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Kuli Roberts: a multihyphenate who did not limit herself

Kuli Roberts. Picture: Supplied

Kuli Roberts. Picture: Supplied

Published Feb 10, 2022


Famed celebrity journalist, former magazine editor and TV personality Nomakula Roberts died on Wednesday night. She was 49.

A close family friend, who did not want to be named, confirmed the news to IOL Entertainment.

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They said the family were in shock and were preparing a statement.

The cause of the star’s death at the time of publishing, is unknown.

Roberts is survived by her two children, Tembela and Laeun, her grandchild, her three siblings, including actress Hlubi Mboya Arnold as well as her parents.

Jerry and guests: from left, Susan Webster (backing vocals for Nianell), Clinton Waring (keyboard player for Nianell), Kuli Roberts, Jerry, Meagan Mackenzie, Nianell, Neil Mackenzie and Bob Mabena. Picture: Supplied

Kuli Roberts lived a full life and was the ultimate multi-hyphenate.

She was an institution in the world of print and broadcast media, having had several high-profile jobs that saw her become a major player in the industry.

She had an illustrious career as a journalist and editor.

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She edited the now-defunct Pace magazine and was also the fashion and beauty editor at Drum magazine. She also worked at Fairlady Magazine as a fashion and beauty journalist.

She had a famous and controversial column called “Bitches Brew” on Sunday World and was also rumoured to be the notorious gossip columnist, Shwashwi.

She was the news editor for the publication, where she proved her mettle as a hard-nosed celebrity news editor.

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Roberts unceremoniously left the publication in 2011 after a column she wrote faced a lot of backlash forcing then-editor Wally Mbhele to fire her.

The column, titled “Jou ma se kinders”, made derogatory generalisations about coloured people.

Roberts admitted that the article had not been written very well.

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“It could have been written better. But that’s why I have editors. It should have been checked,” she told the Saturday Star in 2011.

History repeated itself recently when she was once again fired by Mbhele after she was linked to the African Transformation Movement (ATM), a political party, last year.

She made headlines last year when she expressed her political ambitions and joined ATM before the local municipal elections. At the time, she was said to be running for candidacy in ward 65 in Tshwane.

However, her plans of holding public office ended just a week after she announced that she’d joined the political party.

Later, the political party announced that Roberts had to step down due to “confidential circumstances”.

“Due to unforeseen and confidential circumstances it is no longer possible to have Nomakula Roberts as a member and ward councillor candidate of the African Transformation Movement,” read the statement.

Roberts clarified on 702’s The Clement Manyathela Show’s “Hanging Out” segment that the party’s spokesperson, Mzwanele Manyi, lied about her being a councillor candidate for the ATM.

“I never signed up to be a councillor for ATM. Manyi posted absolute lies, I was never standing up to be a councillor for ATM and that basically cost me my job,” she said.

"That hurts but s*** happens. I would never get involved in politics in this country; it is dangerous. It's like Mexico, it's a warpath, and I’m really not into that.“

At the time of her passing, she was the lifestyle editor of the Weekly SA Mirror , a new online publication in Johannesburg.

For many, Roberts was the first celebrity journalist. She was more recognisable than some of the magazine and newspaper editors she worked for.

And this is due to her dabbling in the broadcast side of things.

Fashion gurus: Leigh Toselli and Kuli Roberts. Picture: Supplied

She hosted SABC2's “What Not To Wear” with Leigh Toselli between 2004 and 2005, and co-hosted SABC1's gossip show, “The Real Goboza” alongside Siyabonga Ngwekazi.

Roberts was poached by Mzansi Magic to host its gossip show, “Headline”, which saw her become even more feared (and revered) by celebrities, who did not want her to catch them doing dodgy things.

She and Trevor Gumbi were unapologetic about the celebrity news scooped they followed. The show lasted five seasons.

In 2013, she competed in the sixth season of SABC3 reality dance competition, “Strictly Come Dancing”.

She was a roaster on Comedy Central’s “The Roast of Steve Hofmeyr”.

In 2016, she became a talk show host on S3's “Trending SA” alongside Pabi Moloi, Nina Hastie, Shaka Sisulu and later on Dr Musa Mthombeni.

Later that year, she hosted the reunion show of the Divas of Jozi, a take on the popular Real Housewives franchise.

Roberts also co-hosted the KayaFM’s breakfast show, “180 with Bob”, alongside Bob Mabena.

Her last show on Kaya 959 was on April 26, 2017.

In 2019, Roberts released her debut novel,Siren”, which told the story of a girl born from an affair between her mother and her boss, right in the heart of apartheid. And what follows is a life filled drama, danger, sex and reversals of fortune.

Speaking about her book to the Sunday Independent, she said: “Siren is just another addition to my full career, and I am so excited to be sharing this type of writing with the world.

“Although the excitement of being an author of an actual physical book hasn't hit me, I think because I have been writing all my life, and therefore this seems like just another job. The truth is that this is a big deal.”

She joined Mzansi Magic’s “The Queen”, making her debut as Mildred Sefatsa, on Mzansi Magcic’s popular telenovela in July 2020.

Described as an Instagram queen is on the prowl, Mildred was a 41-year-old cougar, married to a BEE fat cat in his 60s who dotes on her and spoils her with everything she fancies. Instead she wanted to date a younger man.

“This is such a meaty role that I couldn’t resist. I’ve always loved ’The Queen’ and what they do, so joining them is a career highlight,” she told IOL Entertainment.

“The role of Mildred oozes with so many possibilities that I cannot wait to explore. I thrive on challenges and this is one I look forward to the most, especially after years away from acting.”