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Stuck in the Middle of the Zuma Trial!

Thousands of Jacob Zuma’s supporters came in busses from around the country. They were dressed in “100% Zuma” and “100% Zuluboy” t-shirts, ANC Youth League jerseys and even feathers and skins, reflecting traditional Zulu dress – and there I was, standing smack in the middle of the chaos.

People all around me shouted and chanted, danced and sang praises to Zuma, from four in the morning until sundown, filling the streets of downtown Johannesburg as they awaited the final verdict in their hero’s rape trial.

The country was up in arms – government officials left their phones ringing and shopkeepers either did brisk trade or shut down early to catch the end of the trial on TV. Zuma’s fans drew the attention of every media outlet around the world, including CNN in America and Al-Jazeera in Qatar, which covered every second of the drama.

My newspaper, The Star, came out with six editions during the day to keep people updated – assigning more than eleven photographers and seven reporters to the trial. We also sent stories to the entire independent Newspapers group, from Cape Town to Durban. At least two reporters answered phone calls only from other reporters, who wanted info on the noise and color that spilled from the streets. In addition, two reporters sat inside the courtroom, while three others took copious notes from the television broadcasts.

“This day will make history,” reporters in the newsroom told me. “It’s the biggest story since 1994,” they said. Filing stories constantly, calling in reports and working together with others, I learned the necessity of meeting a deadline to the second. Fusing three stories together, I shared a byline with top journalists, and felt a sense of camaraderie and teamwork. I learned how to pull myself away from the action, go around the corner and write the story that no one else was writing – a story about ANC Youth League members who were housed in the same church to which Zuma’s accuser once belonged. I also tasted the satisfaction of being on the front page of a newspaper – not The Star but the Daily News in Durban.

Well, needless to say, it was the best journalism class I ever took. Now I only wonder – with the Zuma trial over, what will be on the front page of the Star tomorrow?