“There is nothing significant about my story”…
I smiled, and tried to reassure him that, ‘Yes, your story is significant’. His statement, however, was not one of insecurity or a lack of self-worth or even modesty. Instead, it was a statement of concern…
Aden Thomas is an eminent radio presenter who currently hosts the Heart FM breakfast show. He is joined by co-presenters Tapfuma Makina and Julian Naidoo. “We get along famously, it’s like three guys standing with a beer in hand around a fire.” It is precisely this chemistry between the trio, which makes it one of the best breakfast shows airing on radio for the last four years.
Aden’s opening statement alluded to his journey in becoming a radio presenter. “I did what is expected of every young South African.” Attending school is mandatory. “Matric is bare minimum.” Thereafter, you choose an occupation and are trained accordingly. “Sadly, for many it is not achievable, and that because society does not push hard enough.” Only 50% of those who enrol for grade one continue to matric, and only 75% pass. The notion of matric being the benchmark is concerning.
Half of South Africa’s working population earn a salary under the breadline of R577 per month. Many children are forced to drop out of school to find a job to support their families. However, finding employment is not easy considering the high (25.2 %) unemployment rate. These figures are alarming, yet, more than ever, as a society we need to choose to value and prioritise education. When a person is educated they become more employable, and hopefully as a country we can extend the group of tax paying people. Economic freedom starts with valuing education.
As with many others, Aden’s story was not without its challenges. His family moved around a few times which resulted in him attending three different primary schools. The different school environments made him aware of social class groupings. I guess school is where children learn about haves and have-nots… it is called interaction.
The bell rang for second interval; everyone was out on the playground, one boy excitedly announced that he might be getting an en-suite bathroom. Aden was perplexed, mostly because it was the first time that he heard about an en-suite bathroom. He kept quiet, and thought to himself: “Even if I have never seen an en-suite bathroom, at least I should know what it is, or at least I should have come across the word … en-suite?” this left Aden startled for the rest of the day. Aden was known as the kid who knew things. “I used to spend loads of time in the library as a kid; it was the only way I could find out things about the world.” That moment back in standard two/grade four caused him to want to know even more and the en-suite bathroom became a goal, one day he will also have an en-suite bathroom!
for what cause, reason, or purpose
Aden was an inquisitive young boy, who developed the confidence to speak-up and hold an opinion. He always wanted to know Why? Thankfully his family never discouraged him from asking why. This might have been one of the greatest gifts they gave him, except of course, for their love. Consequently, from a young age he held well-defined political views. In standard three/grade five, as part of the curriculum, they had to sing a song about Tant Hessie se witperd. He robustly questioned the teacher on the relevance of the song to their context, “Why are we singing as if we are farmers?” Similarly, in standard six/grade eight, a groentjie at high school, he dared to challenge the teacher on the prescribed English literature, advocating for African literature to be taught instead. “My questioning came from a strong value proposition to myself as a coloured Capetonian boy from Michells Plain. I matter, where I come from is important…Thus I could not comprehend WHY it was not reflected in the curriculum?”
I threw in my own little why? So, I ask him, ‘Why have you not pursued a career in politics?” After an imperative NO, never! He answered, “I found that it can become very self-serving, one has to follow a political agenda and there is a strong difference between what you believe as an activist and what you need to defend politically.”
I was not the only one who saw his potential to be a politician. He was previously offered positions in political organisations, which he impudently declined. “I see myself as an activist, I have a platform and I have been lucky to be able to use that platform to foster debate and keep on questioning and constantly interrogate the Why?” and this also the reason for choosing radio as a medium.
Radio is a platform not only to voice your own opinions but mostly to give people a voice. Aden Thomas, although he can be very amusing, is not about the glitz and glamour of Hollywood. His show is known for insightful conversations.
“Dignity is never silent. It has a voice, heart and soul. Truth and courage is its foundation. It will stand against the masses and speak the truth. Because every great person has always done what others found fear in doing.” ― Shannon L. Alder
One of his most profound conversations on air was with Celeste Nurse, the biological mother of Zephany Nurse. “It was not an easy conversation to have. Her two day old baby was taken out of her arms… them being reunited after seventeen years, did not end in a fairytale.” I love the way Aden positioned the discussion. People were forced to listen. It was not another tabloid story. Celeste Nurse was given a voice.
As much as Aden loves to consume knowledge for himself, he uses his platform to educate and inform others. Following the on air discussion on cyber bullying, many parents messaged Heart FM to say that they had conversations with their children regarding the topic. “It was important to show parents what was happening and it served as a wake-up call.” It also gave victims of cyber bullying a voice.
