'I'm just Precious'

One-on-one with Dr Precious Moloi-Motsepe – a woman on a mission to develop SA's fashion industry.

Do you still practise medicine?
No, I stopped practising after my little one was born five years ago. I had a clinical practice in Morningside and I Ieft because I had reached the ceiling in my career and wanted to focus on running projects in the newly formed Motsepe Family Foundation. It allowed me to practise as a doctor, still be a mother and wife, as well as having time for myself and other important things. I'm always striving for balance in my life.

Are you in any way still involved with medicine?
I haven't really left medicine, which is why I say I will always be a doctor. I'm very involved with NGOs around health issues, mostly through the Motsepe Family Foundation. Women's health is still one of my big passions.

Explain what you do now in the fashion industry?
I'm chairperson of African Fashion International, formerly known as Leisureworx. Our focus now is African fashion, especially South African fashion. My involvement in fashion is really about my passion for development and taking young people from townships and rural areas with skills and showing them what they can be. I'm committed to contributing towards a vibrant fashion industry that will sustain the businesses of designers and thus contribute towards creating more jobs for our people.

You said you've always had a passion for fashion; how did it manifest itself before you joined the industry?
As a young girl I always enjoyed the feel and look of clothing. Growing up in Soweto, you socialised at weddings and church – those were times when you could shine and put on your best outfit and I enjoyed that. I couldn't sew to save my life at school, but when playing with dolls with my siblings and cousins, I had the fashion sense, in terms of knowing what looked good on the dolls. And the passion grew from there.

So going into the fashion industry was an easy transition for me, because I felt I could make a difference by investing in the growth of industries that define who we are as a nation. The fashion and arts industry is important in that regard, as well as the way it employs thousands of people, such as fabric makers, seamstresses and beaders.

I never agonised about not practising medicine. I believe you need to find things that you enjoy doing and explore them to the fullest, but don't get stuck with them. I don't believe in this myopic view of our careers, where you have to study something and then you have to work in that career for the next 50 years. It's like buying an expensive hammer and for the rest of your life you've got to be hammering in nails. I really don't believe that. I think medicine, in many ways, prepared me for many other things that I could do. Passion, hard work, honesty and respect for others is something I carry with me wherever I go. I hope that in 10 years' time I will go into something else. I believe in reinventing myself as a human being. There are people who want to stay in a career and explore it to the maximum, but I like change.

Do you have your next transformation planned yet?
(Laughs) No, not yet. My commitment at the moment is to see the whole fashion retail industry transform. We have a lot happening; we have new, exciting designers. We recently took four South African designers to Paris. They need to progress to the next step, and we need to sort out whatever issues there are. And I want to be part of that process of creating permanent structures for all our designers to succeed. I think my other weakness is that I'm passionate about women's issues. Whatever involves women, I want to be involved in and help. And with the clothing industry employing many women, that is where I want to make a difference in creating jobs for these women who are often breadwinners for two or three households.

Is it hard being a black woman working in fashion?
It is probably hard being a black woman in any industry. But I think if you believe in what you are doing and people see that you are committed to what you are doing, and you are honest about your shortcomings and strengths, you will make it. When I started the clinic in Morningside people said, "You'll never have white patients here. These madams can pay to see any gynaecologist!" And I promise you my practice was full of white patients because they knew they would get the service they were looking for. It was good quality. Excellence is very important. When you are committed people will support you.

Do you ever feel like you are in your husband's shadow?
No, not at all. Patrice and I have been together for more than 20 years. I've been part of his growth and he has been a part of my growth – he has always supported me and the boys. We have supported each other in many ways and still do. Many people like him; if we came here together most of the people who know him from Sundowns will come up to him with a cellphone camera to take pictures and I have to be the photographer. I have no qualms about that. I don't walk around thinking I'm Mrs Patrice Motsepe – that is not how I think of myself. I'm just Precious! But I love being his wife.

Describe yourself in five words?
I want to believe that I'm a happy person inside. I'm content with who I am. It is very difficult to talk about myself because I tend not to focus on me; it's about fitting into the whole picture; I believe I'm part of a whole. Whether it's a family, community, or a country, but making an impact in that whole is what I strive for. I'd say I'm a very passionate person, whatever I get involved in, I throw myself into it. My siblings say I laugh loudly, but I don't think I'm a loud person. I tend to be reserved and very cautious, sometimes overly cautious.

What don't people know about you?
(Laughs) I was thinking about that question and I don't know what to say... what don't people know? That I have a fear of lightning! (Laughs very hard) It's a terrible fear but I guess the real answer is that I'm as human as the next person.

- True Love

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