She was voted one of South Africa’s Most Awesome Women in Cosmopolitan magazine and won the People magazine Crystal Award for Best Female TV Presenter in Africa for three years running. Multi award-winning TV presenter, radio host, MC and style icon, Leanne Manas is a one-of-a-kind person. And such a personality! She reveals herself and her Lebanese origins in an exclusive interview in Johannesburg for HOME Magazine.
Interviewed by Elsa Yazbek Charabati, a senior journalist and presenter. Elsa Yazbek Charabati works in different media (TV, radio and press). She currently works at MTV, and prepares and presents the weekly unique travel program “Voyage Voyage,” as well as a special successful prime time show on famous Lebanese around the world called “Bi Kell Fakher.”
Leanne Manas, it is such a pleasure interviewing you! Your family comes from Lebanon but you were born in South Africa where you currently live. Tell us about your Lebanese origins!
My mother is a Keyrouz and Chehab, my father is an Abboud and Manas. I believe I have some family living in Bcharré and Meziara. I visited Lebanon such a long time ago – in 1993, before South Africa became a democracy. We went to Lebanon on holidays, but I never came back. I always wanted to, but opportunity never knocked. It’s something that’s on the top of my priority list at the moment.
Becoming the most famous journalist in South Africa, and an icon in the continent, is an amazing job! How did you make your own way here?
You have to look at the dynamics of this country. It’s an amazing country; it’s made up of so many different cultures. To say I’m not South African is very difficult because I AM South African. I’m born here, and bred here. My umbilical cord is tied to South Africa.
But, as much as I am South African, the DNA and the blood flowing through my veins are Lebanese. Perhaps I’ve been in the right place at the right time, studying journalism. I was very lucky to have been welcomed by the public and to be given the platform to do what I love.
What’s your connection to Lebanon? Do you speak Arabic?
The worst part is that I don’t speak Arabic or French. It’s a shame. However, the Lebanese food never, ever left our table. We all eat the food, love it and celebrate it just as the Lebanese do.
What kind of food?
Oh God! Who doesn’t like Kebbé? Kebbé Nayyé? Everything! All the Lebanese food, we’ve grown up eating it. Whenever we gather for family celebrations… that’s the food we eat.
” In South Africa, we’re perhaps the only government in the world to have 50% parity between men and women. And it’s great! “
You eat Lebanese, but you’ve lived in South Africa since you were born. What do you like the most in South Africa?
There’s a lot about South Africa that makes it an absolutely addictive place. There is so much to see, whether you love the European feel of Cape Town, or the liveliness of Johannesburg, my HOME – this is where I grew up. This is the business capital where the opportunities are and it’s a big melting pot of people. Then, for me, what I love in South Africa are the animals, the reserves… You cannot come to South Africa and not see the Big Five!
What does it feel like to be such a successful working woman of Lebanese origins in South Africa?
Women here are exceptionally successful, especially the Lebanese women. They have done a great job and have been recognized in their field and are highly respected. I’ve noticed that in South Africa, they push women; they want women to succeed. They need women to go ahead. We’re perhaps the only government in the world to have 50% parity between men and women. And it’s great!
As a radio and television presenter, best known for hosting the SABC2 breakfast news show Morning Live since 2004, you have interviewed numerous high-profile personalities. Who are the ones that you’ll never forget?
There is a whole list of them, but if I should only pinpoint two: the first one would be Nelson Mandela. He is the most incredible person to have met! Shaking his hand was more than enough! He had this character that when he held your hand, your hand was engulfed by somebody who has just pulled you in and you became part of him because he was such a powerful, beautiful figure. He was amazing! I interviewed him many times and I also had the privilege of being one of his ambassadors. I think I was the only news journalist that was put on that list of grand celebrities, musicians and artists from all over the world to support his cause to abolish apartheid from the mentality of the South African people. There is also another individual
I met, a real hero for me: Oprah Winfrey. When I interviewed that great woman, I was dazzled by her simplicity, her spontaneity, her beauty, her professionalism. When I talked to this famous American journalist, I realized that we’re all the same, we are all granted talents and it’s only how we use our talents – that we’re given by God in different ways – that makes us special. She really portrayed that for me!
Leanne, you are married to a Greek Cypriot, you have a daughter Gabriella and a son Alexandro. Do they know that they have Lebanese origins?
My kids are the black swans, because they have this dark skin and dark eyes, with this beautiful Middle Eastern look. People always ask where they’re from. They tell them they’re from South Africa, but people don’t believe them. Then they tell them they’re actually Lebanese, but born in South Africa. Then people say: “Ah! Lebanese! OK!” So this is what I’ve had my whole life and for them it’ll be the same. They know who they are and where they’re from.
Having a family and working so hard is a challenge. How do you spend a typical day?
It’s a difficult question to answer, because I never have a day that’s similar to the previous one. The only common thing in my days is that I wake up at 4 in the morning, I go on air at 6 o’clock. After three hours of live broadcasting, I focus on my own communication company, so I do lots of public speaking, I’m also Master of Ceremonies for many events…
But I think my main job, once I leave the studio, is being a mother, because I don’t want my kids to be brought up by somebody else, because they’re mine and I get very possessive about them. I want to pick them up from school, I want to take them to do their activities, I want to be part of their lives as much as possible… I also have support to allow me to do what I love, but my favorite thing is being a working mum.
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