SHE’S always been remarkably gifted – she made it big as a comedienne, rode the airwaves as a radio host and turned to TV where she became a sought-after presenter and actress. Now multi-talented Tumi Morake (36) can add author to her long list of achievements. Her first book, And Then Mama Said . . . , is a collection of memories inspired by her mother, Tebogo.
Initially she was excited about sharing her memories with fans, Tumi tells DRUM. But during the writing process she became nervous about having to revisit old wounds.
“It was an emotional journey having to remember some experiences, but it was also very therapeutic,” she says.
It wasn’t easy to relive the race row at Jacaranda FM, the Jaguar car crash and being body-shamed while she was presenting Our Perfect Wedding – but Tumi buckled down and put pen to paper.
“I wrote most of the book at my inlaws’ house, away from my playful kids,” says Tumi, who shares Bonsu (9), Lesedi (6) and Althea (4) with her comedian and actor husband, Mpho Osei-Tutu (36).
“I was given from November last year until March this year to finish writing, but I wrote most of it in the last month in a panic because a lot happened that interrupted my writing.”
In June Tumi’s life was upended after her younger sister, Vonani (28), was brutally attacked in a domestic violence in cident. “I am in the East Rand at a hospital as my sister is being treated for burn wounds after having her head pounded and thrown on the floor in front of her toddlers,” Tumi tweeted at the time.
“I love her. My heart is bleeding. I won’t call men trash, but my God you can do better men.”
Deeply pained by the incident, Tumi took time off from writing to support Vonani. “Luckily my sister was able to get out of that abusive relationship. It’s not easy for many victims of abuse to leave. That’s when the real healing begins – when you leave.”
Vonani is doing much better now but Tumi still feels guilty she wasn’t there to protect her baby sister. “My heart sinks every time I think about it,” she says. “I blamed myself for not seeing the signs.” The violent attack made her question her relationship with her sister. “I asked myself, had I not made her comfortable enough to feel like she could talk to me about anything? But I’ve learnt it’s not about me,” Tumi adds. She’s learnt a lot over the years, some of which she shares in her book. “My private and public personas are modelled around my mom who was funny and charming. When she spoke you wanted to listen,” she says of Tebogo, who passed away in 2011 after contracting pneumonia following a long illness. “Every chapter has at least one phrase that my mom used to say to keep me motivated.” We look at some of Tumi’s life stages as recorded in the book, and the lessons learnt along the way.
STANDING ON MY OWN
Mama used to say she would happily live on bread and water as long as Vonani and I were educated. I wanted to be that: Mama’s graduate daughter of whom she could be proud.
In January I received a letter from Wits. I had to travel to Johannesburg to write an entrance exam to be admitted for first year [ for a BA degree in dramatic arts].
Before, Mama had managed to get me to Johannesburg but this time I was on my own. I arrived at Park Station in downtown Johannesburg and had to figure out my way to Wits from there.
I was just a small-town girl trying to make her way to a university. Park Station is where God showed me that I have never walked alone, and never will. As I made my way out of the bus terminal with much trepidation, I bumped into Kwaku, a former senior from high school.
We walked to the campus together, and he literally stayed with me until I was settled in my residence.
Mama’s lesson: “She taught us the importance of community – whether you’re a security guard, cleaner, doctor or a minister, we’re cut from the same fabric. Humility is everything.”
FINDING MY FEET
I loved the openness and honesty of drama school. Being in drama school felt like a calling, and I began to find freedom in my own truth.
I’d had a brief sexual encounter with a girl in high school, and for the first time I was unafraid to share the story and speak to lesbians about what it meant to them to navigate this world as openly gay. I had never been around “out” lesbians before.
That kind of acceptance meant a lot to me. I had spent so much of my life trying to fit in, with family, at school, in society, and here I was in a space that encouraged otherness and freedom.
Mama’s lesson: “We need to stop boxing people and allow them to go through phases until they know their true selves.”
TRYING TO FIT IN
It was a nightmare to try to fit in anywhere in the entertainment industry. My accent was too black or not black enough. I was not fat enough to be Mama Themba, but not thin enough to be Thembi. And my favourite: not town- ship enough, but then again, too rural.
I stopped trying. Whoever wanted what I was offering would have to come and get it. The big difference, I found, is that at drama school we were not a group of insecure people with something to lose.
Mama’s lesson: “Nothing is guaranteed, and I didn’t want to miss any opportunity.”
FINDING MY FUNNY BONE
If comedy thrived on society’s dark corners and grey areas, then it could be a channel for demystifying the very taboos that feed oppressive systems. I decided to write a stand-up special based purely on menstruation.
The piece would need to challenge, to speak back. It also had to be funny, otherwise it would just be a monologue. I identified my political position as a black female comedienne over the months that I worked on this project. Whether I do it consciously or not, my identity politicises my comedy.
Mama’s lesson: “It’s talent and hard work that make one successful.”
BEWARE THE BODY SHAMERS
I was getting increasingly comfortable and making the show [OPW] my own. However, the feedback I got from the people who had hired me made me wonder if I was missing something. I did not get fat on the show, I had arrived fat.
I chose to focus on fine-tuning my presenting skills. Most of the audience was already enjoying my cheeky sense of humour and my relatability. But I was not noticing enough fat-shaming online to make me think my body was a crisis for the production company.
Mama’s lesson: “I lost weight because I fell ill – my doctor told me I was on the brink of having heart failure. It wasn’t because I was afraid of what people would say.”