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In the Cottage with: CCTV Africa's Lindy Mtongana - Journalists are not and should not be celebrities

By Yvonne Aoll | Wednesday, May 11th 2016 at 12:22
Lindy Mtongana (left) speaks to Yvonne during the interview

Lindy Mtongana and I sit at The Carnivore’s (often referred to simply as “Carnivore”) tasteful conference room, in the beautiful, West-African style Heritage House. She’s composed. She’s ready to start the interview. Her phone beeps. She pardons herself before responding to a text, and then she asks: “Do you know what happened to vowels?”

I’m confused.  “Vowels?”

“Yes, vowels. When did people stop using vowels. And why? Why? Why do they have to type ‘G.D’ for good and ‘N.Y.T’ for night? I can’t figure these words out. Why is it hard for people to just type in proper English?!”

We both laugh at her visible frustration. She puts her phone on silent, apologizes again then looks at me. I like her. This, I think to myself, is going to be a fantastic session.

I ask Lindy if she’s been to Carnivore before and she admits she hasn’t. I tell her it’s famed for their fantastic “All You Can Eat” meat, exceptional entertainment and is now well associated with Churchill, the comedian. She smiles. I suspect she may not know who Churchill is. I move on.

I then mention that when it comes to entertainment, Carnivore has in the past hosted the likes of Sisqo, from Dru Hill.

“Sisqo? ‘Unleash The Dragon’ Sisqo?” she asks. We both laugh. She’s wowed.

Lindy, 33, is a news anchor with CCTV Africa, based in Nairobi. Her Kenyan female colleagues include Beatrice Marshall and Penina Karibe. She’s been in Kenya for only a year now.

When I asked for an interview, she was receptive and cordial about it. At Carnivore, upon prodding, she tells me she doesn’t do interviews. On further prodding, she reveals that she doesn’t quite take to interviews. She’s not a celebrity and she mostly considers journalism nothing but a job. She emphasizes that News doesn’t define her, “It’s just a part of me. I never want it to be the sum total of who I am.”

Her voice is striking in person just as it is on TV. So is her beauty. Lindy is warm and authentic and open. She’s as open about her achievements as she is about her struggles. She’s tough too, not mincing her word much.

Lindy speaks very well, taking the occasional pause, before elaborating on a point. She also frowns occasionally, at a subject she feels strongly about, or her face saddens, when she talks about certain things, like love, and the mistakes she’s made in the past.

As I turn the recorder on, I smile, because it’s people like Lindy who remind me why exactly I sought to seek people’s stories. With not much of a South African accent, when Lindy opens her mouth, she delivers depth, knowledge and certainty. She’s a woman who knows who she is, but it’s taken a while to get her where she is now.

My conversation with her aimed to decipher who Lindy Mtongana really is as a person and what she’s about, here’s what she revealed:

***

What prompted the move from South Africa to Kenya?

I think in the end it was just a matter of good timing, and a bit of chance and fate. A few colleagues had left the station I was working for, eNCA and moved to CCTV Africa here in Nairobi. And in a span of about two years, there were a few opportunities for me to come and join the team, but, at the time, the opportunities weren’t quite the right fit.

First as a sports anchor, then as a business news anchor, but they just didn’t fit. I loved my job at eNCA.

And then?

Well, eNCA decided to close down its Africa division, and they retrenched all 40 of us. I was suddenly without a job. I called my former colleagues, who told me there was actually a vacancy at CCTV, the timing turned out to be just right.

Has Kenya received you well?

Yes, very well. I think there are a lot of similarities with how South Africans like to enjoy themselves. The social life, it’s a lot similar. Particularly between Johannesburg and Nairobi, the people value good company, good food and good music. It’s great.

So, will you be coming to Carnivore for some meat?

Sure, definitely! I’d love to. It’d be great to sample what it has to offer. I’m not quite a meat person though. I prefer fish.

Really?

Yes.  I love fish! I discovered these outlets not too far from work, there are a number of them, and they offer really good fish and have live bands. I really take to live music. It’s my perfect way of unwinding.

Is there anywhere else in Kenya you’d like to visit?

Lamu, it’s so beautiful. Naivasha too. It’s not too far from Nairobi and would be a nice weekend getaway from the city.

Do you miss home?

I do. I really miss my family, but having colleagues and friends here makes it so much easier. I’m precious about those relationships now, especially considering the fact that I’m single.

Are you looking to date at some point?

Well…(pauses). I don’t know, I mean, at some point, yes. I’m not actively going out of my way to date, but I would be disappointed with myself, in say, about five years, if I wasn’t in a meaningful, long term relationship. I did go on a date recently though (laughs heartily), but I don’t think it was very successful. (Laughs again)

Would you date and settle down with a Kenyan?

I would. Dating would be okay. Settling would be something different altogether, because that begs the question: “Am I settling in Kenya?” or “I’m I in Kenya indefinitely?”

What kind of man would make an ideal partner for you?

My ideal partner…well, I’m quite stubborn, and independent and opinionated and I like being almost always in control of a situation, so with that, I think I need someone that’s stronger than me, someone that can take charge and almost reign me in a little. Someone that can help me find a balance and who can inspire me to be a better version of myself.

