When Riaan Cruywagen retired from television, there was one less long-time icon on the box. Who will be the icons of the future?
Derek Watts is a television luminary, but he can’t be the front man forever. Riaan Cruywagen has all but left the screen and Debora Patta recently bid farewell to ‘3rd Degree’ viewers. Ultimately they will all have to hand over the baton. Which current television personalities are likely to be the new icons in 10 years’ time?
Here are some likely candidates:
Devi Sankaree Govender
“Devi is a pint-sized machine who takes no prisoners and treads where angels fear to tread,” says print, radio and television journalist, Terence Pillay. “If you look back at the stories Devi has covered, people will be talking about them at the water cooler for years to come.”
In her ‘Carte Blanche’ work, Sankaree Govender has taken onscreen investigative journalism to new heights. “Whether she’s doing a hard-hitting investigative story or a fluff story, when she walks into a room, people stand up and take notice,” says Pillay. He cites her previous journalism experience as evidence of her credibility. Before ‘Carte Blanche’, Sankaree Govender hosted a daily talk show on Lotus FM, was features editor at the Durban office of the Sunday Times and presented on SABC 1’s Eastern Mosaic. Sankaree Govender still writes a weekly column for the Sunday Times Extra (Durban edition) in addition to her work for ‘Carte Blanche’.
“But Devi’s mind and intellect go beyond just presenting,” says Pillay. This is not surprising, because she is one of the few journalists in the country with a Masters in Business Administration. “She’s not just a journalist – she’s a brand. She runs media training courses for big businesses and is often the first choice for keynote speaker at high-profile events. I think she’ll eventually get behind the camera to call the shots. If not, she’ll be running a blue chip media empire. There’s no stopping Devi.”
“She is the perfect take-over from people like Barry Ronge – it’s time,” says Patrick Conroy, group head of news at eNCA. “She could be the icon of broadcast showbiz.”
Greenwall’s presenting career began when she was she was chosen at 14 to co-present a 12-part education series for the department of education in her hometown, Cape Town. From there, she acted in food commercials and small television projects before she began co-producing a comedy series, ‘TV’, which aired on e.tv. After suggesting to e.tv that their coverage of the arts and entertainment news needed some improvement, Greenwall was asked to become their arts anchor. Later, she wrote and co-produced e.tv’s ‘Nightlife’, one of the most popular late-night entertainment shows in the country.
But Greenwall had even more showbiz to share, so she proposed a new entertainment news programme. And so ‘The Showbiz Report’ was launched and is written, produced and fronted by Greenwall. She also created The ‘Style Report’, a spin-off of ‘The Showbiz Report’, covering the latest national and international style news; ‘The Close Up’, a documentary series on South African celebrities; as well as the celebrity chat show, ‘ScreenTime with Nicky Greenwall’.
“She has been the first one on television to connect local entertainment news and international entertainment news, and see where they intersect. Before it was either ‘local is lekker’, or the international stuff. But she’s really been able to show how these two come together,” says Conroy. “And I suppose her timing was right – it was as South Africa was opening up to the rest of the world.”
“If you ask ordinary South Africans to imitate a local personality, they will imitate her,” says television critic and media expert Thinus Ferreira of radio and television personality Bonang Matheba. She has been a vibrant presence in the South African entertainment industry since she was 15. Much like the icon Ruda Landman, who South African viewers recognise just as ‘Ruda’, you don’t have to mention Matheba’s surname.
Matheba started her career on SABC1’s music show, ‘Live’. Today, she’s a radio DJ for YFM; presents on SABC3’s flagship lifestyle show, ‘Top Billing’; hosts ‘Clash of the Choirs South Africa’ on DStv’s Mzansi Magic; and recently let slip that she’s producing a reality television show for a famous South African personality who is yet to be revealed.
“She fast created her image in the public consciousness in South Africa,” says Ferreira. “She’s still very young, so she’s been very strategic with her career. I would call her the new Basetsana Kumalo.” Like Kumalo, the Miss SA titleholder, Matheba has a long list of fashion and style awards. And like Kumalo, she worked her way from presenting on ‘Top Billing’ to producing television.
“Magnificent” is the word Karen Meiring, director of Afrikaans Channels at M-Net, uses to describe Tracey Lange. And it’s not only because this radio and television personality likes to don an array of brightly coloured outfits and slip flowers into her hair.
Lange presents on kykNET’s local weekly entertainment news magazine show, ‘Bravo!’, providing the channel with its dose of glamour. Until recently, she presented news in English and Afrikaans on SABC’s Good Hope FM Breakfast Show. When she’s not working, she volunteers as a production manager and presenter for New Apostolic Church TV (NAC TV), a Christian community channel in the Western Cape, hoping to spread a positive message to the community.
“She just came on board with an absolute natural flair for the camera, presenting and communicating her story,” says Meiring. “So I see a long future for her in presenting.”
Chris Maroleng’s colleagues dubbed him ‘Walter’ after former president Thabo Mbeki compared him to the American broadcast icon, Walter Cronkite. He’s also, according to Conroy, “probably not considered a personality”, because fronting eNCA’s coverage of Africa is regarded as an academic affair. “But he’s got one, I promise.”
Maroleng was an analyst at the Institute for Security Studies until 2008 when he decided to pursue a career in broadcast journalism and joined e.tv as Africa editor. Today, Maroleng heads eNews Africa and is helping to develop eNews into a pan-African service.
Says Conroy, “I think what Mbeki was saying was: ‘You have the potential to be that [Walter Cronkite] kind of personality across Africa. You’re not just telling one country’s story, you actually see the bigger picture.’ Chris is one of the people who is pulling together that geopolitical conversation around Africa, in a way I haven’t seen anybody else do.”
Redi Tlhabi is no Walter Cronkite, but she has talk radio host John Robbie’s flair.
“Redi has had a big impact on the broadcast scene – both radio and television – and has offered a voice that I think was long missing from broadcasting, which makes her refreshing and impactful now,” says Conroy. “But in 10 years’ time, as she matures and as we mature, I think she’s well positioned to be someone who could be an icon, who has an independent mind, is thoughtful and engaging, but also knows when to be confrontational – politely so.”
Tlhabi has been a radio and TV journalist since the mid-1990s. She hopped from hosting and editing shows on Kaya FM to presenting SABC’s current affairs programmes ‘Today in Africa’, ‘News Hour’ and ‘Interface’, as well as ‘Rights and Recourse’, helping ordinary people decipher the law. Then Thlabi tried her hand at filmmaking and produced a documentary on President Thabo Mbeki, before returning to the broadcast scene to anchor for e.tv’s satellite news channel programme ‘News Night’. After that, she began hosting her own show, ‘Redi’, on DStv’s Mzansi Magic Channel.
Currently, Tlhabi presents her own show on Talk Radio 702 and 567 Cape Talk and a global talk show on Al Jazeera called ‘South 2 North’.
“Redi Tlhabi is doing… what people like John Robbie were doing in the late 1980s – really stirring the pot and making people think differently,” says Conroy. “These are new times and we need new people and I think she’s one of them.”
Image: Devi Sankaree Govender