Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Julius Malema on a dustbin!

This morning I dressed up smartly. It was one of those days where I knew ahead of time what story I would be covering and could therefore dress appropriately. I was going to cover the launch of the global report on Trafficking in Persons released by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. It was all very civilized and elegant with the programme set to take place in an auditorium at Unisa followed by a break for refreshments. Quite lovely!

And then it all went pear-shaped. I got ripped off that story and sent instead to cover a protest at the airport. That not-so eloquent and not-so elegant youth leader, Julius Malema, was going to address the striking workers. Not quite so lovely!

So off I headed with PhotojournoSA to Airways Park . We were suitably early, eventually found a crowd all being raucous in a carpark and figured this must be the spot. Indeed we were correct, I found after speaking to one union rep named Stones. Fantastic.

So we sat down in the hot sun and waited for the man himself to appear. A mere 40 minutes or so after the scheduled start of the address “young” Julius was lifted onto his podium: an upside down dustbin, I swear to God.

He removed his apricot jacket and stood there in a pale yellow shirt and addressed the crowds, offering his sympathies.

“You are here to sell your labour and someone else benefits from your sweaty,” he told the dozens in front of him.

He electioneered, he jeered and he rebuked yet another government minister. It was less than a week ago that he said Naledi Pandor – she of the hot-potatoe British accent – was a spoilt minister with a fake American accent. Today he said Brigitte Mabandla was not doing her job either as she had not personally come to the airport to speak to these specific protestors about their woes. Maybe he’s going to get into trouble again.

I can only hope.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Boys, recipes and court stuff

This morning’s grey weather set the tone for the day as I once again headed off to the Joburg Magistrate’s Court to cover the ongoing trial of the High Court Judge accused of driving drunk, crashing his Jag into a garden wall and then fighting with the cops who came to arrest him.
The matter was set down for 9am, but in true tradition, it took more than an hour for proceedings to start. So for a good 60 minutes a bunch of us sat in the public gallery, twiddling our thumbs as we waited for something to happen. Fabulous Shoes was there, sporting a natty pair of black patent wedges fastened with fancy bows at the ankles. Two young guys in school uniform graced the back bench so we took to interrogating them. They were prefects from Parktown Boys High – the school that made headlines last week for its particularly violent initiation traditions. Bonus! They gave us great stuff, but it was all off-the-record. Ah well. Whatever.

We chatted about the merits of matrics bashing younger kids, of the proud traditions of the high school and it was all very pleasant.

Then Purple Jersey from the local news agency arrived. She joined us in our time-passing exercises by hauling out a copy of “French Women Don’t Get Fat” – a kind of guide to eating for pleasure.

“Check out the recipes,” she said, offering pages of no-holds barred recipes making generous use of sugar, cream, chocolate and all the stuff that should jolly well make French women fat like the rest of us but apparently don’t.

A little more idle chit chat and then in walked all the legal beagles and we all stood up for the Magistrate as he made his grand entrance.

We were ready. Today was the day we would find out the exciting new evidence the defence had uncovered and was going to use to blow the case wide open. Or else they were going to lodge an appeal to have the entire case thrown out of court because the state had messed up and failed to prove anything. This was going to be a cracking good story, baby! Gripping stuff indeedio.

And then it all fell apart. They took like 30 seconds to simply postpone it. To another day next month when we will just have to come back and hear why the case should be chucked out. After almost two years of hearings and postponements and evidence and testimony. The much-anticipated bright light at the end of the tunnel simply faded back to a tiny little dot far in the distance. Ah man!!!

