Nelson Mandela’s Passing: A Momentous Day in South Africa

The Thursday evening of 5 December 2013 will remain engraved in my memory forever.After slaving on editing text and sound clips at the YFM newsroom where I had enjoyed six years as head of news, I went out for a monthly dinner with my reporters and media colleagues.

That evening, in a beautiful restaurant in Forest Town, Johannesburg, I ordered a mountain of pork ribs and chips. As usual, my first order was a hearty swig of whiskey, followed by another just to take the edge off.

There was something about that week.

We had prepared and safely stored Nelson Mandela’s obituary along with a number of stories that a broadcaster could use as content for at least one or two hours in the event that Madiba died in the middle of the night.

Local and international media houses had spent weeks camping outside his hospital hoping to break the story of his death. Madiba later returned to his home in Houghton and the media interest did not die down despite the improvement in his health.

I refused to send my reporters there. I believed it was more important to report Madiba’s death with dignity and not as a breaking news scoop.

Besides, I had the arrogant belief that the story would land on my lap when it broke.

And as we were finishing our desserts, it did exactly that. I told my team of radio journos, presenters, and producers that the “eagle has landed”.

The global paragon of peace, justice and human rights was no more. And so after a 12-hour shift, it was back to the studios in Hyde Park for another 16-hour shift.

As we drove back to work, we all called our sources to confirm the news. You couldn’t risk jumping the gun.

Writing the breaking news story was simple enough. But what followed was a hellish rush of adrenaline, of exhaustion and excitement that culminated with his funeral at his beloved Qunu village in Mthatha.

I went for weeks without much sleep.

I knew we were standing right in the middle of history when US President Barack Obama said Madiba “no longer belongs to us — he belongs to the ages”.

Where were you when Nelson Mandela died?

Everyone in America remembers where they were on September 11 and so everyone in South Africa should remember the first time they heard: Nelson Mandela has died.It has been 10 years and we will never forget.Aah Dalibhunga!

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