As one of Mzansi’s leading comedians she’s used to making people laugh and seeing the lighter side of the most serious subjects. But after the drama she endured last year Tumi Morake was left battered and bruised – both in body and soul.
A backlash from the public after an on air discussion with her co-host, a head on collision that could have wiped out her family and some ugly name-calling on social media took their toll on the queen of stand-up comedy. It forced her to take stock of her life, get out of the fast lane and devote herself to her loved ones. Tumi (36) hung up her mic after seven months on Jacaranda FM and is looking forward to the next chapter.
“I’ve overworked myself and didn’t make time for my family,” she says. Tumi’s life was jam-packed. Along with hosting her own talk show, #WTFTUMI, she had a stint as a presenter on Mzansi Magic’s Our Perfect Wedding, was doing regular stand-up gigs and juggling her breakfast slot on Jacaranda. “I was feeling a heavy load on my shoulders,” she admits.
Her time on Jacaranda will probably be best known for the race row – dubbed Tumigate – that saw her being hauled to the Broadcasting Complaints Commission of South Africa (BCCSA) after riled up listeners accused her of hate speech. Although Tumi and her co-host, Martin Bester, were acquitted, the BCCSA advised the pair to tread carefully when discussing racially sensitive topics.
The trouble started when Tumi and Martin discussed South African history and she compared apartheid to bullying. “Apartheid is like a bully who forcefully took a child’s bicycle and then made the child share it,” she said. Twitter erupted with some listeners saying her words incited violence. A Pretoria-based advertiser threatened to pull advertising if she didn’t apologise – but Tumi tells DRUM she had no intention of saying sorry. “I didn’t sit and plan what I said – the comment came naturally and I meant it. “Some people felt offended because they personalised it and thought I was speaking to them directly.”
Tumi says the incident spurred on her decision to leave Jacaranda. The fallout was ugly, with haters defiling her fan pages on social media with statements such as, “Go back to the bush” and “You black South Africans mess up everything in our beautiful land”. But at the heart of her decision to leave was the crash that made her realise how precious life is. All her energy had been focused on chasing the next job and she neglected the important things, such as visiting family more frequently and being hands on at home. “The entertainment industry is unpredictable and you can be famous one day and forgotten the next. I knew this was my time and I started taking every job that came my way. “Then the accident slowed me down. After I got home from hospital I walked into the house and broke down. “My children and my husband were there and I couldn’t believe I could have died before enjoying the house I worked so hard to build.”
The crash happened so quickly and unexpectedly. Tumi’s husband, Mpho Osei-Tutu (36), was at the wheel of their sponsored Jaguar F-PACE on that fateful day last December. After renovating their Kensington home in Johannesburg, the couple took a well-deserved family holiday with their kids, Bonsu (9), Lesedi (5) and Althea (4). They were on their way to Sun City when their car was involved in a head-on collision with another vehicle. The occupants of both cars had a narrow escape, sustaining minor injuries and needing treatment for shock. Mpho and the kids were checked out at the hospital and discharged but Tumi, who had hurt her back, was admitted. “I discharged myself after one night. I was worried about my family and the trauma they had endured.” Unaware of how badly her back was hurt, Tumi has been in and out of her doctor’s surgery and is still being treated for her injuries.
“I didn’t think I was hurt. I just wanted to make sure my children were okay.” But again social media turned on Tumi. Reports emerged she hadn’t bothered to contact the other crash victims and she was laid into for being seen laughing at the hospital. Tumi is dumbfounded.
“People say I don’t care because they saw me laughing. We all deal with shock differently – even when I was hijacked in 2003 I laughed. That’s how my body reacted. “There was absolutely nothing funny about the accident and I was as much a victim as the next person.” She says an occupant of the other vehicle shared an ambulance with her. “I was hurt, no one stood up for me – even the person I had driven with in the ambulance kept quiet.” She endured more backlash when some Jacaranda listeners said the crash was karma. But that’s behind her now. The future is what matters, not the past.
Tumi believes everything happens for a reason. “God, the higher power or the universe, wanted me to slow me down. The accident was a wake-up call for me to slow down and focus on my family.” And she’s heeding the call. Although she’s still hosting #WTFTUMI, she’s making a point of spending time with family and enjoying their refurbished home. Tumi and Mpho renovated their large two-storey home complete with a large garden and a pool for their kids to enjoy. “When we first moved in here the house was tiny and it was a dump with a big hole on the roof,” Tumi tells us. The crash also taught her to be more appreciative of what she has, she says. “I used to celebrate the smallest things when I started out, like how my mother used to call me every time she saw me on TV or in the newspapers.”
Tumi takes a trip down memory lane as she speaks of her mother, Tebogo, who passed away in 2011. Tebogo helped mould the woman she is today, she adds. “She made me fall in love with books. She was a nurse for 20 years and she loved her craft. She taught me to always do what I love and not focus too much on the money.” Before the crash Tumi lost track of her mom’s advice and was too intent on getting work. Now she’s more selective about the jobs she does – without neglecting her love of stand-up, Tumi plans to spend as much quality time with her family as possible.