Chris BishopBy Chris Bishop|September 11, 2021|5 Minutes|In Editor's Desk


September 11 2001

The short haired secretary’s eyes were full of fear and shock as she poked her head around the door in that stuffy Johannesburg office.

“A plane has just flown through the World Trade Centre in New York!”

I was at a nondescript meeting on benchmarking or something else I can’t even remember what. One of the grey men around the table looked at me a waved his hand at me to say: ‘bye-bye’ I was the Senior Executive Producer of SABC News and my place, on this terrible day, was at the news desk.

Incredibly, a couple of the other grey men around the table insisted that I should stay – but in the minute took me to run down to the team of half-a-dozen producers who had to prepare a solid, factual and responsible, news bulletin for four hours hence. By the time I arrived there the second plane had smashed through the WTC in a ball of fire.

This was September 11 2001; it was an honour to be in the front seat before one of the stories of the century; it was 20 years ago but, in my mind, it is as clear as yesterday.

On the other hand, it was the end of years of drift towards a global village where freedoms appeared to be thriving. It ushered in days of division and hatred; fear and failure. As the body count grew, it was a sickening taste of terrors to come. A precursor to pointless wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The saddest consequence, for me, is that not one terror attack – from stabbings in a supermarket to driving cars into innocents on a bridge – has surprised me since. It left us a shadowy world where atrocities lurk in the unlit corners. Extremists of all creeds and colour stalk our dwindling freedoms -where ever you look.

As the towers fell in New York that night there was only driving adrenaline and almost blind panic as my hard-working handful of producers as they worked their fingers to the bone to tell the story with pictures and words. These were the days before the internet and the distracting noise of social media. We were the tellers of the story in full and detail that our nation was holding its breath for.

There was no time for distractions on that night; the material flooded in from around the world and we had to sift every second and make sense of it. We crossed live to Pretoria; we crossed live to New York, to the heart of the story over the pictures of the day.

You can still find our endeavours on that bulletin on You Tube. I could not help but feel a swell of pride as I saw the first four minutes of words of pictures, that I edited on that frantic night; tight, taut, to-the-point, not a second wasted. It was a night that you could tell your grandchildren about; albeit a sickening one for its suffering and terrible loss of life. My blood ran cold as I watched terrified people jump for their lives from the WTC.

That night, as the live pictures of darkness and rubble came out of New York; I watched in the dark of a Johannesburg spring night; on the way down from the professional high of the bulletin.

I felt sick. I felt empty. I knew the world that my then tiny, gentle, daughter – yet to celebrate her second birthday – was to grow up in was never going to be the same again. I knew the division and despair that was to follow; I feared a world war could come with the next dawn. Bitterness and brutality beyond belief.

And, so it was. Yet, somehow, we survived and hope springs eternal. Many of the great young African entrepreneurs we cover in Billionaire Tomorrow were children on 9/11 – whatever the difficulties and distrust in this world, they have made their way through the uncertain world that was left behind. That is part of the hope that crawled last out of the Pandora’s Box that was the catastrophe of 9/11.