All my life I have always wanted to be an accountant, but because of financial reasons, I haven't had the chance. After finishing high school in 2002 with no job opportunities, I lazed around at home doing nothing until something I never anticipated came last year and changed my life. I got the opportunity to study a subject that I wasn't even considering--journalism at the Amazwi School of Media Arts.
Someone gave me a pamphlet that said the school was looking for fifteen women in the rural community of Acornhoek, South Africa to study journalism. All the school required was a high school matric certificate and a written story about anything within the community. I took a chance, thinking that I was just killing time and that they would never in a million years pick me. I asked myself who on earth would want to turn me into a journalist; after all I never liked journalism in the first place. I used to think that journalists were just nosy people who were up to no good trying to destroy people's reputation and spread rumours.
A day after of submitting my stuff to the school, I received a call from them asking me to go for an interview at a local primary school. I was surprised, but I still thought nothing of it. I went and—oh boy!—I was amazed at how many women were called in for the interviews. I thought it was official that I didn't have a chance. I mean there so many women who were probably smarter and more eager than even I was.
We all were instructed to sit in a classroom and take an exam, maybe to test our English skills. Now bear in mind that even though we have finished secondary education, many of us still can't speak proper English. I blame the teachers in our public schools for that, since they always translate every subject into our mother tongue, why I don't know. All I know is that we sometimes break every bone in the English language.
While other ladies were still taking their test, I was called in for an actual face-to-face interview. I must admit I was really nervous, to put it mildly. Really, I was really so scared to death that I felt like my heart was about to stop functioning. I didn't know what to expect in the interview chamber; after all, I had never been to any kind of an interview before. I grew up as the quiet, shy type who avoided these kinds of run-ins at all cost. Maybe it's because I lacked the confidence to present myself out there or something.
As I entered the office, I saw two white ladies sitting there with eyes so focused on me, about to grill me with questions. They looked so intimidating to me that I almost ran out of the office, but I managed to put myself together and greeted them with a smile, even though my whole body was shaking. I think they noticed I was nervous, but who wouldn't be in this position? They asked me questions about the story that I had submitted about the problem of teenage pregnancy and the level of crime in my community. Although I understood their questions, I found it really hard to come up with the right answers.
After the interviews were over, I told myself that that was the end of the journalism thing for me. I didn't mind that much about messing up in the first interview of my life. Outside I heard people saying how the interviews were also quite difficult for them and I thought to myself, so I am not the only one who messed up. Oh well, it wasn't meant for me anyway. Other opportunities will come my way someday. I went home and I didn't even think about journalism, but at night it came and haunted me. You know, even if you don't want something, if you feel like you didn't do your best, it becomes stressful. I tossed and turned the whole night, thinking how I could have turned things around for myself.
Things pretty much went on like this for a couple of days. The school said they would inform the fifteen ladies who were selected within three days. When that day came and I didn't hear from them, it became a major problem for me. I could hardly sleep or eat anything at all. I didn't even want to see or talk to anyone. Even though I didn't want to become a journalist, I was heartbroken. I felt like the whole world had rejected me. I also felt like a failure. The one thing that I am afraid of in life is failure. Even as a little girl, I was always afraid of failing at anything.
A day passed, and to my surprise, someone from the school called to tell me that I was selected as one of the fifteen women chosen to study journalism. I must say, I screamed and did a little dance at the joy of receiving the news that I was actually amongst the chosen ones, and more importantly at the fact that, even though I felt that I had under-performed at the interviews, I hadn't failed. At that moment, I heard my tummy grumbling. Feeling my appetite returning made me a happy woman.
I couldn't stop talking about my success to my brother, but I didn't tell anybody else. Because that is how I am, I like to keep things in the family. I couldn't wait to see who else had made it, and to my surprise there wasn't anybody that I knew from my neighborhood. Eventually we all got the chance to become pals. The school trained us, and I wrote my first story about shebeens, or unlicensed taverns. I was assigned to go spend a night at a shebeen and write down everything that happened that night, and that is what I did. Oh boy that story got me into real trouble with my community members! But that is another story for another time. That was my first real taste of journalism, my first challenge as a journalist that I managed to overcome. After all, not everybody is going to appreciate you or your work all the time. And not everybody is going to like reading about themselves in the paper, but they like reading about others.
From then on, I changed my negative perception of journalists. From then on I learned that journalism is not all about destroying people's lives or spreading rumours, it's about giving valuable information to the public to teach the important facts of life. I see journalism more like art. We may not use paintbrushes, but we do paint an important picture using words for our community. We give people a voice because we write stories focused on rural communities. We have given them a voice through the newspaper because there wasn't a newspaper focused on writing stories within rural areas of Acornhoek before. Today I am proud to call myself a journalist no matter what people may call me, and even if people no longer trust in me to keep their secrets. Sometimes when they feel like they need to open up to me they first have to say "Please don't go and write a story about us.” I don't let that get me down. I am proud to be a journalist, and know this is only the beginning of a better future for me in the media world.
Thandi Mkhatshwa is a reporter with The Amazwi Villager, a newspaper written by rural African female journalists of Sotho and Shangaan descent and distributed in their home communities within the lowveld region of South Africa. Amazwi, a non-profit organization, publishes the Villager monthly. To read more, visit: www.amazwivillager.org