At the age of just 14 Kass Naidoo announced to her family she was going to become South Africa’s first female cricket commentator. This week, prescription as South Africans ponder the meaning of perseverance, she spoke to Karien Jonchkeere of Heartlines Features about her latest achievement.
They all laughed at the time, but the laughter has certainly died down in the last few years as Naidoo has exceeded all expectations in turning her dream into reality.
“My family all laughed at me and said it was a great dream but it was never going to happen,” explained Naidoo who, after making a mark in radio, first started her TV career as the face of SABC’s coverage of the cricket World Cup in 2003.
“I’ve always liked testing the waters and I want to know how far I can push it. I’ve been able to push quite a bit now and it’s scaring me because I think that dreams are there to be achieved and the more you achieve them the more you get,” she added.
Another of Naidoo’s dreams has recently come to fruition with the launch last week of a new web-based magazine called gsport … for girls (www.gsport.co.za) dedicated to women in sport.
“The first notion that people have is that women can’t do it – we’re too weak or we’re too feminine. I think there’s a misconception that if you’re feminine you can’t win and you can’t achieve at the highest and I think people like Penny Heyns (who was selected as gsport’s first inductee into the hall of fame) have proven that that is just hogwash. Doing the cricket I have come to realise that being a woman is the best way to be because we can’t compete with men – why should we want to compete with men? And I think the biggest message for us to put out to South Africa is that women can be women and still win.
“I read this quote that said if your dreams don’t scare you, they’re not big enough and I’m going with that because I think that’s what’s kept me going until now.”
Breaking into the male-dominated environment of cricket, Naidoo has met with her fair share of opposition. But she has nevertheless managed to bring her own unique style to her work. When she first arrived to take up her position in front of the cameras at the SABC, she was told to wear exactly what her male counterparts were wearing.
“I was asked to wear a blue blazer and I was asked not to be all girly,” she explained. “So I went out and bought a pink top, a yellow top, an orange top and a green top. I threw the blue blazer away and said ‘I’m really sorry but I can’t do it your way’.
“And since then I’ve really enjoyed breaking rules so much and I hope that with gsport, we continue to do so and break the staidness that is around women in sport because some people feel no one is interested. And people are not interested because they don’t have the information to go with it. So aside from profiling the top women on gsport, we are going to get the best possible advice from the top people like Penny Heyns and people interested in winning.
“I guess the problems I was faced in my career were that I haven’t played cricket, I was a girl, my dad didn’t play cricket – there were enough things that came through. I think the more adversity I faced, the stronger I became though. I surged ahead and I wanted to achieve,” added the former Durbanite who was inspired by West Indian Donna Symmonds who was the first woman Naidoo heard commentating on cricket back in 1992.
“There were times I wanted to quit but that was fast overcome by the feeling that if I quit, the message I would be sending out would be that yes, you can get so far but after that you have to quit because you can’t get any further. It’s been tough, but I think my detractors are starting to support me. And I think it’s showing that women in the media can do the job as well, and very often, better than the guys.”
Naidoo is not the only woman involved in sports reporting in the country although females in the sports newsrooms are rather scarce the further north one travels into Africa.
There have certainly been plenty of changes in the past 30 years, however, as SA Press Association cricket writer Jane Bramley has witnessed. “When I first started working in journalism at the SABC there was a quota as to how many women they would allow to work there. And if a woman got married, she had to resign,” said Bramley. “But things have changed remarkably. I must say though that in sport I have never encountered too much opposition or hostility like Kass has. I think some people are jut threatened by her,” she added.
Afrikaans daily Beeld’s soccer and swimming writer Marjolein van der Stad agreed. “There has never been any animosity from my soccer colleagues. There were little, niggly things in the beginning but nothing bigger than that as soon as they saw I was serious and actually knew what I was talking about,” she said.
“In a sense I guess I was a bit of a novelty – a white, Afrikaans woman writing about soccer. When travelling to other countries in Africa, I am always hugely outnumbered. The only other women I see are usually TV production people.
“I must say though that, working in an office full of men has been more difficult that actually being out in the field reporting. When I first started I was often in tears. It was just a completely different world I walked into but eventually you just have to accept it, and after 15 years I know what to expect. When I started I think I was a lot more sensitive and meek and mild but you have to learn to become more assertive, otherwise you would just end up sitting in the corner crying,” added Van der Stad.
“I think it’s just a case of feeling undermined and not being taken seriously. But I enjoy the work itself. I love being on the edge of a pool or soccer field and the lows of the job have never outnumbered the highs so that is what has kept me going.” – Heartlines Features.
By Karien Jonckheere