Ringing in a new news era

2014-02-09 14:00

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Cellphones had ­become all the rage in South Africa and Radio 702 was among the first to test them.

This fundamentally changed the game for radio reporters. Previously, we had to rush to the nearest public phone and reverse-charge the call or beg local shop owners to let us use their phone.

Now we had portable, mobile phones. We could be in the middle of nowhere and still get the story out, as long as there was a cellphone signal. No matter that these cellphones were larger than my head – we could cover an election in a way that had never been done before.

My job was to follow Nelson Mandela wherever he went. I was like his shadow in 1994 with my clumsy radio equipment on one shoulder and this giant brick of a cellphone on the other.

Ever solicitous and always a bit of a flirt, Madiba would without fail offer to carry my equipment and inquire ­whether I was hungry. On the day that Mandela voted for the first time – symbolically in KwaZulu­Natal, which had been the epicentre of violence – we were able to broadcast the moment live as it happened.

After Mandela had cast his vote, I nagged him for that all-important ­interview. I was getting nowhere, though, as his bodyguards rushed him to the official convoy and slammed the car door shut.

But then I saw a gap. The crowd was so large that the convoy could only inch forward very slowly and Mandela’s car window was open.

I shoved my huge cellphone through the window into his hands, signalling that he should listen and start talking. Seconds later, he was live on air with news host Chris Gibbons.

By now the bodyguards were anxious to be off as crowds were pressing against the convoy and Mandela had to fly back to Johannesburg on the same day.

He carried on doing the interview as the convoy started pulling out of the ­area with me chasing them on foot, ­desperate to get my precious new ­mobile phone back.

As the interview concluded and the driver put his foot on the accelerator, I was knocking frantically on Mandela’s now-closed window, breathlessly ­requesting my phone. Seconds later the window was rolled down and, with that famous smile, he handed the phone back to me before he was whisked off in a cloud of dust.

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