Winning Women – Neo Momodu: A mother of reinvention

2015-01-19 07:00

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Neo Momodu, head of corporate affairs for Media24, has just been made president of Print and Digital Media SA. It’s a challenge in our fast-moving times and one she looks forward to tackling, she tells Sue Grant-Marshall.

Neo Momodu rises majestically to her feet in her light, large-windowed working space that overlooks huge trees in her Media24 office in Auckland Park.

We’re talking minimalist, clean lines, a perfect backdrop for someone tall, elegant and totally unmissable in her rich ochre, Nigerian-inspired outfit.

She speaks with the confidence of someone who was the project leader for the communications team during the state funeral of former president Nelson Mandela.

It was the highlight of her four years as chief director of government and media at the Government Communication and Information System (GCIS), a position she held until May last year, when Media24 appointed her head of its corporate affairs.

She is now part of the media giant’s executive management team, and she spearheads engagement with key stakeholders in government and civil society.

Her appointment to president of Print and Digital Media SA must surely be one of her most challenging career paths yet, as many people see print struggling to compete with digital.

But then again, maybe not.

“I disagree with the notion that print media faces extinction, but I do strongly believe that print needs to reinvent itself to continue to remain relevant,” she says.

She notes that Print and Digital Media SA members are finding new revenue streams and are taking advantage of the latest in technology to reach consumers.

“Our role will be to create an environment that enables them to thrive,” she adds, and then points out that throughout history, big changes have been viewed first with scepticism, then as a threat, before ultimately being embraced.

By joining Media24, Momodu has come full circle in a career that started after she obtained her LLB(Hons) at the University of Hertfordshire in the UK in 1995.

In 1996, she joined Primedia Broadcasting, where she eventually became group communications, regulatory and strategic HR director. Thereafter, she returned to the UK, “to broaden my HR skills” and in 2003, she joined the SABC.

After a while, then CEO Peter Matlare suggested “that I needed to have my own business. ‘Test yourself,’ he urged me. I was surprised, but he said I had all the attributes of an entrepreneur,” she recalls with a chuckle.

Momodu ran her own communications consultancy, Progressive Consulting, for a couple of years before succumbing to the lure of the GCIS position of chief director of government and media liaison.

“It was intensely pressurised and fast moving because you never knew what was going to happen next. It was unpredictable. I’d be fetching my children from school and suddenly I’d get a call to pack my bags and leave for, say, China.”

Her working day started at 6am in Pretoria and then it was an endless discussion about how to manage matters – such as the non-delivery of school textbooks.

“I believed there was no use in pointing fingers. We had to find solutions and then communicate them,” she declares forthrightly.

“So I would put pressure on people all the way up the line and then to the relevant minister, if need be.”

What she most dreaded was the drafting, with the Cabinet spokesperson, of Cabinet statements after their meetings.

“We had to communicate complicated issues to ordinary people in a way that would make them both relevant and easy to understand,” she says.

She’s happy she formed good working relationships with government communicators and the media.

She adds that she thinks the role of civil servants is underrated in terms of the demands made on many of them.

About being back in the corporate world, she says: “Yes, it’s a high-powered job, but I do actually have weekends off. And, I can go to many of my children’s school activities.”

Momodu remembers her own childhood clearly, “because it was so infused with politics. My grandfather Zeph Mothopeng, who became president of the Pan Africanist Congress, was being arrested and was in and out of jail, including Robben Island, all the time for his role as a liberation fighter.”

He was once arrested by the police in front of her and her brother, musician Kutlwano Masote.

She recalls a tough and turbulent childhood in Orlando West, Soweto, where her teacher mother, Sheila Masote, dedicated her life to community work.

“She was arrested, incarcerated and beaten up so badly, before being simply left to bleed with no medical attention, that she lost her baby.”

Today, her parents continue with the community work they were always involved in with their African Cultural Organisation of SA.

It is devoted to nurturing the musical aspirations of hundreds of young South Africans.

Momodu, whose husband is half Nigerian and half west Indian, learnt to play the violin as a busy schoolgirl. As a young teen, she gave talks on health and education to those who were worse off in her community.

She continues to do so today, following the caring path set out by her parents and grandparents.

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