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Oti Mabuse returns home, to revisit people and places that inspired her to be who she is today

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We all know Oti Mabuse from the dancefloor of Strictly, but hers has been a long journey to achieve dancing fame in the UK. It started in the townships of South Africa. In this documentary, Oti returns to her childhood home, to revisit the people and places that inspired her to be the dancer and woman she is today.

On her journey, she meets the inspirational people: musicians, farmers, dancers, and she delves back into her own family’s dark past under apartheid.

Oti is a joyful companion to take us through this beautiful and diverse country. But this is not a traditional celebrity travelogue.

As a black African, her perspective on her homeland is deeper, more personal and more nuanced than any casual visitor from the UK could bring. Her experiences make her reconsider the struggles her family had, to give her the life that she has led.

Ultimately, Oti finds hope in the changes that have happened and in the young people and the strong women she meets who are so focused on continuing to drive through that change.

Q&A with Oti Mabuse

Why is this documentary so important to you?

This documentary is important to me because I get to share my beautiful country with everyone. The ups, the downs and all of it through the love of dance: the culture of South Africa, the stage of where it is politically and also some feel-good moments that I feel like people don’t know and would love to know.

What inspired you to create it?

In all my work, especially on Strictly, I’ve always shared South Africa. I’ve always spoken about it, I’ve always done dances that are like we’re in Joburg, we’re in Mozambique.

Africa for me is one of the most beautiful continents that hasn’t been discovered fully. I feel like one of the people who can actually pioneer that and show all sides of all 57 countries. I love the people, I am one of the people and I appreciate them for what and who they are and I respect all the crazy myths that come with being African.

What was the most shocking finding for you whilst filming the programme?

Orania, the whites only town. That was the one of the culture shocks and the second one was intricate details on my family’s history in South Africa.

What was the highlight of your trip back to South Africa?

Being in Nelson Mandela’s cell and holding the key to Robben Island. I got to hold a vital part of my country’s history, and they don’t give that key to anybody, so that for me was incredible. I grew up learning about all these political prisoners, every single one of them, and I got to hold the key that released them to the world to do all the good that they’ve done.

How did it feel to be reunited with your family after so long apart?

I don’t even know the word in English, but it felt like I could breathe again. I could see again, it felt like I could taste food again. It felt like home, it was the most unbelievable indescribable feeling.

Did you enjoy branching out and doing something different in creating this documentary?

One thousand percent, I love connecting with people. I love learning about people. I love being with people. I love people, and I love the shared experience of not knowing something and then learning it.

Oti Mabuse – My South Africa will air on BBC One on 17 November at 9pm, and will also be available on BBC iPlayer.