My City - Joburg: Lebo Mashile

17 July 2011 - 03:09 By Nikki Temkin
'I push my voice by working with other artists,' says Lebo Mashile
'I push my voice by working with other artists,' says Lebo Mashile

The poet, performer and artist on being corny, laughter and wearing Uggs

I am ... a rule breaker, a control freak, a closet comedian, a workaholic, a mom, daughter and sister.

Where were you born? Providence, Rhode Island. My parents left South Africa because of politics and education.

Where did you grow up? We moved back to South Africa when I was 16 . We stayed in Soweto, Yeoville and then the inner city.

Where do you live? In Melville.

Who do you share your house with? My cats, Nala and Tau, my mom, my six-month-old son Moya and my partner.

How did you become a performance poet? I was a bookworm who studied law and international relations but became disillusioned. The universe threw me into the underground art scene in Joburg in 1999.

I gain inspiration from ... everywhere. South Africa has such an extraordinarily rich, complicated and conflicted environment - a wet dream for poets.

My favourite mentors are ... poet laureate Keorapetse Kgositsile, Don Mattera, Shakespeare, and the original rapper and feminist academic, Audre Lorde.

The South African performance art scene is ... wonderful. Young people proudly refer to themselves as poets. But I worry about the lack of underground spaces.

What have been some of your most enjoyable collaborations? Poetry transcends mediums. We have one little lifetime to produce as much work as we can - and that's your legacy. I loved working with Moving into Dance, Tumi and The Volume and Zubs. I also did a residency with printmaker Gabi Nkosi, who was murdered a year later.

What are you working on now? A collaboration with a photographer and I'm also putting together a new web-based TV show and presenting the new season of Great Expectations on

Critical success is ... great when people say good things about you and kak if they say bad things. As I get older, I stay clear of the noise and stay focused on the work.

How do you get around? In a Renault Clio - my mommy-mobile.

What would people be surprised to know about you? I'm actually very corny and cheesy.

How did you meet your partner? At a women's walk for Say No to Child Pornography. There was this dude with a beard dressed up as Paris Hilton with a plastic dog in his bag ...

What's the best thing about being a poet? The spoken word is the original human art form. It's primal. When you breathe life into words, it resonates in a way that a human being can feel on all levels.

Why do you think poetry is having a resurgence? There's a movement back to the simple stuff. With our super-accelerated lifestyle, we want to feel human again.

How do you spend your free time? With my son. I'm a dedicated Facebook and Twitter user.

If you weren't doing what you do, you would ... be a chef. I love cooking.

I'm predisposed to ... laughing at inappropriate moments.

What do you love most about living in Joburg? Joburg has a lot of edges with no comfort zones. Even in the removed suburban reality, you can't escape it. You are forced to deal with it, one way or another.

If you were mayor for the day, what would you do? I'd fix the potholes and make sure the streetlights work. I'd build sidewalks that force us to get out of cars and engage with streets.

What's the worst thing about living in Joburg? The fear. It does something fundamentally wrong to your humanity.

What is your favourite building in Joburg? Constitution Hill - the complex is seeded on gross atrocity but has been transformed.

One of my life philosophies is: Creativity has the power to transform lives.

I can't go a day without ... my phone.

If you inherited R100-million what would you do with it? I'd build libraries, pay off my debt and then go to somewhere fab like Reunion and veg out for a month.

What music do you listen to? Frank Ocean, Busi Mhlongo, old-school soul and funk such as Prince and Chaka Khan. Also Fela Kuti.

What are your creature comforts? My Uggs, my pyjamas and having my bra off.

I always collect ... elephants.

You know you're in Joburg when ... you pass a beggar with the most irreverent, confrontational nonsense written on his sign.

Everything in moderation but ... dark Lindt chocolate.

I'd like to be remembered for ... she came, she saw, she laughed.


Sunny days: The sun makes people more human.

The ocean: I grew up near the ocean. I wish Joburg had an ocean.

Cartoons: Old-school cartoons like Pinky and the Brain and Tiny Toons.

Books: Poetry is fashionable but that needs to be translated into a genuine love and appreciation for literature.

Hot water, honey and lemon in winter: It warms you from the inside.

Conservatives: Homophobes get over it!

Cellphones in movies: It's plain rude.

Bad drivers: Who don't indicate and don't know what to do at traffic circles.

People who steal tweets: They write verbatim what you have tweeted. It's tweet plagiarism.

Little Black book

  • Book Browza Books, cnr Beyers Naude & 4th Avenue, Melville, 011 482 9655

The owner Chris lets you hand in your used books and use that as a credit.

  • Doppio Zero, Greenside, 011 6468740

I like the seafood pasta and the chocolate hot-cross buns at Easter.

  • Bismillah, Fordsburg, 0118386429

They have the most amazing butter dahl and garlic naan bread.

  • Superella, Melville, 082 845 5551

The designer, Ella, makes versatile clothes in great fabrics that travel well.

  • The Bioscope, cnr Main & Fox streets, CBD, 084 414 9312

An amazing place to watch art movies.

  • Zoo Lake, Parkview

We walk and watch the ducks.

  • The Oriental Plaza, Bree St, Fordsburg, 011 838 6752

You can get anything here.