Gareth Cliff – A Dry White

20 Apr

Gareth talking at gabs food and wine show 2012

The first time Gareth Cliff makes an entrance into the Monsieur’s sphere of existence was when he was getting a live beating on Twitter for daring to call a spade a spade. Thing is he was already notorious, infamous and yes, quite famous too for that trait. On this particular occasion the spade in question was South Africa’s then recently deceased Minster of Health, Mantho Tshabalala-Msimang. Honestly I laughed, god rest her soul, but sparking a ‘twar’ that drew a nice fat line in the Twitter sand box neatly separating black from white South Africans was already old. It was more fun to look at the issues being fired back and forth at 140 characters a second.

The main thing I gleaned from the resultant radio interviews, blog posts and newspaper articles was that this Gareth Cliff dude was one tough lekgoa yo. Sure we Africans don’t like to speak ill of the dead, however the Cliff had a point… he could have introduced it better. Anyway that was when Cliff first reared his blond head into my sights.

Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, what comes to mind today when you hear that name?

She was a minister in dereliction of her duties for the duration of her time in cabinet. Millions died needlessly because of her resistance to anti-retroviral drugs and the academic debate about the link between HIV and AIDS which was nothing short of pseudo-science.

Do you still get a side eye from some people for your opinions about Tshabalala-Msimang?

Many would agree with me.

What did people miss when you were trying to make your point about the minister?

There’s this idea that the dead must be respected regardless of their deeds.

Do you think before you tweet?

Yes, mostly. Like all humans, we are prone to say things without thinking from time to time. Twitter is no different.

Gareth on decks at gabs food and wine show 2012

Well, there it is, a perfectly rational dude, and though the Monsieur doesn’t listen to 5FM much, I liked him already… I mean, I do follow him on Twitter. Anyway, there is more to Gareth Cliff than my first time paying attention to him. Many people in Botswana may know him mainly from the very popular Dstv reality show, Idols. Several more people that like nice things will now recognise him from gracing the inaugural Gaborone Food and Wine Show at Airport Junction (Gabs) in November 2012.

Briefly, the 35 year old Cliff’s FB page says, ”Gareth Cliff is a tall, blue-eyed man from Pretoria, the capital city South Africa. His ancestors oppressed many people over their 300-400 year tenure in Africa. Gareth intends to remedy this with a terrific radio show.” I can’t argue with that, if it were up to the Monsieur to forgive him for something his ancestors did, that Mantotweet episode was payment enough. 35 years old and pulling serious numbers on his 6AM to 9AM radio show on 5FM is Cliff’s current calling. We meandered a bit through his career.

When did the radio bug first bite?

Oh I think I’ve always loved radio. I used to listen to morning shows on the way to school and I loved the idea of storytelling, of painting pictures with words. It’s magic.

At what point did you feel that you had found your thing?

I don’t know… I like entertaining people, having conversations.

What is about radio that brings you back every day?

It’s unpredictable, exciting, real.

If you were ever to leave the world of broadcasting, what would you do?

Make sandwiches.

Who was your radio hero, the person the inspired you to go into broadcasting?

I don’t really have a role-model, but I do look up to John Berks. I always loved the way he sounded, the way he was so comfortable behind the mic.

John Berks…? I don’t know… the Monsieur rather hoped he would say DJ Fresh, I mean… tattoos, a twisted sense of humour and more compilations released then there are haters at an R Kelly concert… winning!

How aware are people that DJ Fresh is from Botswana, and do they really care?

I think a lot of people do, but Botswana isn’t that far away or that different. I think we feel like we’re in the same family. The fact that SeTswana is such a widespread and important language here in SA makes the ties even closer.

But you see now, a hint at how clued up Cliff is about his country. Being on radio is not actually as easy as the best broadcasters make it sound. One of the questions I asked Cliff was simply…

Is the “New South Africa” ready to just be South Africa yet? 

Ha ha ha. I’m glad you asked that. We could learn a lot from Botswana about moving forward.

Don’t let that modest and democratic answer fool you, Gareth is very vocal about what he expects from his government. Radio isn’t his only weapon of choice, he writes too… open letters, blogs, books, and my personal favourite – the tweets.

Gareth at gabs food and wine show 2012

I deliberately didn’t ask about the book, I think it’s painful to get a person to big up their written work, rather go buy it and make up your own mind. The book is called ‘Gareth Cliff on Everything’ its 240 pages of opinion, basically pure unadulterated Cliff in page form. There is hardly anything he doesn’t have an opinion on, believe me the Monsieur tried to ask all manner of things…

In your opinion why is Idols relevant to the entertainment industry?

I don’t know. It’s just a good TV show. Let’s not get carried away.

If you were ever going to be the subject of a Roast, who would you least like to have roast you?

I haven’t thought about it. I don’t think I’d do a roast.

What is the secret to a long successful career in radio broadcasting?

I don’t know. I haven’t been there long enough to start speaking of durability or success. Ask me in another ten years.

What do you think was Riaan Cruywagen’s secret to looking exactly the same for the whole time he has been on tv?

I heard he is a vampire.

For the many of us that do not know of the undead looking legend of SABC TV called Riaan Cruywagen. He is that funny corpse that was wise cracking with Sipho Hotstix Mabuse at the SAMAs in 2012. Speaking of which Randal Abrahams did the wise thing and returned the awards to Sun City just down the road from Gabs City… but anyway, one last question.

If you were a wine, which one would you be?

A dry white.

Gareth Cliff: on air personality, all round good guy, quick draw tongue-slinger. Yes, well one sip out of the Manto shaped glass and the Monsieur was hooked.

*An abridged and quite different version of this article was first published in Lapologa Magazine

Photos – Lapologa Magazine (Taken at Gaborone Food & Wine Show)

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