Thursday, August 6, 2015

CNN International correspondent David McKenzie back in South Africa to cover Africa: 'I'm really excited to be covering the continent again'.

Even on a TV news channel that's in the business of news and truth-telling like CNN International (DStv 401), there's one thing that the camera and your TV screen don't fully reveal about the international correspondent David McKenzie: just how tall he really is.

The award-winning correspondent for CNN International who've criss-crossed the globe, just returned to South Africa from Asia to take over from Diana Magnay (who took over from South Africa's Robyn Curnow when she became a CNN anchor in Atlanta late last year).

He is now the new international correspondent for Africa for the news channel.

Formerly CNN International's Nairobi based international correspondent in Kenya for half a decade and then moving to Beijing, China, returning to South Africa is almost a "homecoming" of sorts for David McKenzie.

He's already reported from more than 30 African countries for CNN International - doing stories and venturing to places where most won't dare go, from the Ebola ravaged Sierra Leone and the violence prone oil fields of Sudan to the piracy-plagued coast of Somalia.

"CNN approached me to be based in Johannesburg and I'm really excited to be covering the continent being based out of Africa again," David McKenzie tells TV with Thinus.

"China was an incredible experience, but in a sense this is a homecoming both personally and professionally since I have long experienced covering all parts of Africa during my career. I will be an international correspondent for CNN focusing on South Africa, Africa and wherever else the story takes us," he says.

"Africa is an important story for CNN and we want to make sure it gets the diverse and robust coverage on all our platforms that it deserves."

David McKenzie left South Africa right after high school "and have been pretty much on the road since then," says the intrepid reporter who doesn't mention it but actually graduated from Duke University in the United States and got a Masters in Journalism from New York University.

"I have come back frequently to visit family and for work but this is the first time I have been based in Johannesburg for a long time. It's exciting to be back for sure."

"I missed a lot about South Africa - the people foremost," says David McKenzie. "This is such a diverse country with so many different cultures and backgrounds but most South Africans I meet share a common warmth and cheeky sense of humour that makes this country special," he says.

"I missed the glorious weather of Johannesburg and some of the touches of the familiar like the local newspapers, beers, braais and sports that are just part of the fabric of Johannesburg and South Africa."

Perhaps you've seen the tall David McKenzie on CNN International being manhandled and forcefully removed by much shorter, yet heavy-handed Chinese officials who don't care much for press freedom and who will pull reporters from the streets even if they stand in public spaces but dare to cover "sensitive" stories.

It would be almost comical watching Chinese officials removing someone much taller than them like David McKenzie from Beijing pavements if it didn't involve serious issues like press freedom and harassment of the media.

I ask him what he's learnt from his time based in China and he uses the word "challenging".

"China was an incredible experience and I grew a great deal professionally there. Operating as a journalist in China is challenging and we had to have long-term views on many stories since it took a great deal of effort to put them together."

"For example, our exclusive inside China's Space programme took more than a year to organise."

"Chinese are often warm and generous people and traveling through much of the country, you realise just how diverse the culture, food and language is," he says.

His parents are glad he's back. "My parents are thrilled that I am going to be based in South Africa as they also spent many years overseas but have retired to South Africa and love living here. My mom is constantly giving me story tips."

Of Robyn Curnow, whose excellent coverage of South Africa and especially her authoritative and comprehensive reporting during, and after, the death of former president Nelson Mandela propelled her to an anchor position behind the desk at CNN's headquarters in Atlanta, David McKenzie says she's fantastic.

"Robyn has done amazingly and deservedly well and she is a good friend. I think her show [International Desk with Robyn Curnow] is fantastic and it is great to get her perspective and reporting skills that level of exposure."

Asked if he has similar aspirations perhaps to become a CNN anchor, he's more guarded. "As to my ambitions ... watch this space! I want to conquer this next challenge first," he says.

Having literally traveled thousands of miles, seeing the best and worst of the planet and in people, David McKenzie, like all international correspondents who've done it for a while, becomes part of a different group of people: reporters who relay the news of the world but somehow, luckily, don't lose their sense of wonder about it or their hope for humanity.

I ask him how he feels about Africa and sees the continent, interested to hear what he will say people don't realise and should be more aware of regarding the large continent.

"I think many people don't realise how diverse the continent is and how much each of its 50 plus countries and territories have to offer," says David McKenzie.

"I see the continent as having huge potential and I look forward to covering the breadth of amazing stories in Africa for our global audience. Our African audience is also very engaged, and I look forward to restarting the conversation."