A PIONEER OF HIS OWN DESTINY
Written by: Zama Ngcoya
Sabelo Mngoma was born in the year 1988 on the 9th of April. He grew up in the township of Kwa-Pata, in the city of Pietermaritzburg where he was raised as the only male child in his middle-class family.
Except for being coddled by his family as a minor, Mngoma’s primary schooling years could almost be compared to the livelihood of nomads. In the seven years of his lower level schooling, he attended three different primary schools, namely Malala Primary School in the area of Kwa-Noshezi, then went on to Esnatheni, before completing the seventh grade at Khethindlelenhle Primary School.
After finishing primary school, he enrolled at Nsikayethu Comprehensive School. He later matriculated in the year 2004 with a distinction in accounting. Although his performance in this particular subject was exceptional, pursuing a career in the field of accountancy was nowhere close to his life-goals. Aside from not being quite the whizz in mathematics and his father not being very keen on paying for another potential accountants study fees, Mngoma’s interests lay more with photography. So, in 2005, he moved to the city of Durban where he enrolled for a course in photography at the Durban University of Technology (DUT) and after three years of study, he graduated in the year 2008.
Although he had obtained a qualification as a professional photographer, life was not all sunshine and roses for the young lad.
“Before my graduation, I started looking for a job just like everyone else and it was very difficult because I was young. People were not taking me seriously firstly, and photography has this thing where black people don’t necessarily regard it as a great career. They don’t have as much respect for it as if you were to come around and say I’m doing law which is obviously discouraging because you are young and you don’t know what that means for you just think oh jeez did I study something wrong, but I persevered. Not that I knew my end goal or if I had a plan, but I winged it and with that I started falling in love with the craft and the digital side of it,” said Mngoma as he reminisces on his days entering into the industry.
He added that having his first photograph of musician, L’vovo make front page of Isolezwe newspaper came as a wake-up call for him.
Through the persuasion from his friends, Mngoma decided to relocate to Johannesburg (JHB) in a search for greener pastures in the year 2008.
Although he had moved to the city of gold, it was not all smooth sailing still.
“I had finished my third year and a year later I’m still trying to find my big break and the challenging part about the joburg journey, everybody would come in- like guys I was studying with. They would come in, maybe one of them is doing in-service training at etv and they are on now. So it was like when is my turn coming,” said Mngoma.
The department of health in Johannesburg summoned him for a panel interview, at which he performed well. The interviewees were most astounded by his potential. However, this would not be his big break yet. He was not granted the position because he did not possess the mandatory drivers licence. This was like an Icarus fall for Mngoma, so he took back to the drawing board to draft out his next move.
While out and about on a weekend, Mngoma met a male who told him about an agency. With having finally obtained his driver’s licence, and with his qualification well in order, he took his most powerful tools and approached the agency.
They informed him about a football business exhibition called Soccerex where football affairs are discussed. He went for his first shoot in Sandton. They were thoroughly impressed by his work that day and some of his pictures were published. He was called more frequently and was then put on a months-probation.
He started off at the desk where he edited photographs taken by senior photographers. Mngoma proved to be deserving of the spot and in 2009, he was given a permanent position.
He shot his first game at Wits, then went on to other things. In that very same year, he boarded a plane for the first time which was something he never thought he would do. He then went on to Namibia on his first out of South Africa trip and then went to shoot the Confederations Cup. Mngoma was shooting different sporting codes, and things were looking up for him.
Towards the end of 2009 he was moved back to Durban to manage another wing of the company. He was entrusted with this major role after proving to be a competent hard-worker. He travelled to Zimbabwe to shoot a very big tournament, he was working between the city of Bulawayo and Harare. In the year 2010, Mngoma had the experience of a lifetime, shooting the World Cup games and seeing his favourite players live. In 2014 he registered his own company named 9 88 Media (pty) LTD.
Mngoma’s gig to shoot King Zwelithini’s wedding came as an eye-opener when his invoice was equivalent to his eight month salary. He got inspired to do more jobs on the side when he had time. Later that year, he won KZN Photographer of the Year, which came with a cash prize. This was an epic year for him.
In 2015 he focused his expertise and experience into growing his company. He also returned to his alma mater to do his B-Tech.
The father of two bouncing boys says the biggest highlights of his career so far has been shooting the FIFA World Cup at 22 years of age, having his pictures published at The New York Times for work he did for the associated press and covering the essence festival because it is his own work- the progression of his company.
Mngoma says he draws inspiration from his background, and his sons.
“My biggest inspiration is where I come from. I have never seen a photographer where I come from. I have never seen anybody doing art for that matter and so therefore being able to make a living out of something, for me it inspires me a lot, and my two very beautiful boys. I hustle and grind so they don’t have to work this hard. For me it’s important that they know that the sky is the limit. I want them to be able to go other countries with their own money, without having to wait till they work. I want them to know that at eighteen they can have a car and its okay,” explained Mngoma.
He added that his hopes and dreams for the future are to make his company a game changer. He wishes for it to become a big creative agency which he will not limit to production or photography. He also wants his company to be forever innovative and pushing new ideas.
Mngoma closed off the interview with words of encouragement for the youth.
“My message to anybody out there who is grinding is that hard-work pays off, but sometimes working smart helps as well. You don’t have to put in eighteen hours. You do need to sleep to think better. Some days you should take it easy. Think about what you wanna do, take it easy and one step at a time, but just make sure that you’re moving. Don’t make the mistake of standing still. Numbers go up to infinity. My dad used to say ‘at the end of each year, look back and see what you have done’. Every day of your life, work towards something that will make your future better every day, do a little contribution. Put in a bit of something for yourself,” he concluded.