I had a front row seat not only to some of the biggest changes in South Africa’s history, but also the transformation of the newspaper industry not to mention the city itself.
I walked into a male-dominated environment where carrying small change for a call box was a must.
I left as an executive editor with editor Valerie Boje at the helm (a far cry from the days we sat in the back corner).
I remember dictating a breaking news story on the inquest into the death of paedophile Gert van Rooyen and his lover Joey Haarhoff over a crackling telephone line at the Pretoria Magistrate’s Court and walking back to the office three hours later and seeing my story on the front page as I passed the street sellers.
Years later reporters were e-mailing me stories from around the world in real time; Graeme Hosken from the Libyan border or Haiti and Hanti Otto from Belarus.
I learnt that photographers would do almost anything for a good shot and hide their film/memory cards in unusual places to avoid confiscation. The late Jon Hrusa beat the police’s flying squad to a helicopter crash at Hartbeespoort Dam and complemented me for not moaning like the other reporters - because I was too busy praying.
I was with Hrusa again covering an AWB march in the city when a khaki-clad woman threw pepper in his eyes. I pushed her out of the way, got a klap from Hrusa who couldn’t see a thing, and good newshound that I was becoming, I had his camera ready to snap a pic when Eugene Terre’Blanche himself came over to apologise.
We were invited to join him for a braai at The Fountains which we declined. Years later I got a call late one Saturday to say the man once feared by so many had been shot dead on his farm. What goes around
A memorable night was the fire at Munitoria. I was night news editor by then and remember the first calls of a fire in the licensing department. The night reporter and photographer were dispatched and later when the fire started raging out of control in the West Wing, municipal reporter Cor Uys, whom I regard as one of my mentors, was called in.
After deadline I walked down to Munitoria and watched as the West Wing was consumed by the fire, all the building plans, my traffic fine, gone.
There are many highlights to being a reporter but there are tough times too and while the physical can easily be overcome, the emotional toll is difficult. I will never forget the first time I interviewed a mother who had lost both her children; her daughter fell over the balcony of a block of flats and her son tried to save her - neither of them survived.
Spare a thought for reporters like Zelda Venter who hear the worst kind of stories. Luckily there were born counsellors like the late Etienne Creux who was always ready to listen. This is when the newspaper family really counts. We helped each other through the bad times.
Before the library went online we had librarians like Di Low who used to cut up and file the news according to subject. They were a walking reference section for us reporters.
Being part of the team that covered the 1994 elections and the inauguration was an honour. I hope the Pretoria News, whether on paper or online, will be around for another 120 years to capture stories of the people of Tshwane.