5 minutes with broadcast presenter Bongani Bingwa

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Bongani Bingwa
Bongani Bingwa

Bongani Bingwa, host of 702’s breakfast show, on how he loves a challenge, being pedantic about language and what an easy-going dad he is.

Unlike my on-air persona, I’m generally a relaxed and easy-going person. I like to have fun and don’t take myself too seriously. Before anything else, I’m a parent. I’m passionate about being a father. Late American writer James Baldwin says children may not always do what you say, but they will rarely fail to imitate what you do. Your kids watch you when no-one else can see you, when you are most comfortable and when you are your true self. They observe you without even knowing, which is why it’s important to be authentic and a role model around them. While I try not to take myself too seriously, I make sure that what my daughter sees is real and honourable.

I hope my daughter will learn to see herself through my eyes. I read that somewhere, and it’s the best description of my aspirations for her. She’s a fierce advocate for what’s right and has a deep sense of empathy for those she loves. I see a lioness in her, a fighter. That is what she has displayed, and I hope those qualities only grow stronger.

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I was an advanced kid and enjoyed the company of people much older than myself. I was the kid who was forever being chased out of the room, because at some point, the adults realised they were talking freely in the presence of a child. I always wanted to talk about the things that got under people’s skins and made them uncomfortable. I always wanted to know ‘why?’ Broadcasting, as the word suggests, casts the net far and wide – you never know who is listening and what they may take from it. My job’s done when someone says, ‘Oh gosh! I’ve never thought about this or that in a particular way, you’ve opened my eyes.’

I would tell my younger self not to be afraid of making mistakes. I would tell him, ‘You’re braver than you’ll ever know. You will face thrilling highs and incredible lows, but through it all, search for decency and your best self. Don’t let fools change you because, at the end of the day, you will be accountable to yourself and your family. If you remain honourable to yourself, you can handle all that comes your way.’

I love working as a TV and radio broadcaster, and have the good fortune to be able to do both. Years ago I was a Carte Blanche presenter and had been so for nearly 11 years. Some people said my move was silly because radio requires different skills. ‘You won’t last six months,’ a person I respected and admired told me. Well, here … hosting Breakfast With Bongani Bingwa. Admittedly, I’m learning every day and there’s room for growth, but I’m having the time of my life, doing what I was warned I might fail to achieve.

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What I love about broadcasting is the idea of having an impact on the national conversation. Being able to shape the minds of both young and old and even, on occasion, those who pull the levers of power. I’ve had politicians approach me at events or when I have encountered them unexpectedly, say to me, ‘Keep going, keep at it – you will never know the difference your voice makes.’ That humbles and gets me up every morning.

I love a challenge. Tell me I can’t learn a new skill or achieve a particular goal and you won’t know what hit you! Right now, my personal fulfilment goal for 2019 is to read 40 books. Not silly, trashy novels, but meaningful books that can add value not only to my life, but those I have the privilege of influencing.

I’ve had to learn not to judge others. It took me a long time to recognise that, what we judge in others, says something about what we see of ourselves in them. That’s really what we’re doing when we point a finger – as the proverb says, ‘four others are pointing back at you’.

I’m pedantic about doing things properly — speaking correctly, grammar, spelling and the proper use of language. Don’t speak to me in emojis or the abbreviations people are so fond of on social media. I cannot abide by it! There’s a price to pay for this, though. My life is a constant battle between wanting to correct grammar and the desire to keep friends. So, I have had to learn the art of biting my tongue [chuckles]!

Off the cuff

Quality I most admired in my dad is… He was not a quitter. When life threw its worst at him and sometimes because of his errors of judgement, he took it in his stride and kept his chin up. He was never ashamed to be himself. I think living with the worst version of yourself is the greatest kind of bravery.

I never grow tired of watching… Amistad. It speaks to the long chain of human lives. We are here because there were others before, and our lives make no sense if they are disconnected from those that came before us. At this moment, we are the very reason they existed at all. We have to pass that forward and leave this world better than we found it.

If I could read one book for the rest of my life it would be… Probably The Velvet Rage by Alan Downs. It’s a book about how to live as a gay man in a straight man’s world.

If I didn’t have to sleep… I’d still want to write my story and the great South African novel. Don’t tell me it can’t be done!

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