In the beginning, she said, she would take whatever work came her way. Now, she said, she concentrates on projects that can help viewers in South Africa, a nation of 11 official languages newly united after decades of apartheid, better understand their history and culture.
"Media is a tool that needs to be used very, very carefully, because it's powerful," she said. "As I grew and got more mature, I started understanding the importance of telling our own stories."
Leaps's traditional music show spotlighted artists who are often ignored. A documentary explored the spirit of ubuntu, a word common to several southern African languages that refers to working together for the community's good. A project in the works will bring films by young African directors to TV.
Radebe counts Oprah Winfrey as an inspiration, saying the American has used television to change lives, and that she is driven by the question: "Could I ever reach that level?"
Radebe, who owns a controlling 51 percent of Leaps, describes herself as the business-minded partner, while Nthethe is the creative force. But she's grown used to clients addressing budget questions to the man in the duo.
"I don't mind, because the arrangement is between him and me. We know our roles," she said, saying she's content to sit quietly during meetings and sort out the details later.
Noelle Ngobeni, a small business development adviser, said she has watched Radebe at work and wondered if she could be equally — and as effectively — sanguine.
"That's something I've loved about her — that diplomacy," said Ngobeni, who often calls on Radebe as a motivational speaker for other businesswomen.
Ngobeni's Enablis offers advice, training and money to small businesses in developing countries. In 2007, after a rigorous process in which 4,000 applicants were winnowed to 100 finalists, Enablis offered Leaps a 2 million rand ($280,000) loan. Radebe turned down the money, saying what her business really needed was training and technology support from Enablis.
Similarly, after making it from an initial field of two dozen to 10 finalists chosen to address investors in the Senegalese-Spanish project, Radebe asked not for money but for contacts who could help her enter TV markets beyond South Africa.
"Am I ready?" she said. "Time will tell."
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