Are rebels born or made? Well, after a five-hour sit-down in Hyde Park with Penny Lebyane, once known as ‘The Phly One’, I’m convinced that, based on her anecdotes (and boy, does she have a lot!), Penny’s questioning of the ‘natural’ order of things in the workplace, relationships and family came from a genuine place. And questioning, she says, used to paint her as a troublemaker. She prefers to call herself an “equality activist”, saying as a mother with a boy child, she’ll always root for both sexes to be empowered equally. In 25 years, Penny has witnessed the evolution of the entertainment industry from analogue to digital, and how everything – from ageism to your social media following – determines whether you’re able to book a job or not. “I may not have a million followers on social media, but I can do the job,” Penny says, unbothered. “Ageism in entertainment affects mostly women, not men. But, of course, it’s allowed because we are operating in a patriarchal society where gender inequality is still the order of the day.”
Penny was part of the first generation of community radio personalities who woke the entertainment industry, in the late ’90s, from its deep slumber. In 1997, she cut her teeth at Voice of Soweto, one of the coolest community radio stations of that time. Then in 2000, she made her voice heard on national radio with a move to Metro FM.