Journalism Entrepreneur: From the frontlines of Apartheid, Zama Zama's & Beyond

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Hamilton Wende is an author, journalist and TV producer.  He has worked all over the world, covering historical events and some 17 different wars and conflicts. He is the winner of a 2022 National Press Club’s Journalist of the Year award and a 2023 Standard Bank Sikuvile Journalism Award.

He has worked for a number of international networks including BBC, CNN, and Al Jazeera.  He is the author of 9 books.  House of War, Only the Dead and The King’s Shilling are thrillers based on his travels around the world as a journalist.  His latest book Red Air is based on his experiences filming with the US Marines in Afghanistan.

He is also the author of the popular children’s books:  Arabella, the Moon and the Magic Mongongo Nut and Arabella the Secret King and the Amulet from Timbuktu which are set in Johannesburg and Knysna.  He is working on the third volume in the series. 

Please see the transcript below for links to some of the stories discussed in our interview.

Episode Transcript

Welcome to another edition of Expedition Business, where we talk to inspiring South African entrepreneurs about the highs and lows of their business journey and how on earth, they manage to keep the flame of business adventure burning. ‘Cause, facing your day with a smile is sometimes the toughest thing you have to do.

My name is Christél Rosslee-Venter, your host and the one privileged enough to be talking to Hamilton Wende, award-winning international war correspondent, author and keynote speaker. But before I introduce Hamilton to you, I would like to remind you to subscribe, like, comment and share this podcast with as many of your friends and family as possible.

Without your help, we cannot continue to share the amazing inspirational stories of our South African entrepreneurs.

But back to why we are here today.

Hamilton Wende is an award-winning international journalist, author, and TV producer. He has worked all over the world covering historical events and some 17 different wars and conflicts.

He is the winner of the 2022 National Press Club’s Journalist of the Year award and the 2023 Standard Bank Sikovele Journalism award.

He has worked for a number of international networks including BBC, CNN and Al Jazeera. He is also the author of nine books, of which House of War, Only the Dead,
and the King’s Shillings are thrillers based on his travels around the world as a journalist.

His latest book, Read Air, is based on his experiences filming with the US Marines in Afghanistan. He is also the author of the award-winning children’s book series, Arabella. He has written hundreds of articles for publications including BBC, National Geographic,
GQ, Maclean’s Magazine in Canada, Travel Africa in the UK, the New Zealand Herald, the Buffalo News in the US, the Sunday Times, Business Day, The Sunday Independent, and of course, Daily Maverick.

Hamilton, welcome to Expedition Business.

HW: Thank you, I’m glad to be here.
CRV: I must say that that was quite a bit of accolades to read through.

How do you keep up with everything that you’ve done?

HW: Well, that’s interesting. I studied Civil Engineering at university first, and I did okay, but it wasn’t really where I wanted to be. And at 19, I decided I wanted to be a writer. And I had a fairly naive kind of, you know, romantic view of a writer, sort of like a young Hemingway or something. And, but I then switched to studying English and Drama and Film.

And that was an absolutely key point in my life. Particularly, the English was great because I read some of the greats, Milton, Shakespeare, you know, Marvell, that kind of thing. But drama and film were amazing because it gave me a real sense of the different ways that you can tell stories. So, over the years, I started to develop an entrepreneurial path as a storyteller, not only just a kind of classical traditional writer, which I’ve done, and I’ve done successfully. And there’s a lot of entrepreneurship in being just a writer, but I’m also a filmmaker. I give talks as you said, in your introduction, I write novels, I write non-fiction, I write children’s books. I also do media training and help people, media training and coaching. So, over the years I’ve developed multiple income streams, which I think is really important for an entrepreneur.

And every day I’m probably working on between three to six different projects. Some of them don’t always work out the way you hope they would, but some do. And that’s the wonderful thing about being a self-employed entrepreneur. I always slightly boast, if I may say, that I’ve never had a job. I’ve only ever been self-employed. I’ve only ever been an entrepreneur. So that’s something I’m also passionate about.

CRV: And that is as far as I have it correct for 40 years?
HW: 40 years and it’s going in for 40, 41 years. I wrote my first article in 1983 for Wits Student Magazine. It was a review of Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence, which was a movie based on Lawrence Van Der Post’s experiences in the Japanese Prisoner of War camp. I don’t know where that article is now. I must have written it by hand. I wasn’t writing on a computer then, although they were just starting to appear.

And that, I remember one of my friends at Vasty saying to me, you know, the thing that I loved about that is I could hear your voice in that article. And that really started me on the path to being a storyteller. What really was the most important kind of fated moment really is it was in 1984, it was January. We were all students and matric-kids going into matric, you know, young students, first or second year, all the same sort of age, 18 to 20, 17 to 20 or so. And we had a late party at somebody’s house in Bramley in Johannesburg. And I met two sisters there. And we got chatting with my friend and we went to go and have tea with them at their house. And it turned out their stepdad was the BBC cameraman. Oh wow. And I was studying drama and film.

So I was kind of really interested in his world and I don’t quite know what he saw in us but he obviously saw myself and my friend Peter as people who you know young guys who had some potential and then in March of that year there was a rent boycott in Charltonville and from then on until the elections in 1994 so for 10 years we had what in today’s world you could basically call an interfather a long-term struggle against apartheid and I started working for the BBC literally running tapes from the townships into Joburg to be broadcast via satellite at lunchtime or in the six o’clock news on the BBC. Then I started recording sound, then I moved from there into a little bit of camera work and then from there into producing. But there was fate involved and I think that’s interesting for entrepreneurs because there is fate involved. We know that in life.

But at the same time, I was open to that working of fate. I was too young to really be as self-aware as I am now and aware of the possibilities that exist in the day. But I took that opportunity with both hands and I grabbed it. And it led to where I’m sitting today. And it all started with you going on a party with student friends. Correct.

CRV: So would that be good advice to tell my children to just go out and have parties?

HW: Well what I would say is go out and meet people. You know, I think the word networking can become a little cynical. But meet people, engage with fate if you want to be slightly philosophical about it. What I would say to your kids is go out and meet people. Go have that coffee, make that effort, make that phone call. Because you must engage with fate, because fate is there, and no one can tell you what exactly it means or what is going to happen. But if you believe in the possibilities of fate, you will succeed. Very, very wise words indeed. Well, I’m impressing myself. I hope I can get a transcript of this. 