Monday, February 23, 2009


Being on the early shift on the Monday morning after the Oscars is, I can reliably inform you, really great. By the time you arrive at the office at 6am the long boring bits of the whole award ceremony are over and you get to watch the last, most exciting categories. In the newsroom. As part of your job! Because that, without a doubt, is the news of the day and what everybody is talking about. How cool is that?
And then when your colleagues skulk in at about 9am looking a tad ragged as is generally the case on Monday mornings, a casual mention of the impressive eight Oscars notched by Slumdog Millionaire sparks a brilliant conversation that gets you well into the morning. Excellent!
That was for sure the best part of the day. Just before lunch time the entire newsroom was summoned to the boardroom where some guys from the IEC gave us a powerpoint presentation on the elections. It was interesting, but not terribly exciting stuff. Like, did you know, for example, that party representatives at polling stations are not allowed to wear clothes with any kind of party emblems, slogans or pictures. At least that it's visible. As news ed C-for-Serious pointed out, ANC underpants are not forbidden as long as they're covered up.
And then we were kindly supplied with lunch - toasted sarmies and a cold drink each. You don't get to order what drink you want, you just have to grab fast for the good ones or else risk being left with, say, creme soda. As I was eyeing the cans, working out my strategy I spied a new kind of drink on offer. The Fanta logo was familiar, but looked a bit strange as the usual bright orange design was a pale pink.
Now Fanta is a brand we South Africans all know. It's bright, been around since Mandela was kid and is that comforting dayglo orange colour that comes from a dye banned in the more developed countries. Like the UK, for example, where their Fanta orange looks like an insipid urine sample. And they don't even have Fanta Grape. You have to buy it at the Safa shops for like 9 quid a can or something ridiculous.
I noticed a while ago that Fanta was becoming one of those fancy drinks that's expanding and developing as they have put out new flavours. Fanta Strawberry, Fanta Pineapple and some others. So I was fascinated to see this new one. I was blown away. I CANNOT see it taking off. In fact I think it should be reported as abuse: Fanta Ruby Grapefruit. Gak!
It kind of takes your mind off the elections.

Friday, February 20, 2009

A fairytale...

Here is a play, inspired by approximately 1000 viewings of the Disney DVD "Sleeping Beauty".
Scripted by: Little One
Directed by: Little One
Narrated by: Little One
Starring: Little One in the lead role as Princess Aurora
Co-stars: Papa as Handsome Prince Phillip
Nana as Bad Queen Millificent
Jozi Journo/Mom as The Good Queen/Aurora's Mom
Setting: At home, in the lounge and kitchen with the height of the action taking place on the kitchen counter top between the two rooms.
Here we go then....

The scene: Nana and Papa sitting in the lounge, JJ in the kitchen making tea.

Little One as Narrator: One day there was a beeeeyooootifull princess and her name was Aurora. Do you want to see her hey guys?

Quick disappearance and she re-appears wearing her white net skirt decorated with coloured silk ribbons, a plastic silver crown and her clunky shoes. We are talking plastic heels that make a racket on the floor and have her walking like a troll in her efforts to stay upright and be elegant at the same time. But never mind.

Princess Aurora (speaking in the same high-pitched voice used by Little One's alter egos Christmas Fairy and Barbie): I am beeyoootifull Princess Aurora. (Voice returns to normal) Mom, you can be the Good Queen. Nana you are the Bad Queen Millificent. You are not allowed to smile okay. You just sit there and look baaad.

Narrator: Now Handsome Prince Phillip - you must stand up Papa. The handsome prince has gone away to slay dragons in the forest.

Exit Papa to dining room after standing stiffly, bowing regally to the princess who bows back as she has not yet learnt to curtsy.

Princess Aurora then climbs onto the kitchen counter where she sits and surveys her kingdom/lounge as Millificent and the Good Queen start to giggle.

Silence, solemn faces all round.

Narrator: Then one day Princess Aurora did prick her finger on a poison needle. Now where's my poison needle.
JJ grabs a fork and holds it out.
Narrator: No mom! That's too sharp!
JJ grabs a teaspoon and holds the handle out and uses it to prick Aurora on her finger.

Aurora stands on the counter, puts the back of her wrist to her brow, stumbles a little, twirls around and then lies down with her lies closed.

Aurora: Now I am dead. But just sleeping dead. Not squashed dead. Bad Queen, you must be happy. Phillip, where are you? Phillip you must come here now.
Enter Prince Phillip from the dining room, walking stiffly and bowing.
Aurora: Phillip, you must kiss me now.
Prince Phillip plants a kiss on Aurora's forehead.
Aurora sits up, stretches and smiles happily.
Narrator: Now the prince and the princess have to get married and they live happily ever after. But Aurora still stays with her mom so the Good Queen has to come and live with them. But no the Bad Queen. Not you, Millificent.
The End.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Contemplating cargo...

