Media locked in the weird world of 'Madibawatch' in Pretoria

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A boy looks at messages of support for former South African President Nelson Mandela. Photo: REUTERS/Kevin Coombs

It's 'Day 27', and we are still watching, still waiting. Our cameras and minds are still focused on Pretoria's Heart Hospital.

This is a strange assignment. It feels morbid at times and often mundane.

There is little news to report. Official updates are thin, and most reporters are suspicious of what those statements say.

The world waits for news outside Nelson Mandela's Pretoria hospital. Credit: ITV News

But we are here because, however this hospital stay ends, it will make news. Until then, journalists are locked in a weird world that one member of the Mandela family describes as 'Madibawatch'.

Some foreign reporters have behaved like "vultures" according to Mandela's eldest daughter. Her fury is understandable.

She has watched her father's decline while we have all watched her - with banks of cameras pushing forward every time her bright red Range Rover is spotted arriving at the hospital.

One doctor with a similar vehicle gets a sense of what that feels like every time she arrives at the hospital for work. The cameras keep flashing until it becomes clear that the snappers have got the wrong person.

Here in Pretoria, there are hundreds of news people. Correspondents, presenters, cameramen, producers, engineers, technicians, drivers, drivers' drivers. News crews have been flown in from London, New York, Sydney, Beijing and Tokyo.

Media trucks parked outside Nelson Mandela's Pretoria hospital. Credit: REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

The hotels are crawling with foreign reporters who have formed daily routines over the last four weeks.

Even the breakfast room reflects the broadcast battlefield. Each network has their regular table. Reporters have become familiar with each other, and each other's routines. I now know, for example, what the woman from Japanese TV will order before she's even ordered it, or double take when the man from Sky News isn't sitting at his usual spot.

Cameras stake out the entrance to the clinic where a shrine to Mandela has formed. Recent well wishers have included Salvation Army bands, local choirs, senior politicians and a local entertainment company which brought a big screen to show Madiba's finest moments.

Well wishers have included Salvation Army bands, local choirs and senior politicians. Credit: ITV News

Passers by stop to ask us 'how is the old man?' or to take a picture with a local news anchor. Many bring their iPads to film us filming them.

Even the Mandela grandchildren have ventured out from the ward, fighting their way through the reporters, to collect a few of the cards and flowers.

But what you won't see on 'News at Ten' is the growing paraphernalia on the other side of the road: the dozens of cameras and satellite dishes parked up for weeks, the many tonnes of broadcast gear, the deck chairs, the coffee machines, the tents.

Reporters tussling for scoops and parking spaces. The same faces on the same shift patterns bouncing the same rumours off each other. And they are all waiting for the same moment: when there is news to report.

This looks like 'Vulture Street'. And being on it is certainly an abnormal experience.

But we are here because Nelson Mandela is the man the world most respects. The presence of the global media is a symptom of global reverence.

Well wishers have left messages to Mandela outside his hospital. Credit: ITV News

He is a private citizen who 'belongs' to his family, not his country or the world. But the world cares nonetheless.

During my two and a half years in Africa, Nelson Mandela has been admitted to hospital six times. On each occasion, we reflect the anxiety and, eventually, the relief when he is discharged.

This time the outcome will hopefully be the same.