CRV: You can definitely get a transcript of it. Yeah, I think I wanted to ask you the question that most people wouldn’t see being a freelance journalist. As being an entrepreneur, but you’ve explained there’s a lot of entrepreneurship in the whole process. It’s not just writing up stories.
HW: No, not at all. I mean, look, I think all jobs are somewhat entrepreneurial. If you’re going to be good at your job, you’ve got to look for opportunities, even if you are working for a terrible boss who you hate, you know. But freelance journalism is absolutely entrepreneurial. You’ve got to look for stories. You’ve got to actively be involved in the life of the world around you. You’ve got to find out…

Can I tell that story? How do I tell that story? And importantly, crucially, who do I sell that story to and who will buy it? I’m going for a meeting after this with somebody to discuss the possibility of a film. They have a very clear idea about what they want to make the film about. I don’t have a clear idea about where this film might sell. So that’s why we’re going to have a meeting to see whether there is a possibility of marrying the vision with the economic reality or the business reality. And so, you know, I’ve always, always looked for opportunities. I mean, I used to set myself a task when I was doing a lot more opinion pieces, political opinion pieces, and I would read the papers, I would read the business day and the citizen and the star every day. I would say to myself, read these papers and find something that you can write about. And I always did. But I had to have that discipline of not just waiting to find the idea or the inspiration, but to actually go out and look for it, even if it was in such a simple thing as reading a newspaper actively and looking for the opportunities that lay in the columns of that paper.

CRV: Do you physically buy newspapers still? Absolutely. Not read it on your phone?
HW: I read on my phone, of course, like everybody. I read, but I still try to read The Citizen at least three or four times a week. I read The Mail and Guardian. I read The Daily Maverick on my phone, read the Sunday Times. My absolute passion is the London Financial Times which comes once a week, it comes on Sundays, comes out in London on a Saturday morning, but we only get it on a Sunday morning. And that opens the broader world to me in a very balanced, very interesting way. Well, just wanted to…

CRV: Get back to your career choice that you made and all the fate. A lot of people would see journalism as a very romantic career to go into. What would be your take on the whole romance?
HW: It’s a very romantic career to go into. It’s absolutely the best job in the world. I mean, I’ve gone all over the world. I’ve experienced the history of my times, not only in South Africa, but in Iraq, in Afghanistan in a little bit in Europe, a little bit in America. I even went to Cambodia on a trip. So it’s an absolutely, it’s a life’s journey, it’s a life’s passion. It, of course, like every job, you have to do certain things you don’t wanna do, but it is absolutely, I think it’s the most wonderful job you can have.

CRV: Just getting back to all the war stories and conflicts that you’ve been involved in. It’s pretty much being involved with death and destruction all day long. How on earth do you cope with that on a daily basis?

HW: Yeah, well that’s very difficult. I mean, I would say first of all, I don’t only do that. And I certainly don’t, I’m not really a war correspondent anymore, although some of the films I’ve been making have been quite edgy. I did something on the Zama Zama’s, which is not far from a war zone, I can assure you. You see, doing war journalism is vitally important to bring stories and to bear witness to people’s suffering. It’s really important. So I think for me, the most important thing is I really value the task of bearing witness, of trying to bring some kind of at least evidence, if not truth, because truth is a whole philosophical kind of thing, but certainly evidence is not a philosophical thing. Concrete, authenticated evidence is extremely powerful and extremely worthwhile. And that’s becoming even more important in today’s world where, you know, when I started, there was no such a thing as deep fakes, for example. So to bring authentic, and that’s a challenge, which I’m not gonna talk about here necessarily about journalism and technology, but to bring authenticated evidence about what’s happening is a very worthwhile thing to do. And that helps me deal with a lot of the pain and suffering that I see because I believe that what I’m doing, telling those people’s stories, is worthwhile. At the same time, there is a certain professionalism that goes into it, a bit perhaps like a doctor or an anaesthetist at an operation. The patient is suffering and your best way of helping that patient is not to become emotionally debilitated but to be able to work as cleanly and as calmly and as rationally as you can.

Now that’s not always easy to do, and there’s no way that I can say that I have emerged from things like the Rwandan Genocide without some level of emotional scarring. And I have a relationship now with a long-distance pen pal relationship with a Tutsi woman who survived the Genocide. She lives in France now. And through my working on a BBC team, which told her story, through her taking agency of her own story and telling it and publishing it in French, which I can’t read particularly, I can read a little bit, but not much. We have developed a relationship where we talk about each other’s feelings and she talks about her experience on a convoy that was, she was a young orphan, which being evacuated to Burundi from Rwanda and we filmed that convoy. So ultimately there’s been immense value in having been there and recording.
At the time I didn’t know her, she was a young child, perhaps 12 or 11, but it’s not just a kind of bang-bang cynical experience of life. There is something extremely valuable in going in and meeting people and telling their stories and sharing their stories.

CRV: Even afterwards?
HW: Yeah, definitely afterwards. I mean…to some degree, you need to be conscious of your own self and the meaning that you have for yourself. Because if you’re trying to find meaning, which some small percentage of people do, through being the most gung-ho, bang-bang journalist, I think that’s deeply problematic. If you have a sense of self and a sense of your professionalism and a sense of your value as a human being, and you go into these difficult places, of course you are affected by what you see and by what you experience directly. I mean, sometimes you come under fire with the people you’re filming. But I’ve been very fortunate in that my sense of self has not been utterly damaged or subsumed by that violence. There was a particular story, which we can talk about later in Afghanistan, that was extremely difficult.

But again, I feel tremendous value in telling those stories, in being a witness to history. And there are times where you have to kind of break through the journalistic objectivity and genuinely help people. Sometimes we can do that by raising a little fund to get people money, or you can literally step up from behind the camera and stop something happening. That’s a very difficult line. I’ve seen the situation where the camera has stopped violence, because people feel self-conscious, and they don’t want to be seen doing the wrong thing. And I’ve seen other examples in my career where the camera incites people because they are so caught up in the irrational human psyche of violence that the camera can actually stimulate them in a kind of almost self-aggrandizing way.

So, there isn’t a simple answer to when do you stop filming and when do you help. Those are individual choices that you have to make depending on your own experience, on what the situation is and where you think it might lead in the future. But I certainly do believe that there are times where you just got to put the camera down and help.

CRV: But do people do that? Apart from yourself?
HW: Oh, absolutely. Lots of people have done that. I mean, just recently I read about Roger Lucy, who was a protest singer in the 1970 autobiography, autobiography about where he was harassed by the security police. They destroyed his career. He was completely not down and out, but he was definitely really deeply wounded by that experience. He then turned to television journalism as one of his things after music.

And he was filming in one of the townships in the 80’s and a group of youths wanted to necklace him. They had the tie on, they had the petrol. And Peter Magubani, who just died recently, the very famous photographer, black South African as well, stood up and spoke to the youths and said, leave him alone, he’s one of us, he’s a journalist. And so Peter Magubani’s intervention prevented Roger Lucy being killed. I’ve seen that happen. I had this similar, not nearly as dramatic an experience.

