The world was graced with almost 50 years of Nomakula ‘Kuli’ Roberts’ sharp, quick-witted, vivacious, uninhibited self. Kuli marched to the beat of her own drum and I don’t think she quite knew how not to trailblaze! From advocating and fighting against injustices that the marginalised within the marginalised communities (research her work with the Albino community) to dragging people for filth as a co-host of the Real Goboza, or in earlier times when she waxed eloquent in written form as the much loved to be hated Shwashwi!
That’s the thing about Ms Roberts, she lived her life sold out for one thing, living with purpose on purpose. Kuli passionately lived out all aspects of her life loudly or as quietly as she chose. She knew her assignment and she understood that being a change agent comes with its lonely seasons because change agents don’t know how to do anything else but live against the grain – and boy did she experience a lot of backlash! There were even times when we ladies let our sister hang out to dry, but she stayed on mission and continued to pave the way for us to live into our full selves – free from all inhibition and archaic societal boxes.
“Ah, Khuli. She was herself, no days off!” Ofentse Pitse – Founder of Anchored Sounds and Orchestra Conductor.
In the spirit of Kuli, I must own up to my shortsightedness because I did not always understand why she moved the way she moved but now that I’ve matured and come into my sense of self and purpose I understand that her role as a disruptor required her to live passionately and boldly. But also, why do our choices have to make sense to anyone?
This piece is in no way claiming that Roberts was a saint. But, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out the fact that she publicly embraced her shortcomings. In fact, she taught us how to use our imperfections as fuel for our evolution instead of holding us hostage in shame.
I reached out to a couple of sisters who have stepped into spaces that Roberts so brilliantly occupied and here’s what the ladies had to share…
Q. What’s your fondest memory of Khuli?
“My fondest memory of her was when she was at khaya FM. The way she would laugh at Skhumba’s jokes was very contagious. I remember that there was this show on Xenophobia that trended because of her laugh!” Thulisile Nkosi – Video Editing Intern at Art of Superwoman
“The genius pairing with the late Bra Bob Mabena at Kaya Fm. Her infectious laugh and humorously invasive interview-style won me admiration over, and over again. When comedian Skhumba was added to the fold, I became an even bigger fan-girl of Khuli’s laugh. I loved listening to the replays of her laugh!” Ofentse Pitse – Founder of Anchored Sounds and Orchestra Conductor.
“Shu! My encounter with Kuli wasn’t as a media personality, I first met her in a family setting because I worked with her cousin Thomas Mesengana. I remember her most as a mom and wife. She was so passionate about those roles and she made them look beautiful, easy, aspirational, and effortless. That’s what I’ll always hold close to my heart.” Lee Kasumba – Pan African Media Executive.
Q. What is your first memory of Kuli?
“My mom used to buy the Sunday papers every morning on our way to church – to this day I’m convinced that she was most excited about the gossip column.
“lol, ey mara Shwashwi!” She would exclaim as she read the paper with me in the next room.
I would get up and go to her room so that she could relay the weekly entertainment gossip to me. Khuli had us in stitches with her satirical wit and charisma. That’s how I was introduced to Kuli.” Ofenste Pitse
My first memory of her is when she was in RGB( Real Goboza). She used to be so real and unfiltered in her statements about other people.” Thulisile Nkosi
“My first memory of Kuli was when she was a tabloid journalist her column was always so juicy and every Sunday people were glued to the paper because of her humorous and often tongue in cheek style of communication. I was a fan from there on out.” Lebo More – Radio Broadcaster, MC, and Entrepreneur
“I just remember being blown away by her beauty and thinking she is chocolate gorgeousness! I couldn’t stop staring at her…” Lee Kasumba
Q. What life lessons have you learnt and implemented from Kuli?
“If you know who you are and you’re sure of who you are then no one else can dictate who you should be. Kuli was herself no matter the costs. She was outspoken and stood by what she believed in. I learnt how to protect and honour my purpose and vision. I learnt how to stand tall in my truth and to be authentic in everything that I do.” Lillian Tshabalala
“Well, the lesson I think I took from her is the importance of living honestly. The boldness she had in just being herself inspired me and is something I can say I’ve learnt from her.” Thulisile Nkosi
“The demise of her marriage broke her but instead of sitting in the ruins (which she would’ve been justified to do) she rummaged through the ruins of her life and rebuilt herself while carrying her children. It didn’t matter how bloody her hands were, she diligently and relentlessly kept pulling the rocks that life threw reinventing herself several times over! I think that’s why her death is such a shock. I will always carry these examples with me.” Lee Kasumba
Khuli walked into any room she wanted, sat at many tables and we all got to view her wins but not many of us had the privilege of watching her dust herself off after every topple or a long climb up the steep mountains that led to the public wins!
According to a study released in 2021 South African women held 52.3% of the degrees in comparison to their male counterparts at 47.7%. Meanwhile, unemployment among women sat at 48,7%, which was 8,1 percentage points higher than men! Yet, and, still, women are out there killing the game, but I ask again at what cost?
When I think of the song, ‘I’m Every Woman’ by Whitney Houston, Roberts comes to mind. It’s not lost on me how Roberts’ life in many ways parallels that of Houston’s. They both sacrificed a lot of themselves to chart a path that is more bearable and equitable for those of us who are behind them. That doesn’t mean that we won’t have walls to tear down but we do it with the understanding that the next generations will reap the rewards.
As we continue to do the work of interrogating and tearing down systems that uphold the current inequitable status quo, may we never forget or dismiss the hard work and sacrifice of women like Kuli. I think the best way for us to honour her legacy is to challenge ourselves to not shrink or dilute our brilliance, especially when people don’t understand. Let us live with purpose for a purpose.
Let’s secure the bag on our terms at minimal cost to our mental wellbeing. It’s that time in the liberation journey where we need to stop valuing the talkers and start valuing those who live it out! And, sis for our economic health, let’s work together and not alone or against each other. That stuff is not of God and not of us Black women. Let us demand our worth and get to the bag! We’ve way overpaid our dues.
Thank you sister Khuli Roberts for paving the way for so many of us in the entertainment industry. I’m so sorry you didn’t get your roses while you could still smell them but, we are grinding hard for the next generations after us. May your children and their descendants bask in the glory and economically soft life that you fought your entire career for. Rest. You did the damn thing!