In the middle of Noxolo Grootboom’s sweet smile at a giddy Thembekile Mrototo, Anele Mdoda leaned past her microphone.
The eponymous star of 947’s Anele and the Club breakfast radio show asked what has been on everyone’s lips since Grootboom resigned this week from being the face of isiXhosa news on SABC television.
How will you spend your time now, Mdoda wanted to know.
“Ndizaw’jola nomyeni wam’,” Grootboom quickly responded with a mischievous smile.
What she said was she’d start dating her husband, but, like the words she wrote and delivered on the news so eloquently in her mother tongue almost every weeknight for the past 37 years, the words meant more than that.
She means that she plans to give love her full attention: to place a keen focus on her marriage.
To step away from mothering the nation as a journalist who learnt on the job and finally feel like she is making time for the children she birthed – an element of her life, she told Mdoda, she hadn’t quite lived up to when the kids were younger.
The day after President Cyril Ramaphosa delayed his family meeting with the nation by half an hour so that the family could watch the legend read the news one last time, she was hosted in 947’s studio for an interview on the breakfast show.
“I made a conscious decision to call it a day at 60,” the trailblazer, whose signature sign-off phrase – Ndin’thanda nonke emakhaya – should be a clue on a 30 Seconds card, told The Club.
Watching Grootboom sit across from Mdoda and take in the showers of love was inspiring as parts of her life were illuminated in the chats on and off air.
She recalled being a secretary at the SABC when, in 1984, she was asked to fill in for an absent newsreader at the spur of the moment. The rest is herstory.
For years, the 61-year-old was known as The Undertaker because she had been entrusted with respectfully covering the deaths of icons from Chris Hani to Winnie Madikizela-Mandela.
Yes, many people report the news, but Grootboom delivered it in a way that has made multitudes feel like she is family.
This is because she upheld her culture and customs in a world that shuns uplifting one’s roots in favour of westernisation.
As such, she mirrored a South Africa that isn’t often on screen. And she was in many homes around supper time every week – just like a relative.
Broadcast nieces like the BBC’s Lerato Mbele, Metro FM’s Melanie Bala, 947’s Hulisani Ravele and Selimathunzi’s Zizo Tshwete were brought in to the studio to surprise the veteran, who was left in tears at the end of their tributes to her.
“You showed us there was enough sunshine for all of us,” Mbele said with a smile. “It was so much more than the news,” Ravele said through tears.
Tshwete told Grootboom: “You showed us we could bring who we are to what we do.” Then later added: “When you said ‘Ndin’thanda nonke emakhaya’, for some people, that was the only ‘I love you’ they’d ever heard.”
By then, there wasn’t a dry eye in the studio. In a long embrace as the radio show went to a song break, Grootboom held Tshwete as the young’un mouthed “enkosi” over and over and over again.
That gratitude is a sentiment that has been expressed by the famous and ordinary alike all week.
Tears of joy came after Mdoda revealed that she’d redone a famous image of Grootboom in a white suit, pearl choker and poofy hair in a 1994 edition of True Love magazine.
The tears didn’t stop when Somizi Mhlongo Motaung showed up unannounced because he’d heard the farewell on the radio and knew he had to come to pay tribute to a blueprint of broadcast.
The Undertaker admitted she had never felt so alive and loved as she did that morning.
“I’m experiencing what I can call a living funeral,” she said between sobs. In isiXhosa, she said she was going to go home and tell her husband that there should be no speeches at her funeral because, this week, she’s heard all the things that people often only hear on their deathbeds.
“She is smelling her flowers while she is still alive,” quipped Somizi. “This is the most beautiful thing ever.”
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