As Nelson Mandela remains in a Pretoria hospital, journalists from around the world have set up camp outside. Some residents offer help, others say the media’s behavior is unethical.
When the news of Nelson Mandela’s hospitalisation broke during the early hours of Saturday, June 8, foreign and local journalists immediately sprang into action.
Media teams were dispatched to take up position outside Mandela’s home in Johannesburg, his rural home in Qunu, and at the entrance to the hospital in Pretoria where he is being treated for a recurring lung infection.
The group outside the hospital consists of several dozen people. They monitor the hospital entrance day and night, taking turns to ensure no movement is missed.
Dozens more outside broadcasting vehicles are lined up along the street, providing frequent updates about Mandela’s health and information about the visitors going in.
Day and night, the journalists’ recorders and cameras are in hand, ready to record interviews, film and take photographs.
No car arriving or leaving is spared by the cameramen and women’s lens. They all hope to capture a shot of Mandela leaving the hospital or of the high profile people visiting him.
Support and criticism
Tony, a reporter from China’s CCTV, says covering Mandela’s story is not an easy task, especially for international journalists.
“The main obstacle for us is to get the news, I mean the latest, because we are not local people, we don’t have so many contacts. It’s really hard for the foreign media to get the closed information,” he told DW.
Lack of water, toilets and electricity are among the challenges which the journalists have to battle with day and night.
Frans Sello waga Machate, a photographer for South Africa’s Progressive Independent News Agency (PINA News) says, when you want to be the first to tell Mandela’s story, you can forget your own basic needs for a while. He expressed gratitude to local residents for their help. “They let us in their places to go help ourselves when nature calls. We are fine with that,” he said.
Not all residents are so friendly. Some are openly critical of the journalists’ presence outside the hospital. They say it’s unethical and un-African for them to camp at the entrance, waiting for news of Mandela’s death.
Jennifer, a journalist with Australian broadcaster ABC, gives short shrift to such comments. “Well, we are covering a world event, so I don’t think ethical is involved with that,” she said.
Mandela ‘making progress’
Pretoria resident Makhosini Gumende shows more understanding for the journalists and the hardships they are undergoing in order to tell Mandela’s story.
“Mandela is known throughout the world. Since he started with this lung disease, everyone wanted to know what’s going on, so this is actually the right platform for the media to be here and to see what’s going on,” he said.
On Wednesday June 12, President Jacob Zuma told parliament Mandela was responding well to treatment and making progress.
This followed “a difficult last few days,” Zuma said, adding, “We are very happy with the progress he is making.”
Should Mandela indeed be discharged, the journalists will be able to pack their bags and catch up on some sleep before the next round of waiting begins.