Claire Mawisa On Being A Career Chameleon and How She Does It All

Posted on April 13th, 2017

Claire Mawisa On Being A Career Chameleon and How She Does It All

Over the past 23 years Claire Mawisa has proven herself to be something of a career chameleon. Much of her success is the result of her ability to adapt to a myriad of roles, everything from being a TV presenter, model, beauty editor and even entrepreneur.

Today she is perhaps best known as an investigative TV reporter for current affairs television series, Carte Blanche and entrepreneur, she is the founder of Code Teen, an organisation empowering young women.

A woman of many hats

Mawisa got her start as a model. She signed with Topco Models in 1994. In the same year she entered and won the Cosmopolitan Model of the Year awards. At only 14 years of age, she was the youngest model to be featured on magazines like True LoveDrum and Bona.

However, the idea was never to remain just a model, she says.

Throughout her career she has ventured into television, radio and even publishing. She has worked for SABC1, YFM’s Breakfast Show, where she remained for three years.

A brief haitus from TV and radio and move to London saw Mawisa having to reinvent her career. She returned to South Africa and ventured into publishing where she had to start from the proverbial bottom. She joined True Love as an intern and would later become beauty editor at Seventeen Magazine.

TV and radio came calling once again and she returned as presenter on a number of shows, as well as the radio station, KayaFM.

In 2014 she left the station to focus on Code Teen , which she launched with event coordinator and show producer, Karen Burt in 2004 with the goal of empowering young women.

In the last 13 years the business has been empowering teenage women through workshops which aim to address everyday issues teen girls face, especially those in rural South Africa.

Mawisa shares with SME South Africa her thoughts on joining Carte Blanche and taking the scenic route with her career. 

In an industry where staying relevant is key, Mawisa doesn’t feel any pressure  I’ve never really thought about trying to stay relevant. 23 years ago, I never thought about how I was going to stay relevant for the rest of my life. Whatever I’m doing at any point, whether I’m a producer for a show, presenting a show or facilitating a workshop, I’m just trying to be good at what I’m doing on that day.

Doing her best is what has kept her relevant – I’m just trying to be on time, courteous, professional and do my best. If I feel that I did my best, that’s enough for that day. Soon the days will turn into weeks, weeks turn into months and months into years, and you will move into different positions. If I look back now, it doesn’t feel like it’s been 23 years. I wasn’t even focusing on being amazing or relevant or successful. Step by step we add little by little and before you know it your body of work starts growing, and that is the thing that keeps you relevant.

“Feedback is a gift, whether it’s positive or negative”

Mawisa sees negative criticism as constructive feedback – It happens all the time and you never really get used to it. It hurts all the time for me, but what I do is I interrogate all the feedback I get, even if it’s good comments. When people tell me I’m amazing and great I ask “what specifically?”

When I get negative feedback, I usually write it down, because there might be something in it that’s true. Feedback is a gift, whether it’s positive or negative. When people are giving me feedback, even the people I work with, I listen and make a mental note and when I’m alone or in a calmer space, I revisit what they said and ask myself if it’s true. When someone gives you negative constructive feedback, they just want you to succeed and be better.

The entertainment industry was at the center of Mawisa’s successful career, but it wasn’t her only option – I was really passionate about the sciences, so at school I took physics, science, biology and French and when it came to Matric I was accepted into the science faculty at University of Cape Town (UCT), and I was excited about that.

I didn’t really know what career I wanted to go into, but I knew I was obsessed with chemistry, physics, micro-biology, bio-chemistry, zoology and botany and I thought I will be able to understand this magical world of chemicals mixing and forming new things. My teachers were also instrumental in making me believe that science, physics and math were magical.

A lack of funds changed her course, but it was a blessing in disguise – I studied that for three years and unfortunately I was financially excluded from UCT. I couldn’t afford the fees and they said because I couldn’t pay, I couldn’t write the exams.

Looking back now, I realised the opportunities that came my way and that led me to the entertainment industry suited my personality better and I’m grateful for it. In my own private and personal space I’m still fascinated by the sciences, it still occupies my mind and I still find those kinds of stories interesting so it’s not like I’m not interested in that field anymore. I just found that this space I occupy now suits my personality better.


Presenting came with glamorous red carpet events, but this did not fulfil Mawisa – I came to Johannesburg to be on television. As soon as I was on TV, the ‘celebrity-ness’ blew up and I got invited to incredible events as a VIP, gifts were sent to me, my make-up was done, designers gave me clothes to wear on the red carpet, but at the end of the day you go home alone and question what makes you feel alive. It’s usually not the events. You work hard to stand there and look pretty, but you question if it brings you joy.

At the height of her career, Mawisa took a hiatus to decide what she wanted to do with her career – That was very tough because at that time I was a presenter on TV and when that contract had come to an end, I didn’t know what to do with my life so I decided that this would be a great time to move overseas and figure out what I wanted to do.

“You never know where life is going to take you”

The comeback was more difficult than Mawisa anticipated – When I came back, it was extremely tough because I had to start from the bottom again. It didn’t matter that I was a presenter over a year ago, because when I came back there were new people, there were different shows, I needed to go to castings, I needed to remind people I was here. It was good for reducing my ego. When something reduces your ego, you feel embarrassed, humiliated or down and you feel like it’s difficult for you.

The comeback doubled as a learning curve – I had nothing and thought to myself how am I going to get back? It wasn’t easy and people were very vocal about their judgments. It was also a learning time in my life when I realised I need to stop putting all external pressure from other people onto myself. People always think you should be further, better, thinner, more beautiful, have better hair etc. If you internalise that it will just send you on a downward spiral.

Starting again at the bottom, taught Mawisa perseverance – I struggled to find my place and I was willing to start from the bottom again, and that’s what I did. I interned for free at True Love, and I’d been on the cover of that magazine twice, but when I went there they didn’t want to take me as an intern because I was on the cover twice. But I interned there, sent emails, closed envelopes, made tea for people, steamed dresses for the shoots, taped shoes and I was everyone’s PA in the office. I did that for three months and did it with a smile on my face.

Things started changing for the better – When I left, I wanted to figure out what I was going to do because I didn’t really have a plan. Things started changing. About a month or two later I still didn’t have a job, but I received a phone call from Justine Stafford, the editor of Seventeen magazine, who was looking for someone to work with.


with the legend that is derek watts! still such a fan of his work! #mnet30th #mnet30birthday #mnet30thbirthdaycelebration

A post shared by Claire B. Mawisa (@clairemawisa) on 

Mawisa went from no job to her dream job within months – She said she called someone at True Love and everyone there spoke highly of me. She asked if I wanted to work with her, and I said yes. I was crying tears when that call came through because my working for free, making other people tea and coffee with energy and a smile on my face, and a positive attitude had paid off.

You never know where life is going to take you, and it took me to a dream job that was paying me. This was a lesson that starting at the bottom was not the end of the world.

Empowering young women through her business brought more joy to Mawisa than pretty dresses and fancy gifts – When I started doing my workshops, I realised that I feel more alive and feel like I have more of a purpose in the middle of a Kwazulu-Natal bush doing a workshop. I’m more excited there, I have more energy, whereas a red carpet appearance is a performance. It really is work.

It’s nice to be in a dress, look pretty and stand on a red carpet, but only for that moment. It doesn’t build you, it doesn’t add anything to you and most people who are going to comment on your appearance are going to say horrible things about your shoes and your hair, so it really is superficial and petty.
That’s when I realised I enjoyed my workshops a thousand times more than being on the red carpet.