'Becoming Iman' by Iman Rappetti (Pan MacMillan)

She's one of our best known and most well-loved news anchors, having been the familiar face of eNCA as a senior anchor for more than a decade. Among others she’s interviewed former presidents Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma, the venerable Oprah Winfrey, and today hosts radio talk show POWER Talk on POWER 98.7. But who is the real Iman Rappetti? 

For a start Iman (meaning faith) is not the name she was born with. And what many don’t know is that from her humble beginnings in Phoenix, Durban, she took a path that even the bravest would spurn. Rappetti’s memoir is one of the most gripping I have ever read, with not much left to the imagination as she vividly lays bare her life. 

Rappetti was born as Vanessa Lena Rappetti to a coloured mother and an Indian father, which was the start of a difficult childhood as it often played havoc with her identity and spelt further trouble in a traditional, unforgiving Indian family. 

She writes wryly: “Despite putting up a rickety, united front to family and friends, my mother’s ‘colouredness’ and my father’s ‘Indianness’ were their only weapons of destruction. Sometimes it didn’t matter whether the fight originated over burnt curries or burnt feelings ... it always came down to the fact that my father was a greedy, oily coolie, and my mother was a bushman with twisted hair and twisted brains.” 

It is to her mother that she probably owes much of her chutzpah. 

Maureen Jane Smith is a somewhat flamboyant and outspoken woman who, to put it mildly, calls a spade a spade. An entire chapter is dedicated to her and she features prominently throughout the rest of the book. 

A great cook and a mother who withstood many trials and tribulations, she seems like a tough cookie with a heart of gold for those who matter. Rappetti writes about many things that have stood out in her life, dividing them into whimsically titled chapters. The Wounding Years; Aunty You Want Brass; A Green Bakkie and a Biryani Pot, Ai ... those Brown Boys; Chadors, Clerics and Change; and more, much more. 

Her coming of age, her first love, the difficulties of being cool and not so cool in the eyes of her ever critical peers, her father’s death, the close and warm community, are all poignantly related. The defining moment is when Rappetti converts to becoming a devout Muslim and travels with her then-husband to Iran, where she lived and worked for two years. 

She makes much of it sound appealing and paints a portrait of welcoming, and yes human, people, who in the face of a rule of terror still manage to smile and be gracious and kind. 

'Becoming Iman' is beautifully written, with an often wry and poignant sense of humour. I loved the descriptions of the early days in Phoenix where one can almost smell the curries thousands of miles away to the evocative rendering of the holy city of Qom, where one can almost sense the reverence of being spiritual. 

I read it in a day and it’s an inspirational book on many counts – the courage of standing up for who you are no matter what and carrying out your dreams, even in the face of strong criticism. Highly recommended.