Zimbabwean Vimbayi Kajese 1st African anchorwoman in Asia

28-year-old Zimbabwean Vimbayi Kajese first came to China for a visit in 2004, then moved to Beijing in 2006. She now works as the early morning news presenter at CCTV-9, the English Channel of China Central Television. She is the first African news presenter on the Chinese Mainland and perhaps the whole of Asia too. Her bright smile, eloquent diction and elegant demeanor have impressed millions of TV viewers and Internet users around the world.

While doing her first degree in the U.S, Vimbayi Kajese won an all-expense paid scholarship trip to China. It was on this trip, in 2004 that she first fell in love with the country. She was fascinated by the culture, the food and of course the people. After completing her undergraduate degree, she chose to leave the United States and pursue a Master’s degree in International Relations and Diplomacy at China Foreign Affair’s University in Beijing. After graduating from CFAU, Kajese decided to stay in China and develop her career.

On November the 27th 2009, we sat down with Ms Kajese at CCTV.com’s headquarters to talk about her experiences. We got a chance to find out how this beautiful young lady views the world through some of the questions you the viewers have been asking about her.

CCTV.com: When people think of Africa, they think jungle, heat and adventure. But what’s the first thing you tell people when they ask you about your continent?

Vimbayi Kajese: You know, people normally associate Africa with wild life and the safaris. But the true essence of Africa that I’d like to stress first and foremost is the people. Unfortunately, through the one-dimensional lens of the media, we the people have been relegated to the background of the wild life spectacle. The real adventure and beauty of Africa is through engagement with us the people; understanding our vastness in terms of cultural, religious and racial diversity; it's too grand to be summed up in a few words, let alone be represented by one person and or one nation alone.

CCTV.com: You’ve had a global upbringing. In all the countries you’ve lived in and traveled to, which one/ones do you like most?

VK: Besides my home country, I can't say that I have a favorite; each country was pertinent for that stage of development I was in at the time.

For example: in Malawi - I was there as a 4 year old - my relationship with my siblings was solidified; In Belgium, I found my taste for classical & techno music, and my love affair with food especially French fries began; In Zimbabwe - as a teen - I was reconnected with my cultural values, my extended family, and in essence my ‘Zim’ identity; In the US, I truly found myself and honed my skills as a communicator and a writer; And in China, I feel here is where it's all coming together. It’s a big deal for me now at this point in my life… to make China my second home away from Zimbabwe and truly base myself here.

(China is about the 8th country Kajese has lived in, out of almost 30 she’s traveled to.)

CCTV.com: How did you get the job at CCTV?

VK: (Sighing) It took a lot of perseverance. While I was learning how to produce news pieces at one of the big international news agencies here in Beijing, I contacted CCTV in January this year, made calls and sent emails to let them know I was interested. My information got past around, and after many long silences, I wasn't sure if they'd actually put me, a Black woman on the main news. In fact many people, even those that worked here (at CCTV) were skeptical and thought it was highly unlikely, because I was African and it had never been done before. But, after a few screen tests, voice training sessions, prayer, positive thinking and the opening up of this new morning shift (5am – 9am)…eight months later I was anchoring my first program.

CCTV.com: What qualities do you think are necessary to have in order to be a news presenter?

VK: To do this job, it helps to love the news. And boy do I. I never get tired of talking about it. (Smiling) So now that I do it for a living, I can spare my friends having to sit through hours of my news monologues and current affairs opinions. It also takes a confident person who's willing to put themselves out there and someone that speaks with a fairly clear and articulate accent. Being from Zimbabwe and having a Zimbabwean accent, definitely helps in this respect.

CCTV.com: What did you expect when you got job?

VK: I’ll tell you what I didn't expect (laughing)… I didn’t expect that this schedule and literally ‘living in a parallel time zone’, would rule my life. And I must say, it's not been easy on my friendships, and certain relationships, but the people close to me are very supportive and we're slowly getting more in sync.

