South Africa’s first male supermodel with albinism, Sanele Xaba, is proof that with a bit of self-love and acceptance, you can be unapologetically different and live your best life.
By: Thanduxolo “Thandz” Buti
Main image: Supplied
Sanele is one of the most prominent faces in fashion, having worked with iconic brands such as Adidas and Calvin Klein, and being featured in magazines like GQ and Marie Claire, to name a few.
But he had to deal with the deep scab of being discriminated against and being classified as an albino, a label he strongly refutes. And with determination and family support, he has turned his condition into a work of art that is celebrated nationally and internationally.
Blacklight speaks to Sanele, who is based in Cape Town, about his life journey, conquering depression and his path to self-acceptance.
Blacklight: You have been very open about your struggles with growing up differently. Looking back, what do you think are some of the crucial lessons your obstacles taught you?
Sanele: Pick your friends like you pick fruits. As cliché as it may sound, you need a solid support system to make it these days and people who aren’t switcharoos. I also strongly believe that no man is an island.
BL: You revealed that at some point in your life, you were suicidal. How was that period like that and how did you manage to step back into the light?
S: I felt really alone, it was really a confusing time in my life as I didn’t really want to open up about the depression, especially at home. But all that adversity made me into the man I am now. I honestly wouldn’t have done it without God on my side.
BL: What advice do you usually give people who are on that dark path?
S: I would say there are definite pitfalls, and you have to be careful and keep your head on your shoulders. You really need to be with loved ones, especially if you are going through a storm like depression.
BL: Everyone still categorises you as “different”. How do such statements make you feel?
S: Sometimes being different is good. I won’t harp on such comments, but I have always taught myself to view myself as a different shade. Imagine how boring the world would be if we were all the same colour.
BL: Would you say now that you are a successful model, you have learned to accept and love yourself more?
S: You really need to have self-confidence in this industry, it’s crucial. Yes, modelling has helped me in terms of confidence but loving myself, even more, was an inside job.
BL: How important is establishing self-love before romantic love?
S: To be in a relationship, you have to be able to love someone for who they are, and they have to love you for who you are. But first, one needs to learn to love and accept oneself before being able to do the same to others.
I’m not talking about loving yourself in a way that you convince yourself that you’re perfect and all that. It’s about coming to terms with who you are and what you can achieve, which I feel, can never be perfect. Nobody is perfect. Everyone has flaws, even the protagonists in our novels and films.
BL: What purpose do you believe you are serving to society as a model?
S: Showing passion for my work and having the capacity to infect others with my passion. All in all my service to society is to break all stereotypes that people have of society by just being myself.
BL: What is your greatest wish?
S: Just to live in a state of nirvana, a state of Christ consciousness, to be awake and be present. I wish to be content with where I am in my life and to be happy.
BL: When all is said and done, what would you like your name to be associated with?
S: Peace. I want to be remembered as someone who brought about change, an educator and God Fearing.