Spend an hour with Katlego Maboe and you want to be him. Well, except perhaps the part where you have to get up for work at 3.30am.
But he’s a man who knows what he wants (“Whatever I do, I want to be the best at it”), then gets it (hosting breakfast TV, joining a top South African boy band, establishing his own events company, graduating with a B.Com, scoring provincial colours in two sports – all before the age of 26).
He’s clearly ambitious and motivated then, yet utterly charming, fiercely intelligent, smoothly articulate, and almost unnervingly humble.
Don’t believe me? Ask what drives him.
“I realise that I’m one of the very fortunate few people that have been afforded unbelievable opportunities by the sacrifices made by the people in my life. For instance my mom gave up quite a lot of things she could have enjoyed in her life and yet she chose to put those aside and give me more of a chance in life and give me that ideal life she would have liked to live,” he offers with the same warmth that embraces ‘Expresso’ viewers as they stumble out of bed.
“I’m a person with a big heart for responsibility, not just responsibility towards my family for what I need to satisfy their sacrifice, but also to the country. I feel like I owe it to all the young people out there to do the best with the gift and talent I have been given, and not to let them go to waste. So that keeps me going and going and going and wanting to do more and more. There’s so much more I still want to do.
“I guess it’s the hunger to satisfy all these things inside my heart.”
That hunger can be traced back to his childhood. Knowing there’d be better opportunities for him in Potchefstroom, his mother sent four-year-old Katlego to live there with his grandparents.
“That made me very independent, that made me capable of coping with situations,” he remembers. “There was no time to cry when something didn’t go my way, there was no time to be sad about anything, it was about picking yourself up and moving forward.”
Self-discipline also became part of the mix.
“My grandmother was a very strict disciplinarian, she was a lady who really didn’t take any kind of smack talk – in fact any kind of smack talk would earn you a smack from her,” he laughs. “She was tough, she was hard. Her rules were her rules and we walked that straight and narrow line and I think that’s instilled a certain kind of discipline.”
His grandfather, meanwhile, taught him about sacrifice, once offering up close on a month’s salary so Katlego could go on tour with the rest of the North West children’s choir.
“That was something very selfless of him to do; he didn’t have to do that and it wouldn’t have destroyed me as a child had he not done that, but him doing that built a foundation of character that nothing will ever break.”
His grandfather had clearly understood the importance music plays in Katlego’s life.
A natural-born performer, he remembers as a four-year-old singing a complicated Sesotho prayer song for family and friends and has been told by his mom that, as a toddler, he’d sing along with her as she cooked.
“I guess it came naturally,” he says of his singing. “There was no training, there was no watching videos of performers and trying to mimic them, it just happened to be something I excelled at and I’m very thankful for the blessing to have that kind of talent.
“Music is my first love,” he continues. “It’s something I’ve always done, it’s something I’ve always loved doing and hopefully something I could pursue as a long-term career.”
But cricket and hockey almost got in the way.
“Hashim Amla’s very lucky I didn’t try out for the Proteas,” he jokes.
“The talent was there,” adds the one-time wicket keeper and middle order batsman for the North West team. “It’s just there came a time where I had to make a choice between music and sport and I chose music because that gave me a bit more fulfilment, I guess, at the time.”
But despite those dreams of music stardom, his mother insisted on a backup plan: a university degree.
“I made the best of the situation knowing that having an education at tertiary level, having a B.Com chartered accounting degree would set me up for life no matter what I did – and it’s proved true because it shines through in everything that I do.”
It didn’t hurt that he had a creative outlet, joining leading a cappella group Flip A Coin in his second year at university.
“It was a great blessing to have met these guys and to have had them believe in my talent, pull me into the group and help me develop further,” he explains. “These guys are genius musical minds, absolutely amazing at what they do.”
The group were also directly responsible for his break into TV – Katlego learned about his first studio audition, for the DEKAT magazine show, at a Flip A Coin concert.
“I thought: ’TV is great, I like cameras, why not?’ and I did the audition and it just worked. I don’t know why but it seemed to work,” he says humbly.
Soon he was juggling his third-year studies with TV shoots, group rehearsals, weekend gigs, studying, and writing exams. Of course he passed, got his degree, and settled his mom’s heart – giving him a chance to pursue the TV career that he clearly loves, despite the hours.
“I love my job, I love doing it. I have no problem waking up so early in the morning, I actually love it. I feel like I have more energy and more time to do more things because I sleep five hours less than anybody else.”
He also loves the personal connection he makes with viewers, but hasn’t let the recognition get to his head.
“I know that this is blessing. Thousands of people would kill for this job; it’s a privilege to be able to have it, it’s not a right. And that kind of forces you to keep your feet nailed to the ground. The moment you lose sight of that and it becomes something of a divine right that ‘I have this because I’m this awesome person’, that’s when you start losing that magic that people have come to like about you,” he reasons.
“You’ve got to see it as a privilege. Every morning when I wake up I literally say the words: ‘Thank you for this opportunity I have to make a difference to peoples’ lives’ because you get people saying: ‘I was never a morning person, but now that I watch you I get so much energy’ or ‘you inspire young people’ and those kinds of reactions are worth more than gold.
“And because of that, when you realise what influence you have and what a privilege it is to have that kind of influence, you just have to back down and be on your knees and say thank you.”
A self-proclaimed workaholic, Katlego does take time out, tackling ‘FIFA’ on Xbox, playing the guitar and writing songs, spending time with his friends and girlfriend, or simply relaxing.
“Sometimes it’s just sitting on a little bench, just watching the sun set, and just taking in what’s happened throughout the day. Reliving cool moments and realising just how blessed I am to be in this position is a good way to have fun because it always leaves me with a smile on my face.”
But never too far away is that drive to achieve more.
“I don’t really think I’ve achieved much at all,” he says, despite that lengthy CV. “People out there may think differently but I think it’s because I still have so much I want to achieve. And I see what I have done just as the beginning of it,” he explains.
“I think ultimately I would like to follow in the footsteps of people like Nelson Mandela – not in a political sense, but I want to make a difference in this country and I want to show people what a great nation we can be if we just foster those characteristics and those ideals of people like him,” he adds.
“I have got big business ambitions and career ambitions in music but the deeper thing in me is it’s really about making a difference in people’s lives. I have to. I need to. I must. Otherwise what I’ve been doing would have all been in vain if, at the end of the day, I haven’t made a difference in someone’s life.”
- This article originally appeared in Man, the men’s lifestyle magazine of the Foschini group. (Image: EBENPhotography)