Winning Women: Holding people to account

ARDENT Devi Sankaree Govender. Picture: Ivan Naude
ARDENT Devi Sankaree Govender. Picture: Ivan Naude

‘I have always felt that people need to be held accountable and I don’t like lies,” says Devi Sankaree Govender, who, after nearly 15 years in front of the Carte Blanche cameras, is as committed and enthusiastic as she was when she started.

“In fact, I enjoy it even more now. It feeds my soul; it’s in my DNA,” she says of her career.

It has seen her questioning tough mining bosses with Gupta family links, investigating airport baggage theft at OR Tambo International Airport and covering Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe’s notorious Operation Murambatsvina.

“I feel strongly that we have to live in a transparent environment. But most people don’t know where or even how to complain.”

That is where Govender and Carte Blanche step up to the plate, doing the tough stuff for us. “It can get quite hairy and we often work in intimidating circumstances, but I’m not sure that ‘courage’ describes what I do.

“Sometimes I think it is ‘madness’, actually,” she quips.

One of those times might have been when she was investigating a gang’s appliance-fixing scam in Durban, “and they picked me up and threw me against a fridge”.

Govender, who is a mere 1.48m tall, had erroneously thought, because she is petite, “they’d hit the cameraman. But I’m the one in front of the camera, so they hit me first.

“It was a rude awakening and I’m smarter now. I listen to my gut and if I feel afraid, I ensure the team gets more security.”

The strikingly attractive mother of two teenagers, and wife of engineer Perumal Moodley, doubtless surprises many when she steps, immaculately dressed, into offices and hospitals, and on to university campuses and mines.

They struggle to assimilate the image of a high-heeled, small woman with her seriously knowledgeable, fierce questioning.

But she’s no talking head.

Govender, an MBA graduate, always arrives incredibly well prepared with facts and figures about her topic, as do all the Carte Blanche journalists, she explains.

Her MBA has given her confidence. “I can read balance sheets, I know about business.”

The pressure of her job, combined with being a hands-on mother who oversees homework, made its presence felt three years ago “when I felt I was living in a rat race, trying to balance everything. My blood pressure shot up ridiculously high.”

She went straight to a heart surgeon and learnt that her heart muscle had thickened in a three-month period.

The doctor told her, “Devi, it is possible for you to take control of your life.”

“And, I did – it’s much more balanced. I laugh more, have more fun.”

BUSINESS TIP: Keep it real. In 1990, I was told that everything about me was wrong, including my colour. I determined to just be me, so what you see on TV is what I am like every day too.

MENTOR: I’ve never had one because in the 70s there were no black people on TV. I had no role models.

BOOKS: I read widely, but I’ve a soft spot for Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt.

INSPIRATION: I find people’s stories, especially at grassroots level, really inspiring. South Africans have forgotten how well we live together, how vibrant we are.

WOW! MOMENT: Being told by a heart surgeon that I could take control of my life.

LIFE LESSON: Live every moment, savour every conversation, enjoy every second of everything.

Govender was a teenager when she saw Carte Blanche’s first promo in 1988 and was smitten.

After graduating with a BA honours (English and drama) from the University of Natal, Govender became a journalist 23 years ago, at Radio Lotus.

Eastern Mosaic on SABC1 offered her a job as a continuity presenter and then, out of the blue, in 1998, Govender managed to secure an interview with former president Nelson Mandela.

She was also writing a weekly column for the Sunday Times.

When Govender approached Carte Blanche, she was working at Radio Lotus, Eastern Mosaic and was the Sunday Times’ features editor in Durban. She had also just had her first baby.

Govender admits she doesn’t really know what the word ‘holiday’ means, because that quicksilver mind is always observing everything around her.

However, when Carte Blanche closes in December, she heads for Sun City, “my happy place – where I read, sleep and sip cocktails.

“And, for a few days a year, I think, this is normal."

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