Any other qualities?

I think I’d also like my partner to be someone who would let me be crazy once in a while. Someone who would allow for crazy to be let out of the bag (Laughs). But, I think men like that are hard to find, especially men who are around my age. Men in their thirties are either married, or with kids or divorced.

Is that too much? Men with kids…?

I mean, there’s a part of me that’s a bit selfish. I would like, especially in the beginning, to be this person’s focus. To have the attention. I wouldn’t prefer it the other way round, where a guy has already been married, or has kids, or all these other things, and I have to be the one to navigate around that. That’s tricky.

Do you think finding this guy will be hard?

It is hard. I mean, finding a guy, who’s in his thirties, not married, no kids, and who can handle a strong woman and yet still go crazy sometimes, and be fun and spontaneous and easy… I don’t know if those men exist. (Laughs.)

What’s the one thing you’ve learnt about men?

(Thinks) They’re fragile. They’re very fragile. Men are a lot more fragile than they let on. They need a lot of encouragement. They need cheerleaders. They need someone who believes in their dreams more than they do. They need, Michelle Obama, you know what I’m saying? Whether they’re accountants, farmers or the president, they need a Michelle Obama.

Is that a good thing or a bad thing?

It’s good, but I don’t think men are capable of admitting it. The roles need to be reversed for them. They need to lead and be in control and in charge, but, they’re a lot more fragile and scared than they admit. And perhaps that’s a quality I’d be looking for: someone who can be honest with their feelings and share, someone with a high sense of emotional openness. I don’t know, I think I may be looking for a unicorn. (Laughs)

What’s the biggest mistake you think you’ve made in life, or in love, so far?

(Pauses, stirs her tea) I think I wasn’t mature enough to understand love when it was in front of me. And, as a result, I ended up losing the love and life that I could have had.

Maturity in what sense?

You know, when somebody says they love you, just give me your hand (demonstrates)…when they say they love you, what they are essentially doing, is taking a part of their heart, a piece of themselves (pauses), and putting that part in your hand. It’s an idea that their heart is safe with you, and they trust you to take care of it. That’s what love is. I unfortunately didn’t understand it then, and I, as a result, ended up hurting some people I shouldn’t have.

Why journalism?

Well, my father complained one too many times that I was too inquisitive as a kid. I really wanted to know why a folk has four teeth. And why the sun is yellow. “But why? But why?” I’d ask. (Laughs) I really wanted answers, and I drove him nuts. So, in the end I discovered journalism would be the go-to profession. I studied it at Rhodes University, and have been in the television industry for about eight years now.

The fame and glamour of television, is it everything we think it is?

To be honest, there’s very little fame, especially in my experience. I’m willing to admit that I’m sort of oblivious to it, and also, it’s not really a part of my life.

News anchors in Kenya are huge celebrities; do you consider yourself a celebrity?

(Furrows her eyebrows then sips her tea) I’m definitely not a celebrity. Journalists are not celebrities. Working in News is a job. Our work is to deliver information. Unless you’re an entertainment journalist, then that would sort of make sense. But, journalists are not celebrities, and they shouldn’t be. What they have are jobs.

Interviewing Bra Hugh Masekela, how was it? Were you in awe or was it just part of the job?

Oh, I was definitely in awe. I was so nervous that day. That man, for a 70 year old, he’s such a charmer! He had me giggling and smiling like a little girl…he’s flirty and funny and interesting, ah!  But he’s also very intelligent, quite intimidating and he’s been through a lot, historically speaking. I mean, in his presence, you just want to sit on his floor and listen to him talk endlessly. You become so completely absorbed by him. That interview could have gone on forever. It was great having him. I really enjoyed it.

Bra Hugh mentioned his dislike for women who wear weaves, do you share his sentiments?

I do.

You do?

(Laughs) I do. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for women having a say in whatever they do. I’m definitely pro-choice. But I share his sentiments in the sense that I find it a way of aping other people’s cultures, as opposed to embracing our own.

So, are you saying you’d never wear a weave?

No. I wouldn’t. I’ve had my dreadlocks for a while; they’re part of who I am. I don’t plan on chopping them off any time soon.

Seeing as you’re the face of the News, did the dreadlocks give you trouble with your now employers?

It wasn’t much trouble. I mean, they definitely questioned and it caused a bit of a challenge, but we came to a compromise. CCTV Africa agreed for me to go on air having dreadlocks provided I tied them and always had them nice and neat.

On the interview you had with Phuti Mahanyele, she opened up on being one of the top female corporate gurus in the continent, but not doing as well in her personal life, do you think women can have it all?

I don’t know…I mean, this is often asked of women, which, in my opinion, shouldn’t be the case. I think the question should be to anyone, both men and women, can they find the balance? And finding balance is a challenge we all have, in so many different ways.

Who would you really like to interview in future?

Barrack Obama, I love him! His values, purpose and being are all intertwined. Those are the kind of people I enjoy interacting with. In the Kenyan context, I think President Uhuru Kenyatta would be fascinating, he would have quite the story.

In journalism, what makes a great interviewer?

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