Careers: The accidental journalist

2014-04-27 15:00

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When you hear that top journalist Nkepile Mabuse, the host of eNCA’s new flagship investigative programme, CheckPoint, used to be a civil engineer, it sparks hope that you don’t have to stay married in misery to a job that you don’t enjoy.

“I got into TV journalism by accident,” reveals this role model from Mamelodi, who made her name covering important local and international stories such as Barack Obama’s historic US ­election win in 2008 and his Soweto town hall meeting with young people last year.

“I worked as a civil engineer for five years and I worked for two companies before deciding that this was not for me,” Nkepile says in retrospect.

But it wasn’t all smooth sailing after she made that life-changing decision. She was unsure what she wanted to do with her life. Meanwhile, the bills were piling up.

She eventually reached a point where she was prepared to take on any type of job just to make ends meet. That’s when she applied for a position as a runner on’s popular investigative show, 3rd Degree, in 2000.

“Debora Patta [the host of the show] looked at my CV and said I was overqualified, but she gave me a chance,” Nkepile remembers. “I was lucky enough that identified something in me and that they opened doors for me.”

This humble job was the start of a long and ­enduring love affair with television journalism. She stayed at for eight years and worked her way up through the ranks before being poached by international news channel CNN to be its ­Johannesburg correspondent.

She spent a productive five years at the ­network. “I went to CNN and learnt so much about the business of news,” says Nkepile, who has ­matured into a poised, elegant and confident ­journalist with a hint of cosmopolitan flair.

“I learnt so much about being a TV journalist because there the style is so different. And I learnt that there is an art to collecting stories. I also learnt how to grow and improve my interviewing skills.”

But now she’s come full circle, having returned to eNCA to present her very own weekly current affairs news programme – following in the footsteps of Debora Patta, who gave Nkepile her break in TV. “I left CNN because I needed to move on to the next level and I also wanted to move towards more investigative reporting,” she says.

CheckPoint, which launched at the beginning of April, promises viewers thought-provoking journalism, but it also aims to empower them. Nkepile explains: “When you read newspapers, you get depressed. On CheckPoint, we want to focus on what people can do to change their situations.

“We want to help people make better decisions. We have a segment called Impact, where we ­encourage ordinary South Africans to get involved in the challenges facing the communities around them and not wait for government [to intervene],” she says.

Nkepile is also the show’s senior executive ­producer, which she says is a new and exciting experience.

Her advice to people pursuing their dream ­career? “Find something you’re passionate about and work hard,” she says. “When you work hard, you don’t necessarily have to be the best. Because I put everything into my work, people know that they can rely on me and they can have confidence in me.”

She admits that there is still a glass ceiling in the news business, but insists the best way to stand out is by having ideas and vision: “They are not going to turn down a brilliant idea because you are a woman.”

This go-getter says there is a wealth of opportunities for up-and-coming journalists and believes there is enough room for everyone to succeed.

“We need strong reporters to report on the ­African continent,” she says.

.?CheckPoint airs on Tuesdays at 8.30pm on eNCA, DStv channel 403

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