I have been working on a feature article on drug trafficking which this week led me to the cop set-up at OR Tambo International Airport's cargo section. Those guys, I discovered, are pretty amazing and their work is really interesting. Although I imagine it could get boring once you get passed being surprised.
So photographer Taliban and I meet up with the unit boss and he escorts us into a high-up boardroom for our interview. Taliban makes himself at home on the floor in the very furthest corner as I begin with my questions. Apparently such strange distance and angles makes for interesting pics.
JJ: "So, Superintendent, what is your first name?".
He is obviously caught off-guard by this cunning question, posed so early in the process and stammers a bit.
Boss Guy: "Erm ... yes ... well, you can call me Steve."
JJ: "Yes, well I can call you anything. But the thing is, I actually need to know your name."
Boss Guy: "O ja. Okay. Well, these guys call me Steve. So just put it down as Steve."
Methinks someone is reluctant to reveal his name is Stephanus or Stoffel or something equally uncool.
So the interview gets underway and I learn some astounding stuff like:
* Drug syndicates have, in the past, got cocaine into the country by having it surgically implanted into dogs which are then imported to Jozi where they are killed by dealers wanting their stash.
* There is a huge market for stolen laptops in Nigeria.
* It is suspected that someone recently tried to smuggle dope in the corpse of someone who died overseas and had their body shipped home.
* Detectives have discovered that organised criminals are bringing in fake Zam-Buk and counterfeit Bic pens. This I found quite unbelievable because Bic pens are such plastic cheapie rubbish and I mean, who would want to buy genuine Zam-Buk and what would they do with it? I shared this interesting bit of info with my colleague Boulders who immediately hauls a fake Zam-Buk out of his pocket and tells me you buy it on the street for R5 a hit. (For my international reader *ahem*: that would be three fake Zam-Buks for one Euro or two for a US dollar).
There you go. Something new every day!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

mushrooms and fruit

The food at the canteen in our office is one of those hit-and-miss issues. One day you will get something that is so utterly lovely that it has you dashing back every day in the hope that you will again find something equally lovely.
Lately, however, the food has been more science experiment than delectable delights dished up by Nigella. There have been some strange concoctions as suppertime peas reappear cold in a bowl at lunch as a salad, pieces of fish are mashed up with pasta and a bit of mayonnaise as an interesting side dish - stuff like that.
One of the most alarming discoveries of late has been the introduction of copious amounts of oil. It's not always immediately noticeable, and that's how you get lured into paying for it. But often the trip from the canteen to the newsroom is all you need for a nasty surprise as oil leaks out of your stir fry or roast chicken into a glossy pool on the bottom of your polystyrene plate. It can bring a grown woman to tears - at least almost.
But enterprising colleagues have taught me ways of dealing with this. One is to grab hunks of soft white paper off the giant loo roll thingie in the subs room and use it to mop up the offensive seepage.
The second, lengthier but more economical option, is to go back to the cashier in the canteen and simply state "I cannot eat this" as you hold the shining specimen out in front of you. There is no need for raised voices, threats or demands. The plate is whisked away faster than you can slop glop in a bowl and you are quickly handed back your money or even a little more if you are lucky. It's the cheapest way to go as by then your appetite is long gone and there's no way you will go back for more!
Lunch today was not bad. Then C-for-Serious and I hit the salad counter in search of healthy options. There lurking in a bowl was the most astonishing dish to date. I thought it was plums, but C was unsure and labelled it "fruit of some kind". Purplish plum-like fruits sliced up and mixed with mushroom bits and covered in an unknown dressing. I swear!
We are intrepid journalists. We have braved bullets and seen scores of dead bodies. We have ventured into mortuaries, riots and political rallies.I fought my way out of having to cover the trial of the tea-drinking judge today, for heaven's sake. However neither of us was brave enough for that!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Blue Monday