We were in Everton in 1984. It was a funeral for some activists who’d been shot by the police the week before. The tempers were high, and Everton was a very PAC township, which was quite anti-white in many respects. And we were all very nervous, and we got surrounded by the people while we were filming the funeral, and that was fine. It was very tense, but it was okay. And then the police moved in, and…the attitude changed immediately.

And somebody said to us, listen, just get in the car and go. So we didn’t panic, we got in the car and we started driving carefully through the crowd. It was very tense, people shouting at us, waving their fists, and we came to a fence. And we couldn’t get out. And we were trapped. I had earlier been showing a young boy, about 13, I was recording sound, the little VU meter going up and down, and he was fascinated, and we chatted a little bit. And it was a fairly inconsequential interaction, but I’d shown him some interest, and he arrived with a pair of wire cutters and cut the wire.

He certainly hadn’t planned it. I don’t know how that happened. Maybe it was a pair of pliers. But the wires got cut and we got out. So there the human interaction was a very small interaction between myself and that young boy had carried through all the irrationality of the violence. So, you know, for me, I don’t get completely wrapped up in the irrationality of the violence.

I do see in every situation that I’ve been in, there’s been some human strand or thread that is positive.

CRV: Well, this is an amazing story and it sort of debunks my thoughts and very common perceptions that journalists are only there to get a story that’s gonna sell. And normally it’s a story of lots of violence, conflict because people don’t like peace generally. I was thinking about it the other day people pray for peace, but they don’t buy the newspaper if there’s peace for prolonged period of time.

HW: Well, you know the human propensity for violence goes back into our evolutionary past. I mean, I don’t think any of us has a real answer to why we do the extraordinary terrible things we do to.

So, witnessing that deep strand in the human psyche, in the human experience is something that I think people must feel compelled by. You also ultimately do get repelled by it, but there’s a kind of a fascination with the abomination. So I think A, it’s really important that people know about it. And B, there is a kind of, you know, fascination with what happens in the deeper and darker recesses of our psyche. I would say that certainly I try to write good stories too and film good stories too. I do that a lot, but there has to be a balance. It’s really important to know that somebody was attacked and murdered in the house next to you or 10 blocks away or whatever. You can make decisions based on the things that are happening around you. But it’s also important to know that the neighbors stop an additional murder or something like that, you know, and that the people of the community came together and helped one another.

23:00 So, I mean…You know, the days of competing newspaper sellers standing on the corner shouting, you know, read all about it, the battle of Waterloo or something like that, which Waterloo was too early for that to happen. But read all about it. It’s kind of gone. People can choose what they want to read. They can flick through on their phone. So, yes, grabbing their attention is a problem. But of course, we look for a good story.

But you don’t go into journalism, well, I don’t know any journalists who are in journalism without some deep commitment to trying to make the world a better place.

CRV: Very, very interesting. I am very impressed. But tell me quickly, Hamilton, you obviously seem like you love what you do. You never get your down moments where you feel this is it, you wanna give up you just go on and you have fun all the way through.


HW: Well, it’s not quite like that. I mean, there’s two aspects. I’m also, I’m an entrepreneur and a businessman and we can talk about that too. I mean, I was thinking about it before we did this interview. I mean, there are times where the work never seems to come and you have to remind yourself that the essence of freelance entrepreneurial life is freedom.

You don’t have to go to the office every day and have the boss shout at you. And sometimes you have to trust those empty periods and know deeply within yourself that things will be all right. Nobody else can give you that feeling of hope, perhaps, maybe confidence is too easy a word. You have to find it within yourself. So there are many, many Monday mornings when I wake up and there’s absolutely nothing on the horizon.

Well, I don’t really pick up the phone anymore, but I certainly phone on my iPhone, send emails, keep inviting people for coffee, and then things start to move. And I don’t think that’s very different if you’re selling air conditioning units. You know, the entrepreneurial path also requires, for me, a real meaningful understanding of how to manage your money.

First of all, you must make sure that your taxes are paid. I mean, that’s honestly something I’ve been doing, you know, February, we’re nearly about to do provisional tax.

If somebody gives you R100,000 or you make R100,000 that you can put away, what do you do with that money? Do you put it in a savings account? The interest rates are quite high at the moment. You can get even up to nearly 8% interest. But what is the tax on the interest? Do you then, do you put it in an envelope that is structured for you by somebody else where you pay capital gains on the interest, which is 40% of your marginal rate, or do you pay your full marginal rate on a bank account interest? You need to know these things.

or at least know that these things are an issue and know how to ask people for the best advice. So, you must manage your money. What debts do you pay first? I know in your questions, you ask, what is the book that’s influenced you most as an entrepreneur? And I would say, The Richest Man in Babylon. Do you know that book?

CRV: Yes. Yeah, The Richest Man in Babylon.
HW: My dad gave it to me when I was in my late teens, just starting off. And you know, the first piece of advice I’ve always taken, as far as I can, is to pay myself first, to put 10%. Sometimes it’s only 5%, but put 10% of what I’ve earned into some kind of savings vehicle. These kind of very basic entrepreneurial skills are the same for journalism as they are for selling air conditioning units, to get back to my original example.

So, I spend a lot of time thinking about where do I invest? How do I reduce my tax burden? Who do I speak to about that? Are my taxes up to date? Is there a SARS kind of, not investigation, that’s a true stronger word, but is SARS asking questions? How quickly can I answer those questions? Those things are regular issues in my life. I’m not a salaried employee. I have to…

I have to create my own pension, I have to create my own salary, I have to pay my own taxes, I have to fix my own roof, and all of these things, so I spend a lot of time thinking about money.

CRV: But you’re not gonna go on pension anytime soon.
HW: No, I’m never gonna go on pension. I mean, I may not, I had a serious, serious back operation about six, seven years ago, and I think running around Ukraine, particularly driving around Ukraine in bumpy armoured vehicles, wearing heavy, omid plates on my chest and back would potentially ruin my back again. So I’m not going to do quite the war correspondence that I did in the past. But, you know, I did a film on the Zama Zamas. You know, we went down the mines with some of them, only a little way, I have to say, not all the way into the deepest depths because they said it’s too dangerous. But I’m still willing to take thoughtful risks in getting the story out and doing the film.

CRV: But going down the mine with a Zama-Zamas sort of stops your problem of sorting out your pension fund. You might not need it.
HW: No. Yes that that’s why I do it. You know, we did it I mean, I don’t want to talk too much about it, but we did it with a guy who we’d have established a relationship of trust He was the leader of a gang of Zama-Zamas. He was a very powerful character. We were with him we were his guy. So, the level of risk was fairly low at least for a short time period of time because we didn’t just wander in there stupidly as some people might do. We had already through various contacts made contact with the leader of a particular group of Zama Zama’s and we went to one area where they were processing the gold and people started getting uppity and very upset about us being there and this leader of the Zama Zamas said hey stop it, these are my guys. Now I’m not saying that would have lasted for a week.

