My Greatest Mistake: Mark Austin, Presenter of ITV News

Click to follow
The Independent Online

It was while I was a foreign correspondent based in South Africa in 1994, in the months before Nelson Mandela was elected - a dangerous time to be there, and journalists were in the firing line. Photographers had been killed covering the escalating violence in the townships, there was deadly feuding between ANC supporters and their Inkatha opponents, and white right-wingers were threatening a civil war.

We were based in Johannesburg, and just before the election there was a far right white uprising in the north. Along with all the other journalists, we rushed to Bophuthatswana to cover the story. The place was teeming with heavily-armed white men, marauding through the countryside in pick-up trucks. It was common knowledge that they did not like the press. My cameraman, Andy Rex, was therefore quite convinced we should not try to film them, but I was totally caught up chasing the story and insisted that these were essential pictures. So when a convoy sped past us I persuaded Andy to jump out of the car and start filming. About 10 seconds later one of the convoy screeched to a halt and we were surrounded. Our cameras, equipment and flak jackets were taken and my producer and I were forced into a field, with guns to the back of our heads.

They were screaming at us in Afrikaans, spitting with anger and threatening to kill us. It was at that moment that I realised I'd made a dreadful, perhaps terminal error. They say at moments like this your life flashes before you... and I can testify that it does. I thought "Why? Why am I here? Why do I do this job?" My producer was only 23, and this was his first real assignment - I'm fairly sure he was asking himself the same questions.

They kept us standing like that, still with guns to our heads, for about 10 minutes until they decided they had better things to do. One of them told us they were leaving a guard behind and that he would kill us if we turned around. It was 45 minutes before Andy came to tell us that everyone had gone.