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Memories

Today I’m leaving the Mail & Guardian Online. I’m moving to London, for the adventure and the work experience. Don’t worry — I’m by no means a disillusioned South African. I love it here and I will be back.

For the last Between the Pages podcast, Tony Lankester asked me to sum up my 10 most memorable moments in my almost 10 years at the M&G.

Here goes, in no particular order:

1. Zimbabwe
It’s been the most popular subject on the Mail & Guardian Online, especially in the past year (though the ANC’s troubles are now topping the rankings), and the most dispiriting too. To see so little being achieved while a massive humanitarian disaster unfolds has been dreadful, and now it seems as if the few gains made in the past weeks may well come to nought.

2. ANC Polokwane conference
I worked 20-hour days at Polokwane, reporting on Thabo Mbeki being ousted and Jacob Zuma rising to the top. It was energising, thrilling and memorable. It was also the M&G and M&G Online‘s first successful convergence exercise.

3. Jacob Zuma and the ANC
The rise and rise of Zuma has been incredible. He has kept us chained to our desks for many long hours — his rape trial, his corruption trial, his ascendancy to the ANC presidency (and perhaps the country) — and, whether we like him or not, he’s driven our news agenda in recent times more than anyone else in this country.

4. September 11 2001
An unforgettable time to be working for a newspaper. The M&G, coming out three days after the incident, had a cover photo of Osama bin Laden with the words: “Wanted: dead or alive, guilty or not”, which neatly summed up the situation at the time.

5. Beslan school massacre in Russia
For days we reported tirelessly on the fate of the many schoolchildren being held hostage. Russian forces eventually stormed the school, and the news and images emerged of 186 dead children among the 334 hostages who had died. I cried.

6. Interdicts
The SABC and the Thabo Mbeki documentary; Sandi Majali and Oilgate; and many others — the legal action taken on Thursday afternoons against the M&G has often resulted in midnight court appearances, pages being blacked out at 3am and carefully worded online news reports on why the newspaper would be late in the shops. Bad news for the legal bills, but thrilling times to be defending the freedom of the press.

7. Asian tsunami
Spending Boxing Day 2004 with the in-laws was interrupted by breaking news of a natural disaster unfolding. As CNN and the wires sent out increasing numbers of urgent alerts about yet more countries being affected — and I camped out behind the PC, holidays forgotten — I knew we were in for the tragedy of the century.

8. Hansie Cronje
I was proud to work for a newspaper that had the guts to put up a street poster with the headline “Fuck Hansie” — relating to a column by the late and great Robert Kirby that neatly summed up the betrayal much of the nation was feeling about Cronje’s devious acts in cricketing. Also, watching the public reaction to the poster streaming in was highly entertaining.

9. Snow in Johannesburg
I worked the early shift that day in June 2007, and drove to work at 6am with snow covering lawns and rooftops. I put aside other tasks and asked readers to send in their pictures, resulting in an unprecedented flood of emails and photographs, and an online gallery that drew many thousands of hits (a record broken only much later by the Free State students urination video gallery).

10. SA “rentboy” reveals all
It was salacious and sensational, and the celebrity names and saucy details that couldn’t be reported will stay with me forever. True or not, it made for excellent reading!