But it was long enough for the two or three days that we were coming in and out of the area that we had that relationship of trust. So, it was a well thought out risk taking opportunity. It wasn’t just simply stumbling in. Look, that can happen. You can go to a rent boycott and that can get out of hand and the police can start shooting and you can get shot. You can see people around you being shot. I mean, I’ve seen a lot of that in my life, a lot. I’ve lost count of the number of people I’ve seen shot dead in front of me. But that’s, I don’t take those risks without having planned and without having contacts. Absolutely not.

CRV: Well, and I suppose you’ve lost friends through the years as well.
HW: Yeah, sure. I’ve lost some friends. you know, it’s…

It’s not easy to say something quick and philosophical about that. I mean, each death, unnecessary death, each early death is a tragedy.

CRV: I can imagine. Hamilton, just something that I’m quite interested in. You got involved with the BBC many, many years ago. You never considered going into the SABC, or ‘SAUK’, as they called it those days.

HV: Well, look, the SABC has been through many different iterations.

When I was a young guy, at 22, 21, 22, starting off, the SABC was really the voice of apartheid. It was an absolutely fascist controlled organ for the government. They would lie to the people on television, they would tell untruths, or they would spin the story so preposterously that they bore no relationship to what was really happening on the ground. So.

to be honest with you, the SABC under apartheid was absolutely something I never would have even considered working for. They were kind of the enemy. And there were good people there as we discovered later, because when De Klerk took over things changed dramatically and the SABC was able to find ways to start telling things in a much more balanced and useful way. So…

I don’t know much about the SABC in those days. I had nothing to do them. We would go and satellite our footage from their buildings in Auckland Park. And that was controlled. And sometimes they would pull the plug, literally. Literally, or turn the machines off if they didn’t like what was being shown. And I mean, interestingly, the Canadians, for example, were regarded as one of the great enemies of apartheid South Africa. I mean, the Canadians, you know? I mean, that’s how ridiculous the kind of apartheid government’s paranoia got to, you know.

And so no, I would, and then it, under Zuma it was a disaster, an absolute disaster. It was again, it became the mouthpiece of a corrupt, dishonest politician president. Hlaudi Motsoeneng is just, I can’t even think of words to describe the ridiculousness of his reign as head of the SABC, how that ever happened.

I couldn’t have even dreamt of working for the SABC. And by the way, some journalist’s life who stood up to that came under threat. One young girl was killed. No one knows exactly how, but she certainly she was harassed to the point where she was killed. So, the SABC is on a good wicket now. They’re doing great work, really, really great work. But I found other avenues to do my journalism.

CRV: And follow your passions.
HW: Yes, absolutely.

CRV: Something else that interests me is you’re not a born South African. You were born in America, and you’ve got an American passport. Why on earth would you not want to go back to America? Most people would dream of that opportunity.

HW: Well, I love America, make no mistake about it. It’s a very big part of my life. I spent the first five years of my life there. I mean in my 20s I spent another five formative years traveling and living in America.

South Africa has become my fate. I was brought here as a five-year-old boy, and this is where I belong. I haven’t been to the States for a few years, but every time I go, I always enjoy it. I think it’s a great country. I think it’s going through some very, very difficult times now. I’m extremely distressed about the fact that a country like America can have Donald Trump as one of the most likely, very likely,

president. I mean, it’s just beyond belief. I know millions, if not hundreds of millions of Americans agree with me. So, let’s not get putting every American into a little box of, you know. But South Africa is where I belong. It’s where fate brought me, and this is where I’m here to tell the stories and to live and to contribute.

CRV: Well, and that includes places like Port St. John’s where you had a lot of amazing holidays as a child.

HW: Yeah well you know one of the, the reason I came here is my mom and dad in America got separated divorced and my mom met John who’s my he’s now passed on but he was my stepfather and he was an amazing stepfather to me and he took us on family holidays to Port St. John’s taught us fishing.

And yeah, I mean, John is one of the reasons I live in South Africa is because the South Africa that he showed me as a child is the South Africa that I came to love.

CRV: So where did you do your fishing? Pebble Beach? Third Beach?
HW: Mostly, yeah, you know, off Ferry Point was a big place where we did fishing. We went to Poenskop, if you know Poenskop. In those days you had to walk to Poenskop. I don’t know if there’s a road there now. I haven’t been back to Ports and Johns for many years.

But yeah, we did a lot of fishing and I learned to speak some Xhosa as well. Living in Port St. Johns and going to school in Grahamstown. And so yeah, South Africa is just part of who I am.

CRV: Speaking of fishing, do you still fish?
HW: Not really, no. I taught my steps on to fish a little bit, but it wasn’t an entirely successful enterprise.

Yeah, I spend most of my time off time either doing things with the kids, although they’re big now, so I do less of that. I read a lot, not just to pass the time of day, but reading literature and learning from literature is the way I learn to write. It’s the way I learn to understand the world in a different way, a little better. I read a lot of Russian literature in the last year.

you know, the Ukraine war stimulated a lot of my interests. I read a lot of Dostoevsky, a lot of Sholokhov and other Russian writers. So, yeah, I don’t exercise as vigorously as I used to, but I do a lot of walking. I do Tai Chi on my own. Oh, well. Just keep myself quite fit. And I’ve just had an operation and my blood pressure was good. Everything else. So, I’m in quite good shape.

I’ve got a lot more years ahead of me of telling stories and making a living out of doing that.
CRV: Awesome. Any specific adventures that you’ve got planned for future?
HW: I’m working on a very powerful, potentially very powerful film, which we are pitching to Al Jazeera. I can’t talk about what it is exactly, but that will take us probably into Kenya, possibly across to the States. So yeah, I mean, I’m not covering the front lines of wars the way I used to, but I’m still doing very, very powerful act of journalism.

CRV: And then you also write for Daily Maverick. I write for Daily Maverick. I also am finishing up the finished the third book in my trilogy of Arabella Tweenie Children’s Stories who grows up in Cherbourg. And she has all sorts of magical adventures and. That’s sitting with the publisher now. We had a meeting in early February.

and she’s happy with the structure of the book and we now need to do some sort of micro editing, but that hopefully will come out around about August. I’m working on a memoir about war journalism and about PTSD and why I’m not debilitated by PTSD and by the things that I’ve seen, but it’s not that I take them lightly, but I also believe there was value in war.
So I’m writing that. Sorry, I just want to come back quickly.

CRV: Sorry, I just want to come back quickly. Do you suffer from PTSD?

