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All hail the ICON: Leanne Manas on building her legacy

Seasoned broadcaster, businesswoman, and UNHCR Goodwill ambassador, Leanne Manas was recently honoured with the ICON Award at our GLAMOUR Women of the Year Awards powered by TRESemmé. Here, she opens up about her legacy, approach to impact, and what the accolade means to her.

In the words of the late Dr Maya Angelou, “you have no idea what your legacy will be…” but Leanne Manas might just have a glimpse into the impact that her incredible life has had on those around her. But how do you honour a living legend?

At Glamour, we present her with an Icon Award, as we recently did at our Glamour Women of the Year Awards – Game Changers Edition, powered by TRESemmé. Our continued partnership speaks to our shared commitment to women empowement, and spotlighting South African women breaking boundaries. “When TRESemmé was founded in 1948, our ambition was to be a trailblazer for women, to push the agenda and challenge perceptions of women’s role in the workplace, and empower women to make their presence count. Now, more than 75 years later, it is humbling to be able to reflect on that ambition with an icon who we can truly call a ‘game-changer’ “ says Brand Manager, Karabo Mohasoa.

So what does an accolade of this magnitude mean to Leanne? “Winning this Glamour award is an absolute honour for me. It really is! It's an accolade I’ve always watched from afar, and looked at the ladies that have walked away with it, and thought wow! These ladies are incredible, and to actually be on the same list is amazing!” Affirming that to be seen as an icon means to be seen as someone people look up to, a voice that people listen to, and to be a role model that people aspire to be like. “So for me, it’s absolutely wonderful to be included on this list, and I’m really appreciative to Glamour Magazine for recognising, and giving me this amazing award.”

The seasoned broadcaster is looking forward to celebrating another industry milestone; 20 years on Morning Live, a show most of us have been waking up to, for as long as she’s been on it. “Presenting the program for 20 years is a big achievement for me considering that it’s not something I saw for myself.” So what would she attribute this feat to? “I’ve always believed in longevity in this industry, and making sure that you're able to build a career out of the broadcasting profession, and create an amazing and respectable career that you're able to build a life around.” Asserting that it was important for her to build a career and a beautiful reputation that has allowed her to enjoy 20 years on a show. “And that’s just one program, not to mention what I’ve done before, so it’s been a very long time. I’d say almost 30 years in this industry, and I’ve loved every minute of it, although it hasn’t always been easy.”

Expanding on the idea of longevity, she says, it’s a sense of commitment. “I've always committed myself, and been the kind of person who wants to finish what I’ve started. When I give, I give my all. It’s not something I do very lightly, and I’ve had many opportunities to walk away from doing what I do and start different career paths but I think the idea is, if you work on something, you want it to be a legacy project, and something you want to put a stamp of approval on, and if people still want you to be doing it, it's a great great thing.” Noting that in this day and age, longevity is not necessarily something that happens because the youth of today are very different. “It's wonderful to see! They chop and change, and they’re very quick to move. I think I’m still part of that generation that holds on to something and creates something out of it, and moves on when it’s over but nothing comes quick.”

If you look up the term success, Leanne’s name should be somewhere next to it but what does this look like to her? “I think it's understanding that there will be lows and there will be highs, and in between that is what's normal.” Enlightening that you have to understand that the normal is not always exciting, “it’s not always something that’s going to be incredible. It can be mundane, it can be quite boring actually but you have to understand that there are things and moments you have to put up with to reap the rewards of your hard work. That’s very important.” Reflecting on the early years of her career, she says she’s always seen herself as goal orientated. Although she still can’t tell what the goal is exactly, she knows that she wants to show that broadcasting can be a wonderful profession in life. Affirming that this can be achieved through hard work and just doing your job, “not becoming the story but reporting on the story. To try to be as neutral as possible, to try and keep your journalistic integrity through the entire process. This is something I've really aspired to do, and up to date I've managed to do it, and hope to continue on that trajectory.”

