This is Jacqui Hlongwane’s acceptance speech for the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Nelson Mandela Children’s Film Festival 2023 which she was awarded with during a breakfast session on 28 July 2023 held at the Santuary Mandela, Houghton Estate, Johannesburg…

It’s the end of the year, 11 December 2022, my last week of work, I am exhausted after another crazy year and juggling between work, exams and being a parent. On this particular Sunday afternoon, I am minding my own business and am at Checkers doing my grocery shopping when out of the blue and completely unexpected, I get a WhatsApp message from Firdoze Bulbulia saying something like, “we would like to honour you in the Nelson Mandela Children’s Film Festival 2023 for your work in Children’s television.”

Firstly, I had read the message more than two times to ensure that I had understood it properly. The people in the cereal isle must have thought I was either mad or something bad had happened to me because I just started wailing in the middle of the shop. I just couldn’t believe it! Anybody that knows me knows that I love and have an affinity for children’s programmes and if I look at my career, it has always been biased towards kids content. I guess because teaching is my calling. After qualifying at the University of the Witwatersrand with my BA degree, Higher Diploma in Education, I started my career as a teacher at St Endas’ Secondary School in Hillbrow in the early 90s. It was at this point that I realised the enormous responsibility that had been bestowed upon me, to give children the necessary skills they need to go out into the world in order to thrive and succeed. Teaching is about building their self-confidence and helping children to find their voice and space in the world. There is nothing more rewarding for a teacher than seeing your students get excited when they finally understand different concepts; when they start to make connections and have their individual light bulb moments. Their eyes light up like the stars that they are. 

Just after the dawn of our democracy, in October 1994, I joined the SABC Education Department. Joining the Public Broadcaster meant that I could make a bigger impact in children’s lives beyond a classroom. Once again, I quickly understood the even bigger responsibility of ensuring that we produced wholesome content that was going to build our children holistically so that when their time comes, they can lead this nation into prosperity. 

In the words of Dr Dharmakanta Kumbhakar: “Children are the supreme assets of a nation. Our children are the potential and useful human resources for the progress of a nation. Ignoring or neglecting the children means wasting the supreme national asset and is a loss to the nation as a whole.”

Fast forward 7 months, then I received an official letter from Firdoze confirming that I was the recipient of this year’s lifetime achievement award for the NMCFF. Well I have to tell you that I had another moment. Firstly because I just couldn’t reconcile the fact that I was a recipient of a lifetime achievement award. I thought lifetime achievement awards were for elderly people like my dad who is present here today. Am I that old? 

But on a serious note. Firdoze and Faith, I would like to thank you most sincerely for this acknowledgement. It is truly an honour for me. Thank you for seeing me, thank you for noticing my work. I have to say that both of you have been my inspiration throughout my career very soon after I started working at the SABC. I have watched you and Faith traveling the world championing the Rights of Children and creating amazing content for this often-neglected audience when it was not fashionable to do. Your work has touched the lives of so many children in the continent and the world over and continues to do so. Through the years, your love and passion for kids television has always inspired me and through you I understood the enormous responsibility that we carry as media practitioners in ensuring that we curate and produce content  for kids that will not only entertain them but more importantly content that will build, educate, inspire and ensure that our children become independent and critical thinkers that are well-informed to take this country and continent to the next level. It has always been important for me that we produce content that would affirm the African child first and fore most. 

So whether it was TeleSchool for which I was a presenter, Take 5, that I conceptualised in Paris in 1996, France after a 6-week producer’s course, Looking Back Moving Forward, a programme hosted by the great mam Gcina Mhlophe that taught kids about their history; Let’s Meet which introduce children to role models such as Sol Plaatjie, Miriam Makeba, Ian Player and of course Nelson Mandela, Tshisimane, I was also part of the team that cocreated  Takalani Sesame, together with Sesame Workshop which was first launched in South African in the year 2000 and went on to win the Peabody Award in 2005 and the Japan Prize; Kids News Room which has been on air for more than 18 years, in 2006 was awarded the highly recommended prize at the 26th Commonwealth Broadcasting Association General Conference; World Kids News an Internet-based Kids News Show that featured stories from 3 continents won a Mip Junior Prize in 2010); Lights, Camera, Action, the children’s short films such as LuckyMbiya and his CowStrangers, which all went to win the Best International Children’s Films at the annual, CIAK Junior Festival in Italy in the early 2000s; the recently launched The SMZee ShowBehind the Rainbow (finalist at the 2020 Prix Jeunesse) and many more. I have always tried to approach children’s content with the utmostsensitivity and understanding that these programmes were going to be watched by millions of children.

I am most honoured to receive this lifetime achievement award together with NHK, Japan’s Public Broadcaster, who I was introduced to in 1996 and since then has been a long-standingpartner with the SABC. The NHK is well known for its outstanding work in educational content especially for children. 

I would not have achieved any of this were it not for the SABC, my current employer of the last 28 years. The truth is that I would not have done or achieved any of these things had it not been for the SABC’s ongoing and unwavering support in giving me so many opportunities and the freedom to create and over see so many new properties for kids over the years.

In this regard, I would like to thank my team, my line manager and Head of SABC 2, Gerhard Pretorius, David Makubyane, Head of Platforms, Lala Tuku, Head of Content and Merlin Naicker, the Group Executive of Video Entertainment. I would also like to thank my previous bosses such as mam Yvonne Kgame and Nomsa Philiso for their belief in me, for their trust and their support. It really does take a village to raise a child.

Lastly, I would like to thank my family and friends, Thando Shozi who is here this morning, and my dad Sipho Hlongwane who has always been in my corner cheering me on, my kids, Asante and Karibu and my sister Shirley and of course my late mom, Jane Hlongwane who herself had a very soft spot for kids.

As we close Mandela month, I really want to say that it is truly an honour to be receiving this award that is named after one of the most remarkable, loved and respected statesmen the world over, uTat’u Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, uMadiba. It is really such a surreal moment to even be in this space knowing that this is the house that he resided in. I recognise the significance of this moment and this award really spurs me on to continue to fight for the rights of the children of our country. Our children are in distress; our children are going through a lot of trauma, our children our crying out for help and our looking to us to do the right thing. 

And in the words of Nelson Mandela. Together as a nation, we have the obligation to put sunshine into the hearts of our little ones. They are our precious possessions. They deserve what happiness life can offer. History will judge us by the difference we make in the everyday lives of children.

Our children are the rock on which our future will be built, our greatest asset as a nation. They will be the leaders of our country, the creators of our national wealth, those who care for and protect our people.

In closing, I am truly humbled by this recognition and thank you Firdoze and Faith, from the bottom of my heart. Ngiyabonga!

Jacqui Hlongwane is the SABC’s Programmes Manager