The trial of the High Court judge accused of getting drunk, driving and then crashing his car into somebody's garden wall - a matter which has now been dragging on for more than two years now - was back in the Jozi Magistrate's Court today. So once again colleague Diva and I headed off early to court, but parted ways as she went to cover the sentencing of a woman convicted of beating her 2-year-old adopted daughter to death.
Court proceedings where I was began a mere 30 minutes late, and the investigating officer took the stand and told how much of a tough time she'd had identifying people who had been on the scene, tracing witnesses, convincing reluctant ones to speak and pacifying those who believed that testifying would put their lives in danger.
That done, and it was the defence advocate's turn to cross examine. Using the devious tactic of boring the prosecution to death, he proceeded to ask each question 45 times over. I was almost asleep when an exciting SMS came through from Diva - drama in the courtroom below!
I immediately dashed down to see if I could assist, and found Diva and our friend Fabulous Shoes (in strappy, navy, muscle crampingly-high stilettos) sitting outside collapsed with mirth. Angry family members of Child Basher had called on security to throw all journalists out of court. Security had refused, family members then felt humiliated and were now hiding out in the less-than-fresh public toilets. The drama had ended when Basher's sister tried to hit our photographer and he dodged.
So I missed out on the only action of the day and returned miserably to my drunk driving trial. I cheered up slightly when Fabulous Shoes decided to totter along with me. At least there was someone to chat to during the many smoke breaks. Another TV news reporter joined us and a radio reporter too.
By the end of the day the prosecutor had failed in his second application to have mystery witness Mrs X testify. Down, but not out, he promised that tomorrow morning he will be back to try a third angle.
I will find a reason NOT to be there!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Venturing out

Shopping or actually any kind of out-in-public venture with a three-year-old in tow is not for the faint-hearted. Especially if said three-year-old is a friendly, outgoing and alarmingly honest. It's a heart-stopping combination! Venturing out of the house with such a child takes guts, I have discovered.
Little One recently came across one of those fancy feathered glittery face pieces popularly worn at masked balls. And she loved it. A lot. She could not be convinced to leave it in the car for anything. As I wheeled her round the supermarket in the trolley she squawked and screached from behind the fussy feathers. "I'm a pawwot!" she would explain if anyone looked at her too intently or for too long.
Another time we were strolling the local mall when Little One was suddenly quite taken by a woman's pale floral blouse.
"Look mom. That lady is wearing pyjamas," she stated at the top of her voice. I still cringe inside when I think about it.
And those smart little queueing aisles that Woolies has, leading up to the banks of tills, are more mini prisons than paragons of order for moms. There's just no escape when a small person starts a loud conversation that you would rather not be part of, and trying to shoosh things only makes matters worse.
A man has just fallen victim to Little One's casual chatting in one such situation. There he was, quietly minding his own business as he stood patiently in the queue behind us.
"Mom, why is that man drinking coke?" she asked, as Embarrassed Guy stood silently with a can in his hand.
"Because he is thirsty," I replied simply.
Of course my word is not good enough and she has to check this out for herself.
"Man, are you thirsty hey?" Little One asks him directly as he goes slightly pink, looks in the other direction and sucks intently on his straw. He says not a word.
Down but not out, she turns back to me: "What is his name?"
"I don't know," I respond quickly.
"So is that man a daddy, hey mom?"
"If he has any children, then he is a dad, yes".
By this time Embarrassed Guy is scarlet, shuffling his feet and running out of places to gaze in any kind of casual fashion. He is not digging the attention, nor is he gonna talk to her.
She continues undaunted: "Man, do you have any kiddies? Are you a daddy?"
I have never been so relieved, nor have I ever moved so quickly when the irritating recording sounded: "Next customer, please."

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Vernon Koekemoer.

On a few odd occasions I have ended up bonding with the people I have written about. One such character is a guy from Boksburg whose real name I have promised not to divulge. He does, however, have a very public persona - he is the man, the legend: Vernon Koekemoer.
Vernon fever first took off in March last year after a photo of him taken at an outdoor rave began doing the e-mail rounds. Then somebody gave him a name, people started getting creative with the pic and the persona and then - bam! - he was an internet phenomenon. So I wrote about him. Stacks of people mailed me with information about who he was, the latest Vern sightings and the newest Vernpics. And then he contacted me himself and so we became buds.
He is an awesomely lekker guy. He lives in Boksburg, builds armoured cars for a living (I kid you not!!), works out at Benoni Virgin Active (a LOT!), has a girlfriend he says is "beautiful like Patricia Lewis" and they have matching tans.
We've kept in touch and catch up with each other from time to time. This morning he mailed me to say hi and send me a recent pic of him and his cherry at the SAFTA awards last Saturday.
Hmmmm. Very Vernon, I thought. Especially those spectacular boots - almost weapons of mass destruction. But definitely a change from the Buffalos he is famous for.
Then he sent me a second image and I saw that the black jersey was actually low cut. And that gold chain.
I have no words...

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Captain Crime Stop

Today I met a super hero. Not Batman. Not Superman. No, no, no. It was South Africa ’s own Captain Crime Stop!!

He was seriously out catching baddies. I met him in the yard of a family who had just been robbed.

