Catherine Kasavuli’s battle with cancer became public knowledge for the first time on November 7, 2022 when a blood appeal in her name hit social media.
It was shocking; especially to her fans who were happy about her comeback on TV in June 2021, when state broadcaster Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC), relaunched and brought back veteran anchors to grace its set.
In 2018, while on syndicated comedy show ‘Churchil Live’, Kasavuli shared publicly that she would make a comeback.
“I plan to go back on TV in the very near future. But on a different platform: that shall be unveiled very soon,” she told Churchill while responding to the question.
And in 2021 it happened. Kasavuli was called back to KBC to be part of a weekend bulletin christened ‘Legends Edition’.
“We brought her back because she was a pioneer in the broadcasting industry – especially among ladies,” says Sam Maina, the current Managing Director of KBC.
Maina, who was the Editor-in-Chief at the time, says he too grew up watching Kasavuli on TV.
“You cannot list female TV broadcasters in Kenya without saying the name Catherine Kasavuli. She will feature among the first three,” Maina says.
Up until she became very ill, Kasavuli read the 9 O’clock bulletin on KBC every Saturday. The Legend’s Edition, says Maina, was the highest-rated bulletin – with the largest viewership– at the station: something that could partly be credited to Kasavuli’s star-power attraction.
As the first female TV broadcaster in Kenya, Kasavuli inspired many girls to join the media. Many of the high-flying female news anchors today were mentored – whether partly or extensively – by her.
“We all wanted to be Catherine Kasavuli when we grew up but there was only one Catherine Kasavuli,” says Lilian Muli of Citizen TV.
Muli says Kasavuli did her screen test when she was a newbie at Kenya Television Network (KTN) in 2006. “She gave it a nod and the bosses liked it,” Muli recalls.
Kasavuli began her career in broadcast as a Radio Continuity Announcer on Voice of Kenya (VOK) – later renamed KBC. She switched to television while still with the state broadcaster in 1985.
In March 1990, the first privately owned television station, KTN, was launched. Kasavuli was part of the pioneering team that attracted viewership to KTN; which rose to be the favourite TV station among Kenyans.
In a press statement, the CEO of Standard Media Group – which owns KTN – took note that Kasavuli was an inspiration.
‘We are grateful and honoured to have worked with her over the years and we appreciate her immense contribution to the phenomenal growth of KTN, the Standard Group, and the media industry at large,’ the statement read in part.
As soon as the news of her demise was put out, tributes from Kenya’s who-is-who began pouring in via social media.
The first family, led by President William Ruto, sent forth messages of condolence.
‘Catherine was a cheerful, articulate and intelligent news anchor who took to television with unprecedented flair,’ the president wrote.
The first lady on her part praised Kasavuli’s work ethic and professionalism, further adding, ‘Even if you did not enjoy the news, you enjoyed watching how gracefully she delivered it.’
KANU leader Gideon Moi took note that Kasavuli was a reflection of analytical and professional journalism, “demonstrated through her stellar career in the newsroom,” while the leader of the opposition, former Prime Minister, Raila Odinga, chose to highlight her trailblazing traits; mentioning that many women joined the profession due to her captivating presence.
While in the hospital, Kasavuli hosted government dignitaries who took the time to pay her a visit. Among them were cabinet secretaries Ababu Namwamba (Sports and Youth Affairs) and Susan Nakchumicha (Health).
Her colleague at KBC, and a veteran in his own right, Tom Mboya, played the guitar at Kasavuli’s bedside just a week before her demise Thursday night.
In a 2018 appearance on Churchill Show, Kasavuli, in way of advising young people, said: “Everyone has a special gift. Please use it. Don’t sit on it.”
It was a powerful message from a befitting figure. Kasavuli had made herself a household name using her special gift: the ability to read and deliver news with a crisp voice; enunciating every word with a skill that left many viewers satisfied.
“She was a very kind person who made her mark and contribution in broadcast journalism with flare and professional excellence,” says Raphael Tuju who read news with Kasavuli at KTN in the 1990s.
This year, in May 2022, during the Annual Journalism Excellence Awards (AJEA), organized and presided over by the Media Council of Kenya (MCK), Kasavuli won the Legends Award. But even without the award, Kasavuli’s legendary status is indisputable.
The following are just a few of the condolence messages by prominent Kenyans for Catherine Kasavuli.
‘Saddened by the demise of the Legendary Journalist and Broadcaster Catherine Kasavuli who graced our TV screens in the 80s, 90s and early 2000s. My sincere condolences to her family, relatives and friends during this moment.’ – National Assembly Speaker Moses Wetangula.
‘Rest in Peace Catherine Kasavuli. I grew up admiring your prowess, beauty and skills when reading the news. [I] used to imitate [you] and later followed the same career path. You were indeed a great trailblazer.’ – Hon. Naisula Lesuuda.
‘The epitome of grace and poise on our screens. What a gift to our industry and certainly our nation. Thank you Katherine Kasavuli for sharing your light with us.’ – Victoria Rubadiri.
‘Catherine Kasavuli – she dies bigger than the TV Set. Her beauty, charm and delivery of News, Memorable. Her professional Tonal Variation was all the Volume needed. With her death, journalism loses a Mother of the Art. God comfort her Family.’ – Dennis Itumbi.
‘It is with great sorrow that I receive the news about the death of Catherine Kasavuli, a veteran news anchor at KBC that graced our screens with news in the early years of broadcasting in Kenya and came back with the legends edition in the same station.’ – Abdulswamad Sherrif Nassir.