Riaan's Roots: Where is he from?

2009-06-19 13:53
riaan cruywagen
 Riaan Cruywagen is an icon of South African culture. You know you've made it when you become an internet meme - although Riaan isn't so impressed by pictures of him as a dog with a shiny brown wig, or unchanged through the decades: "I have my own, exceptionally good sense of humour and don't need to surf the internet in search of jokes about myself. What other people say about me on the web does not interest me at all and leaves me stone-cold. I don't respond to it either. I only use the internet for serious research purposes, and nothing else."

Right. That sorts that out - and when you speak to Mnr Cruywagen, you don't feel inclined to contradict him much. His voice has that athletic quality mingled with the authority gained from being not just South Africa but the world's longest-surviving TV icon. In fact, he was live on TV the first time TV was live South Africa. What was that day like? How did it all go down?

"The tension in the studio was tangible and the adrenalin was flowing freely," he says. "That first broadcast was the culmination of intensive training, immaculate planning and the realisation that a successful first broadcast would set the standard for the following days, weeks, months and years. All the big bosses were in the control room to witness the marvel of live television in South Africa. I dare say that the Big Brother(s) watching over our shoulders added to the tension!"

Speaking of Big Brothers, what about the double-speak - then and now? When reading the news, has Riaan ever feel what he was reading wasn't true? How did he handle his role as the trusted face of someone else's words?

He had no difficulty with his newsreader role, he says, because "I never had any reason to believe that we ever fabricated news. Although I don't have any editorial role in my news bulletins, I would like to believe that my integrity and impartiality add to the credibility of the news that I present. At the ‘new' SABC, after 1994, an editor-in-chief of TV News once referred to me as "The Face of News". That was one of the nicest compliments I ever received and I will always treasure it."

Like other South African celebrities, Riaan Cruywagen recently went in search of his roots, and discovered new things about himself and his family. He claims he went into the process with no assumptions. As he puts it: "I always prefer to concern myself with empirical facts."

He discovered that his ancestors shared a common denominator – an urge to be free. "Freedom from British imperialism is what my grandfather fought for in the Anglo Boer War. His father (my great-grandfather) was taken prisoner of war and sent to a camp at Bellary in the South of India, while the women and children had to endure appalling conditions in the British concentration camps."

How did he react to his discoveries? Well, he says, "It made me understand and appreciate why Emily Hobhouse had castigated her own country for its actions during the war and came to the aid of the devastated and impoverished enemy. But I also learnt that the urge to be free cannot be suppressed indefinitely, that freedom is incalculably precious to every society.

Unlike other celebrities we spoke to, he didn't mind which historical villain he might find out he was connected to, but when focussing on the positive, he admits he would like to be related to "Any great composer, writer, artist... without skeletons in the cupboard."

Discover your own roots and heritage on Ancestry24. Watch the final expisode of the series, featuring HPP at 20h00 on Sunday 28th June.

TV Icon Riaan Cruywagen opens up about his roots and his role in SA broadcasting history.

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