Like a caterpillar that transforms into a blooming butterfly, beloved former child star Pabi Moloi has continuously captivated audiences throughout her kaleidoscopic three-decade career.
The 37-year-old television and radio maven’s showbiz trajectory started at the tender age of four doing commercials. By 11, she launched her presenting career on KTV.
Continuing to show off her versatility at 18, she transitioned into radio when she joined Highveld Stereo (now 947). This past Monday I watched Moloi go through another rebirth as she was christened as the newest addition to The Morning Show.
My plan to deeply immerse myself into Moloi’s new early morning routine quickly fails after missing the 6am call time. An hour later I arrived at the revamped e.tv show’s new residence nestled in the heart of Sandton, Johannesburg.
To my surprise, while it looks fancy on television, the set is situated in an old block under heavy construction. So shabby is the place that at first I think I’m not only late, but lost too.
A crew member heightens my anxiety when he trolls me by teasing that I’m at the wrong place when I ask for direction. When I eventually make it inside, I spy Moloi rocking a striped number and her signature teeny weeny ’fro. Nearby are her co-anchors William Lehong and Nelisiwe Nxumalo.
Early morning routines are nothing new for Moloi, having done breakfast shows at KTV, YFM, Metro FM and Power FM.
“I have a bit of the rhythm of a morning show, but I don’t know if a person ever gets used to such an early morning,” Moloi admits.
Trending SA gave Moloi two of her career highlights. She joined the talk show in 2016 when she was six months pregnant. Another highlight was winning a South African Film and Television Award (Safta).
“I have had all transitions on camera. I carried my child on camera and that was magnificent,” Moloi shares. “I did the show until very late in my pregnancy and then took some time off. I didn’t take a full three or four months because in our industry if you don’t work you don’t get paid.
“I have anxieties like everyone else – that working mom guilt and anxiety. The idea that as a black woman I must always be above and beyond everyone else in my sphere because I’m looked at with more of a critical eye.”
Born in Diepkloof, Soweto, Moloi was a baby herself when she started doing commercials at the age of four. After several auditions, she landed the M-Net KTV gig that lasted nine years. Moloi loved performance art from a young age, studying musical theatre in high school.
“I wasn’t doing netball at school, I was going to KTV and doing recordings. If I wanted something expensive I’d get it myself. I think I bought myself my first cellphone,” Moloi recounts.
“But I didn’t feel a huge responsibility to pay for the municipality bill at home. There were one or two times that I could see there were financial challenges at home and I’d help with school fees.”
Around the same time that she left KTV, Moloi entered a radio competition looking for the voice of Joburg. She won it and joined Highveld Stereo. After two years, she moved to Metro FM for another two years before shifting to YFM for the same number of years. Moloi then returned to Highveld for five years and now she has been on Power FM for seven years. Moloi calls transitioning into talk radio another highlight.
“The most difficult thing [about transitioning from being a child star] was in my own mind censoring myself.
“When you are a child in these television spaces, at least the way we were trained, there is a specific way that you operate.
“Because you have to be child-friendly, more tame in the way that you dress and speak a certain way that is not offensive. It has taken me a long time to be more risqué and outspoken.”
On television, she has done it all from All Access Mzansi to Out of the Box, Strictly Come Dancing and Presenter Search on 3.
“I have quit jobs, I’ve been fired… and I have ghosted. I’ve made all those kind of mistakes.
“You have to bump your head to get the lessons. Everything in this business is harsh. The lights, sound and mornings are harsh. I haven’t chosen an easy path.
“My career has brought me a lot of joy and the life that I have. I have travelled the world through my career. I have walked the Great Wall of China. I’ve sat down and had a meal with [the late former president] Nelson Mandela. I’ve had a spectacular time and what’s exciting is that there is more to do.”
Fact file: Pabi Moloi
Favourite actor: Vuyo Dabula
Favourite movie: Moana
Favourite TV Show: The Morning Show
Favourite food: Greek Salad
Favourite emoji: Dancer with red dress
Top three songs on my playlist:
Girl Like Me – Black Eyed Peas
Gorilla – Bruno Mars
Something About Us – Daft Punk
“But I’m also a mom and these little ones like to wake up with the sun, so I think I have had the perfect training at home.”
The stakes have been raised high with Miss SA Shudufhadzo Musida, Afro-soul musician Musa Sukwene and gospel star Bucy Radebe as guests – all their interviews were pre-recorded. Not kidding, live television is stressful, but Moloi is chilled and looks right at home.
During the news bulletin in the final hour there is a technical error and she graciously recovers from it. As her interview with Radebe airs she watches it on the in-studio monitor and marvels at her bright-hued manicure. I later learn that she does her own nails.
“The last live show [Trending SA] I did was more physical comedy, improvisation and late night; which gave it a different energy and editorial content to what a morning show requires,” Moloi observes.
“So, it’s about flipping it around to say I’m also good at this. For example, doing a news bulletin on the show is a fantastic new challenge.”