eNCA’s News and Sports anchor, Nandi Tshabalala, is on a mission to consistently represent South Africa as a sports journalist globally.

Growing up, Tshabalala wanted to study Drama to fulfil her dream of becoming an actress and went on to further her education at Rhodes University, majoring in both Drama and Journalism.

Eventually, she fell in love with Journalism – graduating in Media and Communications.

At 21, Tshabalala began her career as an intern news journalist at OFM – a radio station in Bloemfontein – but her passion was in sports, revealing that she had become obsessed with consuming information on the sports industry.

To date, Tshabalala is the first woman to host eTV’s eShibobo show and has interviewed some of the biggest names in the sports industry.

Despite her ever-growing success, Tshabalala deals with mental health issues which has recently become an open discussion in society as many people have come forth to talk about their struggles.

Tshabalala is an ambassador for Southern African Depression and Anxiety Group and is doing her part to help others face their battles.

Speaking with Celine Abrahams, Tshabalala reveals her encounters with sexual harassment and aspirations to publishing her own book.

Nandi, thank you for chatting to us! You are an ambassador for the Southern African Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag) and recently part of the Sadag/ Discovery Health Mental Health Matters Media Summit. Please tell us how your partnership came about.

I began working with Sadag around 2014 or 2015. Mental health has always been a huge part of my life and I felt that I needed to do something not just to keep me sane but also to make people realise that they are not alone. There are a lot of people that can help and there are organisations, particularly Sadag who are available 24/7 to help with whatever their issues are.

So, it has been a great partnership with Sadag and they have been supportive. I think that the work that they do is incredible and should be praised every single day because so many people out there need help, and not enough people talk about how much help they need. And, Sadag does really well in encouraging them to speak out and accept that they need help. I think for a lot of people they have issues asking for help and accepting their condition because they see it as a weakness. But, mental illness is a serious problem and if we can take things like cancer, flu, TB and any other physical illness, there is no reason why we can’t take mental illness seriously.

Please tell us about your struggles with mental health.

I have had some of my own mental health issues for as long as I can remember. Growing up we struggled to give a name to it because we weren’t sure what it was, but I think as I got older and when I got to varsity I think, I started to see someone and seek help. It was very difficult once you have the diagnosis and accept the fact that you aren’t like other people, well you aren’t like most people. You have this illness that you are going to carry with you for the rest of your life. There isn’t a cure, there are treatments, there are things you can do to try and alleviate the issue.

“I’m not going to sit here and pretend that I have dealt with everything and that I am 100 percent healthy.” – eNCA News and Sports anchor, Nandi Tshabalala

I’m not going to sit here and pretend that I have dealt with everything and that I am 100 percent healthy. We all have bad days, you know. Some days are good, some days are bad but I think as soon as you acknowledge and accept that you need help, accepting that you are ill and might have to take medication or seek therapy for the rest of your life and wanting to be healthy is key. For the longest time I think I was in denial and I wasn’t necessarily acting like someone who wanted to be helped. I think I didn’t like the fact that I was a bit different but once you do accept it, you feel wonderful. It is really great to have control over your life for most of the time.

In most cases, people in the public eye shy away from voicing the struggles that they are going through for various reasons. What would you say to encourage them to not be afraid of speaking out?

You are the best thing! No one else knows the way you feel every day. When waking up is really hard, when smiling is hard, you still do it. You are so important.

You are your best thing. You have fought dragons and you came out alive. Keep fighting!

Let us step back and chat about your journey. Where does your passion for journalism and sport come from?

So, my journey into Journalism…(Laughs), you know when I was younger, I actually thought that I was going to become an actress. I wanted to study Drama and I went to Rhodes University with my majors being Journalism and Drama. Eventually, I fell in love with Journalism and Linguistics that I graduated in. I think that journalists have a responsible and important role of sharing information, of telling stories in the most unbiased way that they possibly can. I don’t think journalists even understand how much power they have. When you tune into eNCA and you see me or you listen to the radio and you hear another news anchor/reporter, you believe everything that they say. So, we are so responsible for people’s thought processes, for the information that people have and I think that it is such a huge job, but it is an honour to be a journalist.

Why did you opt to get into sports journalism?

I got into sport because it’s always been something that I love. Funny enough, I was terrible at sports in school! They called me “butter fingers” (chuckles). I tried Netball in High School and the rest of the girls gave me that name, so that didn’t last very long…

I started to get obsessed with consuming sports. Sports for me is the love of my life. It’s so much fun, I can’t imagine doing anything else. It brings, and it sounds like a cliché, but it really does bring people together. As much as we get upset when out teams lose, but for the most part sports really does uplift people. Sports is the lightness in a very heavy, dark world that we live in, unfortunately…

“It’s so much fun, I learn every day, it is a great pleasure meeting all the different people in the industry.” – Tshabalala speaks on being in the sports industry.

That’s how I ended up becoming a sports journalist. It’s so much fun, I learn every day, it is a great pleasure meeting all the different people in the industry. I absolutely love my job and I couldn’t ask for anything else even on the days where I am really tired. It’s been absolutely wonderful!

What was your first job in the industry and what was that experience like for you?

