runners, Mabalane says it's a place for every athlete.
"I use the word athlete and immediately people switch off. But like Nike founder Phil Knight says, 'If you have a body then you are an athlete.' I've got golfers and triathletes that I run with - running often translates into other sports."
Although Mabalane has immersed himself in this new journey, he sometimes misses being in the studio.
"I have experienced crazy heights of success in the music industry. Like with a drug, when you experience highs in one industry there's a certain level of high you want to always reach. I'm driven to succeed in everything."
Mabalane is sure to bring the same levels of passion and inspiration to his new iteration as fitness guru that he brought to his music career. It's the same determination that helped him fight mental illness and addiction. It's somewhat of a transformation for him, he says of his new simplified lifestyle that starts with a run at 4:30am.
The 42-year-old South African celebrity still believes he has a lot to achieve. "You can never really arrive. I remember being 30 and climbing Aconcagua in Argentina. Base Camp was at 5,900m. You're on top of the world but the more you climb the more you see how many peaks there are still to climb. I feel the same way about my life," he says.
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