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'It's not a job, but a mission'

By Edward Tsumele | 2012-01-13 07:41:02.0

"I have cried many times." This is what Andile Gaelesiwe, says when she describes the emotions that go with presenting the reality TV show Khumbul'ekhaya every Wednesday.

Speaking to Sowetan Time Out this week about the show, Gaelesiwe revealed that some of the stories of loss, reunion and pain that are often screened on her show are so hard to take in emotionally that she is often forced to cry during shooting sessions.

"Of course as crew we would like to believe that we are here to just do our job and not be emotionally involved in the stories we cover every week. But in reality that is not possible," she says.

"Recently the crew realised how vulnerable we are during a workshop when a psychologist took us through therapy, including asking us hard questions on the stories we cover.

"We all started crying since we realised that we unknowingly also relive the experiences of pain often encountered in the stories of the disintegrated families we reunite and feature on the show."

The presenter told of the first time she auditioned for the show in 2006.

"I realised that I could not read a word in IsiZulu though I was brought up speaking IsiZulu at home in Meadowlands (Soweto)," she says.

"That is due to the fact that I am a product of model C schooling. When they gave me the job I had to do a quick catch-up, scouring book outlets looking for books in IsiZulu.

"I could not find any since, the book shops said, such books did not sell. I had to look for books online. I would implore every child to at least learn how to read an African language."

Gaelesiwe, as successful as she is on this show, is often accused by purists of not speaking proper IsiZulu on the show.

"Well, I have now polished my isiZulu, thanks to the books I now have in my house," she says.

Though the show is generally regarded as one of the most successful reality TV shows on local television, it has its detractors .

One of these is none other than presidential adviser Zizi Kodwa, who a few weeks ago came down heavily on the show, saying instead of building black families it was destructive as children are often shown humiliating their parents.

Old men, in particular, are sometimes shown crying as their children, through the show, hunt them down and confront them.

What Kodwa probably was not quite aware of at the time of Kodwa's criticism is that his voice of dissent must be a lone one.

The production of Khumbul'ekhaya was an idea that originated with John Kani. He has always travelled a lot and he frequently encountered requests from people to help trace missing family members.

The idea was fine-tuned by Urban Brew Studios and presented to SABC, who accepted it, and in 2006 the first Khumbul'ekhaya was aired.

The show is a heart-warming series dubbed as the truth and reconciliation process of the soul. It includes elements of tracing long lost relatives, finding estranged family members and healing long standing feuds .

The format, sponsored by the South African Post Office, relies on hundreds of letters arriving weekly, where details about the loss of a loved one are shared and from which the team starts tracing the person and arranging the reunion.

Khumbul'ekhaya has found a way to become real, relevant and right on target.

It is one of the most popular shows on South African television. It is currently watched by close to three million people a night. In 2011, Khumbul'ekhaya reunited 120 families.

The show has since collected the following awards: South African Film and Television Awards - Best Factual Entertainment programme; Best factual Entertainment program; Special screening and discussion at Input 2008; US International Film and Video Festival - Silver Award for Best Reality TV; US International Film and Video Festival - Certificates for creative excellence in reality programming and direction; US International Film and Video Festival - Certificates for creative excellence in direction; Special Screening at Rose d'Or awards, and the South West Gauteng College rainmaker award in 2011.

"This is not a job, it is a mission," says Gaelesiwe.