DURBANITE’S JOURNEY TO CNN
By: Aphiwe Ngwenya and Sonam Bhagwandas
Sports journalism is not everybody’s cup of tea as it has been seen as a form of lazy journalism and shy’s away from the traditional form of hard news journalism .Yet of all the beats, it’s still the hardest to perfect.
From being a contestant on Survivor South Africa to a continuous presenter for Eastern Mosaic during the festival of Diwali and now CNN’s associate producer, Zayn Nabbi has surely left a mark on South African Sports Journalism and has risen above his expectations in his respective field.
Leaving South Africa’s playground-Durban- and headed for the cold in London, Zayn has pursued his career in Sports Journalism leaving no stone unturned in achieving what he has set out to accomplish. Having won the Vodacom Sports Journalist of the Year and was also the youngest panellist at 21, judging the SA Rugby Player of the Year in 2003, he was not the most liked sports writer in the country and was constantly under scrutiny for his writing.
The ladder of success will never be an easy one to climb particularly if your hopes and aspirations are greater than you are. Here Zayn takes his time and answers a few questions about his journey from Natal Tech to becoming an Associate Producer.
Aphiwe Ngwenya: What got you into sports journalism?
Zayn Nabbi: Well, simply I didn’t have the talent to be a pro-sportsman so I asked myself what could be the next best job in the world? Why not get a front row seat and write on sport, I figured! But once I started learning more about our wonderful craft I hoped to play a positive role for social change. I wanted to tackle subjects that were being under reported and campaign for change. Issues like racism, sexism, and the commercialisation/privatisation of sport were subjects I was passionate about writing on.
AN: Why choose Natal Tech opposed to other well established institutions such as Rhodes?
ZN: Well let’s not forget Natal Tech and ML Sultan were well established institutions and had a fine pedigree. I have to admit I really did want to go to Rhodes because it’s got a great student life but at the same time my parents could never afford to send me there.
And while Rhodes offers a quality degree, the general student population are fairly detached from the realities of South Africa as they come from fairly well-off families and as such, some of their graduates lack a real understanding of what stories need to be told in South Africa.
AN: Was your journey into sports journalism an easy one? What challenges did you encounter if any?
ZN: No it wasn’t easy. I wanted to be a rugby writer and that in South Africa is the domain of the old white (and generally racist) male. It’s also quite an incestuous beat to cover because the rugby writers generally suck up to the establishment and don’t like upsetting coaches, players or administrators to keep the relationships sweet. Also it’s lazy journalism.
I wanted to be a fair writer but also ask challenging questions. That didn’t go down well especially with the Sharks who I covered for the Daily News and eNCA between the years 2003-2010. The Sharks tried to ignore me at first, twice threatened to revoke my accreditation for critical reporting, players and coaches stopped talking to me, and I was confronted on numerous occasions for my “shit” writing.
AN: What was your first major story that you were assigned to? Which media house were you with then?
ZN: Probably the “Geogate” racism scandal in 2003 just before the Rugby World Cup that year when I was fresh out of Tech. I was freelancing at the Daily News for Independent Newspapers and the Springboks training camp was in Durban when news broke that Blue Bulls lock Geo Cronje refused to share a room with Stormers team mate Quinton Davids because the latter was coloured.
We had to attend the press conferences, ask the hard questions, and watch the Springbok management continually defend their position by just not answering questions. It was a great learning experience as I learnt part of journalism is asking challenging questions and not letting up even if you get stonewalled.
AN: Most memorable moments in your career?
ZN: Meeting Pele on a shoot I produced for CNN was mental!!! I just couldn’t comprehend meeting a living legend. Watching Usain Bolt compete at the Olympics was also pretty special, not to mention watching the gold medal basketball match where the US’s Dream Team with the likes of Kobe Bryant and Lebron James won gold over Spain.
AN: How did you get into CNN?
ZN: Well I was blessed to earn the Chevening scholarship through the British Council to complete a master’s degree at City University in London. During our course we were told to take up internships and work placements and I applied to the CNN London office and was fortunate to get an interview and then a chance to intern. Things went really well and I was asked to stay on contract for the London Olympics in 2012. I then applied for a full time position, which I was fortunate to get.
AN: After having achieved so much already, what other achievement would you like to accomplish?
ZN: Well I’m not sure I have many accomplishments and to tell the truth I just enjoy telling human interest stories. I’m passionate about the stories people ignore like exposing the obstacles black athletes face in sports like rugby and cricket, and also questioning issues of legacy through mega sports events like the World Cup or Olympics, where analysis shows there is no significant impact on amateur sports clubs. Human interest stories like the Umthombo Street Kids programme that uses sport to connect with drug addicts, and happened to produce three provincial surfers.
Sports journalism does not necessarily have to focus on only reporting about the game, but may just prove to become the platform for other emerging and existing journalist to fight for equality in sports and finding the hard news angle.
As Zayn focuses on such matters surrounding human interest and sports collectively, it should be an example set to upcoming journalists that even through the medium of sport, transformation in society can take place.