THE BIG READ: Totsiens en goeienag - Times LIVE
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THE BIG READ: Totsiens en goeienag

TJ Strydom | 2012-11-23 00:07:32.0
Riaan Cruywagen was there when TV made its entry into the South African market Picture: LAUREN MULLIGAN

"I'm not a celebrity," says Riaan Cruywagen.

But we all know he is.

Cruywagen has been fondly likened to the Chuck Norris of newsreading - he's been on the airwaves for nearly five decades.

His career began on radio in the 1960s during his student days. He spent a decade at the then Radio Suid-Afrika, a forerunner of Radio Sonder Grense.

"We never thought television would come to South Africa." He pauses: "Television, ha. People called it beeldradio back then."

But TV arrived, and Cruywagen's face became a fixture in living rooms from Port Nolloth to Cape Vidal and everywhere in-between.

Millions will tune in on Monday for his last newscast. It will be 37 years to the day since his small screen debut.

"According to my calculations, I have done 7000 newscasts."

Cruywagen must be the world's most seasoned newsreader - well, definitely in Afrikaans.

He sits across the table at a coffee shop in the SABC's Radio Park building in Auckland Park, Johannesburg - "the tall one", he explained in an e-mail.

Cruywagen is meticulous. We will have an hour's sit-down and he will foot the coffee bill.

He embodies good manners and speaks clear standaard Afrikaans.

During our hour, Cruywagen does not mix in a single English word. But who still does that? Where have you heard Afrikaans recently without "nice", "chat" and "awesome" thrown in?

Cruywagen does - he's an old- school purist.

He turned 67 this year and is "long past the SABC's retirement age".

He drags out "long": l-a-a-a-nk.

Technically he is contracted until the end of March next year, but "I thought it would work nicely if I finish on the same date I started."

As he explains that, his pose is analogous to that one sees on his 7pm slot on the telly. It is like watching the news in 3D.

Cruywagen rarely looks away. He maintains eye contact, doesn't fiddle with his hands and his head remains still. He's formality personified and ready to read any interviewer like a teleprompter - much like Will McAvoy of the cult television series The Newsroom.

Cruywagen, however, has never caught a glimpse of The Newsroom, but says his daughter has recommended he do so.

"She said, 'You of all people should watch it.' But where will I get the time?"

He says he doesn't even get the time to watch Frasier : "I've PVRed more than 40 episodes."

In matters unrelated to his profession, meanwhile, he exhibits the same aforesaid traits. Also, he's shown he's a good sport by sending up his own image.

He's been featured on a rock music video - Jan Blohm's Anna , in which the roles are reversed: Cruywagen mimes and strums a guitar while Blohm is the newsman.

But he prefers classical music.

"Well, I listen to anything really, except heavy metal."

He's taken trips to the homes of long-dead composers, and plays the church organ. He likes reading, but - apart from newspapers - he doesn't really get around to it.

"From next week, I'll have more time," he says, and then lists a number of his favourite writers.

He wrote his own memoir, Wat's Nuus?, in only six weeks. It was published earlier this year and reads exactly like he talks - reading it is akin to engaging in a long conversation with its author.

He grew up in Johannesburg and went to university in Stellenbosch. Upon completing his studies, he returned home and went to work for the SABC to repay a bursary.

He married Riana in 1971.

They had a stint in the Netherlands in the 1970s, and Cruywagen later became the SABC's Washington correspondent.

Don't expect a scandal or embedded hatred in his book. It's a poignant account of decades spent in the SABC's corridors.

Doesn't he have an enemy?

No, he says.

When I suggest that he may just have outlived them all, he cocks his head back and laughs.

No enemies, he repeats.

Cruywagen is not on Facebook - he has no idea how it works, and he's heard of Twitter.

Ironically, though, it is on social media that his persona has received a lot of traction.

There is a doctored photo of him doing the internet rounds - his face is superimposed on an Anglo-Boer War facade.

There are also hundreds of jokes.

He was apparently present to cover the event when Moses parted the waters of the Red Sea, but he had a lot of trouble doing the interview because of Moses' stutter.

He's aware of the jokes and his status as a cult figure.

"It's funny how young people have started taking an interest in the Afrikaans news."

More like an interest in him.

He is a public example of something we see seldom these days: someone sticking to the same job for life. And it has given him a sort of iconic status.

He doesn't go to public places often because everyone stops him, starts talking to him and inevitably wants to pose with him.

"Since they built cameras into cellphones, everyone wants to take a picture with me," he laughs.

A picture is timeless.

One of the reasons Cruywagen finds it hard to blend into a crowd is that he seems to have changed very little since his first television broadcast in 1975.

But his ties have changed.

"Even after throwing a lot of them out, I still have about 300."

On this day, he's wearing a blue tie that features a University of Stellenbosch coat of arms.

No one has asked him to teach a course in newsreading yet, he says.

But maybe he should. He has some pretty strong ideas about what newsreaders should do and what they definitely shouldn't.

He should know.

A security guard stops me on the way out.

"That guy you were talking to. I saw him on the TV when I was growing up, doing the news. Then I moved here, and I see him and he's still doing it."


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