In contrast to the last couple of days, I never wandered very far today from the place where I’m staying at Meville, Johannesburg.
After breakfast, I stayed indoors, spending most of the morning in preparation for my presentations at the Radio Days Jo’burg Conference, being held at Wits University Radio Academy over the next few days.
“You know what it’s like being a journalist? You need a deadline”, I said to the conference organiser, Franz Kruger at tonight’s welcome dinner. So with a deadline in my mind, I spent the morning going through my papers, and reading them out loud several times looking for timing, tone, the right wording and so on. There’s nothing like hearing the spoken being read out loud to help you realise quickly where some things make sense, and when other things need greater clarity.
After a couple of days of listening to variations of the South African accent, for example, I realised today I would need to be a little clearer in the way I pronounced the words “airtime” and “eartime”. Although similar in meaning, there are still semantic differences, and when I said them out loud today I suddenly realised they could sound completely identical to someone not used to the Australian accent, and the way we mangle our vowels.
There’s another Australian speaking at the conference, a lovely bloke called Sam Cavanagh (who I met a couple of months ago at Radio Days Europe) who will talk about the “fan model” of listenership adopted by Hamish and Andy. I also met an Australian woman at tonight’s dinner. As she’s been living out of Australia for a number of years (in parts of Africa, and currently in Paris), I could no longer hear the familiar tones of an Australian accent in her voice, though the others at the table said they definitely could.
The issue of language came up a fair bit in discussion tonight. I was sitting next to a bloke at dinner who is the manager of a community radio station in a rural part of South Africa. He told us his radio station broadcasts in six of the eleven official national languages of South Africa. When I asked him how many he spoke himself, he told us “all six”. I also chatted for a while to a bloke who runs the national radio awards here in South Africa, and he told me about the complex business of judging a competition where entries are accepted in all of the eleven official national languages. I thought being involved in the organisation of the “ABC Local Radio Awards” was tough :)
Aside from preparation for the conference (which will dominate this blog for the next couple of days), I made a brief visit to a shopping centre here in Jo’burg. I’ve been invited to be a guest on a local television program here which focuses on activities in the media. So I decided I better pop into town to buy a couple of shirts to choose from. Although it’s been clear “dress” for the conference is informal, I decided I needed something a little more “flash” than what I’ve brought with me. I’ve picked up a couple of nice shirts for a very reasonable price.
I also decided a haircut and beard trim would be a good idea. Vanity is thy name. After a bit of chit-chat about the weather, the guy cutting my hair leaned over and whispered in my ear, “I do not think our great former President will make it to his birthday later this month.” He told me thought the nation was preparing itself for the inevitable death of Nelson Mandela, and that he thought he should be allowed to die with dignity. “It’s cruel keeping him alive the way they are”, he told me, adding he thought it was time for him to be with God, and “for all of us to continue to be like him, but to let him go.”
On television this morning they were, not surprisingly, still talking about Mandela/Madiba. They had a guest on (I didn’t catch his name), talking about the cultural protocols which he said were being ignored by the international media currently outside the hospital in Pretoria where Mandela is staying. He was quite clear about who he thought should be making decisions about Mandela’s health and who he thought who was “appropriate” to speak on these issues. “We need to be more proactive in telling people in the international media about these cultural issues”, the television presenter agreed.
Meanwhile, at tonight’s dinner Australian politics also got a mention, as a bloke visiting from the United States asked me to explain what happened with Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd. “You mean news had spread that far?”, I asked, feeling a slight embarrassment about the apparent triviality of Australian politics compared with everything else happening in the world.