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Where were you when you heard the news?

I was somewhere outside Frankfort on my way to the Clarens Craft Beer Festival when I heard the ruling. I can’t be sure exactly, but I know I was on the R26 and there were potholes, and SAFM was the only station I could pick up. 702 had kept me company from Johannesburg, onto the N3, across the Vaal and into the Free State before it finally faded into incomprehensible white noise around 50km further up the road. It was around 4.15pm or thereabouts. The sky was very blue and the sun was taking on a languid golden quality that hinted at autumn lying in wait a week or so away. Along with half of the country I was glued to the radio, listening to a long and involved monologue by Chief Magistrate Desmond Nair explaining the history of bail in South Africa.

I remember thinking: who typed this up for him? Did he dictate it? How was he able to write this so quickly? And also: our national English language radio station delayed the news for this.

For a news item that wasn’t in itself very important – whether Oscar Pistorius got bail was never going to impact materially on anyone except those involved in the case – it was getting an extraordinary amount of airtime. But such has the level of public interest in this case been that I think years from now, we will look back at this as a defining moment: one of those where-were-you-when? times, like the moon landing or 9/11. Sensitive coming of age dramas will be written about this time and turned into movies that make no money.

My mother phoned me after the ruling to find out when I was going to get to my destination. The BBC wanted to interview me again, she said. I told her to tell them I was driving and that I couldn’t, sorry. No way for me to check how my fellow South Africans were responding. Out there, alone on the road, I’d been transported back to an earlier time when we relied on radio for everything.

I was glad to get to Clarens and its fresh mountain air. It was a working weekend – I was there courtesy of SAB, the sponsors of the festival – but hey, there are worse jobs than sampling beer and cider and tweeting about it in one of South Africa’s loveliest villages, one of very few places in this country where a woman can walk around alone at night. For a brief shining moment, I was ranked number 5 in the whole of South Africa on the new MyBeer app. I heard singing and bagpipes and performers who couldn’t hold a tune. I heard yelling and cheering and laughter, but I didn’t overhear a single Oscar-related conversation. It was bliss.

There was no escaping Oscar though. Tweeting about the festival meant venturing onto Twitter, and that meant seeing that Carl Pistorius’s Twitter account was hacked (or so claimed Vuma reputation management), and that he’s up on a culpable homicide charge, and Reeva’s supporters are angry, very angry. Oh, and, just in case the level of craziness in this case threatened to abate, there’s a psychic and “Tea Party nutjob” involved too.

And so we carry on buying into the headlines in the papers, hoping for any scrap of insight into a story that has grabbed the collective imagination and run off with it into the hills. Ten years from now, will you remember where you were when Oscar Pistorius got bail?


  • During the day Sarah Britten is a communication strategist; by night she writes books and blog entries. And sometimes paints. With lipstick. It helps to have insomnia.