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SOUTH AFRICA: ABERGAIL "MZZ ABBY" PLAATJES

  • Background

I was born in Durban, South Africa in the Summer of 1977, to working class parents who were serial nomads. My mom, a Grade 1 teacher and just an all round amazing woman who loved each and every child she met and my dad a salesman, loved moving between two cities ie Port Elizabeth and Durban, where they were from. When you're a kid, this lifestyle is super exciting and learning to fit in and adapt becomes part of the norm. With that being said, my older brother and I never had many problems with new surroundings and developing our characters according to our social sphere.

I also always knew that I would move and not be there for the rest of my life. I saw the way people lived and it just did not sit well with me. Our neighborhood was not a bad one, but growing up in apartheid South Africa, being neither black or white and being labelled 'coloured' and not being completely free to express yourself kind of makes you curious as to what the rest of the world is like. Music and television was an outlet and a sort of escape for my brother and I and this is where my dreams of moving on came from.

Growing up in apartheid South Africa was, I realize now, very different to how the rest of Africa is. After completing my studies ( my major being PR and Business Communication) and on the side I did Speech and Drama as my dream of working in television was rife from a very young age despite all the set backs I would encounter later on. I got involved in the corporate world, moved to Johannesburg at the age of 21 and decided to take on the world. Then in 2003 I got my 'big break' representing South Africa in the first Big Brother Africa reality show.

Being a part of this show gave me the opportunity to meet 12 amazing people from 12 different African countries, live with them, learn from them and most importantly learn about myself. I believe that we can only help and further our people when we are of the understanding that we are not much different to each other. We all have the same desires, hopes and needs. They may appear differently because of our cultures and backgrounds but at the end of the day everyone wants respect, kindness and peace.  After the show my life changed tremendously. I travelled extensively throughout our beautiful continent, was mesmerized by the people, its natural wonders, the cultures and the amount of humility everyone had. I got to work with so many different organizations and foundations ie UNICEF, UNAIDS, participating in school talks and culture drives in Malawi, Kenya, Botswana, Swaziland, Uganda, Nigeria and Ghana, helping to administer anti retro virals in far away villages and so so much more that I'm not able to mention right now. This is when I realized how many amazing people we have dedicating their time and energy and basically just being good human beings to one another.

  • Why Did You Pick The Career Path That You Did?

My career was inevitable. For me, the career chose me I didn’t choose it. I have wanted to work in television since I was a little kid and as time went by it grew into entertainment and working with people in general. My parents were rather strict and persistent when it came to education and they never really saw the benefits of me studying Speech and Drama, but it was a compromise we made for the greater good. I wanted acting, they wanted something more professional (which today I thank them for as my professional studies have come in handy assisting me with my entertainment career and making it my profession).

I also believe that when you have a calling, that one thing that you wish to do from an early age and it sticks with you as you grow, it will always find a way to weave itself into the fabric of your life. Its direction may change paths, but its core will remain and as you grow and mature you find the meaning in your work and how you are able to use your chosen career path to assist others with theirs.

There was something inside me. A desire which was not driven by me but rather by something much deeper. Today I identify with the God that lives in me and use this spirit to propel me further as I know if it was not for Him I would not be where I am. And mind you, I have so much further to go. Many times during my journey I have fallen, whether it was personally or professionally, but my spirit kept me going. The acknowledgement of self that I knew from a very young age, that I am meant to attain much more than where I am.

  •  Who and What are some of your Influences?

I am influenced every single day by normal experiences and most especially my children. Being a single mom in a foreign country is not only challenging and daunting, but also a blessing in disguise.  Watching my kids grow and re-learning those small qualities that we tend to forget or lose along our path of growth into adulthood, shows me that God is present.

  •  Do You Wish You Could've Done Things Differently if given the Chance? 