It all started at about 6,30am today when three armed robbers ambushed a family in their home in Bassonia (that’s in the South). Two of them got caught, one of which was actually shot by Captain Crime Stop. Seriously!

So who is this dude? And why is he not around more?

Apparently he is very much around, I discovered. He is a working member of the Joburg Flying Squad. Today he was not in his blue police uniform as he busted his hand in a car crash and so has to wear civies as long as it’s all bandaged up.

The captain was with two colleagues when they were summoned to this particular robbery in progress. They moved fast and cornered two of the robbers in somebody’s garden, ordering them to drop their guns. One guy listened and got arrested. The other one yelled back, and told the cops to drop their guns first. Not a wise move. He got popped three times.

I arrived on the scene with a photographer a while later and happily recognized the white-haired, staunchly built man strolling around.

JJ: “Aren’t you the guy who used to be Captain Crime Stop? You did those shows at schools for kids?”

Yip – indeed I was correct. But he hung up his costume/super hero attire a while back.

“I don’t do that stuff anymore. The cops didn’t like it. They said it was too sexually revealing, although the teachers loved it hey,” he said.

“It never worried me though. I mean, I’m a professional and I do wrestling.”

Turns out, he now appears on the SABC 2 wrestling show “WWP Thunderstrike” on Saturdays. He is Tornado.

Weekend wrestler and weekday cop. Who would have thought?

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

A press conference

Press conferences are generally pretty boring affairs that result in boring stories that fill up the space in newspapers that readers mostly skip over as they scan the pages for interesting news.

So this morning I was hardly overjoyed when I was assigned to cover a media briefing by the Joburg Traffic Chief who stepped down from his post last night after striking metro cops threatened to continue their strike until he was removed. He was corrupt, they said, because he and his wife drove flashy cars and he must please explain how this is possible on his salary.

All a bit of a yawn, but hey – this stuff has to be recorded. So I headed over to photographic and was delighted when my friend Jeans-and-Tackies was assigned to go out with me. We recently bonded when we were sent to Mozambique together to cover Operation Rachel where the cops use tons of explosives to blow up tons of guns and ammo and stuff. She had a meltdown when a cameraman tried to swipe her place on the helicopter during the big bang and went mental when a waiter charged her R118 for a bottle of Graca – but I digress.

We rushed down to the transport department in the basement and were given the oldest Toyota Tazz imagineable. Jeans-and-Tackies was not a terribly experienced driver, had crashed one of the other cars yesterday and so I gather today's hunk-of-junk was Transport Manager’s revenge. Ah well, it got us there. And then Jeans-and-Tackies got her own back by revving enthusiastically into a parking bay, bashing the car against the concrete barrier!

We arrived early, nabbed prime spots and waited for the 10am start. It was going to be tight – I had to get all the info and file a full and complete story by 10,45am. Of course TV and radio reporters began arriving at like 3 minutes before the scheduled start and embarked on tediously setting up their lights and cameras and microphones.

A few minutes of stress and a bunch of big shots walked in and the briefing started a mere 10 minutes late. Not bad for Africa time hey!

And so we had the expected info delivered to us. Traffic Boss says he is stepping down in the interests of the community and to end the strike before it turns violent. City Manager says Traffic Boss is an honourable guy and that they have appointed independent lawyers to investigate. Legal Director says they will have a final report in a mere three months!

Then question time. All very predicatble until an astounding reporter grabbed the limelight. He was wearing a t-shirt with “I am not fluent in Idiot. Please speak slowly.” emblazoned across the chest. I swear. It was either intended sarcasm or unintended irony, because he then proceeded to prove extreme proficiency in Idiot.

“Some of us have only been writing one side of the story up until now because we have been speaking to the unions and you guys just don’t talk to us,” he proclaimed in a public declaration of where he stands with regard to journalistic objectivity.

“Those union guys say you are corrupt. So now I want to know something,” he said, speaking directly to Traffic Boss.

“Are you corrupt? And your department. It is so corrupt. So, so very corrupt. And everybody knows this. Can you please tell me. Is your department corrupt?”

I could not believe it. What kind of response did this genius expect? Was he hoping Traffic Boss would go “Oh ja, you got me there. I have been spouting utter shite until now. I am indeed corrupt”??