HW: Yeah, sure. Of course. I don’t suffer. It’s not debilitating. But if I hear a car backfire, I’m definitely going to be, you know, a bit jumpy. And I think that’s a quite normal reaction in many ways. You know, there were times where a shot would go off and you would have to hit the ground. That’s happened to me so often in my life that it’s a normal or Pavlovian reaction. I mean, I remember once in Eastgate, a child popped a balloon and I hit the ground, you know, but I’m less jumpy now, I must admit. But I think it’s normal. I think it would be impossible to have experienced the war in Afghanistan on two, three different occasions, the war in Iraq, the township unrest, which was basically

a low level civil war, the Rwandan genocide, the war in Angola, the war in Mozambique, the war between Eritrea and Ethiopia in 1999, I could go on without having some level of emotional uncertainty, which is on the edge of damage.

CRV: Well, but a couple of articles that I’ve read, you’ve sort of…
taken out and we sort of spoken about it already. You go beyond the war and you look for what’s beautiful, what’s positive and you don’t just get stuck on death and destruction.

HW: That’s absolutely correct and I think you’ve expressed it in a way, in a simple clear way that has… is quite a revelation for me. I don’t do that. I always look for something beyond that. I look for the human connection. I look for the human positivity and for the positivity in the world around us. And I think I can say that’s one of the reasons I’m not stuck in a kind of negative cycle of depression and PTSD that I can’t escape from because I’m not. I mean I’m a really engaged, active, positive person.

CRV: We haven’t had any loud sounds going off.
HW: No, well you’ve got such a lovely place here.

CRV: But it’s almost looking beyond all the negatives. I almost see it as a lesson for life for everyone out there. We can get so stuck on all the negativity happening around us, but you have to move beyond that. You have to look for what’s beautiful and what’s positive, because it is there.

HW: It really is there. And we should look at it, if we think about our own country, South Africa, we have problems, we have serious problems and people are not, they’re not being addressed. And that is an issue. And they’re not going to be addressed anytime too soon either.

But, you know, we had, for example, a small example is where I live in Parkview in Johannesburg, we had water off and on, off and on for like two weeks and over this last weekend it was just terrible. But the point is the guys were there all-night working. They weren’t getting it right and there were mistakes that were made but it wasn’t just like everybody threw up their hands. The community met recently, I think yesterday, with some of the not that I particularly like these Joburg councillors, don’t get me wrong, I think there’s a lot of corruption and problems in the council. But people were coming across racial and cultural lines and doing something. So it really isn’t a one-way street. And when I think of the absolute cruelty of apartheid, and there’s no way to sugarcoat it. I mean, the trains might have run on time, as famously they said about Mussolini and Hitler.

but what was happening to black people and to people of any colour who resisted the absolute fascist regime that we had under apartheid. And the cruelty that was visited on black people in the name of God knows what some sort of name of civilization perhaps is what the people would call it. We’ve come so far from that. We don’t even think in those very few people, there are some people who still think in those race terms, but very few people think in those race terms.

We’ve made tremendous strides. And that I have to give the ANC credit for that as a historical organization. That was their vision. When people like Verwoerd were, even Smuts were dividing people on the basis of race, forcing them to live in certain areas, denying them jobs, denying them education, giving them a humiliating task to do, giving them humiliating names. The ANC had a different vision. Starting from 1912, I had a vision for all South Africans. The Freedom Charter in the 1950s, I think it was in Kliptown, was expressly under the height of apartheid talked about creating a South Africa where all belong in it black or white. We shouldn’t forget the gains we’ve made in that area. We do have to call corruption to account and the ANC has definitely veered away from the path. It hasn’t veered away from the path of non-racialism.

It has to some degree, we could talk about some of the corrupt deals about cadre deployment and that kind of thing. But the basic way South Africans see each other and see the world and see their country is utterly transformed from what it was 30 years ago. And I don’t think we should forget that.

CRV: Even though there’s still a lot of corruption happening, and people get jobs based on

who they are and not what they can do.

HW: Absolutely, and we must call that out and criticize that. That’s absolutely correct. But the basic vision of a society is utterly different from what it was under Verwoerd and Vorster and Malan and people like that. It’s utterly different. And I mean, it’s not about holding up a banner and waving to the world. But it’s about looking at ourselves and the way we interact with other human beings that matters.

CRV: Just quickly, you’ve mentioned in the beginning, certain people love cameras, and they react to the cameras when you as a journalist have your cameras on them. And I was actually thinking of Malema and the EFF. Are they not very similar to that? From a journalistic point of view.

HW: Look. Lots of people, perhaps most people, love the limelight. We love uncritical attention. We don’t like critical attention. Julius Malema is a very worrying person.

I mean he talks absolute nonsense most of the time. I mean his complete nonsense about what he said this weekend. We’re going to get rid of the Western investors and do everything with China and Russia. Yes, China is a real issue. China is a real player. We all know that. Our trade with Russia is a quarter of 1% of our trade figures. I know this from having dealt with an economist recently. 0.25% of our trade, of our total trade is with Russia. So, Russia cannot possibly in any rational sense take over from the European Union, America, Japan, et cetera, it can’t. So, it’s a complete lie that he’s uttering. And that is very dangerous. But many, many people see that as well. I mean, it’s not like he’s got a kind of uncritical audience. But he…

He’s a very, very worrying person. I agree. It’s extremely worrying.

CRV: It is extremely worrying. But to some extent, a little bit funny to see how he reacts.
HW: Yes. I mean, a significant majority of South Africans of all races are quite conservative people. They don’t believe this kind of thing. You know, you were talking earlier about Herman Mashaba coming on the show. I mean, he…

has got a tremendous following. Other people, Musi Maimane, the Build One South Africa, I think is his party. We have a lot of people who don’t believe in that kind of nonsense.
But it’s really important to remember our past and to remember the humiliation that black people were forced to endure. And the very real economic cruelty that was forced upon them. And understand that we still haven’t managed as a society to get out of that economic distress for many people. So, there are people who are going to turn to some populist like Julius Malema, because he seems to offer a chicken in every pot is the cliched kind of response. And that’s going to appeal to some people. But I don’t think the majority of South Africans believe in that. The problem is we have no one really to believe in at the moment. Cyril Ramaphosa has been a terrible disappointment.

CRV: You can say that again.
HW: The DA is losing traction in the black community hand over fist.

And without growing in the black community, they’re not going to become a major political power in this country. There is significant political power at the moment, but I’m particularly concerned that they’re losing ground. Helen Zille really should have retired from public life completely a very long time ago.

CRV: I must be honest, I would be able to sit for entire day or more to just listen to all your literally war stories.
HW: Yeah, sure. You can call this war stories. Well, we discussed that at Coffee. I don’t always talk about war stories because nobody can really beat the story of going into to fight with the Taliban. Well, I didn’t fight, but to film the US Marines fighting the Taliban.

CRV: Yeah, I think the reality is we can talk about all your amazing war stories for days on end. But we are here to talk about your business.

and how you get through, well, enjoy the highs and get through the lows, although it doesn’t seem like you’ve got lots of lows, but yeah, how to manage to keep the flame of business adventure burning?

