10 surprising facts about South Africa’s rising showbiz star, Zanele Potelwa

South African radio and TV personality Zanele Potelwa is fast-becoming a name to be reckoned within the local entertainment today. In this article, she opens up about bagging her first and biggest presenting gig in TV, her most embarrassing on-air moment, being a champion debater in high school and subsequently awarded an all-expense paid speech and science trip to New York, as well as other interesting tidbits her fans might not know about her.

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Potelwa is actually the voice behind 5FM’s traffic updates on the weekday breakfast show ‘The Roger Goode Show’, this in addition to hosting the 10am- 2pm slot on Sundays on the popular South African youth radio station.

Her career highlight is of course famously bagging one of the most envied jobs in TV as the presenter of ‘Selimathunzi’ on SABC1. Obsessed with television, Potelwa shares interesting facts about that may catch many of her fans by surprise. 

1) Potelwa considers her ‘Selimathunzi’ gig as her biggest achievement so far

Potelwa has always been obsessed with television, and landing a presenting gig on one of her favourite local TV shows has been one of her greatest achievements. “This is definitely my biggest achievement so far because it is my first TV gig ever and it’s on a legendary show that I grew up watching on the biggest TV platform in the Southern Hemisphere. I don’t take it for granted at all and I’m so excited to keep growing on it, oh and happy 25 years to ‘Selimathunzi’! Here’s to many more!”

2) Potelwa loves revisiting  classic films and television shows from the early 2000s

Her passion for the film and television industry runs deep – so much so that she unashamedly admits that she loves watching films from the early 2000s over and over again. “I know some of the greatest movies from that era word for word,” she says as she rejoices about the fact that ‘A Cinderella Story’ is available to stream on Netflix so that she can take a break from rewatching ‘Friends’ for the umpteenth time.

Zanele Potelwa had dreams of becoming a doctor

3) Potelwa is either always early or simply late

Contradictory, right? The 20-something-year-old admits that she has two very different approaches when it comes to being on time. For work, the star admits that she is always early. “I am never late for work. If I’m switching on a mic, best believe I’ll be there early. That’s something I am always sure of,” she says. “On the contrary, social gatherings? If you’re lucky, I might make it in time for the final song of the night – I’m terrible.”

4) Rome left an everlasting impression on Potelwa 

The Italian city of Rome was one of the most important cities in ancient history and played a massive part in contributing to modern language, religion, society, technology, law, politics, government, warfare, art, literature, architecture and engineering. Having such an immense effect on civilisation as we know it, the city left a rather large mark on Potelwa during her travels.

“I’m in love with everything about the place,” she says adding: “My primary school principaused to tell us stories about the colosseum and I became obsessed and I couldn’t wait to visit the city – and I was absolutely blown away! I got to walk the beautiful streets, ate the best pizza I’ve ever tasted and I can’t wait to go back so I can go inside the colosseum!”

5) Potelwa had dreams of becoming a doctor when she was young 

“I think a small part of the reason was because I come from a family of doctors but, more than anything, I wanted to help people. Although my career path ended up in a whole other direction, my time at university broadened how I saw the world and I realised no matter what your profession you choose, you can help people in your own way and it’s something we should all incorporate into our daily lives.”

A champion debater, Potelwa was placed third in the World Championships in Australia in 2012

6) Potelwa is a champion debater
Potelwa’s love for public speaking inspired her radio career but not many know that she was also a champion debater! “I loved debating so much and as part of the debating team, I travelled to Australia and New York,” she says. “In fact, I placed third in the World Championships in Australia for one of the categories and placed 22nd overall in the whole tournament.”

Potelwa adds: “I went to New York (in 2012) as a prize for winning a national science debate about nanotechnology and biotechnology. For six whole days, I was the Blair Waldorf of the Upper East side. It was incredible!”

7) Potelwa’s most embarrassing moment on air was calling a guest by the wrong name

While Potelwa has mastered the art of presenting on both television and radio, she, like every presenter, has had a few embarrassing moments. “I once called a legendary DJ by the wrong name. I will never forget it! I  welcomed him to a live TV show with this epic introduction, called him iconic and went on to say the wrong name. At least the interview went well but I’ll never forget that, nor stop laughing at myself for it!”

8) The entertainment industry has taught Potelwa to be resilient
When asked what’s the biggest lesson she’s learned about herself since being in the entertainment industry, Potelwa says: “I have learnt that I’m resilient. In our industry, hearing ‘no’, even if it’s just a few times, is something we all have to get used to – but you keep pushing.” Potelwa adds: “I believe that ‘no’ is always meant to steer you in the right direction of where you’re actually going because what’s yours will never miss you.”

Potelwa was in 2019 inducted as Liberty Radio Awards’ Bright Star in radio 

9) Potelwa has dreams of interviewing some of the biggest names in entertainment

As a presenter, Potelwa loves speaking to just about anyone and getting a deeper understanding of who a person is. So, it’s no wonder she has dreams of interviewing some of the biggest names in Hollywood today. 

“My dream personalities to interview would be Trevor Noah, Oprah Winfrey and Denzel Washington – and it’s all because the same reason: their stories fascinate me. They all had to fight for their dreams. The paths their lives have taken were unlikely given how they grew up and where they came from but they had the audacity to not just dream but to make those dreams a reality. That’s extraordinary and I have so many questions that I can’t wait to ask them one day.”

10) Her brothers helped shape her into a sports Fanatic

Potelwa admits that she’s a massive sports fanatic and that she can only blame her brothers for being so passionate about sport. “I absolutely love sports and I watch everything from rugby to soccer, cricket, netball and everything in between!. I am obsessed. My two brothers definitely played a massive role in my love for sports because, as a kid, I was always outnumbered for the remote. So, sports channels were the order of every day. I can’t believe that today I am thankful for all those times they wouldn’t let me watch my ‘Hannah Montana‘!”


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