Friday, July 18, 2008
When I met Mandela
When I met Mandela, like anyone else who's met him, you go deaf for the duration.
There could be a nuclear explosion around you, but for that 15 seconds, time stands still.
When I met Mandela which I have previously posted here has become one of those dinner table moments you can recount and recount.
South Africa circa 1992 was an incredible place to be and that's where I ended up, determined to witness and report on the story of the decade.
I boarded a plane with one friend, a pen friend, to hold my arm.
Today, Alan Swerdlow, a well known theatre director ( he was back then) and neighbour to the UK's future SA-UK Ambassador is a life-long friend.
There's so much I could tell you about being in South Africa during that time; being one of few black British broadcasters to look for stories to report.
Being a Brit; that always amused the South Africans, black and white.
But I also speak two African languages which helped me on a number of occasions.
And often when I never spoke I was mistaken for a "coloured".
It was enough to give you chameleon identity syndrome. "Who the £@$%^& am I?"
On one occasion working as an associate producer for ABC News, I had to go to a press conference and who was giving it but Mr Mandela.
To get my three questions in I had to ask the first.
I'd never felt so nervous: 100s of correspondents and there, Mr Mandela.
And they couldn't be push-over questions either, even if one's conscious made you think differently.
So Mandela 90 today. Wow what a story!
And for the 15 seconds that I shook his hand and he said hello, I guess will provide me with the sort of private memories to celebrate such a public event.
Nelson Mandela Tribute Concert 1988 - One of my earliest BBC radio reports