HW: Well, I’m very fortunate in the flame of business adventure in that I absolutely know that I’m doing what I’m put on the planet to do. So, you know, I don’t really read these self-
motivating books and things like that, because I know what I’m doing and I’m very fortunate. I found that at 19. People thought I was an idiot to leave engineering and go and do BA. But I knew I had a deep, deep inner, I didn’t realize then that it was an inner certainty. I saw it more as a compulsion at 19, of course. But I look back now and I see the inner certainty driving me.

through difficult times, through lost times. In 1985, in February 1985, I saw Seven People Shot Dead in front of me in Crossroads by Kufut. We’re filming for the BBC. And that was a powerful moment where myself exploded into the cruelty. And I became deeply emotionally involved in what I had witnessed and what I’d seen. It was the first people I’d seen being killed. And I can say for sure that it knocked me emotionally. There was then as a young white man, there was the issue of do you go to the apartheid army? That made it certain for me that I wouldn’t go to the apartheid army, but that came with a whole lot of challenges itself. People thought I was a traitor to the country. They thought I was a traitor to the people, whichever however you wanna define the people is another discussion.

Interestingly, girls were often the nastiest and they never had to go to the army.
And I don’t want to get too much into that, but I found that very difficult. And I left the country in a state of extreme anxiety, extreme depression. I did want to go to America. So that was, you know, I wanted, I was 23. So, you know, I wanted to see the world as well, but it was hard because I left on a note of extreme pain. So I wasn’t just putting a backpack and opening up to the world as a 23 year old. I was doing that, but I was also carrying with me the whole burden of some of the worst years of South Africa’s apartheid. And I found it very difficult to write about anything else but apartheid.

And I travelled around the States for a couple of months on a Greyhound bus. I literally went all the way from Boston, around the country, right the way up to Skagway in Alaska, back again. So, I saw the States and I knew then at 23, I can only do this now. There’ll come a point in my life where I can’t just sort of take time off and I wouldn’t wanna be on a Greyhound bus now, you know, 23 it’s a lot easier. So I went to go and see America and I learned about it written some things about it. But remember also white South Africans were absolute persona non grata in the world at the time because of apartheid.

CRV: Even if you had an American passport?
HW: Well, I was legally not persona non grata but I was emotionally and politically not liked by many people. And I had to explain to them in often kind of extreme detail about the fact that what I’d seen…

against and people then opened up they were they were interested you know people are not one thing but that was very hard. That certainly put my career back some years, because I had to keep going and deal with the extreme trauma, both of what I’d witnessed and what the country was going through. But of course, now that’s a rich vein to draw on that suffering and that uncertainty.

CRV: But it’s a reality.
HW: It’s a reality, but it’s also, as I said to you earlier, let’s not forget where we came from and where we are today. I can say that with a deep emotional certainty because I saw it, I was there. I wasn’t in the closeted white suburbs, worrying about my job as a sales rep for IBM or something, you know.

I was there in the townships with the reality of what was happening.

CRV: And Koevoet shooting people dead.
HW: And Koevoet shooting people dead, like animals. Dragging them like sacks of potatoes into the back of a Casspir and throwing them in with the blood dripping out the back behind from between the doors. So that doesn’t define me, it doesn’t destroy me at all. But it’s certainly, and I would be, I think, unnatural if it hadn’t been a tremendously damaging and frightening thing to witness that I took, that I internalized. And I’m not ashamed of that. I mean, I think it shows my humanity. It was against my deepest principles of humanity that I probably hadn’t even worked out that clearly, but they certainly were innate within me. But I kept writing, kept finding about things to write, taught English in Japan for a year, which was an amazing experience. I wrote then and I listened every night to the BBC on the shortwave radio, because in those days,

There was no CNN, there was no internet. I used to sit in my little bath in Japan. In Japan they had these cube baths that are a meter cubed. So, you sit cross-legged in the bath and you’re up to your neck in water. It’s wonderful.

CRV: Can you read in that bath?
HW: No, but you can listen to your shortwave radio.
CRV: Okay.
HW: And I missed South Africa dreadfully. I mean, ironically, I was thinking about it this morning. In leaving South Africa defined me as a South African.

Because then I knew at least subconsciously what I was leaving behind. And I knew that I had to get back to this. And I wouldn’t have come back if I don’t, I would have come back occasionally, but I would not have come back to live if Mandela hadn’t been released.

CRV: But you came back before De Klerk’s speech.
HW: I was living in New York and I, in January of 1988,

1990 and things were changing. My dad was sending me stuff, my stepdad, you know, sending me stuff. Leadership Magazine at the time was very much looking at leaders who were already kind of ANC, but they weren’t allowed to say it as such, you know, and they were highlighting those kind of changes that were happening. In 1987, I think it was, there was the safari to Dakar, when a whole lot of Afrikaner intellectuals and business leaders went to go and meet with Thabo Mbeki in the ANC in Dakar in 1987, and the government went crazy about it, but they were kind of powerless. Ten years before, they would have been locked up and tortured.

they wouldn’t have done it, you know. So, things were changing. And then I remember Winnie on the Today Show in New York saying we expect him to be released in a matter of weeks. Now I don’t know how Winnie knew that, I don’t know how NBC got that interview, but they did and I thought okay, and I just got on a plane and I came back to South Africa and I witnessed the speech on February 2nd and the release which I think was the 11th of February, so it was just a few days ago as the anniversary. And I knew then that my fate was here. I was going to travel. I went to Afghanistan, I went to Iraq, I went all over Africa as far as Algeria. You know, I’ve spent a lot of time in Europe, in Asia, in the United States, but my base and my spiritual home is South Africa.

CRV: Good to know. And we’re very glad that you decided to stay in South Africa. And yeah, that I had the honour of meeting you at the PSA meeting. But speaking of PSA, for those of you who don’t know, it’s a Professional Speakers Association. You also do a lot of speaking work. Public speaking, professional speaking. What type of engagements do you do? And does it make money?

Well, at this point, it’s not making real money for me, but these things, all the storytelling, these multiple streams of income, they all intertwine sometimes in ways that you can’t directly and logically evaluate and see. So I just keep going. I mean, you’re not paying me to be on this podcast, but it certainly is part of my career, to be here.

