Strictly judge who swapped townships for tangoes: How Motsi Mabuse grew up in racially-divided South Africa, and saw dancing as a means to escape from the reality of apartheid

  • The 38-year-old lived as a child in the townships of racially-divided South Africa 
  • She was forced to travel to her school on a separate bus to white children in area
  • Is now gearing up to join Shirley Ballas, Craig Revel Horwood and Bruno Tonioli

She makes her debut tonight as a Strictly Come Dancing judge, replacing Darcey Bussell on Britain’s prestigious TV judging panel.

But behind the achievement of becoming the BBC show’s newest recruit lies an amazing journey that can still bring Motsi Mabuse to tears.

The 38-year-old, who lived as a child in the townships of racially-divided South Africa, described how dancing proved a means of escape from the reality of apartheid.

The dancer, whose younger sister is Strictly professional Oti, 29, was born in Kraalhoek, Bophuthatswana, in 1981 (the two sisters are pictured together, Motsi left and Oti right)

The dancer, whose younger sister is Strictly professional Oti, 29, was born in Kraalhoek, Bophuthatswana, in 1981 (the two sisters are pictured together, Motsi left and Oti right)

Living in ¿Block C¿ (pictured, her family home) ¿ the streets had no names ¿ she was forced to travel to her school on a separate bus to white children under a government run by P.W. Botha

Living in ‘Block C’ (pictured, her family home) – the streets had no names – she was forced to travel to her school on a separate bus to white children under a government run by P.W. Botha

The 38-year-old, who lived as a child in the townships of racially-divided South Africa, described how dancing proved a means of escape from the reality of apartheid (pictured as a youngster practicing her early dance steps)

The 38-year-old, who lived as a child in the townships of racially-divided South Africa, described how dancing proved a means of escape from the reality of apartheid (pictured as a youngster practicing her early dance steps)

Motsi moved to Germany at 18, where she became a professional dancer and judge on the German version of Strictly, Let¿s Dance (pictured in 2010 on the show)

Motsi moved to Germany at 18, where she became a professional dancer and judge on the German version of Strictly, Let’s Dance (pictured in 2010 on the show)

Motsi Mabuse and Evgenij Voznyuk perform on the eighth Show of 'Let's Dance' in 2014

Motsi Mabuse and Evgenij Voznyuk perform on the eighth Show of 'Let's Dance' in 2014

She told the Daily Mail: ‘The dancing was an escape for me, an escape from the reality of the state of what was going on. It was somewhere where I could feel alive.

‘You really had to find your way to survive and find your way through that, and dancing is what really gave me that. That sense of happiness, a sense of belonging and the sense of being a human.’

The dancer, whose younger sister is Strictly professional Oti, 29, was born in Kraalhoek, Bophuthatswana, in 1981, but moved with her mother Dudu, a teacher, and lawyer father, Peter, to the township of Mabopane near the South African capital Pretoria in 1983.

Living in ‘Block C’ – the streets had no names – she was forced to travel to her school on a separate bus to white children under a government run by P.W. Botha.

She writes in her autobiography: ‘Fear, everyone was in a kind of fighting mood – it was clear to everyone that the apartheid regime had to finally be put to an end. We always knew when riots had broken out on the streets in our township, because then we weren’t allowed to leave the house even to go to school.’

She also revealed that the family suffered tragedy when her older half-brother, Neo, took his life at 18.

The latest Strictly line-up: Motsi joins the panel alongside remaining judges Bruno Tonioli, Craig Revel Horwood and Shirley Ballas

The latest Strictly line-up: Motsi joins the panel alongside remaining judges Bruno Tonioli, Craig Revel Horwood and Shirley Ballas

As she gears up to join Shirley Ballas, Craig Revel Horwood and Bruno Tonioli on the Strictly judging panel tonight, Miss Mabuse (pictured in August) said she was excited but also feels a ¿lot of responsibility¿ as it¿s such a ¿big role¿

As she gears up to join Shirley Ballas, Craig Revel Horwood and Bruno Tonioli on the Strictly judging panel tonight, Miss Mabuse (pictured in August) said she was excited but also feels a ‘lot of responsibility’ as it’s such a ‘big role’ 

In 1995, shortly after the end of apartheid, Miss Mabuse and her family left the township and moved to a larger house in a Pretoria suburb.

Throughout this time, her parents had sent her and sisters Phemelo and Oti to private school and dance lessons.

Recalling those years, mother-of-one Miss Mabuse said her achievement can still bring her to tears.

She told how, on a recent holiday, ‘I started crying because I was like “wow”, who would have ever known when we started that I would end up here. It’s just a story that is unbelievable.’ 

As she gears up to join Shirley Ballas, Craig Revel Horwood and Bruno Tonioli on the Strictly judging panel tonight, Miss Mabuse said she was excited but also feels a ‘lot of responsibility’ as it’s such a ‘big role.’ 

She said her differences to much-loved Miss Bussell will set her apart and give her ‘space to develop and do what I want.’ 

She moved to Germany at 18, where she became a professional dancer and judge on the German version of Strictly, Let’s Dance. 

She married dance partner Timo Kulczak in 2003 but they split in 2014. She then went on to marry another dance partner, Evgenij Voznyuk, in 2017.

How Strictly's Motsi Mabuse grew up in racially-divided South Africa

The comments below have been moderated in advance.

The views expressed in the contents above are those of our users and do not necessarily reflect the views of MailOnline.

We are no longer accepting comments on this article.