Mathatha Tsedu the media man

2012-10-26 12:02

Mathatha Tsedu is a towering figure in South African print journalism. A Nieman fellow and Mondi Shanduka lifetime achiever, he was recently awarded the Print Media Fellowship at the Sikuvile Standard Bank Newspaper Journalism Awards for his outstanding contribution to the industry.

A former head of the Media24 Journalism Academy, Mathatha is currently the project director of the Print and Digital Media Transformation Task Team.

What was your first job?

When I was in high school, I wanted to become a doctor because I was good at maths and science – but I couldn’t afford the 50 cents needed to register for the Standard 6 exams.

So I dropped out and got a job as a gardener. I worked for 17 days and was paid R1, so I was able to pay the registration fee. I wrote exams for my Standard 6 certificate the following year.

What has been your most memorable professional setback?
My inability to make my former employers understand it was necessary for their newspaper to reflect the aspirations of the majority of its readers.

City Press gave me a chance to implement that vision when we rebranded the paper ‘Distinctly African’.

Part of this vision was about reintegrating our South African readers into the rest of the continent through content that was proudly African.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
That journalism is about people and is society’s way of communicating with authority.

While Patrice Motsepe can fly to Nkandla in KwaZulu-Natal and communicate his concerns directly to the president, my aunt in the village cannot do the same.

Media is about communicating the feelings, needs and concerns of the ruled. It is about service for the poor, voiceless and weak.

In a post-apartheid society the story has changed, but the concerns remain the same.

Your life motto?

I am the personification of the African cliché that it takes a whole village to raise a child.

My mother died when I was five and my father lost his job when I was in primary school.

I grew up in a family that had nothing, but there were people in the community who looked after me.

If there’s something I can distil into a life philosophy based on this background, it is that I must always be worthy of the efforts of those who helped me.

3 Favourite pastimes

Sports: I enjoy watching the English Premier League, Lionel Messi, the Williams sisters and Lewis Hamilton in Formula One.

Music: I am a long-standing fan of Bob Marley and listen to African musicians like Miriam Makeba, Oliver Mtukudzi, Ali Farka Touré and Simphiwe Dana.

Books: I’m currently reading Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s Devil on the Cross. I am fascinated by his writing style and the themes of identity and capitalism he addresses.

I’m also reading It Is Our Turn to Eat: The Story of a Kenyan Whistle-Blower by Michela Wrong.

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