The Greatest Day, this Day, We Witnessed as Journalists

That sinking feeling when you want to do that thing you so love, and can’t. I was a journalist in the UK. I’d graduated journalism school. In my first year I worked on the BBC’s flagship News programme, Newsnight and then reported on BBC 2 for Reportage. Then a recession hit. I could not find work for love or money.

So, I did what you would do? I bought a plane ticket and headed to a place with an incredible history, but wracked by turmoil, as Apartheid was coming to an end. I found a name in a South Africa free newspaper, contacted a man called Alan Swerdlow. He had a radio show similar to mine in London.

I boarded the plane, not for a minute thinking I wouldn’t be put out. Alan met me. Within the week of being in South Africa, I’d found outlets in the UK who would buy my reports. I would stay for 18 months. It is a beautiful country with beautiful people but it was marred by ugly race and political violence.

I hung out in the townships, with South Africa’s new entrepreneurial generation, and run into a Afrikaans who viewed Black people as inferior, but were equally befuddled meeting a black person from England, reporting for the BBC.

Long story short, and I have many many memories. On May 10th, this day, one of the most extraordinary stories captured the world. It followed the election in which queues snaked for miles, as black people would finally be win the right to vote. There would be attempts to derail it as I reported on the BBC World Service.

The world stood still as the statesman Nelson Mandela, imprisoned on an island for 27 years was, and bore no rancour, was elected president.

This is that moment and one that I know from talking to journalists who were there or those who watched it on television that it’s an occasion they, and I will never ever forget.

Years later in a programme to bring African broadcasters together I got to meet President Mandela in person.

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I’m a lead writer on journalism on @medium, former BBC Reporter, artist-in-residence at Britain’s biggest art centre the Southbank whom today leads the digital and interactive storytelling LAB. I write about journalism, innovative storytelling and culture. You can read about my interviews with Quincy Jones, Fela Kuti or reporting from the Syrian border. My PhD from University College Dublin covers cultural communications and cognition.

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