And so we left. I drove the aged Tazz while Jeans-and-Tackies frantically filed her photographs from her laptop. I did my best to dodge the news cameras set up in the parking lot as TV reporters recorded their own little interviews and pieces-to-camera. Tonight, please oh please, I will not be seen Driving Miss Daisy across the backdrop of their shots. I will not be making an embarrassing background appearance in any stories flighted on tonight’s news. It would not be the first time!

Monday, February 9, 2009

A conversation

Location: In the bath.
Present: Jozi Journo and Little One.

Little One: Mom, I've got a problem. It's a big, big, huge problem.
Jozi Journo: Oh dear. What's going on? I hate it when you have problems, so tell me and let's see if we can sort it out.
LO: Well, you see, it's like this. My Papa is already married to my Nana. And Derek is married to Joanne.
JJ: Yes....
LO: And Stefan is married to Annerie.
JJ: I know that.
LO: And then there is James. He is a very nice guy. But he is my cousin.
JJ: Ah, I see. So you are looking for somebody to get married to?
LO: Yes. And cousins can't get married to each other. So I have a problem.
JJ And you don't know anybody else?
LO: Well, there is Michael at my school. But he is a little one like me. He's just a small little kiddie.
(Hands move outward, palms up and fingers spread in dramatic style, emphasised by up and down motions)
Mom, I cannot get married to a kid. You have to help me find a big one please. Please, please mom.
JJ: Little One, you really don't have to stress about this. You can live with me, okay. You don't need to get married when you are three years old.

Friday, February 6, 2009


Last night there was a shooting between cops and hijackers on the N3 highway. It happened during a traffic back-up caused by roadworks, with the cops managing to kill two of the three hijackers and shoot the third guy in the hand. Information made available to my night shift colleagues at the time made for a page two brief. When my earlybird shift began at 6am this morning we had to play catch up.
My colleague Supergirl and I were tasked with tracking down the whole story immediately. And so we worked the phones.
Now one would think that cops nailing the baddies would be a good news story and that the appointed SAPS spokespeople would be falling over themselves to get the story out and punt the good work of their brave heroes. But actually not.
"Call me back after 8 o'clock. Then I will have seen those reports," a high ranker tells us. Are you kidding me? My deadline for the finished story is 8 o'clock, sir!
So after like half a million early morning phone calls Supergirl and I together worked out the basics. Hijack victim, wife and son finished up some night chores at the local church and headed home to Primrose in Germiston where they got ambushed by some armed guys in a BMW. The guys took off in their green Audi.
In a tactful move, hijacked guy calls his tracking company and gets a satellite device in the car activated, and so the cops could now locate it. But then the hijackers pulled a dumb move and hopped on the highway. Big mistake. Ongoing roadworks had caused a colossal traffic jam which they drove slap bang into it and found themselves suddenly going nowhere.The cops followed likewise.
Our men in blue then jumped out their car, approached the hijackers who predictably tried to shoot them and so they fired back. Bunches of bullets and in the end two bad guys got killed, and not a single cop or road-block, crime-enraged motorist was hurt in the process. Altogether a typical good news story in crime-rattled Joburg.
Ah, but how to tell it? The cops clammed up. Nobody is allowed to speak to the media without permission. People give us bits here and there, but nobody wants to be named. Guys in charge desperately want a bit of publicity and acclaim for their brave colleagues who did their job right, but the guys in charge of the guys in charge are determined to block the flow of information.
We ask for permission to interview the heroes of the hour. We have tracked them down and their commander is keen for them to tell their story.
But then the commander's boss puts a stop to it.
"Those guys are sleeping now. We cannot wake them up. Maybe we can set something up for you on Monday".
Dude, the story is dead as a doornail by Monday! We need to talk to them NOWWWWWW! Pleeeaase.
So we contact the next one up the chain of command to ask for help from above.
He gets the guy from even higher up to call us and tell us that we can't talk to anyone. Because, they reckon, we will mess up their investigations.
But that's how it goes.
We track down a photograph of one of the dead guys lying in the road with a hole through his head. It's pretty gruesome. They smudge that part of the picture for good taste.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Oprah, Sebokeng and stuff

Interest in the ongoing trial of the woman accused of doing wicked things to girls at the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy seems to have died down. The first time the baby-faced dorm parent appeared in the Sebokeng Magistrate's Court there was a media circus as local journalists, foreign media, TV, radio, print, agencies, news wires and hordes of American reporters were there. It was a bun fight of note. A temporarily appointed prosecutor took charge of the packed courtroom and told everyone to be quiet. And then she took the hilarious decision to speak Afrikaans for a bit, causing huge consternation among the drawling crew all anxious to put out the story.

