eNCA prime time news anchor and Power FM radio host Iman Rappetti speaks to Glenda Nevill about standing up for justice, giving birth in a military hospital and being a fierce friend.
Who could forget the sight of eNCA news anchor Iman Rappetti confronting a man vandalising the controversial Brett Murray painting, The Spear. The broadcaster became the story after she challenged the man who spray-painted a great red X over President Jacob Zuma’s genitals, and then his face. “What are you doing,” she yelled, “why are you doing this?” Later, of course, she followed up with an on-air interview with Barend le Grange. “Come on Barend, you’re an intelligent guy…” she says as he tries to convince her that he hadn’t really done that much damage at all.
He’s not the first one to have faced Rappetti’s incisive interviewing style. She’s interviewed everyone from Oprah Winfrey, Thabo Mbeki (she door-stopped him at the Union Buildings, and challenged him over the arrest warrant for the late police commissioner Jackie Selebi, later convicted for corruption) and Jacob Zuma to the victims of the Marikana massacre. And just because she’s a prime time anchor now, hosting the evening show with Jeremy Maggs, it doesn’t mean Rappetti doesn’t go out into the field. Just a few weeks ago she spent the night in Marikana, getting reactions from people on the ground about the recently released Farlam Commission report into the massacre. She found it to be a heartbreaking experience.
At night she’s on TV and during the day she hosts a show on PowerFM. In between she’s a mother of three children (and a pack of dogs), a daughter, a sister, a Muslim, a South African and a fearless fighter for what’s right. She’s outspoken on injustice and corruption and deeply regrets watching self-enrichment take over the government in which people once had such faith. She’s openly expressed “regret for those who died fighting for liberation only to have left this legacy vulnerable to crooked people”.
Relationships based on trust
Rappetti believes in many things, notably in speaking up, doing the right thing, the value of hard work and self-belief. “Women need to show by example what a life of choice looks like, that the way out of the ghetto doesn’t have to be through the luxury car of a rich, old businessman or as the favoured girlfriend in a gangster’s harem,” she says. She’s very firm on this point adding, “If we don’t believe in the strength of our own voices who will believe what we say?”
Her voice certainly has a lot of sway. As prime time news anchor for eNCA Prime Time News, she’s high profile, a respected, credible personality who demands attention. However, the award-winning journalist’s own career hasn’t been a straight route to the top of her profession. She took a diversion, dropping out of Technikon and studying religion in the Middle East after becoming a Muslim and giving up all her “worldly possessions”.
“So, that set me back a little,” she admits, saying, “Coming back to South Africa and knocking on doors was hard. I couldn’t get anyone to even give me an ear. I thought that by having done radio and TV overseas (she lived in the Islamic Republic of Iran for two years and worked on a current affairs TV show for the state broadcaster) I would have no trouble but I was unemployed for a good year before I got a job.” But, she feels exceptionally fortunate to have been able to cultivate working relationships based on mutual respect and trust and she credits this with allowing her to move with relatively no problem within the media industry from online to print to radio and then TV.
Losing her father when she was young was very tough for Rappetti. But she says that having a “supportive and present” stepfather “And a loving mother who always woke up at 5am to pray for her every day” meant that she felt she had many blessings in her life. She had her first child while living in the Middle East. “I was pregnant in Qum and had my son at the Shahid Beheshti Hospital (a military hospital in the desert). My only grasp of Persian at that time was “I think I’m going to die” and of course the nurses thought I was being dramatic,” she recalls. She says now that “Having three beautiful children to mitigate the lacerating effects of loss and change was a blessing.”
Commanding respect with grace
Perhaps it was these early life experiences that have made Rappetti resilient. She says, “We must believe that as women who’ve tread a long, difficult path ourselves that we have the right to share those experiences with our younger sistas,” adding, “Young women must believe they can be the creators and owners of wealth and their own opportunities and that the genesis of change doesn’t have to start with money”. She believes that women of substance must have absolute self-belief instead of doubting their abilities and need not be defined by social limitations. She explains, “A substantial woman is someone who is honest with herself and others, who will be a good friend to herself and then others. Who will, with style and grace, command respect”. All too often, says Rappetti, these are the kinds of women who don’t make the headlines for their heroism.
As a woman who works in media and covers stories and issues, Rappetti is well versed in how the media reports on women. “We could do more to push empowering images of women, to tell the stories of modern women in their many incarnations, straight, lesbian, transgendered and every other category,” says Rappetti. She also feels strongly that the media should also improve in telling stories about all South African women in ways that more accurately describe their place and position in 2015 in this country. Nevertheless, she thinks people working in media could “Benefit from the mentorship of our own media lights who share how they dealt with difficulties, deadlines, politics, and the risks of thinking independently”.
Empowering others is essential
Rappetti says she’d like to believe that she’s contributing to upliftment and that her work, especially on radio, is driven by giving people information to make their own lives better – to empower them. She believes that just because women haven’t specifically chosen the media as a platform for promoting change or for “pinning their protest posters on” this doesn’t mean that they’re not active. “Sometimes I look at the level of writing in publications and I think, ‘Gosh anyone can get a byline these days.’ Maybe it’s a case of getting the balance right, doing the ground work well and getting the message out there – so it’s more about the cause you’re fighting for than about personal aggrandisement,” she adds.
When not dedicated to informing viewers of what’s happening in the world, Rappetti describes herself as “A damn loving mom, a fierce and loyal friend and my mom says I’m a good daughter.” Offering insight into the more personal side of her life, she admits her handbag is “Never without headache pills, lip balm and hand sanitiser!” And her fridge would languish without “Real butter, fruit, mascarpone cheese and gooseberry jam”. Finally, what advice would she give her younger self? To care less what others think.
This story was first published in the August 2015 issue of The Media magazine.
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