Also, I wasn’t expecting so much media attention, so soon. In the past month I've been inundated with interview requests and I've had to be quite selective with whom I talk to. I was very hesitant at first; I was even scared to tell my bosses because I'm still new, I'm still learning, I'm still figuring out my own style, and I have a long way to go before I feel I can be a credible spokeswoman for my role as the first African news anchor, let alone CCTV. CCTV has been here way longer than me. I just felt I needed more time to settle in before I deserved any acknowledgment. But, after getting my bosses ‘blessings’, per se to go ahead with the interviews - the reactions and responses have been so encouraging, especially from Chinese viewers and the African viewers that the interviews have attracted. I do feel now that I did the right thing by speaking to the media.

CCTV.com: You read the news very early in the morning. Can you describe your typical workday?

VK: (Smiling) I love talking about my schedule; it makes for great dinner party conversation, because I can’t believe how surreal my life is now. I broadcast between 5am and 9am on the hour, nearly every hour from Monday to Wednesday one week, and Monday to Thursday every other week.

So what this means is that I must be up and out of bed showering and eating breakfast between 2:00 - 3:00am.

3:40 - I’m in a taxi, telling a sleepy taxi driver to speed across the west side of town

4:00 - I’m in makeup

4:30 - If I’m lucky, I may have just a few minutes to check the script

4:50 - script gets printed

4:55 - script gets put in my hands

4:57- positioning myself in front of camera and going over stories with director through earpiece

5:00 - clearing my throat and reading headlines… making edits with my pen as I read the news to you. (Chuckling) Half the time I can’t even see the edits I’ve made on the teleprompter.

6:00 - 9:00 - the process repeats itself 30 minutes before every broadcast…

10:00 - 2:00pm - I arrive home from the subway, eat lunch do an interview, have a meeting or catch up with friends

2:00 – 5:00 – I’m in bed

5:00 – 9:00 – I work out, eat dinner, catch up with work and am back in bed

2:30 am – Wake up!

CCTV.com: What are your biggest challenges on the job?

VK: My biggest challenges are: One, managing my body clock and looking alert very early in the morning; Two, reading for extended periods at a time without a break to take a sip of water or clear my throat; Plus three, I don't write my own scripts. That can be challenging when you don't express yourself in the same way as the author of the script you’re reading. The CCTV newsroom is very international, I always joke it’s like having several dialects of English floating around. It definitely helps keep the writing varied and rich, and I’ve managed to identify a few writers that are familiar with the way I speak…so that helps make my presenting job easier.

CCTV.com: How has this job changed your lifestyle?

VK: These days I don't take things for granted and I’m very thankful for everything. I know it took a lot of generous people, especially in China to get me where I am today. This means that I have to make my health a priority, especially since I’m working against nature's clock.

I can't afford to be sick and especially lose my voice; this means I can't be around smokers during the week when I’m broadcasting. And if I feel a cold coming a long I rush to the doctor and sort it out immediately. Before I would wait it out, but when I get a sore throat, my voice normally disappears for a few days, especially with the air conditions in Beijing. I also work out and eat very healthy and have learnt to take much needed power naps in between those very early morning broadcasts.

Another big change, is I'm now a regular at massages, getting facials, buying tons of skin care products and worrying about pimples; these are things I normally wouldn't have cared about until now.

CCTV.com: How do your parents feel about all this?

VK: My parents are the best parents anybody could ask for. My mom and dad have always been so proud and supportive of everything I do, even if what I’ve wanted to do in the past didn’t make sense to them at first. They watch my every broadcast, even the rebroadcasts. This means, because of the time difference with Zimbabwe, they start watching at 11pm and stay up till like 3 in the morning. (They wake up at 5 am to start their day). They’re hooked, and have everyone in ‘Zim’ AND the whole of Africa tuned into CCTV.

CCTV.com: CCTV International won a Hot Bird TV award and you were the one who got to broadcast this news. What does this prize mean to you, and to CCTV?

VK: You know I was so lucky and honored that that story came on my shift. I was so excited, and I'm sure it showed when I finally got to read it. I wanted to smile the whole broadcast through, but I couldn't, because some of the stories before that were serious and sad. I felt so proud that I was part of something great. My parents were the first to send a congratulations message. It’s just a testament to the fact that CCTV is doing something right. Not everything about the channel is perfect; CCTV is transitioning and evolving, but that award is a definite indication that the channel is heading in the right direction.

