Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Ruvheneko Parirenyatwa is Making a Name for Herself

It’s hard to believe that anyone could tell Ruvheneko Parirenyatwa what to do. It may be even harder to believe that she is one of the hardest interviews in town for politicians, given that her father is a politician himself. 

 Some may even refer to Ruvheneko as a “daughter of ZANU PF.” In addition to that, her grandfather, Dr. Tichafa Samuel Parirenyatwa was a politican. The biggest medical centre in the country, bears the Parirenyatwa name because he was the first trained black Physician in Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia.) He died before she was born but she wishes she had met him, saying, “apparently, he was amazing.” Despite her family’s prominence, the 26-year-old talk show host prefers to be recognized solely by her first name. Although Ruvheneko respects and appreciates the legacy of her family, she is not one to focus on past successes or glory. “My grandfather died a long time ago, I just want to pick my own path. I have graduated from riding on the family name.” Although she describes herself as a “big family person,” Ruvheneko wants to assert her own identity outside of her well-known grandfather and father. Radio is the way for her to do that.

Words by Zanele Mhlaba. Images by Zash Chinhara
Ruvheneko walks into any room and commands attention, not only because she is tall, but also because of the no-nonsense attitude that has been a signature of her shows. “For most of my childhood, I grew up as the only girl, I grew with up boys so I was bullied a lot,” she says to explain it. “I’m a bit cut-throat, naturally I’m like that,” she adds. These personality traits translate into a hard-hitting interview style, on The Platform, her headlining current affairs show at ZiFM Stereo. Twice a week for an hour Ruvheneko grills some of the country’s headline makers, her list of past guests includes some heavyweight politicians including her own father, Hon. Dr. David Parirenyatwa, the Minister of Health and Child Welfare. Although she hosts, two other shows, The Y Zone and Health Matters she gets visibly more excited when discussing The Platform. She says it challenges her the most, given politics is such a contentious issue. “I don’t like it when my guests leave too happy, that’s my standard for knowing whether it was a good or bad show. It should never be a PR exercise for the guest,” she states.
Ruvheneko Parirenyatwa is Making a Name for Herself
In her first year at the University of Cape Town, Ruvheneko started hosting a two hour-long South African current events show and loved it. She is a believer in the power of dialogue. “I always said if I am going to do anything and be relevant and change the world, it has to start with dialogue. I firmly believe that everything starts with dialogue, it’s the discussion and then the execution,” she explains. In many ways, she knew that this is what she should be doing, although she describes herself as more of a writer than a speaker. Other people saw the potential in her, “my History and English teachers told me that they could see me one day reading ZTV news and presenting programmes.”

When the opportunity to join ZiFM came, Ruvheneko did her research and then accepted it.

She remembers her initial devastation at only earning a 30-minute show. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise for the Media and English graduate, because it gave her the opportunity to watch and learn from broadcasting legend, Deputy Minister of Media, Information and Broadcasting Services, Hon. Supa Mandiwanzira.* “I volunteered to do it [work with Supa Mandiwanzira] because I knew I’d learn. I’d watch him build the interview and it inspired me. I was in awe of him, in a role model way.” She describes him as a mentor who essentially taught her how to turn news stories into current affairs topics for radio. Although Ruvheneko already had radio experience, she believes that Mandiwanzira’s grooming made her skills even sharper.
After Hon. Mandiwanzira’s resignation due to his ascension to Deputy Minister there was an opening. “I was one of the people that sat in the meeting and said we can’t replace Supa. We had to cancel his show because he was the show. So we created a show along the same lines and they said I could give it a shot,” she recalls. She was admittedly nervous not only to have to try and fill her former boss’s shoes but also to have Zimbabwean politics as the subject of the show. “I took it as such a responsibility and at first I felt so inadequate,” she says. The station decided to ease her into her new position so she could prove that she was up to the challenge. Listening to the confidence and ease with which she hosts her shows, one would not suspect that she had those feelings of self-doubt to begin with.

As a child Ruvheneko did not fully understand her family’s prominence. To her, they were just people she deeply loved and was connected to. “I grew up ndichiendawo kumusha (going to our rural home), we’d have this huge thing on Heroes to celebrate my grandfather and every weekend there would be something to do with family.”The first time she became fully aware that being associated with her family could result in negative experiences was at the age of 13. It was during farm invasions and one of her teachers, a white farmer whose family had been displaced, embarrassed Ruvheneko during class, “I remember her crying and saying something along the lines of ‘ask Ruvhi and her family and her dad, why our family is being hurt, abused and tortured,'” she recalls, “that’s when I realised kuti eish, when it comes to stuff like this, I can be singled out. I could be persecuted for my family. Although I am just Ruvheneko, I am guilty by association.”

