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Reporter’s ‘unforgettable’ encounter with Mandela

An award-winning journalist who worked for several regional newspapers in the UK before moving abroad has recalled his “unforgettable” first encounter with Nelson Mandela.
Chris Bishop, left, who started his career with the Kidderminister Shuttle in 1981 and is now managing editor of Forbes Africa business magazine based in Johannesburg, has worked across the world over 30 years.
Over three decades he has spent time with guerrilla leaders, economists, professors and soldiers, as well as interviewing some of Africa’s biggest names including presidents Kaunda, Chiluba and Mugabe.

Writing on the website of the Stourbridge News where he worked in the early 1980s, Chris said that the man who made the biggest impression on him was Nelson Mandela who left him speechless on their first meeting.

“There is only one person I can ever say I was proud that he knew my name,” he wrote on the website.

“He was the son of a chief who spent nearly a third of his life in prison; a man who shunned the trappings of power, the fancy cars and ostentation; a man who had time for everyone, who took up the thankless task of healing a wounded nation: Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela.

“I will never forget the first time I saw him in the flesh. It was one of those crisp, clear winter mornings in Harare under a deep blue sky. Just weeks before, Mandela had been voted into power and here he was – amid the tractors and farmers of the Harare Show on one of his first foreign visits.

“There were no bodyguards in sight – one of the hallmarks of his time in office – as Mandela strolled through the show. I just didn’t know what to say, so I said nothing as the great man came close enough to shake hands. Mandela merely smiled gracefully, nodded to me and walked on.”

Chris covered Nelson Mandela’s time as president and fondly recalls the leader becoming familiar with his name on the evening television news.

“Ah, Mr Bishop, how are you?” the great man used to say when I asked questions at press conferences,” Chris continued.

“In 1997, the day after I ruptured my knee ligaments playing football, I requested an interview with the then president at a meeting of the African Union in Harare.

“As we walked off for the interview, Mandela – who wasn’t the fastest walker even then – noticed I had fallen behind and was in fact hobbling in pain yards behind him.

“He enquired what was wrong and I told him of the football injury. “Then may I suggest you take up boxing,” he said with that famous smile.”

Chris also noted the steely side of Mr Mandela after witnessing him lambast the “white-owned press” in South Africa for not, in his words, “allowing transformation.”

“It was unnerving and fascinating seeing the other side of the man, the tough side, the rough side which helped forge a liberation movement,” he added.

“It was this steely side of Mandela that saw one of his most courageous decisions which helped make South Africa an economic powerhouse.

“When he came out of prison in 1990 after 27 years, he urged supporters not to nationalise the mines and banks but to embrace capitalism to encourage foreign investors.

“This has been tempered with social spending on new homes and education which has enabled South Africa to move on from the stagnant economy of 1994 to an engine of investment for the rest of the continent.”

After leaving the Kidderminister Shuttle, Chris worked on the County Express in Stourbridge and Dudley before moving onto the Evening Despatch in Darlington and the Evening Herald in Plymouth.

He emigrated to New Zealand where he joined the Dominion and Sunday Times in Wellington before moving on to New Zealand Television. He was given the Sir David Beattie Award for news reporting in 1988.

Returning to the UK, he worked for Business Breakfast TV and covered the Canary Wharf bombings and the Windsor Castle fire. After a spell as the BBC’s man in Oxford, he freelanced in Africa for the Daily Telegraph and SABC television.

“I am lucky. Over the last three decades my work has taken me to all continents of the earth by the time I was 30 and transported me to places that most people only dream of,” he added.

“Reporting is like that; You take the calm of Victoria Falls on one day, suffer the violent upheaval of a riot the next, walk through the carpeted corridors of power the third day and maybe get thrown into a stinking cell on the fourth.”

Headhunted to launch Botswana’s first home-made television service, he eventually resigned on a matter of principle when there was editorial interference from the government.

He was appointed news editor of SABC but left to set up his own freelance agency. He was later recruited by CNBC television and moved on to launch the company’s Forbes Africa magazine.

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