Finance journalist Siki Mgabadeli often faces scepticism in her interviews with business heavyweights. She is used to receiving the “surely-you-don’t-understand-what-you’re-talking-about” look.
At the age of 28, Mgabadeli is the editor of SABC Television’s business and economics desk. The petite workaholic manages a team of 14 journalists and producers, and is also the anchor of five television and radio programmes.
“There are a lot of people who still don’t understand economics,” says Mgabadeli of her plans at the SABC. “I recently received a call from a 23-year-old wanting to know about investing. That, to me, says we’ve come a long way, where people now understand the importance of investments.
“I want to get to a point where, for example, people understand the stock market. That way, they can invest and make more money and maybe they will want to share it with me,” she adds with a small smile.
Mgabadeli has been with the SABC since February 2003 after a short stint at e.tv where she presented the morning show. A Rhodes University graduate, she first sunk her teeth into journalism six years ago when she joined satellite business channel Summit TV.
In 2005, Mgabadeli received the Sanlam Financial Journalist of the Year in the television category and the Telkom ICT Journalist of the Year award.
When CNBC Africa launched in South Africa in November last year, she was one of the SABC anchors the channel tried to poach. The public broadcaster, which lost three of its staff members to the new channel, made her a counter offer which made her stay behind.
“The thing is, I was feeling under-utilised here at the SABC at the time. I would have left for CNBC because they are new in the market and I’ve always wanted to work for an international channel but there is lots I still need to do here.”
The bubbly Mgabadeli says the ladder of success has not been an easy climb for her. She was once a victim of sexual harassment at the workplace and almost became disillusioned when the perpetrator was promoted to a more senior position instead of being disciplined.
“The fact that I’m black, female, young and look it, does not help in an industry that is predominantly male with most people having 30 to 40 years experience in the industry. I guess that is what I like about the anonymity of radio. Most people say I sound older than I am on air and are often surprised when they finally get to meet me.”
Her goal is to run one of the most productive news desks in broadcasting where young and aspirant financial journalists come for training.
“I want business news to be taken seriously, to be understood by the wider population. I want ordinary people to understand what (Finance Minister) Trevor Manuel or (Reserve Bank governor) Tito Mboweni says. I want people to understand that every single thing they do has an economic component to it.”
She adds that unfortunately in South Africa, people no longer become journalists for life.
“This is why I want to be a career anchor. I want to be 50 and wrinkled and still be doing what I do, if they’ll let me, that is. If CNN can do it, why can’t we?
“I believe I will be of more value to the viewers at 55 than I am right now at 28 because I will have more knowledge and experience. People will also listen to me because they would have grown up with me, and I with them.”