Pippa Green has been the political editor at the South Africa Broadcasting Corp. and the Sunday Independent
When my father, Michael Green, became a Nieman Fellow in 1967, it was the first opportunity he’d had to attend university. At 17, he started work as a reporter at The Argus, the afternoon newspaper in Cape Town. We had come from Bloemfontein, South Africa at the height of the apartheid era. “Harvard opened your eyes to so many experiences,” my father told me—John Kenneth Galbraith’s lectures, Walter Jackson Bate’s series on Samuel Johnson, and music classes that my dad, an accomplished pianist, loved. For my father, coming from a society as closed as South Africa, Harvard made a difference. It allowed him, in his new job as a deputy editor in Durban, to see new possibilities. He was arrested and charged under the censorship laws in 1974, simply for reporting on a rally celebrating Mozambican independence.
Three decades later, I came to Harvard from a different country. We were four years into our first democratic government. I arrived in Cambridge giddy from an intensive round of interviews with Nelson Mandela to mark his 80th birthday. I did a course on chamber music, although unlike my father I could barely play the scales on the piano, and I also listened to Galbraith, who came to address a Nieman seminar. His thoughts on development opened my eyes to the fact that South Africa was not unique in either its problems or its promise.
That September, Harvard conferred on Mandela an honorary doctorate, and I was asked to sit on the platform. Mandela recognized me and, as the ceremony ended, asked me why I was there. I told him I was on the Nieman Fellowship. “Haa-vaad,” he said, and chuckled. “You will be too important to come and see me when you get back.” In one generation of Niemans, our world had changed. Mandela had been a prisoner when my father was here; now he was President. The Nieman made us more humble, more aware of what we didn’t know, and of the responsibilities to practice journalism with a sense of being part of a much wider world.