On the bench with Masego Maps Maponyane

On the bench with Masego Maps Maponyane

Despite his extensive CV as an actor, speaker, voice-over artist, philanthropist and fitness lover, it’s none of those that makes Masego Maps Maponyane cover-worthy. Nope, spend a day with him in a quiet suburban park and you’ll realise it’s his unique ability to make everyone around him feel like a million bucks

The light crept through the trees and trickled on to the lush grass. In between, streams of water meandered politely. I step off the pathway and make my way for the crew. At some point, I feel brave and leap across a stream, giving myself a mental high five. Getting closer, I become more ambitious as the grass tickles my feet with each graceful step – I was like an antelope on the savannah plains. Then it happens. I glide my way into an ankle-deep puddle. My sandals look up at me covered in mud. It was humbling – but that’s how most really good experiences start.

Maps picks up my shoes while I dry my feet. It was almost like being Cinderella, except the glass slipper was a grubby pair of sandals. Chatting to the 29-year-old Soweto-born presenter, actor, speaker, philanthropist and business entrepreneur is easy from the get-go – he’s really warm and kind. There isn’t much of a fuss about him. At some point the photo shoot wraps and he goes off for a quick run – with a schedule as packed as his, it makes sense that he’s wired to include fitness whenever there’s a gap.

Dappled shadows are cast on the dapper bachelor, who is now back from his run. Time for lunch. We head to a restaurant nearby and continue chatting.

When it comes to energy, his is refreshing. He is measured and composed, so well put together. I ask what he was like as a child. From his first words, he had a stutter, but
it made way for a free-flow of words at the age of 12. ‘After my stutter, I promised myself that whatever I do in the future would entail a high level of oratory skills. That would be how I monetise my life,’ he says of his public speaking, which has now turned into a fair portion of what he does for a living. If that’s not enough, Maps is also a UNICEF South Africa Volunteers Advocate and has been on the board of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) South Africa for close to half a decade.

Born to two role models (Maps’ father Marks Maponyane was a top scoring soccer player for Kaizer Chiefs, and his mom Sylvia is a four-time graduate), it’s no surprise that any challenges blocking his path are conquered with equal doses of humour and tenacity. ‘I love to make light of a difficult situation. Making them humorous is a great coping mechanism. And then I just sort of pivot and realise how I’ll do it better – or do it 1 000 times until it works. When I was 7, my dad told me there was something he wanted and it just wasn’t working out – I think it was a job or something he was working towards. Eventually he got it. I remember thinking that it was his patience that got him there. There’s no such thing as impossible, it just takes longer than planned.’

The waitress comes by with drinks, he asks what she recommends and we place our food order. Maps scoops ice blocks out of the glass as if he’s ringing a school bell with a spoon. Imagine how loudly he’d stir his tea or coffee. It could never work with us. ‘Interesting fact: Sparkling water, starch, chilli, and dry food, all give me hiccups. So if you ever see me randomly hiccuping, it’s sparkling water or one of the other three,’ he quips.

The salad arrives. He takes a picture and sends it to a friend. Maps says he wishes it didn’t come with dressing on it already and that he normally asks for it on the side. I can see a fleeting moment of worry that his accountability partner might be full of calorie-related chirps. We chat between bites of greenery. I’m lucky that Maps’ talking skills give me enough of a gap to chew. He scoops some rogue lemon pips out of his glass and jokes about lemon trees growing in our stomachs. At some point during the meal he realises that his smartwatch is still running from earlier. ‘It’s wondering why I’m not exercising right now,’ he laughs.

There’s an endearing sincerity in his actions. He thrives on making others feel seen – and it shows. And when it comes to making that special someone feel, well, special, he’s a real romantic. ‘Love is a beautiful thing when it feels real – when it makes you feel like you can take anything on and conquer your biggest dreams or ambitions. When you’re so in love that you almost feel as though you’re invincible – like you can levitate. Nothing can stop you or break you. There is no better emotion to feel in the world, hence my constant commitment to try and make others feel loved. I’m an absolutely hopeless romantic, but in the same breath, love takes so many shapes and forms. I don’t necessarily believe in the institution of marriage,
for example. But I also love the idea of people being able to find that and feel that that’s their person. I have full respect for that,’ he says.

‘I have an obsession with wanting to compliment anyone if I generally feel like they deserve a compliment. I don’t care who it is, it could be a stranger. I’m that awkward guy – if there’s a guy whose shirt collar is messed up, I’ll be like: “I don’t know who you are but let me straighten that.” When you realise how people feel after that, and for them to have that little up in their day, makes my day. So I guess it’s a bit of a selfish pursuit in a way!’

A photo shoot and lunch later, it’s easy to understand why Maps is one of South Africa’s most eligible bachelors. He’s in the spotlight for all the right reasons. ‘One of my biggest fears is not reaching my full potential. If you do things from the right place – with passion and love – legacy is a by-product of that. There’s a beautiful quote about legacy that covers that: “If you want to leave a legacy, write something worth reading or do something worth writing about”,’ he says.

We could run an audit on the levels of charisma allocated to this guy. Maybe it’s normal for it to be hot around this time of year or maybe Maps is out there smiling – who knows. In this case, it’s hard to say.

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