“Thambo dala kade bemqongqotha!
Diza dala kade bemkhwahhlaza!”
These are the typical praises one speaking isiXhosa would say when greeting a legend whose wisdom, skill and priceless experience have been drawn out of them throughout their lifetime and continue to be.
The life and times of Noxolo Grootboom align perfectly with this praise. Named by her grandparents with the name, “Noxolo”, which means “Mother of Peace”, Grootboom or Ma’mNoxolo as we have affectionately grown to identify her as, a celebrated news anchor, editor and all-round broadcaster, re-set thebar for content curation and delivery of a news format.
This child of the 60’s, as she likes to refer to her younger self to her colleagues, she grew up in rural Eastern Cape knowing only one reality of South Africa – one void of peace. Grootboom would go on to develop a deep sense of understanding of a universal truth which she would experience the reality of only much later in her career. That truth was that she would have to play her part as the ‘Mother of Peace’ to instill the learning that love was the only street where everybody could meet and reside amicably.
Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu’s once said, “Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage”. True to Tzu’s words, Grootboom would grow to give South African’s who tuned into the SABC news, read in isiXhosa, a resounding sense of strength which would meet at the same street that the courage which she was developing, resided. “You, the audience, are the ones who made me come up with this line!” She exclaimed. “Everywhere I would go, I would be met with so many different people who would tell me how much they loved and appreciated the work I was doing as a newsreader, so saying these words was if anything, a sign of gratitude from me to the people of South Africa”.
These words she refers to are what would become her signature trademark in “Nanga ningalala ngobu busuku nembethe ingubo yemvisiswano, uxolo nothando, ndin’thanda nonke emakhaya”. Translated, it reads, “As you go to sleep tonight, may you cover yourselves with a blanket of harmony, peace and love. I love you all (at home/in homes).”
This line contained the very essence of what her name was calling her to be – the television industry’s custodian of harmony (umvisiswano), peace (uxolo) and love (uthando). The shortened and most commonly used version of this ode to religious news watchers, “ndin’thanda nonke emakhaya”, meaning “I love you all in your homes’, became what we looked forward to the most. It lived beyond its expected format as a “famous one liner” to become the words that anchored so many people in the fundamental belief that no matter the extent to which bad news dominated the news bulletin, everything would be okay.
Grootboom instilled this comfort through the avenue of the eternal force of love. A love which grew into her career signature, born of an innate talent for telling the story of the people, experiences and perspectives that shaped the world around her.
When sitting across from Grootboom, it’s evident that her passion for words reflects a love for something much more. Thirty-eight years ago, Grootboom began her career at the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) as a typist – a job which she viewed as being more than just a job as she expressed that “this was my window of opportunity”. Her love for words reflected in her uncanny ability to tell a story. This became a skill which would anchor her so much in her work that the required qualifications to pursue career options at the SABC, would cease to become as important as previously expected. “I did not have a journalism degree…[but] I knew that I was a storyteller. I knew I could write and be heard and those were the tools that I used to propel myself forward”.
This knack for storytelling and the extended skillset she had which best expressed it, carried the cause for her talent which enabled her to gain vital work experience throughout various departments at the SABC. Today still, Grootboom expresses her sheer gratitude for the national broadcaster in being the vehicle through which she expressed her divine gifts and could leverage all opportunities that came her way, which led to her building her own personal brand externally. Arguably, if one were to fairly examine how she has always risen to the call of duty to do what she does best – be herself, Grootboom could be deemed one of the many pioneers of what we deem today as being socially influential. Before the on-set of digital platforms, the main platform for influence was radio and television and news broadcasts where nationwide, the masses tuned in. Social relevance? Tick. confirmed. Influence? Tick – If Grootboom had said it, it was true.
As a media practitioner who, although nearing retirement is still intensely passionate about her craft and industry, she warned us candidly about using social media platforms irresponsibly. She warned that social media platforms are not to be used irresponsibly but are to become the type of platforms which we use appropriately to create opportunities with.
Grootboom’s excellence created many opportunities for herself, which when afforded, she welcomed as an honour. Dubbed the “undertaker” by colleagues, Grootboom has been requested to deliver either an obituary or to host the national broadcast for the funerals of South Africa’s sons and daughters of the struggle, the democracy and even the television industry. From the likes of the late great activists such as Chris Hani to former State President Nelson Mandela and former First Lady Winnie Madikizela Mandela and most recently television producer and director Akhumzi Jezile, Grootboom’s unmatched knack for the Xhosa language as it relates to storytelling in its purest form, has emanated in her rising to the call of being that very great tree that provides shade and a sense of comfort when needed the most – appropriate considering that her surname, Grootboom, translates as “The Great Tree”.
Essentially, a thought that my sit-down with her no doubt confirmed, I found myself in the presence of a woman whom I knew to be a woman in every sense of the word – bold, intentional, loving and nurturing. This nurturing nature from this ‘Mother of Peace’ has a presence which grounds one with a great tree of grace. It reflects in what she has found to be the x-factor of her brilliant talent – Grootboom’s storytelling is nothing in the absence of her desire to teach. As the Editor of the Xhosa news-desk currently at the SABC, part of her role is to educate and mentor the next generation of future linguistic legends themselves. Of this she says, “My storytelling has an element of teaching in it. What good is it for me to directly translate a news bulletin from English to isiXhosa? I must include metaphors and isms that will encourage the viewer or listener to want to have their understanding of the isiXhosa language enriched. I love working with my “children” (young colleagues) as they ask questions and listen. My warning to them is always to pour salt on me and preserve me!”.
UMam’Noxolo Grootboom, often called “uMam”, as an affectionate salutation for the teacher that she is, not only has this group of young colleagues whom she educates but throughout her stellar career, has also built a classroom that extends across the nation, reached gently into our homes and landing softly in our hearts. We are all lifetime students of her brilliance.
UMam Noxlolo Grootboom stands proudly today as a living legend, inimitable and powerful. At thebar, we celebrate her with a simple note of gratitude that thina sonke emakhaya, sithanda yena.
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