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There is much to be learnt from biographies of leaders in one’s own industry. So on a recent visit to London I grabbed a copy after spotting John Humphrys’s autobiography. In it the 33 year-veteran of the BBC Radio 4’s Today show shared his experiences. The Today programme was the UK’s top radio news programme with Welshman Humphrys its toughest interviewer.
Two things will remain after the last of 400 pages was turned. First: Humphrys’s life was defined at 23 (in 1966) when he was the first television reporter on the scene at the Aberfan disaster in South Wales. An old coal dump, transformed into slush by rain and springs, flooded the village below killing 116 children and 28 adults. Officials had been repeatedly warned of the danger but did nothing. Humphrys operated since on the belief authority must always be challenged.
Second lesson comes from some honest reflection on his long and hugely successful career. In his musings Humphrys differentiates between scepticism and cynicism: “We should all be sceptical: it’s healthy. But cynicism is the enemy of democracy.” He continues by opining how cynicism, especially by the media, has contributed to the rise of populism in the West.
From a South African perspective, it’s well to absorb both lessons. And worth applying them to the latest Eskom headlines. We should be sceptical of those wanting to eject Public Enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan because of a manufactured crisis that “embarrassed” his boss. Gordhan has an impeccable record of selfless public service. His accusers – not so much.
Cyril Ramaphosa: The Audio Biography
Listen to the story of Cyril Ramaphosa's rise to presidential power, narrated by our very own Alec Hogg.