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Founder' Day Guest Speaker speech

BY Bernadette Macguire

When I was in matric, here at Riebeek 25 years ago, I wasn’t the most likely candidate to be standing here in front of you.  In fact, after Mrs Woods called me, I was amused.  After all, I wasn’t the girl who came first in the class.  I wasn’t a sporting star.  In fact, when they chose teams during PT, I was one of the last to be selected.  I wasn’t a prefect and when I directed the school play, which Mr Ossher wrote and it was a good play, I think Elton house came last. So to be honest I didn’t exactly shower myself in glory.

 

And then I came up with what some people thought was a hair brained scheme.  I wanted to be a TV producer. I had to face a lot of questions and comments…like “Where would you work? There’s nowhere in Uitenhage.”  “Journalists starve to death.”  And …. Is that a job for a woman?”

 

I was undeterred.  I started wearing long black Goth outfits and medallions…most days I looked like a cross between Morticia from the Adams family and orphan Annie.  I didn’t help me to fit in and I didn’t really care.  I think I thought that if I cultivated the look I might get there faster.

 

Fortunately, my mother supported me.  She believed that I should pursue my dream and once I’d created expectation, I figured I’d better follow through. 

 

So fast forward, I finished matric and registered at Rhodes and studied Journalism and Drama and received a post graduate in international studies.  By this time I had my sights set on working for Carte Blanche. It took a few years of working on talk shows like Felicia Mabuza-Suttle and consumer show Isabel Jones Fair Deal, but eventually I cracked the nod to join the Carte Blanche team.

 

All the theory in the world was no match for the job I embarked upon. I soon developed a taste for doing those stories that are edgy and hard hitting.  If it’s likely to make you feel uncomfortable on your couch, that’s what I’m after.  Terrorism, the underworld, corruption, undercover operations…it gave me an adrenalin rush – or to quote one of my esteemed colleagues – “It makes your bum hum.” 

For all of my offbeat and maverick nature – it’s the perfect fit. Because let’s be honest which straight laced individual will take phone calls like these in their stride…(I didn’t make this up – this happened a few weeks ago all in the space of 2 hours one afternoon while I was editing a particularly disturbing story on the terror group Isis)?

 

Phone call no 1:

From a friend who is an Africa expert in Mozambique – “Berns, got a big story for  you - you know we’ve been chasing rhino poachers – now we’ve discovered the syndicate is into body parts…there’s a massive trade here and its growing – you keen to come cover it?” 

 

Was that a trick question?

 

Literally 20 minutes later:

 

Phone call no 2: 

It’s the man they call one of our biggest mafia bosses, a real charmer. 

“Dhaling I’ve got a story for you…” and he goes on to share a whole lot of dirt on one of our underworld kingpins and his drug interests….all off the record but fascinating.

 

Phone call 3:

It’s a mercenary.

“You know there’s over a hundred South Africans fighting Boko Haram in northern Nigeria.

“Do you want to go to Yole to meet the SA’s in the military base? We’ll give you the exclusive and you can fly up in one of our charters.” 

 

Yes please.

 

My editors and my crew who work with me regularly are used to these calls.  They just shake their heads. 

 

What I love most is the characters I get to meet.  Let’s take Radovan Krejcir, for example.  For anyone who doesn’t know, he is the billionaire Czech fugitive in Bedfordview who is currently in jail and who many people believe is behind the alleged murders of at least a dozen underworld figures, German sport car drivers and strip club boss Lolly Jackson.  So I was asked to do a story on Radovan Krejcir  in 2010– he’s a shadowy figure and no-one’s ever really gotten close to him – let alone get a TV interview. 

 

I do some intelligence gathering and find his hangout – his HQ is a restaurant called the Harbour Café.  It makes sense – there are fishtanks all over and I’d seen footage of his house in the Czech republic where he had a shark tank in the centre of his lounge.  Journalists there told me the rumour was that anyone who crossed him might end up in the tank. 

 

With the crew and Bongani Bingwa, our anchor man, I go through to the restaurant and we find Radovan holding court with a group of men, some clearly his henchmen.  We approach him and ask him for an interview – he’s clearly taken aback and he later told me he thought I was an undercover Hawks officer.  He doesn’t say no to the interview – he’ll think about it and gestures that I should liaise with one of his brawny Lebanese TIC’s. 

