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The perils of the press

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A politician is more dangerous than bullets

Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini File picture: David Ritchie/Independent Media

BEING a journalist is a dangerous, dangerous job. I’m not kidding. In my time as a reporter I remember dodging not only rubber bullets, but live ones too.

I remember – can’t tell you how long ago – but quite a while ago, photographer Lianne Butler and I were covering the riots in Barkly West. One night it must have been around 9-10 pm, she calls me and tells me trouble is brewing we need to get there fast. There was no time to still come to the office and pick up a vehicle so we went in her black Renault Clio.

The warning bells should have been going off already, but being a journalist all you are interested in is the story.

If memory serves me correctly, it was at the time when protesters started becoming “sophisticated” in their modus operandi of dodging the police. They would either do their protesting in the dead of night or early hours of the morning before it got light and they would break into little groups and try to outwit the cops that way.

Anyway, I remember that night almost as clear as day. I called my “protester contact” – and by that time we knew Barkly West like the back of our hands – so if he said, “Meet me on this corner or on that street,” we knew exactly where he was.

We met up in total darkness, and all we were surrounded with was the open veld. While we were getting the info from our contact, I just felt myself being pulled to the ground, at the same time, just a couple of centimetres whizzing past my ear, was a bullet.

However, that wasn’t the worst and I just have to put on the record that Kimberley put poo-throwing on the map long before Cape Town.

But, we stomached all that just so that you the reader could get the news.

We have seen things that we wouldn’t wish anybody out there to see. Lianne and I would sometimes get out to accident scenes before paramedics or police arrived I don’t think I have to go into detail about those experiences.

However, those were good days. You never thought of your personal safety. Your focus was on bringing the story to you our reader, no matter what.

But, where the danger comes in for me is when politicians think they are larger than life and everybody needs to bow down to them. In their minds if they say move, you need to say, “Sure Mam. Where would you like me to stand? How many centimetres to the left or right do you want me to move?”

And boy, oh boy, if you don’t they just attack you, push you and shove you without regard for your personal space.

Another incident I remember was when our president Jacob Zuma was in Kimberley and I wanted to ask him a few questions. Nothing controversial nudge-nudge, wink-wink and we were told by his media team we would have a chance to speak to him. Needless to say we weren’t given the opportunity, and when I stepped out to ask him a question just before he boarded his private jet, his posse was on me like a flash and I was forced back and told not to speak to him directly.

I remember walking away with a couple of bruises.

Then we have our “hands-off our Social Development Minister” (Bathabile Dlamini) who, first of all, arrived late for her 67 minutes yesterday and then proceeded to push and shove photographers around. I swear if she had a handbag – or the goodie bags she was supposed to hand out – she would have used it to hit them with it.

Not very ladylike, madam Dlamini.

I’m still trying to figure out why she has such anger issues but, be that as it may, rather give me the flying bullets than a petulant politician.