If you asked me this a few years back I would have screamed 'NO' at the top of my voice. However, I have grown and I believe we have to look at our lives and decipher what it is we are doing. With that being said yes, there are many things I would've done differently. I can't say that I regret anything, because then I wouldn't have learnt the valuable lessons that came along with the mistakes, but if I was of the knowledge that I am now, then I would have to say yes. I am grateful to the Most High for giving me the strength and the wisdom to pull through and to forgive and to move forward without turning my nature into a remorseful one.

  • What and Who Inspires You?

Oh wow so many! Personally mom and dad inspire me everyday for being together 45+ years and still going strong. They are such a testament of mutual support and respect to me as a woman as my mom finds no discouragement or humiliation in being the woman that holds her husband/best friend with the utmost of honor. For her to honor him is but a glorification of what it means to be a woman and I thank her everyday for giving me this gift. In today's world, it is hard for women to see or even want to see themselves as the support system. Today women want to be the man in certain situations, and I believe this to be wrong. We are each intended to play our roles and yes, we have been oppressed tremendously in the past, however, there are certain things we just were not meant to do. Maintaining our femininity in this masculine world is how we will receive the recognition we so crave and desire especially within the confines of our personal lives. We need to realize that as women, we have the power to control situations and men are very much aware of this. Finding our balance and learning to project this positively is where we will be victorious. Be smart ladies.

I have also been extremely blessed to grow up in an era where we had so many legends in the making. Nelson Mandela, Mother Theresa, Mahatma Ghandi, Steve Biko, Princess Diana to name but a few who taught me and inspired me to be the person I still am learning to become. To accept each other for who we are and to remember that love is the eternal elixir of life. Being vindictive and remorseful is no way for us, as women, to progress. We should understand that our past happened and instead of being angry about it and being revengeful, we should move forward by using the very reasons we were oppressed for ie our humility, our empathy, that we are a force to be reckoned with at the same time still the leaders we were intended to be.

Growing and becoming a whole and complete woman to me is a continuous journey. Finding that complete balance where we can have the kids, run the house, head off and be a CEO, come home, cook dinner and still be a family. Realizing that as WOMAN, we will have to work harder, we will have to prove ourselves ten times more, we will earn a lesser salary and so many more facets that will separate us from MAN and still getting up everyday and finding the glory and beauty in our lives. Its a daily struggle for me, but I know Im doing something right because it feels right and no action with the intention of aiding that of the greater good and our fellow people, will ever be overlooked by God.

  •  What Do You Count As Your Greatest Achievement?

This by far has to be raising my 7 and 5 year old to be the happy, fulfilled and extremely social beings that they are. I do not believe that there could be any accolade higher than being a Mother. Im sure there are many women that would argue this point, however, baring children is nothing but an honor from God entrusting you with His angels. AND you do it for FREE! The only payment is unconditional love.

I also have to say that maintaining my dignity and my sense of equality to my fellow people is something I pride myself in too. I have always believed that you should treat everyone you meet with the same kindness and respect. I like to use the example that any student can get an 'A' once, maintaining that 'A' is what makes them phenomenal. The same theory applies to life. When you meet someone for the first time, treat them as you would wish to be treated unless they prove otherwise. You never know that just by being nice to someone on that day, how you could have positively affected their lives.

  • What are some struggles you faced in your life that came about because of your gender?

As I said earlier, being a woman and because of the stigma that comes along with that, especially in Africa, we will have to prove ourselves ten times more and work that much harder to get anywhere. But we, as women, have the ability to move mountains. Working in such a male dominated industry and also an industry where women are portrayed to be of the lesser sex, now is the time for us to shine because more and more of us are spreading our wings and learning to fly.

Having built and run one of the most successful nightclubs in East Africa, one cannot fathom all the controversy, humiliation and sordid nastiness I had to surpass in order to overcome. People refused to take me seriously because 1st, they believed it to be a fickle business and 2nd just because I am a woman, it was assumed that I wasn’t serious about the business aspect of the club. Needless to say all these oppressing misconceptions were overcome, but not without a struggle. This is when I realized that we will always have to go that much further in everything we do, to get to where we want.