 

What followed was daily visits to the Harbour Café. I spent hours there, sometimes with Radovan, sometimes just with his henchmen.  Eventually they agreed to do the interview. 

 

 

It’s a Friday afternoon.  We rendezvous in the harbour parking lot.  His henchmen tell Bongani and I that we’re allowed a notepad and a pen.  No phones.  So we leave those in the car. They will take us. The cameraman can only bring his camera.  We’re separated –  into  3 waiting black BMWs  with dark tinted windows.  We’re driven through the streets of Bedfordview at high speed, up and down several roads.  I’m still not sure why – perhaps as a show of force, to unsettle us.

 

Eventually we arrive at Radovan’s 3 storey mansion. He joked saying, “First we drink, then we do interview and then I kill you”. I quickly made a deal with the Cypriot house boy that I’d ask for Vodka and orange but he was only to bring orange juice.  I think I really impressed Radovan that day with my capacity for alcohol!

 

And despite some jokes about an acid bath after the interview, we were driven sedately back to the Harbour café.  It was 3 hours later and my office was distraught and I got quite a tongue lashing but what choice did I have.

 

Some days you’re interviewing underworld figures. Sometimes its transgender terrorism experts, other days government spies, drug dealers,  rhino conservationists, scamsters or even the president.  Most days you feel like a chameleon because you have to get into a different mindset or headspace for every story and every individual you interview. 

 

Like most jobs – mine has an element of danger.  I’ve been deported from Ghana, locked up in and office more than once and interrogated.  Our crews have been assaulted – I’ve been attacked with a brick.  In the Cape Winelands we dodged rubber bullets and rocks  when the vineyards were blazing.  At Medupi power station I drove over piles of burning rubbish and watched how angry strikers torched cars and set them light., wondering to myself if mine might be next.

 

I could escape so many of these situations. Situations I shared with the man who was the love of my life, my cameraman, my partner in everything, Dudley Saunders.  But, as you’ve all learnt in the last few weeks, you can’t escape tragedy.  And it never makes sense.  It didn’t in his case either.  He was a war correspondent for many years filming in Iraq, Afghanistan, Liberia, Somalia…practically every hot spot in the world.  Then while filming here in Soweto 16 months ago for a programme called The World’s Most Extreme, he misjudged an oncoming train in the viewfinder of his camera and he was killed.  It was the saddest day of my life.

 

But you know what?  You have to pick yourself up.  The show must go on, they say.  The next morning I forced myself out of bed at 5 am and I walked for 2 hours with my dogs…I just walked.  I needed to put one foot in front of the other.  I needed to know that I could keep moving forward even though it felt like my world had stopped.

 

And I made a conscious decision – this terrible tragedy would not define me, it would not define my life.  I wasn’t going to let it.  Through the terrible sadness I threw myself into my work and by the end of last year I broke the record for the most stories produced by any producer in the history of Carte Blanche.

 

You all know what I am talking about – your hearts are bleeding for Jayde.

 

We’re all scarred, we all suffer loss and tragedy, what’s important is that when you’re faced with a situation like this – that you don’t curl up in a little ball and wish it all away.  What’s important is moving forward, walking through the fire and the sadness.

 

The same goes for any situation in life– don’t blame your past, your parents or an event.  It’s not the reason you never achieved your dreams, you never accomplished what you set out to.  You are.

 

You’ll also learn in life that talent plays a small role…it’s endurance , determination and discipline that sets people apart.  One of our legendary golfers , Gary Player,  said to me recently,  “The harder I practice the luckier I get”.  It’s so true in life. 

 

Last night I was having dinner with some of the old girls from my matric class and one of them hauled out the yearbook.  I’d forgotten what I’d said about my future then. It read something like this “ Bernadette wants to  be a television producer and run her own show called the Destitute and Unfamous.  That’s pretty spot on.

 

So I want you all to think about what it is you’ll be looking back at in 25 years time.  And more importantly, how to plan to get there. 

 

You’ll also learn that the foundations laid at this school run deep.  You’ll learn to appreciate the values and the discipline and cherish the friendships.

 

And then go and chart your own path, but make sure that it counts.  And you’ll get some help along the way: I always say, “The journey is the teacher.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 May 12, 2015
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