Meet a media mogul in the making
Johannesburg - World travelled, with a high-powered career in tourism, Nawaal Mdluli decided in 2005 she wanted to start a family. Her baby would be what she calls a “cappuccino” child, born of a mix of Indian and African heritage.
She noticed, however, that there was little by way of magazines in South Africa that spoke to her as an “African parent to be”, let alone to parents of children of mixed heritage.
This was the seed that led to the launch, in 2009, of Mamas & Papas parenting and lifestyle magazine by her company, Kwenta Media.
Mdluli also publishes Heritage, a travel and tourism magazine for the North West Parks and Tourism Board, and in May this year, she launched African Travel Market magazine. A look at these magazines online and it’s evident that Mdluli has leveraged her tourism marketing background well.
“I’m a marketer by profession but I’m more an entrepreneur by nature. I was the first black woman to head an SA Tourism office in the UK/Ireland, and it really opened my eyes to what’s out there. When I came back home from the UK, I got married and wanted to start a family.
“I saw a distinct gap for a parenting magazine, especially for parents who are navigating the world of mixed cultures as they raise their children – the cultural and religious issues that typically come up. But the magazine covers all manner of parenting stories, from pre-pregnancy to the pre-school years,” she says.
It took nearly four years of extensive research and preparation before Mamas & Papas, a monthly, was launched, and the path was not always clear.
“The research showed that there was a market for this type of magazine, but I didn’t know the ropes of publishing,” says Mdluli.
She bounced the idea off three friends in the marketing-media space and they encouraged her to pursue it. But the key to publishing success is distribution and advertising, and this is where she hit a brick wall.
“I was an independent, young black publisher. Nobody wanted to talk to me. I was about to give up. Then I met Alan Ramsay (of Ramsay Media),” she says.
Ramsay immediately saw the value in Mdluli’s idea and gave her some invaluable pointers to improve her presentation. “He told me how to build up the story around my pitch. It was the most inspiring 45 minutes. It was a blessing,” she says.
Ramsay then directed her to Chris Niehaus, managing director of RNA Distribution (owned by Caxton), and he agreed to distribute her magazine.
Mdluli says she funded her venture with her savings. “I’ve never taken out a loan or received any funding from funding institutions.”
The profit margins have been erratic, she admits. “It is up and down. Some months it sells very well, other months not, but overall the magazines in the Kwenta stable have done well.
“The experts say that if you launched in a recession, your business is more likely to be sustainable.”
Mamas & Papas was boosted by the TV series of the same title on SABC3, which began broadcasting in 2010 and which Mdluli anchored herself.
This month, she added another title to her stable, the African women’s lifestyle magazine Essence of Africa. It looks like a high-end glossy similar to Vogue, and that’s the vision that Mdluli is pursuing.
“I’m tired of the world dictating African content to us. African women need to stand up and tell their own, authentic African stories. There’s no reason we can’t showcase ourselves, address issues in our own cultural contexts and feature our own Africans from the continent on our magazine covers. We have our own Naomi Campbells,” she says.
The women of Africa are her inspiration, Mdluli says, and her goal with her glossies targeted at women is to unlock their potential.
“I don’t think it has sunk in that as women we have enormous power. We could stop the abuse of women and children, and crime, if we stood up united against it,” she says.
Yet it’s no surprise that in the highly competitive media sector, Mdluli has tasted the sharp end of a few female tongues. “A woman editor recently commented to me, not in a kind way, that I’m so ambitious.”
One woman batting for Mdluli is Hannelie van As, marketer at Caxton.
“She took me along with her, getting my magazines into Woolworths, Pick n Pay, Spar, Clicks, etc. You really need men and women like her on your side in this industry. Again, it is all about the power of collaboration,” she says.
The partnerships are key to the content of her magazines, too. In Mamas & Papas, her long-standing specialist columnists are Dr Herman Netshidzivhani and Dr Birgit Bothner, married paediatricians based at Park Lane Hospital. “Partnerships like this one are vital, because, at the end of the day, content is king,” says Mdluli.
When she’s not conceiving covers and story angles, she spends time attending board meetings at Samancor Chrome, a mining company. But she says her proudest role is as mother of her 7-year-old daughter Zaawi, who signalled the birth of the media diva within.