Podcast City: Creating Immersive Radio Guided by a Burning Passion.
They had the measure of a new South Africa emerging from the cold as an Apartheid state. A new dawn. It’s almost 30 years ago from that momentous anniversary.
In the winter of 1992 as a young journalist hitting his head against the wall for work, I had a dream. I had just finished working for BBC Newsnight, Reportage and BBC Black London and thought of a more ambitious programme.
I shopped ideas around, contacted potential editors but there was little interest. I packed my bags all the same and with a complimentary ticket provided by British Airways and South African airways and a contact I’d shared letters with from a South African newspapers, I set off.
South Africa was my living classroom, a steep learning curve aided by many. On my first day I was put on South Africa’s flag ship evening news programme, as they were keen to know what a British Black journalist who’d worked for the BBC thought of their country. “I’m here to learn”, was my answer.
Over the months I did, reporting from the townships, trying to make sense of racism overt in your face, surviving scrapes, being shot at, putting myself in harms way though I didn’t give it a second thought
In Soweto a soldier takes aim at me on his caspir. In Katlehong designated murder capital of the world, the only way I get to report with the Peace force is to sign a form absolving authorities of anything that could go wrong. In Orange Free state two Afrikaners marvel first that there are Black people in the UK, then accuse me a Brit as being responsible for Concentration camps interning their fathers. I’d report on US Commerce secretary Ron Brown’s visit, and interview Mr Mandela.
I was finding my feet, and sending reports now back to London. Then a major breakthrough the BBC would feature a 1500 word report which brought me to the attention of a legendary BBC Radio 4 Doc Producer Joy Haywood.
I had an idea, what if I could cover four young South Africans intending to vote in their first election. Joy loved the idea. We’d start the process in March 92. I’d plugged into one of Joberg’s most vibrant communities in Yeoville so started to research who would be box office. Gradually I’d find them. Four incredible people: the country’s first Black stockbroker, an actor/ comedian, a conflict resolutor, and a journalist.
The process involved wiring up my participants to capture them in their true settings — a bustling newsroom in Durban, on the stock market floor when buyers and sellers would shout at each other, at a comedy club, and a rural gathering in Northern South Africa.
It was an experience I’d never forget. To get the best out of my interviewees I’d ask to interview them in the evening, after they’ve rested. The results showed.
The Successor Generation would be called First Time Voters. It played on BBC Radio Four a couple of weeks before that historic election date. Then something happened. The BBC African service re-broadcast it to their audience. But the biggest shock was yet to come.
The SABC heard the recording and bought the rights, and trailed it continuously on their channels. On the eve of their historic election, they rebroadcast it in South Africa. It was the only foreign documentary broadcast domestically and something that as a young journo made me very proud.
Today my four first time voters are household names in South Africa. Joy retired from the BBC and on her farewell do collecting her many awards and archives from her office, she would take First Time Voters in her select collection. Me, I imagine I could write a book about what it was like to witness history up close and personal.
You can listen to the doc here