Lessons from Tumi’s mama

Tumi Morake at The Book Lounge.

Award-winning stand-up comedian, television host and actress Tumi Morake was at The Book Lounge in Cape Town recently to discuss her debut book, strong women, selfies and cockroaches with actress and businesswoman Bonnie Mbuli. SIMONÉH DE BRUIN-FORTUIN was there.

Also wearing the hats of TV producer and writer, Tumi Morake can now add published author to her growing list of credits with the launch of And Then Mama Said Words that set my life alight, a book dedicated to her late mother, Tebogo Joyce Ulenda Morake, a nurse who was passionate about education and a passionate supporter of strong women.

Talking about the matriarchs in her family, Tumi says she appreciates women for what they are. “It means I’ll appreciate my daughter for what she is,” she says.

“You’ve changed the way I see cockroaches,” says Bonnie in reference to Tumi comparing tenacity with the temerity of a cockroach.

“A cockroach does not belong in your house or on your table, but there it is, creeping along, in no real rush to get out of your way. Even when it knows its time is nearly up as showers of insecticide envelop it, it stands there, defiant. I guess that is me in the entertainment industry. I have employed the cockroach tactic my whole career, stepping into experimental spaces and trusting that God has me, and that I have this X-factor thing I cannot explain,” says Tumi.

It is a trait her mother recognised in her, praising her for being a “trier” (someone who doesn’t give up easily).

Another lesson learnt from her mother is taking responsibility for the choices you make.

“On days when she wasn’t in the mood for work or when her job was particularly demanding, Mama would say, ‘I chose this job myself.’ So, you WILL smile even if your helper or your husband is not around to get bread and you have to run down to Shoprite yourself to get it, and you don’t feel like putting on make-up or fixing your hair, you will smile for the inevitable selfie,” she says with a
chuckle.

Tumi says this lesson also makes you stop and remember why you do what you do.

“It’s not just about me. I take my comedy that seriously because I don’t know what mindset I might have shifted.”

Asked why it is important for her to have a voice and not be the clown in the room talking about the light, fluffy things and why it is important for her to fight for that voice, Tumi says: “I don’t want to pee on what was given up for me – that would be an atrocity.”

On the Radio Jacaranda saga and her exit from the station after a race row, Tumi says: “We live in a country that’s holding a poep in, and every once in a while you hear a silent but violent expelling of air. It was unfortunate, but it had to happen. Until then, I’ve never felt that there were conversations we couldn’t have.”

On the body shaming she endured on the set of Our Perfect Wedding, Tumi advised young women going into the industry to be prepared.

“It’s a question of the more I know, the better the chances I’ll be my own person,” she says.

On lessons from And Then Mama Said she wants readers to take away, she says: “You choose life and you choose light – that choice will get you through whatever you face.”