26 July, 2010
Profile of Thelma Mapule Mbhalati, the retired head of the SABC Radio News and Current Affairs
by Anorth Mabunda
“I am not a former head of the SABC Radio News and Current Affairs, I am retired,” says Ms Thelma Mapule Mbhalati during the opening of the 14th Highway Africa and World Journalism Education Conference in Grahamstown, Rhodes University following an anecdotal statement by the former president of Ghana, Mr John Kufour who said that a former or an ex is the one who have been couped or fired from the position but a retired is the one who took such a decision by her/himself.
Mapule, born 55 years ago, began her journalism career in 1975 as a programme compiler for the then Radio Tsonga (now Munghana Lonene FM) after freelancing for the station as an announcer. She is the first women to be appointed by the station on a permanent basis and first woman announcer to read news bulletins despite the then sexist apartheid laws. She then rose to manage the station from 2000 to 2003.
Mapule describes her first decade with Radio Tsonga as more vibrant and allowed more self expression. As a programme compiler for the station she introduced the stations then famous programmes like Ta khale ta thlavula (classic heals), Nqambi ya nan’waka (artist of this year) and Tinsimu ta Africa (songs of Africa). She also transformed some already existing programmes like Nongonoko wa ta vamanana (programme of women issues) by adding more feminine health, awareness and empowering programmes.
This however, Mapule says her real encounter with journalism came after the looming retrenchments in Radio Tsonga a decade later when she moved to Channel Africa in 1985 to form part of the general news team.” That is where I started recognising the importance of journalism. I started learning more fundamentals of this vast industry and so I enrolled at Birnam College in 1988 to study journalism”.
She played a major role in the team that transformed the channel from a world service to an African service channel and was appointed an executive producer to the channel.
In 2003 she was appointed the station manager to the then white only SA FM. During her three year period as a station manager she refurbished the station in to a 50% white and 50% black station. Her tenure marked the rise of young black presenters like Vuyo Mbuli and Qolani Gwala. She is also known for down grading the station from a conservative old people station to a vibrant companion of the fledgling young audience.
At her time of joining SA FM there were only two black presenters. Her tenure marked the appointment of black talented presenters and producers. The listenership age ranged from 24 to 49 also luring some young university and college students. The women listenership rose from 20 to 47 percent. She also introduced gospel and choral programmes which are popular among the black communities. “It’s now almost four years since managing the station but nobody seem to be challenging my initiatives. Sometimes I seat down and listen to the station and I am like, my legacy still prevails”, she said confidently with a beam in her face.
She headed the SABC Radio News and Current Affairs from July 2006 to June 2010. She was forced to take an early retirement because of the looming tensions in the SABC board.
Mapule believes that women are still being oppressed in the post-colonial Africa and because of their ability to work hard and their persistence, are seen as a threat by their male colleagues in the workplace. She cites political interference as detrimental to the African media,” the African media is run by the government and the concept freedom of expression is still being oppressed. Journalists are being blamed by our African politicians for telling the truth.”
As a veteran with more than three decades in the media industry, Mapule describes a good journalist as someone who always makes research, follow media ethics, writes in a good simple language which can be easily translated, loves hard working, passionate about his/her job and always shows respect.
“If you want to be rich in journalism you are at the wrong side, here we deal will passion,” the tall and still looking young and vibrant Mapule says.
One of her four children, Sindisa, describes her as a generous woman who always let her children roam and explore alternative opportunities in the world.” She is an inspiration and a reliable friend to me. She always fends for us and allows us to be whatever we what to be.”
Sindisa reminisced of the day she was giving birth to her daughter, Mya, when her carrying mother had to live some of her job responsibilities behind just to be with her in the hospital.
The station manager of Munghana Lonene FM, Tsakani Baloyi, says she met Mapule when she joined the SABC in 1995. She describes Mapule as a very experienced woman who display passion for journalism and quality leadership. “She left a legacy; she was always firm with an in-depth knowledge of news and never loses touch with her language and culture,” Tsakani says.
Despite being always in the mews room where she had a huge task of supplying news bulletins to 18 and current affairs to 15 SABC radio stations, Mapule is a family and religious person. Her plan after her controversial retirement is to raise her two grand children, Mya (six months) and Jack (three months) but looking forward to continue her contribution to the media. “I just need a break at the moment,” she says.
Posted by Anorth 10 at 14:25