When a voice becomes the face of Durban

2014-07-16 00:00

PHINDI Gule becomes the unlikely global face of Durban today.

And her starring role for tens of millions of TV viewers around the world will cap a fairytale week for the 39-year-old, in which she launched her own company, and even got engaged, to cheering applause from strangers at an Umhlanga restaurant.

Despite a career behind the radio microphone, the former Vuma FM station manager will feature as the surprise co-host of the National Geographic channel’s hour-long documentary on Durban, which is being launched in Washington DC today.

The Smart Cities: Durban programme represents the major investment in Durban Tourism’s three-year, R24-million partnership with NatGeo, and the city’s selection among 18 uniquely innovative and “livable” cities in the world.

Yesterday, Gule told The Witness the NatGeo crew heard her interviews with ordinary Durbanites on Gagasi FM “and just decided, we’ve got to track this girl down”.

Having met the high-energy Um­hlanga radio personality, the producers decided to use Gule as a co-presenter of Durban’s documentary, alongside the channel’s famed “digital nomad”, Andrew Evans.

A preview shows Gule as a cultural tour guide for viewers — interviewing residents from Inanda to Essenwood Market and Warwick Triangle, and cultural figures from historian Simangaliso Kumalo to Ladysmith Black Mambazo founder Joseph Shabalala.

Meanwhile, Evans suggests that Durban is the cultural capital of SA.

Tourism head Phillip Sithole, who will attend the event at National Geographic Society headquarters today, said: “What I liked about Phindi’s performance is that she really looks natural; African. She wore little or no make-up; didn’t dress in anything fancy [for the shoots]. She turned out to be a wonderful face for a world-class city which is also very African.”

Gule, who has run the Comrades Marathon four times, said: “Life is not about being made up — it’s about being yourself to others, and that’s what Durbanites are like.”

She even amazed the NatGeo crew “with KZN openness” when they spotted a marquee tent at a home in Umlazi. She invited herself in, and scored a warm welcome for the team. “They said, ‘Surely we can’t just go to that private event; we haven’t been invited’. But I said, ‘No, this is Durban: let’s go’.”

Having lived in both Johannesburg and Cape Town, Gule said, “Without any doubt, Durban is the best city to live in. The greenery everywhere gives energy to people who live in KZN.”

Gule was originally trained as a chemical engineer, but said she had pursued her “true passion for communicating” in launching her marketing and communications company this week. She left Vuma FM at the end of June, having grown its largely middle-class Zulu listeners “from near zero to almost 200 000”. This was partly driven, she says, by her insistence on promoting “Christian values” on air.

She said her big week was made perfect when her long-time British boyfriend, Kevin Burley, hatched an elaborate marriage proposal at the Beverley Hills Hotel on the weekend.

“It was so wonderful. He got down on one knee; I think people thought we were making a movie at first.

“There was champagne and strawberries and lots of clapping.”

In a statement on Smart Cities, NatGeo said Gule “uses her local knowledge to look at recent transformations. Our explorers investigate past and present Durban to understand how it came to typify the cultural mélange of post-apartheid SA. Durban is a city fertile with creativity and openness — qualities rooted in its history.”

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