Winning Women: Iman Rapetti soars

Power FM talk show host Iman Rappetti in studio Picture:Tebogo Letsie
Power FM talk show host Iman Rappetti in studio Picture:Tebogo Letsie

This has been broadcast star Iman Rappetti’s year – this week she returned to eNCA, hosting her own show, while continuing her daily three-hour show on Power FM.

Rappetti’s vibrant personality pulses ahead of her as she races, takkie-footed, down the Power FM staircase.

She’s just finished her daily three-hour talk show and, as we chat, her facility with the spoken word feels as if it’s leapt off a page in her extraordinary memoir, Being Iman, published to acclaim earlier this year.

Now the latest news in her always effervescent life is that she’s back on eNCA on Monday with a weekly show of her own called Madam Speaker.

She will interrogate two newsmakers, “a protagonist and an antagonist on topics ranging from politics to social issues”, in front of a small audience of ordinary South Africans.

Yes, she will be a sort of referee, “but as you know, I am not short of opinions either”.

And, while that is true, Rappetti is not opinionated per se for she says: “I interrogate my dogma daily on PowerTalk. It’s an opportunity to grow.”

Rappetti makes use of every second of her life. With three children aged 12 to 18, who always come first in her life – she’s not averse to taking them into radio studios when interviewed about her book – she’s packed into her young life intense action.

She was one of five born to an Indian father and a coloured mother in Phoenix, KwaZulu-Natal. “Growing up in the context of someone who did not fit in racially and was always poorer than others in the community”, she wanted to have the agency to do something about it.

“The professions that offered such opportunities were either law – I wanted to be a human rights lawyer – or journalism.” A lack of family funds resulted in her opting for the latter and her first job was at Capital Radio in Durban.

She met her husband “and set out on the whole religious path by converting to Islam”.

She changed her name from Vanessa to Iman – it means “faith” – cut off her hair and they went to live in Iran, “leaving the cinders of my life behind”.

There she had her own public affairs programme on a top radio station, wrote for a lifestyle magazine “and when we returned two years later I expected to walk into a job”.

Instead she was unemployed for a year, found out she was in a polygamous marriage, had her second child and was so desperate for a job that she travelled to Johannesburg by bus with her post-baby stitches still intact to take up an SABC job writing news.

In time she did a stint on Radio 702 and was approached by – covering the Jacob Zuma rape trial in 1996 and then the Polokwane conference.

Before long eNCA was launched and Rappetti, always quick to put her hand up for anything, anchored afternoon, morning and then finally the evening primetime news show with Jeremy Maggs.

The extraordinarily high-profile couple decided early on “that the more light you give the others the more illuminated you will be” and on NewsNight their professional careers soared.

She had been doing PowerTalk for three hours in the morning and almost the same time on NewsNight when she began to burn out.

She left eNCA last year after 11 years, choosing to concentrate on radio, where this most accomplished talk show host has been for about three years now.

However, always up for a challenge, she couldn’t resist the siren call of television broadcasting when eNCA approached her. “It’s in my blood.”

She relishes the prospect of South Africans “pressing for answers about issues that are having an impact on their lives”.

Now that she’s attained the goal most radio broadcasters and TV presenters dream of – a show of her own on both mediums – you’d imagine that would be it.

But Rappetti, typically, has much more in mind. She wants to “build a business around myself” and is busy patenting two concepts.

One involves a factory in this country, owned and operated by women, “who will all be shareholders, thus economically empowering them”.

The other she is silent on for now.

She also wants to create platforms to enable academics to “get our institutional African cultural wisdom out there. We rely so much on Western scholars.”

The dynamo who grew up wanting “to be a voice” is certainly making hers heard – and for all the right reasons.

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