Milton Nkosi: The apartheid child who changed Africa’s story

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As a child of Soweto, apartheid South Africa’s most notorious black township, Milton Nkosi could easily have become an embittered adult; in June 1976 he witnessed the Soweto uprising in which white police brutally suppressed protests by black schoolchildren, leading to many deaths. Yet, as apartheid began to collapse in the early 1990s, Milton found himself drawn into TV journalism; enabling him to question his former tormentors and helping viewers around the world to see the moral case for change. So began a career that took him from translator and fixer to producer and eventually, the head of bureau for the BBC’s news operation in South Africa, where he then sought to diversify coverage of a fast-changing continent. As Milton explains in this conversation with Owen Bennett-Jones, his humble beginnings turned out to be an asset: Among his childhood neighbours in Soweto were anti-apartheid activists including Nelson Mandela’s wife and children, many of whom would become valuable contacts. However, after the transition to democracy in 1994, Milton also had to ask uncomfortable questions of some of them, as claims of corruption emerged within the ANC government. Moral dilemmas such as this defined his working life: Is it even possible to be an impartial reporter when your subject might be a close associate? For Milton, the issues need to be seen in context. As he points out: “Nobody can ever justify apartheid based on the mistakes of the post-apartheid leaders”. Produced by Michael Gallagher Editor Bridget Harney Image: (Milton Nkosi) Christian Parkinson

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