Award-winning journalist Zikhona Tshona has found her home in the hearts of many South Africans. Her gripping stories serve as a reflection of her passion for social justice and her heart for humanity. Currently a reporter on Newzroom Afrika, Tshona believes in pouring her heart and soul into every story that she touches. “I always make sure that I give it my all because each story is important to me and it’s important for South Africa to see it,” she said.
At the crux of Tshona’s news coverage is her love for people. Born in eNtoleni Village in Fort Beaufort, her passion for storytelling and reporting on important issues is largely influenced by her upbringing. “My mother had me when she was still young so a lot of my younger years were spent with my grandparents in the village. Growing up there has actually influenced a lot of the work that I do because there were no services and people were struggling just to get by or to access basic services. Even now when I go home, we still have water and electricity issues. We still have outside toilets. So for me, it’s very important that I continue to tell those stories because that is part of who I am even now,” she explained.
Reporting – an extension of her heart
According to Tshona, her approach to amplifying people’s voices is an extension of her heart and a reflection of those who raised her. “I remember when I was in primary school, my mother used to cook for people who lived in the streets. My grandmother was also always taking people in and feeding them. I was raised by people who nurtured their communities. So, I try my best to ensure that I am sensitive to people’s issues and that there is dignity in the way that their stories are told,” she shared. Tshona also added that she has always been taught to treat everyone with respect regardless of what they may or may not have. This is something she channels in her daily stories. “I don’t try and tell the story but rather let the person tell their own story. That’s very important to me.”
Human Beyond the Headlines
Beyond the breaking stories and headlines, Tshona is very much human like everybody else. She shared how she is often emotionally challenged by the tragedies she gets to cover. “I would say the story which has challenged me the most emotionally has to be the Life Esidimeni tragedy. When we were covering the arbitration hearings, there were always tears. Every day there were heartbreaking stories. You can’t walk away from that and say you’re okay.” It was also the first time she broke down on television as she did a live crossing. “All of a sudden I just froze and tears fell down my face. I couldn’t continue.
It was the day when they read out all the names of the people who lost their lives as a result of what happened in Life Esidimeni,” she shared. The talented reporter added that the story is one she is reminded of to this day and that she would never forget it.
Journalism…a life-changing career
Through her career, Tshona has changed the lives of many people by using her gift to amplify the voices of ordinary people. She has shined the spotlight on uncomfortable truths, tragedies and triumphs. In changing the lives of others, she says her life has been changed too. “I’ve gotten to experience different places and cultures of South Africa that I don’t think any other job would have allowed me to. I’ve also met the most beautiful people that have become lifelong friends.”
More than anything, her work serves as an opportunity for continued learning, growth and enlightenment. “I get a lesson out of every single day, no matter who I interview. I interviewed a young boy two years ago who was nine years old and didn’t go to school. Through us telling his story, the education department placed him in a school. I learnt that we may think everyone’s life as a child works out the same. But people face different challenges.” In a country beaming with diversity, Tshona has also had the chance to learn a number of new languages. “If I go to Limpopo, I make sure that I’ve got some Venda in me so that I can at least ask you the first question in your own language. I think people respond better when you talk to them in their own languages,” she explained.
Relaxation, exercise and the great outdoors
When she is not on the ground covering the latest breaking news story, Tshona can be found spending time with friends or binging on reality TV shows. She is currently enjoying The Mommy Club. The reporter is also a huge fan of the outdoors. Activities such as hiking and jogging are among her favourites. “That actually helps me a lot with mental health. Exercise is very good. It opens your mind and your brain is clearer when you face the day so I really enjoy the outdoors.” Her love for all things fitness also comes as no surprise since she is from a family that has always valued fitness and enjoyed watching sports. “My mother is very active. She loves to run every now and then. Our family is always out there watching sport, whether it’s cricket or netball, we love our sport.”
Hope, hard work and a great support system
Although she’s a successful journalist today, Tshona was raised in the absence of a tangible representation of what she wanted to become. “Where I grew up, there were no journalists. I just had a passion for storytelling and I’d tell my mother that this is what I want to do. She believed in it. It’s important to have people who believe in you.” In a country that is faced with a plethora of challenges, the dreams and aspirations of many young people may easily seem unattainable. However, she encourages youngsters looking to enter the journalism industry to do the best they can with what they have. “I think social media has made things way easier than they were when we were starting out in journalism. You can also go to community radio stations and community newspapers because they really do help you become more versatile. They just create a nice root for your storytelling that’s grounded and connected to people,” she advised.