There is also the issue of just doing business in general as a woman. At first you are judged simply because of the way you look and then by your ability to succeed because of your gender. This already stunts economic growth as well as personal growth from the get go.

  •  How have you overcome these struggles and/or insecurities?

By constantly asking The Most High for continued guidance, crying my eyes out when I got home after a tough day and learning to accept the things I cannot change and asking for the wisdom to change the things I can. Sounds simple yeah? Well it is not. To whom much is given, much is expected and when you set for yourself high goals, you have to deal with deep disappointment.

My amazing father once told me that if I chose to live a certain life, I have to be willing and able to get it. Those words sit with me everyday. Positive reinforcement from my girlfriends, realizing that my children need to have the best that I could possibly give them and acknowledging that I would like to grow old gracefully and with peace of mind.

  •  How important is family especially in light of your career and professional life?

Family always comes first. My professional life is infested with people who always trying to use you for some or other reason. Too many sharks in too small a pool. There are also many people that you just wont get along with as you would a brother or sister or cousin or daughter. So knowing that you can have a true and honest relationship with someone with no strings attached and just be, helps tremendously.

  •  Do you believe it is important to share your story with other women?

I most certainly do. Many African women are not able to express themselves or are not confident enough to express themselves or are not educated enough to express themselves and I believe expression is extremely important in strengthening our position in society. This also aids as a form of education for women who would like to know more about other African women, like themselves. Many times we think we are not able to achieve simply because we were not well informed. I am a true example of this. I always describe myself as being a late bloomer. Everything I did in my life always started late and I have no problem with this as I believe your time comes when it comes. I was not well informed as to how to go about doing what I would like to do and trial and error is how I made it here. There are always better ways and by sharing our stories we help and drive other women to become and do as they desire.

  •  In your experience, what do you think are some of the prevalent issues women face in everyday life, professionally?

Being respected as an equal professionally is one of the main issues I have personally experienced. Women have a tougher time proving themselves no matter how educated or experience they are because of the negative stigma that has been attached to us from the past.

Women who choose to be stay at home moms and take care of the household are also discriminated against by other women. This, to me, is the worst form of discrimination because if we are to progress in society we need to support each other as women and stand side by side to fight for our rights. An integral part of being a woman is taking care of the home and family and should be recognized more highly instead of being frowned on.

  •  What Do You Think Needs to be Done to Address These Issues?

I believe that many of our issues start in the home, so to begin we need to start changing our mindsets as moms and dads. Times are changing and so is the world. We have to find the balance to hold onto our values and morals and incorporate and arm our children with the necessary ammunition to take on the world as it is today.

This also applies to the governments and law makers. Women and girls need to get more recognitionand acknowledgment from them and this in turn will assist with us growing in society and being respected and appreciated.

  •  What Would You Tell another Young Woman who wants to go down the same path that you have chosen?

There is MUCH competition in this industry. There are many people not willing to help others and you are most definitely going to get many NO's before you get a YES. So why continue to pursue this career you ask? Well, because once you do reach a place where you have a voice, you are then able to get people to listen to you, as a woman, of essence.

  • What do you do to give back to your community?

A couple of my friends and I get together every now and then and do out part. We don't like publicizing it or getting the media involved cause its just something that we do out of our own.

I also believe that my radio gig is a huge part of me giving back to my community. Having a voice through media which touches thousands of women and children is just invaluable to me. I am able to send my positive message to them and sometimes even without them knowing or wanting to hear it. *wink*

I also participate in giving school talks for career advice and assistance especially within the entertainment industry. It is vital that our kids, the future of our land, know exactly what they are getting themselves in for.

  •  If you could tell young women one thing, what would it be?

To always remember - 'If its your destiny, you will never have to sacrifice your dignity'