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From TikTok star to national TV – How Lilitha got his dream job as an isiXhosa news reader

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It is only the beginning of Lilitha's dreams coming true.
It is only the beginning of Lilitha's dreams coming true.

Hopping into an interview with Drum, he starts off by saying how great the past few months have been.

He has just finished producing the 1pm news bulletin and was about to start with the 7pm news bulletin, which he anchors on SABC.

This has been his life since the first of April when he entered the Johannesburg SABC offices for the first time and not as a fan, but an employee of the national broadcaster.

About four months prior to this day, Lilitha Ntsundwani recorded a video of himself outside the buildings, merely saying that one cannot enter the premises if they are not an official but in a news reader tone. In the very same video, he confidently says that he will one day be allowed entry into the building, because he will be an official.

A few days later, he was escorted into the building by one of the SABC presenters who was following him on social media and when he entered, he recorded yet another video in the studios, reading the news.

Like many of his videos in which he reads the isiXhosa news from the comfort of his home, the video made rounds on TikTok and that’s when the wheels started turning in the direction of his dreams.

“I didn’t even apply at SABC, I got a call from the management that they would like to have me on the isiXhosa news desk.”

When he got the call, he instantly dropped everything in Cape Town and moved to Johannesburg to live his dream.

The now news producer and anchor tells Drum that “I’ve been praying and sweating for this opportunity and finally my dream has come true”.

Many may say that he was just lucky, but he believes he put in the work and all that is unfolding is the fruits of his labour.

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It all started one day during the Covid-19 lockdown when he had just woken up and was sitting on his couch in shorts and in a casual shirt. Without even bothering to shower first, he just started reading out the news.

“I don’t have to edit my talent; my talent can speak for itself, so I don’t have to wear a suit in order to be seen as capable of doing this. I just made sure that I present my talent as raw as it is. I had this belief in me that one day, it is just going to happen.”

The 23-year-old studied chemical engineering at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) but from as far back as he can remember, he’s always been a language enthusiast. Because of this, his passion for isiXhosa news reading came as no surprise.

What kept him moving towards realising his dream though, is what many are not privy to.

“I wanted to change the narrative that people on the isiXhosa news desk are old, people who are not really into social life, people who are very serious about life. So, I worked to such an extent that they can see that I can work and do the work productively.”

He says the inspiration for the videos was living up to his name.

“There should be something within you that is sparked, something that inspires you within you and that thing for me has been my name. I’ve always believed that I’m Lilitha and therefore stand as light. My name is directly translated as ‘he is the light’ so I’ve always believed that no matter the delay, discouragement or devastations that I encounter, I am the light.”

Every now and again, Lilitha reminds himself of his humble beginnings. Having been raised by his grandparents, growing up in the Twecu area in Tsholomnqa, East London, life had no perks.

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All his life, he attended rural schools that would not have a science or maths teacher for as long as six months and the conditions of the school itself would be poor.

During his spare time, he would sell fish at the corners of East London streets for pocket money and winter clothes. Now he fills the shoes of veterans such as Noxolo Grootboom, whom he looks up to.

When Noxolo retired from the SABC last year, “I wrote a whole entire seven minutes poem for her, and it reached her. I remember I had no phone then, but she managed to get hold of me. She was so touched, she cried and that was my way of showing up [being visible] in the eyes and ears of these legends (including Siyabuya Sineke).”

For this reason, he wants to start a foundation that will help children from underprivileged communities to realise their dreams, get educated and never be limited to the borders of small towns and villages.

When given the chance, Lilitha is set on making sure that he takes his language enthusiasm to the world.

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