MOTSI MABUSE will have come a long way from the dirt-poor townships of South Africa when she takes up her role as a judge on Strictly this autumn.
The BBC’s new signing — the sister of pro dancer Oti Mabuse — has bitter memories of growing up under apartheid rule.
Each day, she and her sisters travelled to school on a special bus — often past the charred remains of cars and buildings torched in riots — as they were forbidden to go on public transport reserved for white people.
And one time at a supermarket, she watched in horror as a white woman screamed at her mother for daring to shop in the same place.
So when she saw black and white couples compete at the same ballroom tournament while on holiday in the city of Durban, little Motsi was entranced — and begged her mum Dudu to let her learn.
And so she did, spectacularly.
Fast forward three decades and Motsi, 38, is now set to replace Darcey Bussell on the flagship BBC show when the 17th series starts in September.
Despite fears she may favour younger sister Oti — who joined Strictly in 2015 — and rumours the appointment has gone down like a lead balloon with some of her fellow pros, dancer Katya Jones called it a “brilliant choice”.
Former dancing champion Motsi, who will join Shirley Ballas, Craig Revel Horwood and Bruno Tonioli on the panel, has already proved her credentials as a judge on Let’s Dance, the German version of the hit show.
But her rise has been far from smooth.
Motsi, full name Motshegetsi — meaning “someone to lean on” — was brought up in a township near Pretoria.
Her mother was a single parent, having given birth to son Neo at 18 after she met Motsi’s lawyer dad Peter Mabuse.
When Dudu became pregnant with Motsi, she and Peter moved out of the home she shared with Dudu’s five siblings and other relatives.
In a place of their own and with money coming in, the couple could send Motsi and younger sisters Phemelo and Oti to private school.
There were no dance classes in the area, though, so Dudu hired a room at a local kindergarten and enlisted a teacher to put on classes just for the three girls.
Motsi wrote in her autobiography Chili In The Blood: “For the first time I felt such massive joy.
“I knew all of a sudden what it meant to be free. And I still feel this freedom today when I am dancing.”
Despite their relative privilege, signs of racial tension in apartheid South Africa were everywhere.
Motsi wrote: “We always knew when riots had broken out because we weren’t allowed to leave the house, even to go to school. Then the next day, I could see it was still burning everywhere.”
Recalling the racist woman at the supermarket, Motsi wrote that afterwards her mum said to “never let a white person convince you that you have no business in a particular place just because you are black”.
The youngster asked her mum: “Are whites evil people?”
“No,” came the reply. “Whites are not evil people, but sometimes just not well behaved. They have no education and know no better.”
Just after Motsi’s ninth birthday, anti-apartheid campaigner and future South African president Nelson Mandela was released after 27 years in prison.
At 11 years old, tragedy hit when half-brother Neo killed himself, aged 18.
Motsi believes he had a difficult time adjusting to their new, privileged lifestyle, and had “false” friends at school. She said: “He still remembered the cramped life, which for us younger siblings was more of a narrative than a truly experienced reality.
“I think all the changes had overwhelmed him a little bit.”
Afterwards, the family were shunned by superstitious friends. Motsi, who speaks eight languages, wrote: “Because of Neo’s suicide our family was seen as one where negative energy exists.
“Because of this rumour nobody visited us, out of fear that this bad energy would spread to the visitor.”
After graduating from high school, Motsi began to study law — but the lure of dance proved too strong.
Having already been named runner-up in the South Africa dance championships, she moved to Germany aged 18 to focus on her career.
Not long afterwards, she met German dancer Timo Kulczak at the Blackpool Open Dance Championships and they became a couple, both professionally and privately.
By 2003, Motsi had already extended her German visa three times and was worried it could be difficult to get another.
A friend suggested she and Timo marry to “fundamentally simplify your situation”.
It was hardly Motsi’s vision of marriage. She told Timo: “I have always dreamed of a fairy tale wedding, and what do I have now: A marriage agreement in an Aschaffenburg pub. It’s a joke.”
The pair married in a quickie ceremony in 2003 on the Danish island of Lolland, with just Timo’s parents in attendance.
Motsi, who only told her parents on the journey to the island, says her dad had difficulty accepting all three of his daughters marrying men “you couldn’t describe as exactly black”.
Motsi wrote: “Because of his own biography and South Africa’s oppressive history, my dad, though a very open human being, had to swallow heavy with these sons-in-law.”
Motsi did get her proper wedding two years later, and the pair continued to dance together until 2011, when Timo retired.
Motsi found a new partner, Ukrainian Evgenij Voznyuk, and together they won the German Latin Dance title.
She retired from dancing in 2014, and soon after split from Timo. In 2015, she started dating Evgenij and two years later they married in Majorca.
The pair have a daughter, who is nearly one, and run a dance school in Germany, where Motsi has been a well-known name since her stint as a professional dancer on Let’s Dance in 2007.
She became a judge on the show in 2011, and will continue there alongside her Strictly role.
She has also dipped her toe into acting and reported on the football World Cup in South Africa in 2010.
Motsi, Oti, 28, and middle sister Phemelo — an ex-national dance champion who now owns a cleaning service firm in Cape Town — recently appeared together on Channel 4’s Celebrity Gogglebox.
When Oti — full name Otlile — danced on two series of Let’s Dance, in 2015 and 2016, her only ten out of ten was given by judge Motsi, something that will not help fears of bias between the sisters on Strictly.
There is clearly a huge respect between the girls. Motsi wrote: “The name Otlile means ‘She has arrived’, and so has she behaved since the day she was born. Of us three girls, she has the greatest confidence, the greatest self-awareness.”
Oti is equally proud of her sibling. She once said: “My sister was my first trainer. She’s still my role model and inspiration until this day.”
She greeted the news that Motsi will be joining her on Strictly by tweeting “Yayyyy!!!!” followed by the “Da da da” of the show’s theme tune.
And if Motsi proves half as popular as her younger sister, she will soon quickstep into the fans’ hearts.
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