Soweto-native Mel Tlhapi (38), the fresh face of the Mrs Soweto Empowerment Programme, is rapidly proving herself to be an influential representative for the renowned township. Her impact extends beyond beauty, as she possesses the intelligence, determination, and resilience needed to bring about change in her community.
Urban News engaged with the reigning queen to delve into all aspects of her role as Mrs Soweto.
In a succinct description, how would you portray yourself?
I’d describe myself as funny, loving, ambitious, realistic, and spiritual in five words.
What are your plans during your tenure as Mrs. Soweto?
The organisation stands on four pillars: women’s empowerment, charity, tourism, and community assistance. As an entrepreneur in the tourism sector, I’m committed to swiftly involving young individuals in the workforce and business domain. Collaborating with the Department of Economic Development, we’re executing these plans. My advocacy for mental health is also prominent. Having battled chronic depression since 2013 due to pregnancy, I aim to dispel stigma and foster openness around seeking help. I’m a fervent anti-bullying advocate. My eldest child was nearly a victim of bullying rooted in her skin colour. We’re actively visiting schools to raise awareness about bullying’s consequences and sensitise all stakeholders.
Could you shed light on the Soweto Travel shop?
Bestowed with the title of best tour operator company in Soweto, we’re set to receive an award in Nigeria for the top 100 under-40 travel entrepreneurs in Africa. Established in 2012, my travel agency emerged after my diagnosis with chronic depression. Travelling became my refuge. I recognised the necessity of revealing to the black community that it’s rejuvenating and empowering. Many of us chase success while neglecting self-care. Our endeavour encourages people to explore outdoor spaces and uncover the beauty of cultural and historical sites within our nation and the continent.
What is the source of your inspiration?
My children are my constant inspiration. They are the reason behind my persistence. I don’t want them to experience the struggles I did. The lack of a university degree has sometimes disadvantaged me. Thus, I’ve vowed that as long as they are alive, God has given me another chance to ensure they don’t endure what I did. My hardships shape how I view my children and motivate me to draw inspiration from them.
What’s your post-Mrs Soweto aspiration?
My vision encompasses an annual women’s conference in Soweto, a comprehensive event addressing diverse aspects. I envision resolutions that exclusively serve the women and youth of Soweto, including tours and a charity golf day involving hundreds of women. This event should recur yearly, allowing us to measure our progress. If a legacy is to be established, it should revolve around a lifestyle transformation in Soweto. Shifting our mindsets is pivotal, as our minds are the engines propelling our bodies forward.
What message do you hold for women in South Africa?
Be gentle with yourselves; we’re on a journey. The dormant dreams that took a backseat due to marriage or motherhood should be rekindled. Now is the moment to revisit those fervent aspirations that once kept you awake at night. Embrace your original dreams, as the time has come to bring them to life. Shine, queens, and reclaim your rightful place with boldness—because you can conquer any challenge you set your mind to. Keep that crown shining, even if it means doing it independently at times.
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Photo: Supplied by Sowetan Urban