Since then there have been numerous court appearances - each one less interesting than the last. It was fun in the beginning. We learned that the 27-year-old woman stood accused of range of crimes, ranging from inappropriately kissing and touching girls of 13 to brawling with a co-worker, from assaulting one child and holding her under a shower to rubbing custard in another one's hair. For each court appearance she resorted to a different tactic to dodge the media attention. She wore a wig, a cap, over-sized sunglasses or a towel over her head. Sometimes she would hide in the packed gallery, other times she would use a police escort.

Today she appeared again. It was uneventful to say the least. The usually packed gallery was today filled by ... me. The accused strolled in casually and sat nearby until she was called to the dock. The prosecutor - a passionate man who has gone to extremes like ordering that paper be taped over windows at the court to keep his child witnesses safe from public eyes - orderd me out of the courtroom so that he could finish off with the last girl's evidence.

And so I went and waited outside. I finished a fiendish Sudoku puzzle, cracked a new Tetris record on my phone and, to my great pride, discovered an unlocked handicapped toilet that was clean, big enough to swing two cats in AND had toilet paper. This is a brilliant achievement in a court house where you are blessed to find a loo with a door that actually closes and the stench doesn't make you gag, let alone one with a seat or a roll of paper in sight.

After the tea break I was allowed back in the courtroom, thrilled to be the only one present when the first adult witness took the stand. This was MY story. A worldwide scoop! American news networks will be phoning me all over again for a Joburger's account of the sordid story. I was ready. Everyone filed into court - the prosecutor, the defence advocate, the US attorney out here on a watching brief for Ms Winfrey, clerks and orderlies, one other member of the public and the magistrate herself. And then the wheels just fell off. There was a problem, the magistrate announced. The defence had a sore knee and was not feeling well, so court could not proceed. The matter was not to continue. It was to be postponed. For months....

Ah man! I drove back in disappointment. It was raining in Jozi. Again. Zuma had succeeded in delaying his next court appearance. Again.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

A shampoo bottle

Today, like most days, unraveled unexpectedly.

I was supposed to spend my day at the Johannesburg High Court covering a murder trial. It was the scheduled start of proceedings against a man with a floppy grey mullet. Unbelievably enough, the hairstyle was not among the offences listed on the charge sheet which stated that he had regularly assaulted the woman he lived with "as though married" in the back room of a house in Kempton Park. On one such occasion the injuries he inflicted caused her untimely death. The state had a line of witnesses all ready to testify to this.

I had discovered this case accidentally when hunting down a different love triangle murder case that had taken place in a caravan in someone's backyard. So what made Mullet Man's case different from your garden variety bludgeoning to death of a loved one? A shampoo bottle. A 350ml red plastic bottle of Palmolive aloe vera for all hair types in fact. This had been found inside the victim during the post mortem. It had been rammed into her anus during the assault.

It was one of those surreal experiences where you feel all weak as you sit back and look to one side and see Mullet Man in his lekker-tight jeans and leg irons and then look to the other and see the cloaked, stern-faced prosecutor with shampoo bottle in an evidence bag on the table in front of him. Behind were the witnesses with their interesting array of hairstyles and missing teeth and clothing styles that you wouldn't know where to begin looking if you ever wanted to replicate the look. And you wonder how it all came to this....

This morning Mullet Man was supposed to plead to the charges and I was going to write about it. And then the paper decided I didn't need to go anymore. The story was just too horrible. The pages are already too full of horror stories. So I didn't go.

Instead I planned a few features, spoke to an amazing woman I will write about soon and got the lowdown on railway police successes over the past two months. Not quite a front page blazer, but a lot happier indeed.

As my snowed-in sister-in-law mailed me from freezing England after we'd shared our day's troubles: "Hey, at least I don't have a shampoo bottle stuck up my bum - it's all about perspective isn't it?"

Monday, February 2, 2009


Today was a mad day. Lots of rushing around and dead-end frustrations. Then I came home from work and the madness ended. I received a bunch of flowers. A gift of love from Little One. My heart is full.
They will be put safely away with my interesting hedgehog toothpick holder.
And my hand-painted doll statuette.