She describes that experience as one that changed her and also fostered the candid relationship she now has with her father. “He started to tell me more about our family heritage and how to conduct myself and reminded me that my grandfather had done too much for us to mess it up,” she says. Her father’s advice has been instrumental in helping her adjust to life in the public eye. “I’ve been coached well and I am grateful for that.” She describes him as a friend and speaks of him with deference and admiration.

Despite their close relationship, Ruvheneko does not consult her father about The Platform, as many would expect. She admits that she used to but stopped doing so. Now she simply informs him of what transpires on her show because she realizes that it may affect him. “I tell him, kungovazivisa (so that he is aware). My show is on Monday so Tuesday in Cabinet, he gets it. If there was a show where I grilled any minister, that minister grills my dad. They’re like 'eh, so your daughter zvaakazotiita (what she did to us). Saka Nyathi, zvirikufamba sei kumba kwenyu ikoko (what is happening in your home), you know, we thought we were ZANU, we thought were one.'” She refuses to go into detail about those types of situations but does not seem too bothered by them.

Ruvheneko is aware that simply by doing her job correctly, she is “liability” to her father. But she doesn’t believe that she is doing anything wrong nor does she feel that she has to prove that she is not a ZANU PF mouthpiece. “I’m not hard on people because I want to be, I do it because I’m a professional. Any journalist would do what I do.”

Many wonder whether Ruvheneko can be so bold because of the privilege of her surname or because of the support of her radio station, which was the first private radio station in the country. Perhaps, it is a combination of both. But she believes this is just who she is; she is frank and assertive and she does not compromise on that because “it would bore my listeners,” she says, explaining that Zimbabwean listeners are emotional but intelligent.

“I’ve never felt the need to censor myself, which some people say will be the death of me. Some journalists go to Gaza and they risk their lives and some journalists are like me, and they just want to unearth things.”

She admits that she has gotten into trouble for things she has said on radio but adds, “it’s not trouble that I can’t handle.”

Ruvheneko may be tough on her guests, but she softens when discussing her passion for youth and women empowerment. “I get that I am from a privileged home and I am talking about issues where people are suffering but I think it’s not fair to say that I am out of touch,” she says “I joined the Zimbabwe Youth Council because I wanted to connect with people and the work that we do everyday affects the general populations, so I interact with people who are living in conditions that I don’t live in.” She feels somewhat uneasy about her privilege. “People think that we are favoured and that if you are a Minister’s kid you get a lot opportunities opened up to you,” she states, “I won’t deny that in some cases that is true, you walk into an office and the person says, ‘ah, I know your dad.” She insists that because of the type of person she is, that annoys her. However, she has resigned herself to the fact that it comes with the territory. She would much rather focus on using her privilege to help others.

“I went to university and realized that nobody knew who I was, nobody cared that I was a Parirenyatwa, it just didn’t matter.” This newfound “anonymity” spurred her to start developing and asserting herself as an individual. This is why she prefers to go, simply, by Ruvheneko. “I rarely include the Parirenyatwa,” she says. “You can see people are really treating you differently just because you’re the Minister’s daughter, it’s never really different bad, it’s just different and you can tell.” The independent and ambitious 26-year-old wants to be able to say that everything she has achieved is because of her own efforts.
Ruvheneko Parirenyatwa is Making a Name for Herself
For Ruvheneko, excellence is paramount. She is aware that at any given moment, someone is making assumptions about or has expectations of her because of her affiliations - whether it is because of her family interests, their political ties, or even because she is a newly married. She focuses on what she can control, which is how well she does her job. “You’re only as good as your last show, if you have a bad show, that could have been someone’s first time listening to you.”

She loves what she does, adding that she gets butterflies, each time she goes on radio. “I always tease my dad, I say soon people will be asking you ‘muri baba va Ruvheneko here?’ as opposed to them asking me, are you David’s daughter. It’s really nice that some people know me for radio as opposed to Minister’s daughter. It just makes me happy because that’s my own glory, that’s got nothing to do with David Parirenyatwa or the late Samuel Parirenyatwa.”
Ruvheneko Parirenyatwa is Making a Name for Herself
Editor's Note: A version of this article originally appeared in the Summer 2014 digital issue of Induna Magazine. Released 5 November 2014. Hon. Supa Mandiwanzira is now Minister of ICT, Postal and Courier Services.
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