December 6, 2013

The New York Times | Yahoo News | Daily Telegraph | Financial Times | Associated Press

After Nelson Mandela’s death, the people who covered his life are sharing their memories. And for some journalists, they weren’t the huge moments.

In a video for The New York Times, six journalists share times they witnessed with the South African leader in a video. Ian Fisher, a former Nairobi Bureau Chief, saw Mandela in Tanzania when the leader was 81 and there to broker piece in Burundi. Fisher admits to feeling a little disappointed at the time. Mandela seemed tired, his answers weren’t sharp. Then, Mandela went to speak to the men gathered who’d killed 200,000 people.

“The atmosphere suddenly changed to absolute electricity,” Fisher said, and he watched Mandela scold those gathered like they were school children.

“That night I called my wife, my wife was pregnant, and I said, you know, I think I have a name for our child. It’s Nelson, he’s 12 now.”

Fisher’s son joins him and talks about learning about his namesake.

John Carlin writes for Yahoo News about interviewing Mandela. Carlin worked as the South Africa bureau chief for the London Independent from 1989 to 1995. Carlin’s memories show a human Mandela and a moment he witnessed while reporting.

But what stayed with me most from the interview was a brief encounter we both had with a white woman that revealed, more eloquently than words could, precisely how respectful he intended to remain towards the white population that colluded in the state’s oppression of him and his black compatriots for so long.

Ten minutes into the interview, there was a knock on the door, and a middle-aged white lady entered the presidential office carrying a tray with tea and mineral water. The instant he saw her, Mandela interrupted himself in midsentence and leapt to his feet. With a broad smile, he asked her how she was, and then introduced me, whereupon I, too, stood up and shook hands with her. Mandela thanked her profusely for the tea and water and did not sit down again until she had left the room.

Malcom Conn, a sports reporter who covers cricket, wrote for the Daily Telegraph that meeting Mandela was the highlight from a career covering cricket.

The scene was totally incongruous. Here was a man who had been locked up for 27 years simply because he wanted freedom for his people. Twenty years of it was with hard labour on Robben Island, a speck in the ocean off Cape Town.

Yet Mandela oozed serenity. Not an ounce of bitterness or animosity towards those who had cost him the best years of his life.

Mandela spoke with welcoming words, recalling how he and his colleagues barracked for Australia when they toured South Africa.

They were corralled into a fenced off section of cricket grounds, reflecting the deep racial divides of an unsustainable political system.

Mandela talked with affection and enthusiasm about watching Neil Harvey bat. How they celebrated his century.

Financial Times Africa editor Michael Holman met Mandela shortly after his release from prison, but the Times reports Holman’s favorite memory “came years later, when he had become South African president and was discussing pets with the FT on a state visit to Britain.”

John Daniszewski, AP’s senior managing editor for international news, covered Mandela for the AP during the 90s as bureau chief in Johannesburg. He wrote Thursday about covering Mandela.

Part of the privilege of being around Nelson Mandela in those days was to see the undiluted joy he spread whenever he entered a township or a small settlement in one of the dusty impoverished homelands set up by apartheid governments to separate black from white South Africans.

As the cars carrying Mandela and his supporters jolted along the rutted dirt tracks, they soon would be joined by school children running alongside as fast as they could, shouting deliriously for “Madiba, Madiba,” the clan name that he is affectionately called. The stream of onlookers would coalesce into a river and then a sea of humanity outside whatever banner-draped venue had been chosen for his election rally. Finally, when the cars could move no farther, Mandela with his trusted aides would unfold himself from the vehicle and slowly walk through the people, smiling and waving and occasionally raising his fist in an ANC salute with a different brightly colored and patterned shirt on every day.

Inside there would be dancing, swaying, ululating, cheering and singing of his name, until he spoke in his unmistakable rasping voice, his slow cadence lending gravitas to his message.

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Kristen Hare teaches local journalists the critical skills they need to serve and cover their communities as Poynter's local news faculty member. Before joining faculty…
Kristen Hare

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