Storytelling is at the heart of the journalism profession, and I’m curious about the stories that’ve shaped Leanne. “There are so many! But I think most importantly, I had to take a step back and look over the 20 years that I’ve been on Morning Live. So much has happened to us as a country, and we look back to where we were 20 years ago. It’s unbelievable! We’re living in a completely different country; the landscape, politics, and’s all changed.” Further noting that the digitization of the entire world has also changed. “What people want, has changed, and I have been watching this, and reporting on it. And being at the coalface of all of it has been a huge privilege, and that’s what excites me.” Addressing the people who wonder how she’s managed to stay the course, and not get bored. She asks, “can you get bored if that’s what you’re witnessing and being privvy to? So, no, for me, it's been amazing, and every story has really shaped and told my story as well. I've grown with the country, and where we are as a democracy, and I’ve watched things go from good to bad, to good, to bad. It's been a very interesting process to watch but I'd say every story has certainly been one that has shaped me and who I am today.”

Having had the privilege of witnessing the evolution of the media landscape, what does it mean to be a woman in broadcasting in 2023? “It’s vital. When you look around and see the broadcasters and journalists that are there, it’s wonderful to see so many women filling these spaces and using their voices, and being given these opportunities, it’s unbelievable!” Noting that it never used to be the case, as the broadcasting space used to be a male-dominated. She affirms that more and more women have taken these seats. “And it’s not because they’re pretty to look at, no, that’s not what this is about. It’s about the strength of character, talking to the issues, being brave enough to ask the questions, and putting your neck on the line. That’s what’s important, and I think that’s what’s so wonderful to see; the women stepping up to it, and saying that they’re going to be very brave. It’s unbelievable seeing women do what they do.” Asserting that the days of hiring a pretty model to read an autocue are long gone. And expresses her gratitude at the shift, “This is something that I never wanted to be a part of. I always wanted to ensure that I understood and felt what I was reading, and it wasn’t just me trying to regurgitate what was on an autocue. That was a big lesson I learnt, and a very important one.”

Expanding on her approach to social impact, she says this is something that’s imperative for her. “I think the way I address it or look at it, is that I have a voice that people listen to, and I’ll use it for good. Besides the work I do on TV and journalism, there’s also another side to me that really tries to speak out against the human atrocities that are played out every single day on this earth. That’s where I do a lot of work for the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and talk to the plight of refugees, and travel around Africa particularly, and sometimes out of Africa.” She shares that she’s done some trips to Syria and Lebanon in terms of looking at refugees and the issues there; highlighting it, talking to it and educating people about it. “Some people don’t understand what’s going on, in fact, I didn’t even realize how bad it was until I got involved. So, social impact is a very important aspect, and all of us need to get involved in something, no matter how big or small it is.” Urging those of us who can lend our voices, to assist in any way we can.

Noting that not all of us have got hundreds of millions in our bank accounts to give to a cause. She affirms that we have time, love and compassion. “And those are the kind of things that you can do to try and help. Even in your neighbourhood, just to try and assist, and see what you can do there. And in your household; how you raise your children, the morals you teach them. These are all things that have an impact on the world around us.”

This speaks directly to Leanne’s legacy, cognizant of this, she says she hopes that the legacy she leaves behind is one that is able to be respected. “One that when people look back, and talk about you, it’s about good you’ve done, integrity, and longevity. And the ability to still do those kind of things in this day and age, in this fast paced world where you see someone, and they disappear off the radar and you never see or hear from them again.” Affirming that to still be a constant; somebody that people can look to in the hard times, and say you know what? Things are ok, is a privilege “I’ve heard stories of many people that’ll have a bad night or feeling really bad and they’ll turn on the TV and see my face or hear my voice, and say it’s ok, we’re ok, we’re still going, and things are still ok. And that, for me, is amazing! Consistency and dependability, and the fact that it’s not all doom and gloom. That we can smile through it all, and see positives in things, no matter how bad the situation.”

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