The great media vigil

2011-01-31 09:44

Those who braved the early hours on Thursday shared their stories of anticipation of any news of former president Nelson Mandela’s condition.

They talked about walking up and down the 200m tar road leading to the entrance at Milpark Hospital to try to keep awake, waiting for colleagues to come and relieve them so that they could enjoy a quick shower and a cup of coffee.

“Have you heard anything? Any news?” accompanied every greeting by new arrivals at the media “camping spot”.

Local journalists were standing in groups discussing how the day would unfold, with police and metro cops manning the entrance.

Soon the narrow road turned into a peak-hour traffic jam as parents arrived to drop off their children at the McAuley House Catholic Independent School.

An hour later, the school kids created their own media frenzy.

They emerged with colourful cards and posters wishing Mandela a speedy recovery. It developed into an impromptu news conference with “spokesperson”, young Jessica Beukes, telling the flashing cameras and microphones that the kids quickly created the artworks because they all love Madiba and hope he gets well soon.

Up ahead, Madiba’s aide, Zelda la Grange, pulled to a stop at the security guards, where she had to identify herself before driving into the hospital premises.

It soon became clear that no media were able to get hold of any spokespeople at the Nelson Mandela Foundation. With no statement forthcoming, speculation was rife among journalists as to whether Madiba was still at the hospital.

But as visiting hours drew near, a string of family members and other dignitaries made their way through the security point.

The arrival of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela almost created an incident when bodyguards tried to direct traffic out of the way to lead her car in quickly.

She was followed later by Mandela grandson Chief Mandla Mandela as well as Justice Minister Jeff Radebe, and everyone was expecting somebody to give a statement to the media.

However, during lunchtime those who had visited Madiba left again and with rain pouring down, spirits were dampened.

The afternoon dragged on and so too the frustration at the lack of an official statement.

Is he still in hospital? No, we heard he’s at home? No, there is this source or that source saying this or that.

Besides talk about hunger, thirst and “someone with a porta potty will make a killing here”, most discussions focused on Madiba.

As the evening drew near, the replacement media teams arrived, sending the “day shift” back to the newsrooms to start filing their stories and pictures for deadlines.

And the frenzy, boredom, excitement and frustration started afresh.

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