Absa tasked Justice Mukheli, respected photographer and advertising art director, with their latest TV ad campaign. The ‘Here for the Ready’ campaign promotes their ReadyToWork programme, which helps youth ready for the working world. Mentorship is central to ReadyToWork, and Absa embodied the programme’s ethos by starting in house.
A good education can get you a long way, but nothing beats the knowledge and insight you can gain from a mentor.
Justice Mukheli, photographer and advertising art director
Mukheli took on photographer Basetsana Maluleka as a mentee for this project. Maluleka shot the stills used in the advertising campaign, and ‘Here for the Ready’ is her first assignment in her own right. Previously she worked as a photographer’s assistant, but Mukheli had seen her work and thought it was excellent. He believes that she exemplifies the spirit of ‘Ready’. Taking on a female mentee also helped Mukheli promote equality within the industry.
Still currently mentored by his colleague Greg Gray, Mukheli is eager to pay it forward. He believes that mentorship is a vital part of moving forward in the industry. “Mentorship is quite amazing because it gives you opportunities and guidance beyond what education can give you,” says Mukheli “it gives you experience of the actual profession you are interested in. The mentor has walked the path you wish to walk, and the insight and experience of their journey becomes your experience as well.”
He explains that a mentor can pass on experience from their successes and failures, so their protegees do not have to fail themselves to learn the same lesson. “Mentorship is like a safety net, letting you go out into the world knowing that even if you fail, you have someone to fall back on,” he commented. “It really shortens the journey drastically if you’ve got someone who’s already walked the walk because they’ve already made the mistakes and can walk you through that. Even when I fail, they’re there to say, hey, I’ve been through this, it’s not the end of the world, you’ll get through.”
Mukheli related his mentorship experience and his relationship with his current mentor, saying that Gray has a beautiful way of sharing that doesn’t feel too structured. “His way of teaching is through friendship and allowing me to be myself and by questioning and subtly challenging my thinking and my approach. He teaches in a way that doesn’t make me feel stupid but is empowering. He’ll say I love how you approached this. Have you thought about that?”
Mentors constantly push their protegees to better themselves, believes Mukheli, “Mentorship keeps the mentor young and, on their toes, so it’s beautiful for both parties. I’m nowhere close to keeping my mentor Greg on his toes, but I’d love to get to a place where we can sit and laugh about me giving him a run for his money.”
Now experienced enough to mentor others, Mukheli was keen to embrace the ‘Here for the Ready’ philosophy, “With this campaign, I can share my knowledge and experience as a photographer and creative director with someone who is interested in working hard to occupy that space, and that’s amazing because my break in my own career was through mentorship.”
He believes that potential mentors are more than willing to pass on their knowledge to dedicated young people even though they may one day compete. He laughed at the idea that the threat of competition would discourage mentorship, saying, “I’ve never felt that way because I’m a product of mentorship myself. I’ve been given an opportunity to occupy a space where I became competition to my mentors at some point, but that competition was healthy for both of us.”
Working on Absa’s campaign with a mentor so enthusiastic about the process was a breakthrough experience for Basetsana Maluleka. She already looked up to Mukheli and found his mentorship ideal. “I’ve seen a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff, and I know how hectic it can get,” she said, speaking of the atmosphere on most sets “he calms everybody down so you can fully immerse yourself in the work. I could pull him aside at any time to ask him anything.”
Mukheli gave her time between filming to get her shots while helping with technical advice. He said having her on set and being able to help her was a pleasure, “she didn’t need her hand-holding. All she needed was an opportunity, and she knocked it out of the park.”
Working with Absa was a huge stepping-stone for Maluleka, “I have always been assisting, and I thought shooting commercial stuff was daunting because I don’t know where to start or who to ask. An opportunity like this shows that people genuinely want to help you because you are good at your work, so I’m super grateful.”
Having the respected company’s campaign on her portfolio will help win her work in the future, but it also placed a lot of responsibility on the young photographer. “It’s been pressure, but in a good way.” she says, “It’s knowing you need to step up and prove to these people that you actually deserve to be here.”
The images needed to be good enough to represent Absa to a pan-African audience, and mentorship really helped Maluleka deliver. “With a mentor, I think the biggest thing is having someone who cares, who answers their phone and says this is what you need to do. It’s having someone to guide you and connect you to people you never thought you’d be connected to.”
This campaign was more than just a mentorship opportunity for Maluleka. She truly believes in the ReadyToWork programme. “The idea behind the campaign is to show people that if they are ready, there are people who care enough to give them the opportunity to start,” she commented. The programme helps make young people more employable by teaching them soft skills necessary for the workplace or entrepreneurial skills to create their own opportunities.
“Young people with ambition often don’t know where to start, who to approach, or how to break down the doors,” says Maluleka. “Now there’s a platform with the resources to help you get in.”