I recently joined a number of journalists from across Africa to interview Yolisa Phahle, M-Net CEO as DStv celebrated Africa Month in May. Among other things, we wanted to find out plans the channel has for Africa regarding local content from all countries within the continent where DStv operates.
How do you feel being an African and most importantly a woman leading this great organisation?
I feel honoured to be at the helm of an organisation like M-Net that has been able to change many people’s lives through its content offering for 30 years now. What started, in 1986, as one channel in one country has now been expanded to nearly 40 channels across the African continent. I have just returned from a trip to Kenya where I was struck by the number of women who own successful production companies, we have two amazing channel managers for our East African channels, the Channel Director for our Africa Magic channels in West Africa and Afrikaans channels in South Africa as also incredible women.
Will you say that you have achieved greater impact since you came on board as the CEO of M-Net?
I attribute the success of our business to my predecessors whose entrepreneurial spirit and courage laid the foundations for M-Net. Today, the teams, staff and I am lucky enough to continue to take African entertainment to the next level by focusing on the vast talent we have on our continent and in the process we create jobs and try hard to improve our services, keeping the customer top of mind. We are not perfect and there is still lots of work to be done.
Do you think M-Net has done well in terms of telling the African story?
Our focus at M-Net is about telling local stories in all our local languages for viewers across the continent. We are constantly looking at ways to increase our investment and offering to ensure we tell more African stories through the eyes of local producers and actors. We currently produce in nine languages and have local channels telling local stories in East, West, and Southern Africa.
Is the African story fairly told and represented on the M-Net and its affiliated channels?
We believe that there are more stories that need to be told in more languages. Currently we are focusing on the Africa Magic channels in West Africa, the Maisha Magic channels for Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, Zambezi Magic for the English-speaking SADC region and Jango Magic for our Portuguese markets in Angola and Mozambique. The Mzansi Magic and kykNET channels tell local South African stories.
Two years as the Director for one of the world’s best satellite TV and Entertainment media; have you had any challenge?
Challenges are inevitable in any business. The key is to find solutions that improve the viewer experience, that surprise, delight, entertain and inform audiences. M-Net is no stranger to challenges, we have had a few difficult moments this year but seek to learn valuable lessons that can help us improve what we offer viewers in the long-term.
In your opinion, is M-Net making the desired impact on Africa?
Our Africa Magic, East Africa SADC and Portuguese channels have been impactful in their respective markets. The Africa Magic Viewers’ Choice Awards which has affectionately become known as the Oscars of Africa, is a testament to growth of our African footprint, as the number of awards, quality of productions and categories have increased year on year. We seek to work with local partners in every market, to add value to the countries in which we operate and this remains a priority.
What would you say have been your strongest impact on Africa?
Our strongest impact continues to be the opportunities we offer to filmmakers and producers and the continued investment into local production companies to produce content made by Africans for Africa. As a group our investment in local sport and local content is testament to our desire to make a meaningful contribution.
Do you think M-Net is carrying Africans Along with its dreams?
We aspire to do so.
It appears M-Net is only targeting the big Africa markets and some nations in the continent do not really feel represented. Is it possible to give M-Net that image of true African ownership?
The M-Net channels, through MultiChoice operations in nearly 50 countries, offers content in nine languages. Our focus is not just on the big markets, but focusing on being a diverse and representative African brand. This year, there is a big focus on Zambia and Tanzania, our investment in Mozambique is also representative of our commitment to the continent.
What are some of the plans in place to place M-Net from a “South African” company to an African owned company in terms of ownership and accountability?
Increasingly we are employing people on the ground in the countries where we operate. We have channel managers from Angola, from Tanzania, from Kenya, from Zimbabwe and will continue to work with a diverse and representative group of people from across the continent.
Being a woman yourself I’m sure you are aware of the challenges facing women of the continent, particularly those from poorer areas of the continent. The situation of the poor Africa woman remains a challenge to the continents progress.
I am committed to providing opportunities for passionate, hardworking women to enter the workplace. At M-Met we are a strong team of women, many of our senior staff are women and so are the owners of some of our most valued production partners. Nonetheless, women remain underrepresented in the general, and it is up to those of us who have been given chances to make it possible for other women to climb the corporate ladder should they choose to.
How are you (MNET) ensuring that by virtue of your vision programmes shown on your various channels advance the course of women?
It is important that we showcase stories which represent diverse female characters that reflect the lives of a wide variety of women. We also seek to tell stories that contain inspirational women who overcome major obstacles as these stories are motivational, educational and resonate well with our audiences.
Which particular TV programe in this regard is your favorite for the promotion of the Africa women agenda?
Isibaya is a South African telenovela that has a strong matriarch who is well loved by the audience. She has been the backbone of her family, risked her life for what she believes in, she is brave, confident and caring. One of the winning movies at this year’s Africa Magic Viewer’s Choice Awards, Dry, highlighted the plight of child brides. This was also an important story that needed to be told and I have huge respect for the director and producer of this movie, Stephanie Linus, as well as the writer Stephanie Okereke.
What would if you have a message for women in the arts and entertainment industry be your advice?
Take inspiration from the women who are currently living their dreams and creating things that make the world a better place like Angelique Kidjo, Lupita Nyong‘o, legendary Nollywood actress, Bukky Ajayi who has dedicated her life to the art of movie making and international African American media personalities like Shonda Rhymes, Oprah and others in the arts and entertainment industry. Work hard to change mindsets where necessary and seize each and every opportunity that comes your way
Big Brother Africa; should we be expecting a show this year?
This year we have produced Big Brother for Angola, at this stage we do not have plans for Big Brother Africa
Yolisa Phahle was born in the United Kingdom, with firm roots in South Africa. Yolisa cut her teeth in the industry as a musician. She attended the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, majoring in classical piano and violin, but soon found herself immersed in popular music, sharing a stage with the likes of Duran Duran and Jamiroquai.
Phahle joined the BBC World Service in 1998, training as Studio Manager and later as a music producer. Four years later she moved to a post as senior music producer at BBC 6 Music, the broadcaster’s first-ever digital radio station and its first new music channel in 30 years; and she also worked as a Sound and Vision Mixer in continuity for BBC television.
Her South African roots and love for African music saw her return to South Africa in 2004, where she joined Channel O as General Manager. She became Director of Special Interest Channels in 2009. She has spearheaded the revival of these channels, turning Channel O into the number one music channel on the African continent and successfully launching youth channel Vuzu and local content channels Mzansi Magic and Mzansi Music.