So, on Friday morning, I’m talking at an investment firm, a small investment firm about the Rwandan genocide. So that’s not directly related to their business, but every Friday morning, this investment firm has an open intellectual forum where they engage with people and they’ve asked me to come and talk about the Rwandan genocide. And part of that talk, a very important part of that talk will be about my relationship with Beata, the Rwandan woman who was a child on that convoy.

when we filmed it in 1994, and they were being evacuated from Rwanda to Burundi. So, I’ve been asked to speak at the Fyn Arts Festival in Hermanus, which I think is in July, or I don’t know, I’ve got the dates in the middle of the year anyway. I’m going to be talking about my experiences in Afghanistan in my first trip in nine, just after 9-11 in 2001, where we were filming as it turned out, on the site, on the Acropolis of a Lost City of Alexander the Great. Because Alexander the Great was in Afghanistan. So, when you talk about looking for the positive and looking beyond the war, we were there filming the Northern Alliance fighting the Taliban, but one of the guys banged on the rocks and he said, Iskander, Iskander, which means Alexander in Dari, Persian, which is the language they speak in Northern Afghanistan. And I was like, yeah.

Alexander was here, he was in Afghanistan, whatever. But what he was trying to tell me, which I only discovered through research later, this was a town called Alexandria on the Oxus. The Oxus River is now the Amu Darya River on the border between Afghanistan and Tajikistan. And so, I’m talking about that and how I came to write a novel based on my journalistic experiences. I took that experience way beyond the journalism.

And I’m also talking about the value of something I’ve talked about earlier in this talk, the value of bearing witness and what it means and what it means for my development. I mean, it really starts when I was 10 years old, when I won the English prize in Grade Three, or it was then standard one. And the teacher said to my mom, you know, he’s actually really quite good.

And I’d never thought of myself as being good at anything. I’d come out of a divorced family. And I wasn’t, looking back, one can now see the strands more clearly. At the time, one is caught in a kind of morass of childhood confusion, and you’re trying to make your way through it. And I’ve never forgotten that. I’ve lost the book. It was 365 Bedtime Stories. But I’ve never forgotten the fact that the teacher said to me is really quite good.

CRV: Amazing what one teacher can do to you.
HW: Absolutely. I mean, I’ve just finished a piece about my other English teacher when I was a little bit older called Major Johnston. And he took us when I was in Grade Eight. And it’s a little bit older. I was 12 turning 13. To go and see the Picasso in the…

Johannesburg Art Museum called Tête d’Arlequin II. Yeah, yes, yes. The d’Arlequin’s head too. And it’s a very, very dramatic, powerful, disturbing artwork. I don’t know if you’ve seen it. You can just Google Tête d’Arlequin II. And it’s scribbles of red and blue and yellow and black. And the Auliquin, the clown has got missing teeth. And Johannesburg Society at the time, in the height of Apartheid 1974 went absolutely crazy. How dare people import such a thing almost, they didn’t know what to call it into our art gallery. It was called cirrhosis of the liver, it was called halitosis, it was called ‘Die Rooi Gevaar’. And actually, it was a Picasso. And my English teacher said to me, you’ve got to see a Picasso. And that, I didn’t like the painting. If you look at it, it is a disturbing painting.

But what he had done successfully with me at any rate is he’d forced me to look at it and think, this is something important. What do I get out of this? How do I understand it? And many years later, I was in the Metropolitan Museum in New York in my late 20s, learning to be a writer in Manhattan. And I was walking through the Metropolitan Museum, which is incredible. I mean, going to, if you live in New York, you’ve got to go to the art galleries, you know.

And I came across Van Gogh’s Cypresses, which is the most beautiful painting. And because I had, I didn’t consciously do this, but I looked at this painting and I looked deeper than just the color and the light. I looked into the brushstrokes, and it hit me like an epiphany. That’s how I want to write the way Van Gogh paints. Those confident, powerful, colorful brushstrokes that combine to make something unique and beautiful in the world was an absolute revelation to me.

CRV: It seems shivers down my spine. The way you talk about this, absolutely amazing. But tell me quickly, when things get really rough and you feel down and out, what fun and exciting ways do you use to regroup, refocus and rejuvenate yourself?

HW: Well, I do a lot, as I said to you earlier, I do a lot of reading of literature. And sometimes, you know, I just read Thomas Mann’s Dr. Faustus. It’s not an easy read. It is overwritten. It’s too long. And as a mature writer myself, I can look at Thomas Mann, who was one of the world’s greats. He won the Nobel Prize and say, you didn’t get it all right there. So that teaches me something. I find that very empowering. I spend a lot of time with my kids and my wife. And we do things together.

And, you know, we have a lovely Johannesburg garden in the lovely, lovely Highveld weather, which is just incredible. So very often we’ll just have a braai, read the newspapers. I mean, on Saturday I read five newspapers. On Sunday I read two newspapers and get ideas. That invigorates me. I can’t do that during the week. I look at the news mostly on my phone during the week. And, you know, just we don’t travel quite, since the pandemic, we haven’t traveled quite as much as we would like to. That’s going to start again, I hope.

CRV: Would you be traveling locally or abroad?
HW: Well, both, both, but particularly locally. I mean, the pandemic was devastating. There was months where there were nothing. There was one month where I was lucky to earn R3000, you know, but I had looked after the money, as I said to you earlier.

So, I did have savings and I will always miss those savings. I could be a little bit richer if I, but you know, that wasn’t, I didn’t have any choice over that. It was a Black Swan event, but I had looked after the money, and I do look after the money. And that I think is my key entrepreneurial point. Fantastic.

CRV: So, getting back to your beautiful garden, do you like gardening or do you leave it up to your wife to sort out?

HW: Well, she’s, yeah, I leave most of the creative stuff around the house. She’s fantastic, she’s got such a brilliant sense of beauty and of creating visual beauty. It’s her space, you know, it’s her domain. I mean, not that I see it in a sexist way at all, but it’s her… I mean, I do contribute. We did have a huge argument when we were renovating the cottage, because I said we need to put in a shower.

And she said, no, bath is enough. I said, no, we need a shower. And it’s the only time she said, you’re absolutely right.

CRV: Oh no, I would have agreed to have her.

HW: No, no, you need a shower. People want to have a quick shower.

CRV: You can’t read in the shower.
HW: No, that’s true. That’s true. You can’t.
CRV: Unless you’ve got a waterproof book.

HW: Yeah, but yeah, no, we.

We love living in South Africa. There’s so much to do and to see. 

CRV: Oh, that is so good to hear. I suppose it would be a useless question if I ask, if you were 20 years old again, would you do anything different?
HW: Yeah, I did think about that. What I did at 19, which is basically 20, was quite significant. I changed my career direction completely, from the conventional study engineering and be a good kind of middle-class citizen to a much more spiritual but risk-taking career. I’m…

We didn’t really have the opportunity to go to writing workshops and to learn from other writers at the time. The British tradition has been much deeply influential here as opposed to the American tradition. Americans are taught to write from very early on. They encouraged to, we do school essays, but the idea is that if a writer is something you’re born with, you can’t learn, and that’s absolutely not true.

So I would have taken, I don’t know where I would have found those opportunities, but I would have tried to take more opportunities to learn from experienced writers and how to do it. I had to get to New York to learn to do that, and I was 27 by that time.

