Cameraman’s memoir depicts dangers inherent in reporting from conflict areas


In the book titled The Accidental Frontline Journalist award-winning South African cameraman Nkosini Samuel Msibi , popularly known as “Scud Missile”, explores his extraordinarily long career from growing up on a white-owned farm in slavery-like conditions to becoming a video journalist by accident.

On the book cover is a silhouette image of a man looking through the lens of a camera while facing a gold-painted horizon that appears to be illuminated by the setting sun as if to illustrate the setting of an illustrious career of a world-weary combat videographer.

Born in Mbizaneni in 1961, a year before the Sharpeville massacre, Msibi’s life can be traced through some of South Africa’s significant historic events like the establishment of Umkhonto We Sizwe and the naming of Chief Albert Luthuli as Africa’s first winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.

In the book Msibi narrates growing up experiences and his impoverished family background which “stuck out like a sore thumb”. He traces the footprints of segregation and humiliation whose imprints are visible throughout many generations in his lineage.  

The memoir was written by biographer Nonto Mzilethi as narrated by Nkosini Samuel Msibi himself. The unflinching detail in his descriptions evokes the very sights, smells, and sensations of war as the author takes the reader by the hand and walks them through a traveller’s account of his dare-devil lifestyle and the dark life of war journalism.

The battle-hardened cameraman has worked in most of the Sadc countries, including Zimbabwe and has witnessed first-hand the deadly aftermath of conflict and famine in the killing fields of South Africa, Rwanda, Somalia, The Middle East and all the other places that he traversed throughout his 35 years as a video journalist.

Msibi became one of the pioneer black journalists inwho had the opportunity to be among the first to work for a state broadcaster. However, South Africa’s volatile townships were out of bounds for white journalists and so black journalists were recruited and thrown into the deep end of the apartheid abyss instructed to take “only the kind of footage that portrayed the nationalist government in a positive light”, but events on the ground quickly overtook that narrative.

HIs lens and that of his colleagues Juda Ngwenya, Spokes Mashiyane and others captured some of the most brutal moments that took place under the watch of apartheid South Africa including black-on-black violence.

Despite all the risks, Msibi continued to what he narrates in one of the chapters as “hurling myself into the centre of perilous scenes that could easily have ended my life”.

Whereas many people run from explosions and gun sounds. Sam states in the introduction that: “Gunshots and explosions take on the form of magnets which we speedily run towards, saddled with all the tools of our trade and a hungry zeal to tell the story.”

His near-death experiences are dotted throughout the book including coming face to face with a group of heavily armed Somalian bandits while filming a graveyard.

In the book, the author pays homage to his fellow combat journalists who worked alongside him during South Africa’s turbulent 1980s and 1990s such as Ellie Msibi, Spokes Mashiyane, Dinky Mkhize, Peter Magubane, Juda Ngwenya, Mattheus Tewis Brink, Stanley Vezi, Jimi Matthews and Alvin Andrews who are all anthologised in the book. They all express similar feelings, with the “unthanked and unsupported predicament of the black frontline journalist” being foremost among them.

Reflecting on his three plus decades of journalism, Msibi is determined to portray the truth as he saw it. His experiences as a combat journalist allowed him to depict the danger inherent in reporting from conflict areas. “My memoir is a mixture of gruesome reality intertwined with bursts of subliminal humour,” he says.

“I believe that it is only right that people know what we went through. People need to read our stories and be inspired or criticise our experiences.

“We need to let the pain that went through the hearts of the people of South Africa during those shocking days be healed through the stories of those of us who witnessed daily much of what was happening on the ground in the major hotspots of violence and unrest in our country”.

The book not only grasps the ultimate sadness of war, but also how the dead come back to haunt you long after you have left the battlefield.

Many journalists have suffered from post-traumatic disorder and left scarred by the things that war does inside your head and Msibi and his colleagues are not an exception.

It gives the reader an inside view of apartheid South Africa right up to  its boiling point and beyond. Msibi hopes that through the reading of this book readers will gain a new perspective about the contributions of South Africa’s pioneer black journalists towards bringing about positive change to the lives of people in their country.

Msibi’s book reveals how the life of a frontline journalist rips away a lot of one’s personal life. His honesty in mentioning his experiences with family issues caused by a life of always being on the road will definitely endear him with readers.

With the narrative momentum of a well-paced thriller, The Accidental Frontline Journalist is an essential read that touches on suffering, sacrifice, resilience and human transformation, Msibi does not only narrate from recalling on memory, but gives a detailed account of events that transpired around him.

If not for the unselfish commitment exhibited by Msibi and his colleagues, the world would not have been aware of the reciprocal repressions that characterized South Africa in the 1980s during the Apartheid era.

The book contains notes from Sam’s camera-work manual that are intended to teach aspiring video journalists some of the techniques and abilities he developed while working with various media outlets on a variety of local and foreign assignments.

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