NEWS & ANALYSIS

Our man in the Kagalagadi

David Bullard writes on what it's like to break a story to a public hungry for news

OUT TO LUNCH

As those of you who read this column last week will already know, I was away on a ten day trip to the Kagalagadi Transfrontier Park during election time. One of the features of the park is the complete and utter lack of cellphone connectivity once you’ve departed from Twee Rivieren camp en-route to Nossob.

About ten kilometres out of camp the message “No Service” appears on your phone screen and within half an hour you start to break out in a cold sweat wondering whether anybody has responded to your tweets or What’s Apped you. Then, after a few hours the panic attack subsides as you realize that, in the grand scheme of things, it really doesn’t matter anyway and you start to pay attention to important matters like what might be a tawny eagle…or is it a bateleur? Difficult to tell when you’re looking into the sun and the buggers are hidden in the branches of a tree.

On arrival at Nossob word has spread among the arriving guests that WiFi is available, but at a price. For a mere R75 you can buy 350MB of airtime. The only problem is that it isn’t terribly reliable and the area outside the Nossob shop was full of people, gathered like junkies looking for a fix, desperately trying to connect to the internet.

After half an hour I gave up any attempt to connect and only tried again later in the day when, to my surprise, I was briefly able to pick up my e-mails and a piece of news which was to launch my reputation as a news breaker.

As a columnist of long standing I have never, ever claimed to be a journalist. Indeed, I have often patiently pointed out to people who don’t know the difference that the journalists are the poorly paid ones who hunt the stories down while the columnists are the absurdly over-remunerated ones who comment on the news. Plus we get to have our mug shots next to the column which the poor journos hardly ever do.

So I’ve often wondered what it must be like to be the first to break a major story to a public hungry for news. What frisson of excitement must the editors of news giants such as News 24, Eye Witness News and eNCA experience when they can exclusively reveal an “allegedly” racist incident in a Spur restaurant? The word “allegedly” is a very important one in journalism because it means you can make up a whole load of complete nonsense about someone who is perfectly innocent and they can’t sue for defamation because you used the magic word “allegedly”. It’s part of the Fake News 101 course these days.

My news breaking revelation threw caution to the wind however and it was on the morning of the 9th May, just before the early game drive, that I confidently revealed the following to my news starved fellow travellers over the coffee and rusks: “Ladies and gentlemen, I’m delighted to announce that Prince Harry and Meghan now have a son and his name is Archie Harrison.”

Well, I have to report something of a mixed reaction. The first part of the story was gratefully received in good faith but the second part was greeted with snorts of derision and cries of “liar, liar, pants on fire”. Not dissimilar, I imagine, to the sort of response you might expect when announcing that Cyril Ramaphosa had been elected president and that he is about to tackle corruption within the ANC. Yeah right, groan the crowd.

With my reputation as a reliable news breaker temporarily in question I desperately tried to get my R75 worth and connect to the elusive Nossob WiFi to prove the veracity of my story. A tiny window of opportunity opened and I managed to screen shot a page from the BBC website to prove my case before the “No Service” signal popped up again.

If the names “Archie” and “Harrison” wrong footed our Kalahari party can you imagine the effect it must have had on some of the royal courtiers and the Duke of Edinburgh? Little Archie may be 7th in line to the throne but the UK would rather declare itself a republic than have a king Archie opening parliament.

I only discovered a few days later that the bookies were offering odds of 100-1 on the name Archie and I tried to banish from my mind the thought of a ginger bearded man in a hoodie putting five hundred quid on the name “Archie” in the Slough branch of Paddy Power.

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I wonder what odds Paddy Power would offer on President Cyril cleaning up the ANC Augean stable in time for the next Moody’s credit rating. Or sorting out the financial mess that most state owned enterprises have managed to get themselves into. As other, less flippant, commentators have already remarked the real proof of good intention will be how large his new cabinet is and how many of the deadbeats from the Zuma era he will jettison.

That will give us some indication as to how many “smallanyana” skeletons have yet to tumble out of the ANC closet. There will be the inevitable nonsense talked about “creating jobs” but as ZACP candidate Unathi Kwaza sagely pointed out on her Twitter page (@Unathi_Kwaza) in response to an ANC tweet, the government’s job is “to create an environment that’s conducive for jobs to be created”. How tragic that the majority of South Africans simply aren’t equipped to allow that reality to sink in. But with a government still made up of people who like to call one another “comrade” that should come as no great surprise.

Abraham Lincoln famously said that “you can fool all of the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.” What this election seems to prove though is that you can fool 57.51% of the people all of the time. And that’s more than enough.