CRV: But nowadays you can just use AI and they write the article for you.
HW: Yeah, it’s not going to work. There’s no way an AI can write, what I write.

They can look, I don’t use AI enough. I do use it particularly in my filmmaking to transcribe interviews, things like that. And it definitely is something I’m gonna use more of. I mean, there’s no question about it. But AI can’t write what I can write. It just, you know, I’m not a technology expert, but I think we’re gonna have to start, every document we create, it’s gonna have to start with a fingerprint or something to prove that it’s a human being. Writing it, something, you know, we’re gonna have to do that because what technology can do is terrifying. I don’t, for me, technology only enhances my job. It’s not threatened. That may change.

CRV: And it can’t bring those personal interactions.
HW: AI is not going to remember my fishing trip to Ports St. Johns.

CRV: No, it won’t. And I think we’re definitely going to put a link in our description about your article to Port St. Johns holidays.

Definitely something that you have to read. I forgot to ask you the metaphorical mountains that you still want to climb in the near future, apart from your filming that you are planning to do, anything else that you want to conquer?

HW: Well, I am working on a memoir, which is a challenge because you can’t put everything in. I’m not working on autobiography, it’s a memoir. So, it’s about, well, I don’t know exactly what it’s about because a memoir is on the border between fiction and nonfiction. It’s about memory. And there are things I’m checking because it helps to be accurate. But it’s not a piece of journalism. It’s not a kind of check every single fact and every single conversation or quote. Some of the conversations are remembered as they are remembered. And that’s how we tell stories to each other. What your dad said, what your mom said, what your brother said, whatever.

So, I’m working on that quite quickly. I’ve got, as I said to you earlier, a very big film that I’m working on. It hasn’t been commissioned yet, but I think it will be commissioned. We may even make it a two-parter. Working on book four of the Arabella series. I’ve got another novel in the back of my head, which is not….I’ve got a very good single idea, but it’s not quite developing the way I would like it. But that’s probably because I haven’t had the time to work on it. Because inspiration comes as much from work as it does from the heavens or whatever. Yeah, so I’ve got lots, I mean, I have another distant idea for a novel about the Second World War, which is just an idea. So, I’m gonna keep going until I fall over.

CRV: That is very good to know. And you’ve mentioned you’re a book that you would recommend. Is there anything else, any other books, especially for entrepreneurs out there?
HW: Well, I think everybody recommends Simon Sinek. What would first ask why or something like that.

CRV: Find your Why.
HW: Yeah, it’s something like that. I mean, he’s great.

I honestly, the richest man in Babylon, certainly that changed my, I didn’t, I was never educated in finance. So, I would say to entrepreneurs, find a book about finance. How do you make your money grow outside of your work? What’s the difference between a stock and a bond? What’s the price earnings ratio? Why does a price earnings ratio matter? You don’t have to become a stockbroker, but you should understand where opportunities for growing your money outside of your business might lie. And absolutely make sure that your business is underlaying by good money management. Because that will help you survive. I survived the pandemic; I survived two years of almost no income because I had managed my money. And I’m not rich, but I’m not desperate.

And that helps. It helps tremendously. I can take time off to come and spend two hours doing a podcast with you or someone like that. I don’t have an independent income. I have to keep working and I think that’s a blessing. But manage your money, manage your money. To me is really important.

CRV: So that you do have a choice.
HW: Yeah.

CRV: I’m about to be adjudicating a bunch of Grade Two and Three orators at a school orators’ competition. What, as a professional speaker, what advice would you give them?
HW: Give the children.
CRV: Yes.
HW: Breathe and look at the audience. Engage with the audience. Don’t read off a piece of paper. Doesn’t matter if you make a mistake because the audience doesn’t know what you’re going to say. So, if you forget to say something, don’t worry about it, just carry on.

CRV: Okay, and your opinion of who can become a professional speaker eventually one day? Anybody can. What I would say about professional speaking is, yes, you can learn and you must learn certain physical and intellectual skills to help you speak correctly. But don’t become so polished in your delivery that you lose authenticity.

HW: You know, nobody wants some kind of quasi-Shakespearean orator waving their hands about and declaiming with great overconfident, bellowing voices. They want to engage with you as an authentic person. So, engage with people in the audience, look at them, see what their reactions are. That will guide you. Authenticity is much more important than polish. Very, very wise words.

And if you are not as proficient in English as you should be, as your audience might be. Are you talking as a second language speaker?

CRV: Yes.
HW: You know, I am cursed and blessed by being a first language speaking English speaker. An American writer once put it, if you’re a first language English, and I’m paraphrasing, it’s like inheriting a giant trust fund. You never really have to work for your…

You know, I speak Afrikaans well, I speak German well, but I don’t speak idiomatic fluent Afrikaans the way you guys speak idiomatically fluent English. I’ve never made, I did try to do the Afrikaans ‘Mondeling’ at school. And I foolishly told the one of the few Afrikaner fellow pupils that I was entering the ‘Mondeling’ competition and he immediately went behind my back and entered the ‘Mondeling’ competition and won it hands down. So, I learned to keep my mouth shut, that it was important. Because I would have won the ‘Mondeling’ Prize otherwise, you know. Well, I think I would have, you know. But I’ve never had to give a speech in another language. So that’s, I quite envy people like yourself who can speak languages so clearly and so easily, not easily, but so well. Because as a…

first language English speaker, I can always drop into an English word or phrase and almost anywhere in the world, outside of Russia, I found, or the former Soviet Union, people will understand. So, I’m lazy in that way.

CRV: But it’s still an advantage.
HW: Well, look, English is the language of the world. There’re historical reasons for that. And particularly American English. I mean, the computer you’re sitting in front of will correct your spelling from colour with a U to no U, unless you change it. It is an advantage. And it’s an advantage we have as a country in that most people in this country speak reasonable English or most middle class, even lower middle-class people. Most people who’ve got a reasonable, some sort of even primary education speak English. And that helps us to engage with the world.

HW: It definitely does.

CRV: Hamilton, just quickly final words of wisdom for people that want to go into the journalism field.
HW: Well, start getting published as soon as you can. Make a name for yourself, get a byline, and look for stories in unusual places because you will find them. And those are the stories that can catapult you into a different level. Like all entrepreneurial journeys, there are setbacks, there are times of drought, even famine, as we experienced in the pandemic. But it is an absolutely wonderful, enthralling journey where you live in so many aspects of the world around you. You get to experience such a broad

arena of the world, that it’s a wonderful way to live. You’re probably not going to make as much money as a stockbroker, but if you manage your money correctly and you look for opportunities, you will certainly make a good living.

Thank you for reading the transcript of our interview between Christél Rosslee-Venter and Hamilton Wende.

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