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A nice, safe job in a government department is what Collen Lemawane had in mind in his early student days at the former University of North-West in Mahikeng.

Instead, he found himself catapulted into the public eye as a broadcasting professional and, most recently, an author. “I was afraid of challenges and wanted a comfort zone, so I thought, ‘Government, I’m coming!’ and enrolled for a degree in public administration in 1991,” recalls Collen, business presenter and specialist producer on the SABC’s 24-hour news channel, and author of the book Why broke when there’s so much info?

Then one fine day on campus, his career aspirations took a radical new turn.

He was a member of the entertainment committee of the Student Representative Council (SRC), which had set up a public announcement system in front of the cafeteria. On the spur of the moment, Collen started playing music and pretending he was reading the news.

“People said it sounded just like a real radio station, and when auditions were announced at the broadcasting centre next to the campus, they said, ‘Collen can do it!’”

Collen gave it a try and the Bophuthatswana Broadcasting Corporation offered him a job on the spot. “I qualified to be an on-air professional right there, without any preparation!”

Always finish what you start

He wasn’t willing to abandon his public administration studies, though. “I don’t like starting things and not finishing them,” he says. “Academically, I had to finish that degree. Then I started something I loved the most.”

That was broadcasting, of course, and Collen thrived on it. He presented the news on three radio stations (Radio Mmabatho, Radio Sunshine and Radio Bop) and was a television anchor on Bop TV’s Eight o’ Clock Live show – all at the same time. Collen was also a presenter of a music programme called “Di a Kurutla” on Mmabatho TV in the late 90s. “I became an all-rounder, producing, reporting and presenting for radio and TV.”

It all stopped abruptly in 2003 when the “Bop era” came to an end and its broadcasting arm was shut down. All homeland broadcast institutions, known as TBVC state broadcasters (Transkei, Bophuthatswana, Venda and Ciskei) were incorporated into the SABC.

So Collen went back to his alma mater to study his true passion, emerging with an honours degree in communication. His broadcasting career was soon back on track at the SABC, where Collen’s career has gone from strength to strength. (See text box for details.)  That’s not to say he hasn’t had his share of setbacks. Four years ago, Collen had an experience that tested his courage and ultimately opened up new doors.

Courage put to the test

In 2012, shortly after completing the Comrades and Two Oceans marathons, Collen experienced severe headaches and collapsed. “I fell to the ground and was paralysed from the waist down.”

He was admitted to hospital for a lengthy stay. While wheelchair bound, Collen became deeply concerned about his personal finances. Instead of giving in to panic, he put his thoughts down on paper – or, to be more precise, cell phone. “I wrote it all on my phone while I was in hospital.”

Three years later, in May 2016, what started as notes on a cell phone became a book on personal finances and financial freedom. “Why Are You Broke? When there is so much information about MONEY.” Has been exceptionally well received, and he is already working on his next book.

Anchor, producer and now author … Collen is squarely in the public eye and looks set to stay there. So much for a nice, safe job in the public service.