Once upon a time in Africa…
Sunday 19 April 2020
Not surprisingly, the BBC home page this morning is, again, a mono-story affair; wall-to-wall corona. Except for a tiny diversion: "Lesotho's PM Sends Army into Streets".
Which ignited a memory of the same mountain kingdom encircled by South Africa, way back in the days when twitter was something you heard outside your window at day's break, cellular communication was a glitch in Steven Spielberg's imagination, and a reporter's best mate was a phone booth with a dial tone.
24 January 1986: the head of Lesotho's military, Major-General Justin Lekhanya, overthrew the Prime Minister before dawn. This, after all, was Africa in the days when military coups were as regular as the weather. Those tended to follow a set recipe: take over national radio and put the country in lockdown with sealed borders.
Which explains why it took a group of us, Johannesburg-based reporters, four days to make it across the border and into the capital, Maseru. We were promptly shown into Lekhanya's office, to be lectured on why a patriot such as himself had been compelled to involve the army in politics.
It was 28 January and, armed with the story, we made a dash back across the border to grab the first phone and call it in. If memory serves, it was Ruth Pitchford who picked up the phone on the desk to hear this hyper-ventilating reporter offer an African urgent.
And she said something along these lines: "You can relax. The Challenger space shuttle has just exploded on take-off. London has sent a message telling everyone not to file anything short of a world war". ■