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‘Identify what you love, work on it’

SOUTH African businesswoman, actress and filmmaker Connie Ferguson (CF) was the guest of honour at the business conference organised by Nedbank Zimbabwe Limited targeting women entrepreneurs and women in the corporate world. The conference ran under the theme: Step up and Build Your Legacy. In a conversation with Thembi Khumalo (TK), Ferguson opened up about depression and how exercising helped her deal with it. She also spoke about motherhood and how she ended up in the film industry, rising to the top and becoming one of the top South African businesswomen. Below are excerpts of the interview, which was live-streamed on Alpha Media Holdings’ Heart and Soul TV. Watch the conference proceedings on https://www.facebook.com/HStvradio/videos/550144400065987/

CF: A mother is a child’s first love and a father is a daughter’s first love at sight. I learnt a lot from my mom and l hope it is what I am aspiring to my children. The biggest lesson that I learnt from my mother is love. Speaking of Mother’s Day for me, the biggest legacy that any parent can leave for their children l believe is love. Because when you do anything of love be it work, in a relationship, in a friendship but anything born out of love can never fail, do everything with love and in love and you will never fail.

TK: So how does a young woman like the one in this room figure out what love is in terms of career paths. I find it more often we are asked about passion, how do you advice young women in that regard?

CF: It is very important to identify what it is that you love, for example, work is work. At a time that I grew up the popular professions were being a teacher or nurse and being a doctor or lawyer was too elite, you would not aim for that because you had to have gone to a private school for that. Some of us, we did not have much growing up so private school was not an option. So when you went to a government school like us you would aspire to be a teacher or nurse.

At one point l did but it was not really a passion. However, I was very handy. l love needle work, l loved creating, so from a young age l was creative. l just did not know which industry I will end up in. Personally l wanted to be fashion designer but growing up in a town that l was in that was not even a career you would be a dressmaker not a fashion designer. You have to identify what you are talented in. l am so blessed that l am able to wake up in the morning and go and do what l love to do.

If you wake up in the morning, drag and roll your eyes before you go to work it shows you have not really found what you are passionate about. Identify what is that you love and take that thing and turn it into a business or a passion.

TK: So how did you transition into the entertainment industry?

CF: I think l have already alluded to being creative at a very young age, so in primary school l was very involved in traditional dance, although I was very shy and reserved as a child, every time l had to perform I came alive. So l think that was God’s way of telling me where I belong. Maybe I did not know it back then, but (I now see when) every time I try to identify signs of how I ended up where I am. My parents would be very proud of me whenever I performed. They were my biggest cheerleaders.

TK: Parental support is so important is it not?

CF: Very important, nobody can validate a child better than a parent can validate their child. Again being young and having my parents tell me I am beautiful, you are so good at this. My mother used to tell me that my baby, you have so much grace. I was young and had no idea what that meant.  I just thought oh my God, my mother just loves me so much. I just felt loved but I had no idea what she meant by grace.

So basically just speak life to your children. Tell your children they are beautiful. When your children are not intellectuals at school they are good with their hands highlight that they are good at and also encourage what they are not good at. Those little affirmations help build them where they only recognize where they are failing and that kills their confidence that they end up not interested in what they are good at.

TK: So we live in this time where more and more people are becoming depressed, a lot of mental health issues in our communities. What are some of your best tips for safeguarding your mental health?

CF: If I may just share that quickly — I know all too well about depression. Having encountered a lot of loss in my life and I am not only talking about the recent one. I lost a baby in 2008, my mother in 2013 and then now recently but I suppose how am dealing with that is a little different from how I dealt with the other two losses. I even lost a marriage before all this. There are different losses in life that contribute to how we feel and see ourselves.

I do not like people feeling sorry for me. I think that kind of makes me feel worse. l like being encouraged and motivated. But going back to the days when l wanted to sleep and not wake up, mornings when I would literally wake up, stay in bed and cuddle myself, crying for no reason a lot of times. This is like you can literally just be sitting there crying and someone will ask you what is wrong and that would just make it worse and you cry some more.

From my part l can identify what caused the mental health issue but there are times I could not identify what was wrong with me, and that was eventually identified as seasonal affected disorder. A lot of people have it and they do not even know they have it. When seasons change sometimes your mood changes too and you do not know why. My doctor identified that every time I came and l was not okay, it was usually around autumn-winter that season. So they gave me means to cope with it.