I think this award should inspire all of us at CCTV to continuously better our game, so that we can be the first news destination people consider when they want news about China and Asia, and not turn to western media. It also means, being aware of where our audience is and who they are and making sure the ‘China story’ is made relevant to them. The reason I say this is because, China-Africa relations on a government to government level, far exceeds the reality on the ground, that is China-Africa relations on a people to people basis. We (Chinese and Africans) still don’t understand why we’re so important for each other or why we’re even in each other’s countries. So, we (the people) need to catch up with our countries’ bilateral relations and I see the media, especially CCTV playing a big role in this respect. To make the ‘China story’ relevant, for example, we could have an African cultural/travel show that showcases how different Chinese communities, have integrated in our (African) countries; their challenges, their hopes etc. This would be a great way to keep the different audiences engaged, learning about each other, and finding solutions to problems. Then the other side of this type of show could be African communities in different parts of China… the lists of how to make the ‘China story’ relevant are endless.

CCTV.com: How easy was it to stay rooted in your Zimbabwean culture while abroad and how do you feel about adopting another country’s culture as your own?

VK: It was easier for the first half of my life because, no matter where I was in the world, I always came home to a Zimbabwean home, to Zimbabwean food and to Zimbabwean values. So, although I was raised with many influences, my core, and the cultural lens through which these influences are filtered, is Zimbabwean. This is how I was raised. Now that I haven’t lived with my family for nearly 10 years, the best way for me to stay in rooted in my culture is to always to be in touch with home… to always go home. I try and do this twice a year, if I’m lucky. The reason why my siblings and I can even consider ‘Zim’ as our home, is because at some point in our lives, my parents decided to stop accepting job postings around the world, so that we kids could spend a significant time of our lives in a pure ‘Zim’ environment, reconnecting with the rest of our family.

As for adopting part of another country’s culture, I feel what’s the point in being in another country if you can’t integrate it with your own in some way? “When in Rome do as the Romans do”, right? This is why I wear traditional Chinese jackets on TV. It’s my way of showing the world my appreciation for Chinese fashion and culture, and making it a part of my daily life. I now have a lot of international viewers asking me where I get my clothes from, what’s the name of the cut, who the designer is etc.; I also have a Chinese name, ‘Kang Wen Ying’ (康雯颖) that I’ve used for the past six years. Creating these types of cultural intersections makes for great learning opportunities for those that want to learn more about China.

CCTV.com: Besides being the “Face of Africa for China and China for Africa”, what are your current endeavours and future plans to help promoting such relations?

VK: Well, I hope at some point my government sees it fit to post me here as Ambassador. (Laughing) I think I would have earned my ‘stripes’ by then. (Jokingly) It’s just a dream. In the meantime, I volunteer my time building certain organizations that are still in their embryonic stages. For example, I am the PR and Media Counselor for YAPS (Young African Professionals and Students). We essentially are one of those tools that I talked about earlier that can help China-Africa relations on the ground, catch up with the China-Africa relations at the top. We live the China experience, we speak Chinese and we have the technical skills and cultural know-how to work for China-Africa businesses as well as advise incoming delegations from our countries. If you think about it, we are Africa’s Ambassadors when we are here, and China’s Ambassadors when we go back to our countries. We want to promote everything positive about China-Africa relations, to help eliminate misunderstandings between our nations through interactive, entertaining and creative events.

I’ve also been asked to start an African Media Association here in China. We need to create a space to discuss how we are going to rebrand Africa in an alternative light to the media, to China and to the rest of the world.

I’m also involved in CSR, (corporate social responsibility) under the China-Africa umbrella. I volunteer my time with ‘The Charitarian’ magazine as a commentator. I think China is doing a lot to lead the way for emerging markets, and I enjoy thinking up ways and strategies, to advise companies here on how they can do business the right way: by engaging with communities; by developing communities… essentially making sure that the things that I’m passionate about, (woman’s issues, orphans, the environment etc) are taken care of. Eventually, these are the blueprints I hope to one day implement in my own country and others, when these same companies come a’ knocking.