I started my career as a news journalist. I worked at OFM as an intern – it is a radio station in central South Africa where I travelled between Bloemfontein and Potchefstroom. I was about 21-years-old at the time. But, I knew that there was one place where I could really have fun and stand out was being a sports journalist. But, yes, that was my first real job and I was there for about a year and then I decided to try and follow my dream of becoming a sports journalist. I joined SuperSport and had to move to Johannesburg. Coming from a small town – Potchefstroom – and moving to Joburg was huge! Leaving my family behind, my parents and also just a culture shock because Joburgers are so different from people back home. People in Potchefstroom are super chilled, they drive slower, it’s a small town, everyone knows each other and there were challenges coming to Joburg but I don’t regret the decision. I have learnt so much so far and it has been an absolute wonderful journey.

What have been some of your biggest challenges so far in your career?

I have been in journalism and working in the industry for about 11 years… Oh my goodness, how old am I? Ha, ha, ha…

But, I have been in sports journalism since 2011. So, that is about nine years now and I have to say, it is the usual challenge that any women in sports media will tell you about. We are often the minority, it’s definitely getting better now as we are seeing more names and faces coming out and it’s absolutely makes me so happy. But, yes, the usual things like having men doubt you and having to work twice or even three times as hard to prove yourself.

I remember the first time I walked into a press conference and it was just men there. It was a football press conference and they look at you like, “Who is this chick?” “What does she know?” “She’s going to be a pretty face!” “How did she get this job?” People just questioning your credentials, people questioning your credibility and even your integrity in some cases, so that has been really hard.

Issues like sexual harassment. I don’t think there is a woman who works in this industry who hasn’t been intruded upon by some of the men and I am going to be very frank about it. I have had some very uncomfortable moments and sometimes I feel if I didn’t love my job as much as I do, I would have probably left it a long time ago. So, those are the challenges and also constantly needing to shine and stay relevant. This is an industry where the competition is rife, it’s an industry where it is like do or die and your moment can end at any time, so you have to take advantage and milk it as much as you can.

Another challenge is ensuring that you have longevity because this industry is fleeting, and you need to constantly improve and work on yourself so that you can have a lengthy career.

What keeps you motivated when the chips are down?

For me the motivation is making people happy. I get so many messages from people saying that I brighten their day and it means a lot to me. The motivation is also me wanting to be happy doing what I love. And, it goes back to the whole mental health issue – doing what I love, excelling at it and in the end there is less anxiety, there is less sadness, less depression…So, the motivation is always doing it for myself and making my parents and my family proud. My parents sacrificed a lot to help me be where I am today. I remember they would often have to drive 13/14 hours to Grahamstown to take me to Rhodes and they wouldn’t rest because as soon as they would drop me off, they would then drive back to Potch…Things like that and the money that they spent has motivated me to not let them down.

What would you point out as some of your biggest highlights to date?

There are so many! What stands out for me, interviewing some of my heroes like Carlos Queiroz – he was a former Manchester United coach and I am a huge Man United fan, so interviewing him was incredible. I have interviewed the likes of Thierry Henry and had the pleasure of travelling to Tunisia about two years ago to host the Women’s Sevens and it was great meeting so many wonderful human beings there and learning a lot, too. It was the first time that I had done a rugby production live. I was the first female to host eTV’s eShibobo. I remember growing up I used to watch the likes of Edwin Kgaswe presenting the show, OG Molefe and to be able to work with them and then host the show was mind boggling!

I have worked on the COSAFA Women’s Champs. I was the official presenter of the tournament last year. Hosting the Free State Stars awards…It has been quite a life (chuckles) and now answering this question, I all of sudden have so many things to mention!

I have also just recently ventured into news anchoring where I am doing some hard news as well on eNCA. So, for me to say that I am a sports and news anchor is incredible.

Which women in sport inspire you and why?

It is the usual suspects! The likes of Carol Tshabalala, I mean she is the first lady. Mpho Letsholonyane who has always been really wonderful to me and has offered me advice in the past. People overseas too – female SkySports presenters. I am obsessed with Hayley McQueen! I think she is absolutely amazing and she is so talented. And, the new generation or the people that I started with like Julia Stuart and Motshidisi Mohono, I am so proud of what they are achieving! Kate Nokwe, Hloni Mtimkulu (I am a huge fan of hers), just so many women in sport who are making us proud, making me proud and constantly encouraging me, pushing and even putting a bit of pressure (laughs) when I see them doing so well. I could go on for days talking about all the incredible women in the industry that I look up to.

What advice would you share with a young girl who hopes to one day make a mark in the sport industry?

Have a thick skin, don’t expect it to be easy because it’s not going to be, don’t give up and don’t compare yourself to anybody! Find something that you love and work on yourself every day because you never know enough information. Also, I am BIG on asking questions because I am not going to pretend like I know everything. Ask questions all the time! It’s better to ask rather than make a mistake and end up getting your credibility questioned. Most of all, bekezela – hold on, be patient, which is a big one because your time will come for you to shine.

What is your greatest ambition?

I want to do more travelling overseas. I want to represent South Africa as a sports journalist, and I want to do some correspondence work overseas. I recently did something with BBC – another highlight by the way – about two months ago.

My biggest ambition though believe it or not, is to become an author! I want to become a writer, well I am a writer, but I want to have a book with my name on the cover. I am working on it already so watch this space!