Redi gets candid on her move to New York: I have no fear

01 August 2017 - 11:06
By Jessica Levitt
Redi is making a bold move and is ready for all the challenges
Image: Supplied: 702 Redi is making a bold move and is ready for all the challenges

In May 702 announced that Redi Tlhabi would be leaving the station after more than a decade at the helm of various shows. South Africa had a meltdown and when Redi took to the mic for the last time in June, politicians, industry colleagues and fans took to social media to applaud the radio presenter and share their favourite memories of her.

Although Redi will only be taking up a economic journalism fellowship at Columbia University in New York in 2018, she's been busier than ever.

So, what made Redi decide to leave her job and life in South Africa in search of a new challenge? It turns out a ten-year service award gave her just the push she needed.

 TshisaLIVE: You’ve said that when you got a ten-year service award at 702 you were ‘freaked out.’ Many people would relish that achievement. What exactly was it that freaked you out?

Redi Tlhabi: I just realized that the years had gone by. It was a glorious journey, but when I received that award, it felt like I had reached a pivotal moment in my destination. It was time to reinstate my internal GPS and ask 'where is this journey taking me?' My feet started itching and I knew that I had to start thinking very carefully about the next decade of my career.

TL: It’s been two years from then until now (the ten-year recognition) What triggered the final decision to start looking around? 

RT: To be honest, I did talk radio the best way I could.  In the past year, I have increased and deepened my international networks, just by meeting new people and being given an opportunity to facilitate some debates on the global stage.

TL:  Take us through the process of what eventually led you to take up the fellowship RT:  I was offered a writing fellowship at a New York university and then another from my interactions with colleagues and decision makers at conferences. I am also interacting with a lot of social justice activists and academics.  From facilitating panel discussions and giving keynotes on some of the issues I am passionate about ( inequality, gender based violence, rape, historical violence) there was always someone in the audience who wished to collaborate or invite me to another event so I started exploring those spaces. It was a long journey and I eventually applied for an economics journalism fellowship at Columbia.

TL:We have to ask, why economics?

RT: Because it is the one area that governs our lives, entrenches inequality and escapes scrutiny when social justice is denied to many citizens of the world.  Also, I am a natural in history, literature and have a reasonable grasp of gender theory. Economics is the one area I am yet to explore.  I love getting out of my comfort zone and finding out what else my tired but hungry brain can handle.

TL: How long is the fellowship for?

RT: Two years. So , for two years I will be in the US. After that, who knows. All I know is that wherever I am, I will be with my darling Brian and our children.  First things first: Nothing in the world would have meaning for me without them.

 TL: In 12 years you’ve achieved so much. And in that time, it’s safe to assume that you thought being a radio presenter addressing social, political and economic issues affecting South Africans was who you were meant to be. Does this career move change who you are?

RT: Never. I am merely changing my location and probably my medium.  I will continue to use my voice, to amplify it and use any platform available including podcasts, television and essays. I have recently started contribution to the Washington Post, so I am not disappearing or retreating. I don’t know how to do that.We have to learn, we have to maintain an enquiring mind and feed our brains. That is what I am doing.

TL:  You’re on a brand new road full of discovery -  are you scared?

RT: I have no fear. There is no point to it. It is a waste of valuable energy. And should I have any moment of doubt, I will take a deep breath, pop some champagne and remember Barack Obama’s words: “The only thing that feels like the end of the world, IS the end of the world.”  We are not there yet.

TL: What is your worst fear post this decision?

RT: I really have no fear. I have made the right decision. My husband is excited and supportive. Our plans are advancing at a healthy pace and we are ready to face the next chapter of our lives. And life is beautiful in that you can always adjust your plans and adapt, recharge...nothing is impossible.

TL: What is the single most important thing you have learnt about yourself while making this decision? 

RT: That I am more adventurous than I gave myself credit for. I love predictability and familiarity. I thought I was content and would change nothing about my life. And I actually was content -  it was good whilst it lasted. But it is over now and it's time to kick open some doors.

TL: What are you most excited about?

RT: Meeting new people, who themselves come from interesting backgrounds and have lived in different places, thereby broadening their gaze into humanity.  I also look forward to being in a huge city where no one knows me. I am dying to lie low for a while: I will write and speak, but nobody there will know or care what I look like.

TL: There must’ve been a lot of what-ifs: What if Brian says no? What if my children don’t like it? What if I don’t like it? How did you overcome the doubts?

RT: I don’t function in that realm. Honestly. For me, once I wish and long for something, I open my heart and trust that it will be for the good of everyone.  No doubts.  I turned down an opportunity to work for the BBC in London because I assumed Brian would not want to move. Two years later, I had another offer from an international broadcaster.  I was merely informing Brian that I had just met with them -  I had not thought about taking the opportunity. And he said “What, you cannot turn something like that down." And then I told him about the BBC opportunity two years earlier and he said "And you turned them down? Baby, no, grab these chances.” So, from the first day, there was no doubt. I have also made plans for all our nannies and domestic workers. They will all be accommodated. So once I sorted that out, then there was really nothing else worthy worrying about.

TL: If you could fast-forward to three years from now, what do you hope to have achieved?

RT: I want to write more prolifically about social justice and interview global news makers from all walks of life; activists, business leaders, artists and writers.  I also want to talk more the real human beings, the people who are quietly changing lives and building communities.  There are a lot of clowns on the political space -  we must move past them for a moment, starve them of attention and speak to people who really care about the state of the world and are living for a bigger purpose other than stealing, enriching themselves and making idiotic comments.

TL: What do you think a decision like this will teach your children?

RT: Be hungry for knowledge and search for new experiences. Be bold, trust that things will always work out. And most importantly: Surround yourself with people who love you, who exude optimism and who will cheer you on. And in return, also give of yourself.  Remember that family must be nurtured and respected. Create memories and go for it!