Madiba 20

Tough day for unsuspecting anchor

2010-02-11 13:53

Special Report

Obama calls Mandela
Obama calls Mandela

US President Barack Obama has called former president Nelson Mandela to mark the 20th anniversary of his release from prison.

Pretoria - "Jirre meneer Keyter, wat soek jy hier? Waar moet jy nou eintlik wees?" (Mr Keyter what are you doing here? Where must you actually be?)

These words said by six coloured youths in a crowd of approximately 60 000 people on the Parade in Cape Town might have been the only bit of luck that journalist Clarence Keyter had 20 years ago this Thursday.

Having been there when Nelson Mandela walked out of Victor Verster Prison a free man, Keyter said, "I was dropped off on the far side of the Grand Parade and then had to make my way through the masses to the SABC's broadcasting unit, from where I would be covering his speech."

Voice behind worldwide broadcast

"The six men said they would get me there, hooked their arms through mine on either side and forced their way through the crowd," says the former SABC reporter, who was the voice behind the microphone 20 years ago for the live worldwide broadcast of Mandela's release.

Except for this help, Keyter was on his own for the rest of the day.

He is best remembered for his hour-and-a-half commentary while the SABC cameras were focused on the gates of Victor Verster Prison, while there was no sign of Mandela.

That morning on the plane from Johannesburg, Keyter realised that something was up when he read in the Sunday Times that the SABC was planning to relay the broadcast of the occasion to about 116 countries worldwide.

"I knew nothing about it, I was simply sent to cover the event as a political reporter and make an insert for the eight-o'clock news."


"When I arrived in Paarl, I asked the political editor, André le Roux [now Media24's Africa editor] who would be doing the commentary, and he replied: 'Well you, of course!'"

He was stunned - and unprepared. Luckily Le Roux said the broadcast would start at 14:54 and Mandela would be walking through the gates at 15:00; so he wouldn't have to thumbsuck for very long.

However, by 16:00 there was still no sign of Mandela.

The SABC didn't want him to interview bystanders, he wasn't allowed to talk to political analysts and he had to speak without a script about someone who hadn't been seen in public for 27 years and about an organisation which had still been illegal barely a week before.

No ad breaks

"There were no ad breaks. At one stage they had a break and played this awful Spanish music - I don't know why - and then Johannesburg gave the word that I should start talking again and they wanted the pictures."

He was in trouble. The SABC had background pieces and analysis prepared, but didn't want to use it.

Keyter, out in the open and about 30 or 40m from the gate, had to speak: "Here we are outside the most beautiful prison in the world... the sun is baking down on us... the sun, not only needed for growing grapes, but for growing South Africa... the people are getting a bit impatient, but we are waiting patiently.”

In Voëlvry Pat Hopkins writes: "South Africa gritted its teeth..."

Mandela came out at 16:16.

Keyter was furious at his bosses. They had let him down on a day which would be one of the greatest in the country's history.

"It was an incredible event, but the SABC performed badly and everyone laughed at us. I could have handled it much better. If only I'd known that we would be broadcasting live I could have prepared!"

Read more on:    nelson mandela

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