Choosing a career may leave many a young adult scratching their heads but Riaan Cruywagen was one of the lucky ones: He knew from a young age what he wanted to do one day. “My father told me how, as a five-year-old at the time of the Korean War, I’d climb into an old has-been radio cabinet in the garage and then, dramatically, announce, ‘This is the South African Broadcasting Corporation. Here follows the news. The communists fired shots today in Korea.’
Riaan grew up in Randburg and, without a care in the world, capered about in the streets with his playmates, riding bikes and go-karts. After completing his compulsory military service, Riaan did a broadcasting test at the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) in Johannesburg, which earned him a bursary from that institution. This he used to study at Stellenbosch University with a view to qualifying for a career in broadcasting, gaining practical experience over occasional weekends and university holidays through broadcasting sessions at the SABC in Sea Point, Cape Town, one of the conditions of his bursary. Where his studies are concerned, he is thankful for people like Profs DJ Opperman, WEG Louw, WJ du P Erlank, Willem Kempen and Meyer de Villiers, who, he feels, helped to shape him during his study years. He obtained his BA in languages in 1968.
Riaan started his career as a radio announcer with the Afrikaans service of the SABC in Johannesburg. In 1971, he was appointed as an announcer with the Afrikaans division of Radio Nederland Wêreldomroep in Hilversum, in the Netherlands, for three years. On his return to South Africa, he joined the newly established TV service of the SABC to train as a producer.
“The SABC’s TV news service was established in January 1975 – and I was appointed as the very first TV news producer. My first highlight in this post was as producer of the first – then still weekly – TV news bulletin ever to be broadcast in South Africa. This was on the opening night of the TV test broadcasts on Monday night, 5 May 1975,” he says. In 1981, Riaan went to America for three years as the SABC’s news representative in the USA and Canada and at the United Nations. This year, he is celebrating 54 years in broadcasting since starting in the industry as a student in Cape Town.
“I actually began presenting news on TV quite by accident. On 26 November 1975 – it was still during the TV test broadcasts – the scheduled presenter couldn’t make it at the last minute. And because I was a seasoned radio news reader after 10 years’ experience and knew the TV studio procedures in the finest detail as a news producer, I was asked to help out. Luckily, it was a success and my name was never removed from the presenter’s roster,” Riaan says. He presented the SABC’s Afrikaans TV news for exactly 37 years from that day, an estimated total of about 8 000 broadcasts. He then continued at kykNET with the presentation of news and actuality programmes on Dagbreek and kykNET Verslag for more than five years until April 2018, when he decided that he was ready to call it a day.
“What makes TV news especially fascinating for me is that the pictures help to tell the stories. It’s a kind of symbiosis between the image and the spoken word; one shouldn’t dominate the other and each should make complete sense.”
Riaan’s mentor was the well-known American TV news presenter from CBS, Walter Cronkite. “When I once asked him what he attributed his fame and worldwide credibility to, he answered that he never went home at night feeling self-satisfied or complacent because there was always something he could have done better. These wise words have stayed with me right through my entire career.”
Riaan’s dreams for the future are mostly for his only daughter, son-in-law and three grandchildren. “I dream of a land where, as honest, hard-working, law-abiding citizens, they’ll make a deep contribution to the establishment of a corrupt-free, crime-free, prosperous, peaceful, non-racial society, where poverty and unemployment will be slashed and where, through a strong education system, every person within the borders of this beautiful country will have a place in the sun.”
Riaan is becoming more and more aware of the brevity of life as he grows older and is convinced that we dare not procrastinate helping others or finishing important matters. “Appreciate and love those close to you, look after your health, use your gifts and talents to the best of your ability, don’t let golden opportunities slip through your fingers and set attainable goals for yourself.”
After bidding farewell to news and actuality programmes, it was an exciting change of direction for Riaan to present the programme series for those of 60 and over, Met ’n huppel in die stap. The fifth series has just been completed, the aim of the programme being to offer senior members of society tips on active ageing, financial planning, health, exercise, diet, accommodation after retirement, hobbies, travel, community involvement and many other matters important to older people.
Most young people today are choosing careers that offer a high income and standard of living. Riaan agrees with making good financial provision for your retirement from an early age but he believes that money should never become the dominant driving force in your life.
“I speak from experience when I say job satisfaction is of cardinal importance. Even now I can hardly believe I’ve actually been paid for nearly 54 years for being a professional broadcaster – something I so enjoy doing. I’d no doubt have earned endlessly more as, say, a chartered accountant, an auditor or a medical specialist than as a broadcaster but I would have been bitterly unhappy and I could well have been driven out of mind from pure frustration. I pursued my dream with everything I had and I’m still living it. And I’m never stressed.”
Riaan has always managed his income discerningly. He believes that you should choose a career that you are suited to and that you should then qualify yourself for it as well as you can. And that you will then be able to do your job with utter abandon and with deep passion.
- By Elbie Els -