I walk into the entryway of Mantenga Lifestyle centre. Fumbling quickly around the place cause I’m low-key late. I reach into my handbag to do a double take of everything I’ll need for the interview. No, sit down; I think Sit-down is a better word. He had hit me up just ten minutes before and said he was already at the venue. I laugh a little as I recount how he ended the call with “Do they serve food?” and his tone relaxing ever so evidently as I told him they did. I recognise my guest immediately and so does he. He gestures in a subtle and almost nervous way for me to come over to the table and greets me with “They only serve Pizza, I’m not a pizza person” and right then, in that short period of time, I feel already comfortable around him. Veli Mngomezulu is his name and he is none other than the brains and poster boy for Swaziland’s coolest podcast: Word!s
He sits across me, one leg over the other. You can tell that he is in his type of environment. And why would he not be. He tells me about his days growing up. Hours spent in his room trying to record his own music. I laugh. But there is something more to Veli than meets the eye. First glance you’d think he’s your typical ‘On-his-way-to-the-top’ millennial. But as he tells me more about his childhood, about his parents’ split before he was 6, his transition from one home to another, growing up in a big family and about his in and out experience with college, you can tell that he’s a guy with depth.
The Review: So who is Veli? Tell us about him
Veli: “That’s broad. Okay. I grew up with a great musical influence. I recall always being in my room, hovering over the computer, trying to make my own beats. I have always loved music and for the longest time, it was my escape. My parents split when I was fairly young. And you know how separartions go. By the time I was in pre-school, I was living with my dad and my step mother.”
The Review: And how was that like?
Veli: Well, the interesting part was living with a huge family. That was interesting. But like I said, music was my escape. I found it hard to relate with anybody in my family, so I would just chill alone, jam to my music and try make my beats. I suppose that’s why my dad became convinced that I study an IT related course after high school. He assumed I loved computers, when in fact, I loved music.
The Review: Did you listen to him and pursue that field?
Veli: I did actually. And it didn’t work out. I tried it for some time, then decided to switch courses. That was such a stressful time in my life actually. It was also around this time that I found out I was about to be a dad. Imagine. I was sitting in a bus headed to Pretoria, when the girlfriend (then) told me that she had just peed on the stick. My whole life changed in that moment. I had to come home and be a man. At first I couldn’t tell anyone, but I eventually told one of my sisters and the word eventually got to my parents. My dad sat me down and told me that it was time to take responsibility for my actions and be present. That was a surreal moment
The Review: We always hear about fatherhood changing oneself. Did it change you?
Veli: Oh yeah. Definitely. It taught me a lot of things. It’s still teaching me a whole lot. I grew up hey. I learnt how to hustle effectively and it kinda also took me back to church. The whole experience did. You know, you get to a point where you don’t know what else to do but to talk to God. I love being a dad. It was stressful at first cause you know, you’re just a kid. But it’s been one of the greatest things to happen to me.
The review: Okay, but we are curious to know if baby-momma drama is a thing in all black relationships. Or is this all just a stereotype?
Veli: (Laughs) honestly, it depends on the person you’re having a child with. As for me, I haven’t had any drama. We get along very well.
He cracks a joke every now and then, his sense of humour peeking through. His energy is contagious. We snap a series of pictures and move on to a different location. We walk about the poolside of Legends lodge and as if on cue, he breaks into a hilarious story about the day he almost drowned. After theatrically recanting it, he steps back into the foyer to tell us about the birth of Word!s and it is quite the story. Characterised by a first failed attempt and something he described as “Birthed from a painful place”
The Review: How did Word!s come about? Take us through that
Veli: See, the dream was always radio. I studied business management at Limkokwing, but the dream was radio. And Word!s, is such a special project to me because it was birthed during a hard time in my life. I was dealing with the loss of my father and I wanted to create something that he would be proud of. I reveared my father so much and his death had such an impact on me. So I stumbled upon an article about podcasts and i started reading up on them and how easy it was to create your own, so I went with it. I got together with Slim-Q, who’s also my brother in-law and he jumped on the idea. It was so exciting. But the first episode we tried to film, didn’t go as planned.
The Review: What happened?
Veli: We got sponsors. We got a venue. We had equipment, everything was on track. But no one showed up. Nobody. The concept was to have a sit down with individuals from the industry and talk issues that members of the entertainment community face. And when we were planning this, everyone we reached out to was keen. But on the day, it was such a flop. That was so disappointing. But I suppose if I had quit then, the brand wouldn’t have been what it is today. So we went back to the drawing board, re-conceptualised everything and here we are today. I am so proud of Word!s. I mean, we are interviewing beyond our border. That is huge to me. I mean, this kid from Swaziland travelled all the way to Joburg to interview Towdeemac from Morafe. I am humble by what I am building.
The Review: What is your vision for the brand?
Veli: I Just want to create a platform for artists. Especially local ones. I want to help push them beyond our borders. And I want to show the next generation of creative heads that it is possible to achieve anything you set your eyes and mind on. Yeah.
Towards the end of our sit-down, my photographer poses the ultimate question about youth unemployment, and Veli gives a stellar answer “Believe you are enough. Believe you deserve shit. So that’s where you start. I hate employment. As the youth, I feel we can do more. But lets talk employment. Don’t just sit and say ‘kute imisebenti’ show me where you went, Show me which doors didn’t open for you. Don’t tell me kute imisebenti” and with that, he walks over to the pool bench and takes out the Word!s banner and smiles. “Branding design among others sponsored this. Now we’re getting recognition even in South Africa. And I say we because I started with a team. But, I have taught myself how to shoot and edit and I do that by myself now”. Profound. I smile back at him when he covers his face with the banner as we try to take another series of shots. And right then, he’s back to being the quirky, shy guy who got to the venue ten minutes before the Faces team and that is when I knew that Velefini Mgomezulu is a force to be reckoned with.