Gain a lot of light, natural sunlight — do not get sun burnt but natural air natural sunlight helps.

Exercise, for me my biggest anti-depressant. People do not understand how I am so busy yet I am still able to be active.

For me it is more than just the physique of it, of course it is a very nice side effect but it is not the number one reason why I am so passionate about working out. For me it is my mood lifter.

TK: You are talking about grief and loss and depression. You have to navigate this in the public. What is that like for you? How do you manage the public persona and the private sadness?

CF: It is a difficult balance. There was a time when l played Karabo in Generations and Karabo was pregnant. The pregnancy was written into the story because I was pregnant and then l lost the baby but Karabo had to remain pregnant for nine months. So l played a pregnant Karabo, while l was mourning. That was hard because I had to go on set and cry every day, but on the flipside that was therapeutic because I got to cry, I was able to share it. With my husband it is different in the sense that we are both in the public eye, people loved, adored us and loved the two of us together. So the hardest thing for me is that I do not like pity parties. I am not saying, (people) should not feel sorry for me but am saying people should not dwell in a state or moment. I need people to encourage and pray for me to get out of it.

It has been nine months now since my husband passed on. Things are different. My life has changed in a way that l cannot explain and l think the biggest thing for me was to accept that my life has changed. When my husband was sick, as a family, we love God very much and my husband was a Jesus person, so when he was sick we had prayer groups. We prayed so much for him to come out of it, and when he did not, I remember I felt disappointed and let down. I felt like God let me down.

What l learnt is that I had a deal with God. Every time, we prayed I would say if he comes out of this it would be our biggest testimony because the doctors were writing him off every time and he would make it another day and l thought there is no way he would be making it for all those days and fail to come out of it. So I trusted that our prayers were working and God was answering. I really believed that he was going through the worst only to come out of it, but looking at it now I may have not seen it at the time, l think I am still to testify.

My current testimony is that I am here, l made it through Covid myself, two, my husband and I had  joy like when they talk about soul mates, my husband is my soul mate. We would see old couples walking hand in hand and one would have a stick and one supporting the other, we would joke about who was going to be the one with the stick and the one supporting.

That is how far we saw ourselves going and when that did not happen obviously I could not see myself continuing without (him) and my biggest fear was that I was going to slip back into depression, which I did for a bit, Maybe I still am but now I am just dealing with the now that I know how to deal with.  So my testimony today is that I am able to get out of it, I am able to miss my husband to a point that could be paralysing but I am able to feel in the moment, pray about it and get myself out of it and go out and get things done.

I think it is important to recognise that there are different types of losses in life. You start business, you build a business and you lose money. Maybe you had so many plans for your business and that money could have done something else — it was at the back of your mind but you chose to take a different route and now it did not work out. That can drive you into depression.

That is a loss people may not understand. Looking from the outside, you can say we can work and recoup it without really understanding the gravity of your situation and what that loss means to you, which can drive you to depression. I am saying all this to say it is okay to feel. It is okay to grieve, whatever loss. What is not okay is to stay in the bubble.

TK: To round off this session, you are raising two girls, what are the highlights for your girls?

CF: Okay I will start with Lesedi. l had Lesedi when I was very young, and having doctors telling you big words that you are a certain blood group and the father is another blood group and the child is most likely to be in danger and l was prone to a miscarriage. So they tell you all these scary things and when Lesedi was born she did not cry and l freaked out. You know how the doctors then start hitting the children so she started crying — that was the biggest highlight for me.

The other highlight for me was to see her perform. She is a drama arts student. She has a degree, just seeing her perform and seeing how she comes alive as a performer. Sedi is an extrovert, very confident young lady, speaks very well and l love that about her. I think when l see her interact with her peers l always say that is my baby.

And Alicia is the exact opposite of Sedi in terms of personality. For her, we had tried for a while to get pregnant and when it happened with her as well it was a highlight. She was just this bundle of joy, exact copy of her father and then again children are not the same. She is musically inclined. l am not a  musician but she taught herself to play  different instruments. Now she is studying music, just watching her play anything, especially drums. My proudest moment was when she was performing at a concert. We were sitting there watching her. It was such an emotional moment. I was a proud mother. I look at her and think Sho and l did a good job.

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