For Mr Collen Lemawane, success as a broadcasting professional starts academically.
“I believe I function well because I am informed, know the legalities and ethics, the pros and cons, and how to conduct myself. When you are a graduate, you know what to do regardless of who you are going to interview, from the president of a country to a CEO or an artist.”
Academic credentials aside, critical success factors are passion, personality, professionalism and punctuality, to mention a few.
“You need to love what you do, you need to be friendly and approachable and willing; you need to rise to the occasion. You must be a morning person and a night person. If you need to wake up at 1am to do a 5am show, then you do it.”
Then there’s the need for absolute punctuality. “I am always on time and I manage my time very well.”
Also important are strong interpersonal skills, the ability to put your personal feelings aside, and the willingness to “be a soldier and die with your boots on”. That means being ready for any challenge, remaining calm and professional under pressure, and being brave when the occasion calls for it.
A nice, safe job in a government department is what Collen Lemawane had in mind in his early student days at the former University of North-West in Mahikeng. Instead, he found himself catapulted into the public eye as a broadcasting professional and, most recently, an author.
“I was afraid of challenges and wanted a comfort zone, so I thought, ‘Government, I’m coming!’ and enrolled for a degree in public administration in 1991,” recalls Collen, business presenter and specialist producer on the SABC’s 24-hour news channel, and author of the book Why broke when there’s so much info?
Then one fine day on campus, his career aspirations took a radical new turn.
He was a member of the entertainment committee of the Student Representative Council (SRC), which had set up a public announcement system in front of the cafeteria. On the spur of the moment, Collen started playing music and pretending he was reading the news.
“People said it sounded just like a real radio station, and when auditions were announced at the broadcasting centre next to the campus, they said, ‘Collen can do it!’”
Collen gave it a try and the Bophuthatswana Broadcasting Corporation offered him a job on the spot. “I qualified to be an on-air professional right there, without any preparation!”
He wasn’t willing to abandon his public administration studies, though. “I don’t like starting things and not finishing them,” he says. “Academically, I had to finish that degree. Then I started something I loved the most.”
That was broadcasting, of course, and Collen thrived on it. He presented the news on three radio stations (Radio Mmabatho, Radio Sunshine and Radio Bop) and was a television anchor on Bop TV’s Eight o’ Clock Live show – all at the same time. Collen was also a presenter of a music programme called “Di a Kurutla” on Mmabatho TV in the late 90s. “I became an all-rounder, producing, reporting and presenting for radio and TV.”
It all stopped abruptly in 2003 when the “Bop era” came to an end and its broadcasting arm was shut down. All homeland broadcast institutions, known as TBVC state broadcasters (Transkei, Bophuthatswana, Venda and Ciskei) were incorporated into the SABC.
So Collen went back to his alma mater to study his true passion, emerging with an honours degree in communication.
His broadcasting career was soon back on track at the SABC, where Collen’s career has gone from strength to strength. (See text box for details.)
That’s not to say he hasn’t had his share of setbacks. Four years ago, Collen had an experience that tested his courage and ultimately opened up new doors.
In 2012, shortly after completing the Comrades and Two Oceans marathons, Collen experienced severe headaches and collapsed. “I fell to the ground and was paralysed from the waist down.”
He was admitted to hospital for a lengthy stay. While wheelchair bound, Collen became deeply concerned about his personal finances. Instead of giving in to panic, he put his thoughts down on paper – or, to be more precise, cell phone. “I wrote it all on my phone in hospital.”
Three years later, in May 2016, what started as notes on a cellphone became a book on personal finances and financial freedom.
Why broke when there’s so much info? Has been exceptionally well received, and he is already working on his next book.
Anchor, producer and now author … Collen is squarely in the public eye and looks set to stay there. So much for a nice, safe job in the public service.
The NWU & U
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That management had the confidence in me that I could do anything. I never asked for the programmes I’ve presented or produced; I was approached to come and do them because people believed in me.
(Television programmes he has anchored or produced over the years include Interface, The World Today and In the Public Interest on SABC 3, while radio shows include Motsweding FM Current Affairs, and Spectrum on Radio Bop)
Yes, I walk properly, without a stick or a wheelchair. I could even be a model now!
I am outgoing, confident, free-spirited, always cheerful and have a positive attitude. I believe the world is looking at me and that I should look back. I believe I can do anything with God, my creator, with me.
I do water sports, mainly kayaking. I also preach and give motivational talks at churches and community organisations.
I believe in happiness and being responsible for everything I do. I believe in doing something I love that will also benefit society.
NWU & U