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Refilwe Modiselle Reflects On Her Success

The model has broken boundaries for people living with albinism and looks back on who helped her along the way

BY Naledi K

Apr 20, 2022, 09:27 AM

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A South African model and actress born in Rockville, Soweto, Refilwe Modiselle, is SA’s first professional fashion model with albinism. She started her modelling career at the age of 13 and has been making big moves since then such as her appearance as a runway model in 2005 for South African designer David Tlale, which made her the first albinistic model to appear on a runway in South Africa.

Since then Refilwe has done many more impressive things as an actress and activist and reflecting on her journey, the model has taken stock - thanks to Metropolitan’s did-series  #MyPeopleMyEverything - of every person you've encountered and the role they played in your success.

“Naturally family (My mom & sisters) is top of that bar even though with this specific campaign I chose to take a different approach as people already know how big of an anchor they have always been. But additional to that would be our helper "Aus Tshidi" Motshidisi Mataeka, who I refer to as my second mom, who's been very instrumental in playing a motherly role 2nd to my mom. She's loved me unconditionally & been a massive life support structure, Refilwe acknowledged.

“There's my best friend Fr Thabang Nkadimeng who's been in my journey from childhood & has also been a big spiritual support in my life. Then there's my agent/talent manager Precious Nakhira Magoswana who's gone beyond the call of duty in not just being someone who's my soundboard in my career & business decisions, but she's grown to become a sister & a confidant. She's the one that believes in me the most & fights for me when it comes to anything work-related. But even on a personal level, she helps me reason situations & things. Of course, several other people have been a strong part of my tribe... However I was limited to giving you just a glimpse into my world,” she added.

Refilwe will be doing Metropolitan’s first episode of a Digi series on Wednesday, September 22 and plans to take the audience on a journey down memory lane, looking at the people without whom her story wouldn’t be exactly as it has unfolded.

In a Q&A with YAZA, Refilwe shared a snippet of what the audience will be treated to as she gave us some insight into who Refilwe is.

1. Briefly describe who Refilwe Modiselle is.
Refilwe Modiselle is a Visionary, Teacher & Healer. A woman on a mission far greater than human understanding. Born out of the ordinary to fulfil a Godly purpose through the various things I've delved into that are multi-faceted. So I don't like to box myself to say I'm one thing because I'm constantly evolving as I grow into a number of things. 
2. You began modelling at 13, briefly tell us how the journey has been and what is your biggest highlight and your lowest moment?
Thinking back WOW what a journey... I've metamorphosed so much into different aspects of media & entertainment… it is mind-blowing thinking of how far I've come especially in an industry that hasn't always been kind & accommodating. My modelling was just a springboard to open up various other things that were planned for my destiny. It's been a roller-coaster especially thinking of all I've had to endure as a pioneer in building a legacy, you become the sacrificial lamb for something bigger. 

My highlights have been all the wins when the world thought a person like myself couldn’t accomplish the things that she has. I mean being Africa's first model with albinism, honoured on Oprah's Power List in 2013 & being acknowledged & documented on CNN. To become a talk show host, speaker, activist etc & diving into various other amazing things. But to date my biggest... becoming a multi-award-winning international actress via an award-winning international short film White Gold. 

And my lowest moment isn't just one but various & all pertaining to the prejudice/discrimination I've had to face from the industry subliminally & constantly having to fight for my place not because I didn't have the capability, talent or skill, but because I would be judged based off of my skin. These shoes haven't been the easiest to fill generally.
3. As a model and actress, you have done a lot in terms of representation of people living with albinism, was this always the intention of representation or did it happen as a by-product of you chasing your dreams?
My intention was to never "consciously" be the face of change for people with albinism... That responsibility was awarded to me by society in the things I was accomplishing. I was honestly just a girl chasing after the extraordinary things she was divinely led to & drawn to, at first not understanding the impact of one's footsteps but with time acknowledging what everything meant for not only myself but for those who are inspired. The difference is that because of my growing consciousness, I now do things with greater intention, understand things at a deeper level... Life becomes more intentional
4. You know how people have helped you to get where you are, how do you help others?
I would love for you to ask them(others) that because for me I don't keep a record of the deeds I do for others. If you help people do it, without thinking about it consciously. I honestly don't keep a record. All I can tell you is I'm a soundboard for many people & I try to assist where I can & how I can if I can manage. 
5. Using your platform how have you helped fight for the community of people living with albinism against "African traditions that are against them" or "general discrimination" they are often faced with?
My entire life & various things I do in the work I take on is a role of activism & I think that in itself has been a catalyst in the change needed for people with albinism 
6. As a person living with albinism, what is your take on people equating "lack of melanin" to "lack of Africanism"?
Your Africanism is your heritage & not the colour of your skin & I think albinism is a beautiful example that helps us redefine an ideology that may have been skewed as to what qualifies a person's Africanism! 
I can't be labelled as lacking being an African just because I have a lack of melanin.. a skin condition I didn't choose to be born with. I'm still rightfully a black woman at the end of the day. Nothing changes that, according to who I am born to & where I am from.
 7. As a woman, you've done exceptional work in every sphere you've entered, what keeps you going?
What keeps me going is my LIGHT! Knowing that I have a God-given purpose to fulfil... There's a mission to accomplish that's bigger than me. And my duty is to execute everything I do with conviction & to the best of my ability, knowing that this isn't just for me but for the child(ren) I hope to one day have who will walk this journey to hopefully become incredible souls, seeing this through me. But to also inspire positivity & change for anyone that wants to take a leaf from my tree of life. 
8. When you are not changing the world, being a model or an actress, what do you do? How do you spend your "free" time?
Why am I laughing at this question… In my "free" time I try to do absolutely nothing... I give myself the chance to recoup & regroup. So I stay indoors, on the couch and watch something on TV... Netflix, Showmax etc... Or listen to music. 
And if an opportunity presents itself I try to visit a friend over lunch or dinner etc. But I'm generally a person who's very to herself contrary to my extroverted big personality ... It's come with age... So I keep to myself more. Stillness is key. 
9. What about the other aspects of your life: Are you in a relationship? Do you aspire to be a wife and a mother?
As I laugh out loud again...
I don't think any of these things are aspirations. I think if anything I'm of the premise that these are blessings... If these things are my portion then I'll gladly welcome it with open arms. Yes, I'd love to be a wife & mom, but I'll let God make the final decision. 
Also, I've never been one to chase after worldly things because of societal expectations & pressures. If & when it comes, it will all come at the right time for me. And I'm not in a relationship currently... Single & not forcing anything. That God-ordained, ancestors certified, chosen special man will find me. *laughs*
10. What do you believe or want the legacy of Refilwe Modiselle to be?
In the words of Beyonce "I WAS HERE ..." I lived a life filled with purposes... I came, I saw & I conquered & did it unapologetically. I shared my love & light with the world for all to experience divinity through my existence. God is intentional & life is what you make it. 

We absolutely love Refilwe and everything about her. She has had many milestones in her life and career, including gracing the cover of many magazines. Best of all she has had the chance to grace one cover with her sisters, for Oak Magazine, which we find absolutely beautiful. We wish Refilwe the best in all her endeavors.

Read: Self-love is every Black woman's highest calling