She might be pint-sized but very few people want to open their front door to see Devi Sankaree Govender with a Carte Blanche camera crew. Here, she tells The Media magazine how she earned her nickname.
Devi Sankaree Govender doesn’t have the nickname, ‘The Rottweiler’, for nothing. Once she sinks her teeth into a good story, there’s just no letting go until the truth is out. But, other than her size, there is nothing small about her. She has a tremendous personality, strong opinions, is hugely enthusiastic about whatever she does and does it all in a larger-than-life way.
This presenter has also taken on some big fish during her tenure at M-Net’s multi award-winning magazine and actuality programme. Govender says she’s often felt afraid and exhilarated in her career – never nervous though.
Not surprising considering she has been physically assaulted by a gang of appliance repairmen in Durban, locked up in a garage on the campus of the Medical University of South Africa and almost run over by a Metro cop. She says: “It’s always at the back of my mind that I could lose my life but I’ve learnt to trust that the universe will not allow me to die while telling the truth.”
Govender realised a childhood dream when she joined Carte Blanche in 2002. “I watched the very first episode of Carte Blanche when I was 16 and somehow I just knew that I was going to work on the show,” she says. “I saw Carte Blanche as being this shining light in turbulent times – a programme which bravely took on government and told stories of truth.”
Her upbringing also had a huge impact on her choice of career. She was raised in a strict Hindu home that was built on the land her great-great grandfather had received from the British after serving his five years as an indentured labourer. “Growing up in rural KwaZulu-Natal and witnessing poverty all around me, made me want to have a career which would serve people,” she says.
But Govender believed she needed to get a solid academic background and experience in the right newsrooms, before she could approach Carte Blanche for a position.
She began her journalism career at the age of 21, freelancing for SABC radio while completing a BA degree at the University of Natal. Since then, she has presented a music show, been a newsreader and hosted a daily chat show that ran for nine years. In 1996, Govender also became a continuity presenter on SABC1’s Eastern Mosaic. Two years later, she began work as a weekly columnist for the Sunday Times. Govender went on to become the newspaper’s Durban features editor, and at one stage, was juggling her writing, hosting and presenting as well as a pregnancy.
She also managed to find time to do an honours degree in drama and performance studies, a higher diploma in education, a post graduate diploma in business management and – despite many in her field discouraging her – an MBA. But having a sense that being confident in finance would enhance her career, and never being one to kowtow to others, she went ahead with it anyway.
“I knew that when I was confronting somebody on an economics or a financial issue, if I didn’t understand their world, they could easily get away with whatever it was that I was trying to expose.” Today, however, that doesn’t happen.
Govender – who got married and fell pregnant the same year she started her MBA – says this degree was “one of the most difficult things” she has ever done. However, today, she is proud of thie sacrifice and difference it has made in her life. And there have been other sacrifices.
While her friends were going out and having fun, Govender says, she was always working. “My very first job was at the university library and there was a time when I juggled studying and three other part-time jobs,” she says. But she doesn’t regret any of this. “If I hadn’t put in the work early on, I doubt that I would have been able to actualise any of my dreams.”
As a mother of two, Govender says she does what most working moms do: “I put myself last so that everything else, my husband, children and home are at the top of my list.”
She admits that juggling motherhood and her career is a massive challenge, one that still requires a lot of work. But as she points out: “I’ve never had to choose between my family and my career – I prioritise both even if it’s at my own expense.”
She sees being a part of M-Net’s flagship programme after a decade as having reached the pinnacle. “Working at Carte Blanche means that you’re taken seriously as a journalist and I appreciated that after years of being just a number in a newsroom.” As part of this team, she has worked on over 647 stories and done many interviews with people who have impacted on her life.
Govender says over the years they’ve had to be better and faster due to both the competition and the speed of news. “It keeps me on my toes and — to be honest – I love the rush!”
She says she feels very privileged to be working as a journalist now. “These are exciting times for us because we have such a lot of work to do.” And while Govender has plans for her own television talk show in the future, at least for now, she’ll keep banging on people’s doors and sniffing out the truth like a true Rottweiler, because: “There’s nothing like finding a conclusion to the story,” she says.
Govender was a finalist in the 2011 1st for Women in the Media Awards.