One of my favourite breakfast show interviews was the one with Amy Kleinhans. I remember as an eight-year old… the image still so vivid in my memory. I was sitting on a bunk bed at my grandmother’s house and I could not understand why she did not win Miss South Africa 1991. She was the most beautiful women and in my opinion the smartest, but never before has a woman of colour won the pageant. I was heavily upset. This might have been the first real inner political conflict that I experienced. The following year Amy made an unprecedented return. As Aden mentioned throughout our conversation, “We too easily accept, NO or defeat…” Amy did not accept second place, and in 1992 she became the first person of colour to be crowned Miss South Africa.
That interview was so gripping, it continued 30 minutes into the next show. I appreciated the fact that Heart FM was not rigged about their programme times and allowed for the interview to come to its full. Amy explained what went through her mind; it was political, she came back not just for herself but for little girls like me. We too are beautiful, smart, and worthy to represent our country on an international platform. Amy was a voice for those who had no platform to be heard and seen. The day of the interview her voice echoed again.
These are just a few examples of what makes Aden’s show special and different. He knows how to be entertaining and crack jokes and at the same time present topics that shape people’s perspectives. He is skilled and gifted to facilitate very needed, and sensitive debates.
I would have loved to share my all-time best Aden Thomas joke; I laughed for the entire day. It was during the Olympics and he introduced Michael Phelps’ baby Boomer, yes Michael Phelps son’s name is Boomer. It was hilarious. When my mother came back from work, I tried to share the joke with her, but I miserably failed. I then tried to share the joke with a friend, but she wasn’t laughing either. I suppose telling jokes are also a skill.
Other than telling jokes, the three of them are really clued up when it comes to both local and international sport. As a sport fanatic, all the more reason to turn on my radio. But be warned, the three of them can be lekke stout…
a profession for which one trains and which is undertaken as a permanent calling
Interestingly, being a radio presenter was not something Aden dreamed about. After matriculating from Groenvlei High in Lansdowne during the early 90ties, the 17-year old decided to give himself a year to grow-up. It was not a structured gap year. He did not travel overseas or volunteered at an NGO. No, Aden played TV games for three months, and it was nothing like an Xbox or PlayStation. For the latter part of his gap year he learned that playing pool was a more sufficient way to kill time, as he could make some money from it. He became a famous hustler at the pub around the corner from where he lived. Beating Aden in pool was perceived as a major achievement, thus people used to invite him to play against them. Now that he has a great paying job, he exchanged the pool table for the golf course. I reckon that it is somehow still the same; you have to use a stick to get the ball into the hole.
Just after Easter, during his gap year, he fortunately realized that there must be more to life than playing games. I, Bianca, always say: “When you do not know where to next, take a few steps back and ask yourself, ‘What is in your hand?’” Aden had a voice, he could hold an opinion, he was eloquent in his reasoning and he had a desire to know things. Subsequently he settled on journalism. “At the start of my first year I was very focused around what I wanted because the course I took wasn’t something that sounded cool in my matric year, I decided that this was what I wanted to do with my life.”
His family was unable to pay for his studies but he refused to allow money to be an obstacle… he was going to have a job, and an en-suite bathroom. Aden was able to secure a bursary for one year. However, for the remaining two years, he paid for his own studies doing odd jobs. “You have to want it badly enough to make the necessary sacrifices.” Aden argued that two years of paying back the money and extending the sacrifices is nothing compared to the advantages that comes with being educated. You will still be better off, starting your adult life with a financial deficit than to not be qualified in the first place.
After three years, Aden qualified as a journalist from CPUT. He did his in-service training at the SABC in Johannesburg, and was fortunate to continue working at the SABC after graduating. Two years later, he asked to be transferred to Cape Town. Over the years he worked within news, talk radio and entertainment. Much of radio life is contract work thus he has moved around a lot. Some of you might remember him from either, Cape Talk, Good Hope FM, or KFM. He also worked at Heart FM when it was still called P4 radio.
His desire to consume, contribute and distribute knowledge has taken him on several other paths outside of radio. He is currently busy with his MBA via Henley Business School in the United Kingdom and often presents management workshops. At one stage of his life he even lectured at CPUT.
Sufficiently great or important to be worthy of attention
The fact that Aden went to school, matriculated, decided on a career and studied in order to pursue a career should not be seen as significant. Neither should his active citizenship be seen as significant. “I refuse this part of my life to be celebrated, because that is what is expected of everyone. We need to set the bench mark high…Our achievements should be a stepping stone for the next generation, they need to go on and do more.”
Every morning on Heart FM breakfast, they have a section called Scholar Holla where Aden speaks to a pupil on air, asking the child what he/she wants to be when they grow up. This is a deliberate effort to spark a dream, and not be sacred to tell the world that you have a dream.
As a society we should encourage the youth to dream big. Everything starts with a dream, and the willingness to work hard to see that dream become a reality. The dream gives purpose to the sacrifice.
Every child should be educated. School is mandatory and matric is bare minimum. Every child should have the opportunity for further education and training. Every South African should be able to have a job. It starts by believing that it is possible, today!
“… first it is impossible, then it is difficult, then it is done.”- James Hudson Taylor