Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Who on earth would write these headlines?

A friend sent me some of these headlines. I thought they were mad!!

Monday, March 30, 2009

Why I LOVE being a journalist!!!

Every so often I encounter a story along the way that reminds me why I am a journalist. One such story is that of Courtney Ellerbeck - a little blonde poppet who I have been following since the day she was born.
Nine years ago today little Courtney became South Africa's youngest crime victim when she was shot before she was born. Her mom Lesley was seven months pregnant when she was shot through the stomach in a botched hijacking attempt. Unborn Courtney was pulled from the womb during an emergency Caesar. She had a flesh wound to her buttocks.
I met her when she was six days old - she had just undergone her first operation. The bullet wound has left her a paraplegic. And while she has learnt to cope with her disability, she has had to undergo many operations to straighten out her little body as it twists during growth. A while ago her mom asked her what she wanted for her birthday this year. Her answer?
"Nothing really mom, although I would like to walk".
And so I wrote a story about Courtney's birthday wish. Now that her body is straightened out by metal pins and plates she can be fitted with callipers. And then, with the aid of crutches and after several months of physiotherapy she will be able to walk. It will not be easy, it will tax her muscles, but she will be able to stand and move ahead like any other normal nine-year-old child. It's a wish toned down from the one she expressed at the age of four when she tearfully told her granny that she wanted, with all her heart, to be able to dance like her little friends that she spotted in a ballet class at nursery school.
But the callipers cost almost R45 000. It's an amount of money completely out of reach of Courtney's family.
The story was carried in today's paper, and captured the attention of Jenny Crwys-Williams on 702 who ran appeals on radio. Readers phoned throughout the day, offering money and support. Listeners called in to 702, all pledging varying amounts.
By the end of the day I'd had two people phone me with offers to buy the callipers outright. The money pledged has come to close on R180 000!
People have opened their hearts. And they have given happily in the face of hard times. And my little friend Courtney is going to walk!
Life, indeed, is good!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Sunday, sunburn and mayhem in Alexandra

Working on a Sunday cracks a low score on my list of chosen ways to spend the day. But - like washing dishes, cutting toe nails and paying taxes - it has to be done by somebody. And so this weekend was my turn.
I had not yet reached the office and was still in my quiet, pensive state mentally planning which of the papers I would read first when I received a phone call from a cop telling me there was trouble in Alexandra. Ah.... hanging out with toyi-toyiing people in dusty townships in full sun. Things were not looking up.
So I got in to work and let the duty news ed know that I would be heading straight out to check on the unrest in Alex. I linked up with Photojourno and we headed downstairs and signed out the oldest Tazz from the car pool and buzzed off.
We arrived in River Park - a low cost housing settlement close to the London Road offramp. Apparently it was supposed to have been finished off and the houses handed over to local shack dwellers, but the builders had overshot their deadlines and people were now incredibly impatient. They wanted their houses in whatever state, with or without windows, electricity, plumbing, plastered walls or bathroom fixtures. And they wanted them now. TODAY! Sommer!
Calm and coolheaded policemen armed with massive shotguns and rubber ammo were standing guard over the settlement, shepherding the tetchy protestors out. One woman yelled that her name had been on the housing waiting list since 1992, she was now tired of this unending wait, and could she please have a house today. No, the cops said, the houses were not finished and they can't just hand them over to anyone, especially since she didn't have her ID on her.
They politely asked the rowdy crowd to move. Nobody budged, and the whinging continued. Photojourno and I stood out - cameras and notebook becoming less obvious than our increasingly red cheeks and noses as sunburn took effect. Nobody wanted to talk to us, and pointed me in the direction of the men in blue everytime I uttered a sentence.
The one drunkard pointed at me and yelled ama-joh-nah-leest and laughed. Open season. Suddenly I was their sympathetic ear and everyone wanted to tell me their story. The cops grew more annoyed, one grabbed a loud hailer and yelled at the crowd of well over 100 to get moving as they had 30 minutes to leave the area or all hell would break loose.
They began straggling away, smartening their step as the 30-minute deadline approached. They got to the perimeter line and broke out into song. "Mshini wam" - Jacob Zuma's "Bring me my machine gun" hit rang out.
Photojourno and I walked back through the settlement and saw that several of the unfinished houses were locked up with padlocks. Election posters and newspapers were taped over some glassless windows, while fabric pieces fluttered from upstairs windows like curtains. Ash heaps in unplastered rooms as well as discarded food packaging were proof that people were already living in these shells of houses. Sinister messages or names with contact numbers were written across doors of units now obviously claimed by Alex residents.
It all quietened down and we decided to leave.
The housing department admitted that they had been a bit slow in finishing of the low cost houses, but were planning on dishing them out finished within the next few weeks. Strangely enough, none of the houses will be done before the elections!
I had copied down one of the names and numbers writted on one of the staked units and made a call one 'Kunene' to find out what his position was. I was unable to speak to him as the noise on the other end of the line made things difficult. It sounded like Mr Kunene was in a shebeen and he was either extremely drunk or had a limited understanding of English. I think he is going to be rather annoyed when he staggers home tonight, intent on sleeping in his newly claimed posse, and gets turned away by armed cops.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Blinding light ... hopefully not!

The scene: The newsroom of a daily paper in Jozi.
Context: Earth Hour - that global campaign aimed at reaching over a billion people in 1000 cities around the world in a show of solidarity and a symbolic vote for the planet. A "no" to global warming. The idea is for everyone to switch off their lights at 8.30pm on Saturday and remain in darkness for an hour. It's supposed to be the greatest voluntary action ever.
The conversationalists: Intelligent, well-informed journalists. Obviously!!
The dilemma: My colleague Diva has been assigned to write a light-hearted peace about Earth Hour, and give at least 10 good, practical ideas as to what kind of activities people can do to mark the occasion.

Diva: So what's this Earth Hour thing all about? You guys, does anyone have any information?
Normal activity continues unabated, no responses.
Diva: I've got some kind of press release here. So like is Pick 'n Pay sponsoring it or what?
Jozi Journo: It's all over the place man. Even Tutu is involved.
Diva: Are you serious? Boy Wonder, do you know about Earth Hour?
Boy Wonder: What? No. I don't know about that.
Jozi Journo quickly checks out facebook where Earth Hour is a very hot and happening event, with thousands of people signed up as participants and fans. Facebook is one of many internet sites banned in the newsroom, but JJ is one of the privileged few granted access. For work purposes of course. To write stories like when somebody created a Winnie Mandela profile and facebookers all over the show went nuts and befriended "her" in droves. It was fun while it lasted, and then we found a "Jackie Selebi", a "Mangosuthu Buthelezi" and a "Riaan Cruywagen" complete with comb-over. Then I found a very large group called "Steve Hofmeyr is my papa" and it all became a bit mundane. But I digress....
JJ: Here you go Diva, a whole detailed explanation of the whole thing off the facebook group site.
Diva: Cool. But I actually have to write about stuff people plan to do. Hey. Boy Wonder, can you think of something you can do in the dark for an hour?
BW: Hehehe! Easy one, my friend. A bit of time for......
Diva: No man! I knew you were going to start with that obvious stuff. But don't even go there!

Happy Earth Hour everyone. Here's hoping that Jozi will not shine too brightly.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The heart of the rose.

There is an empty vase standing on the filing cabinet next to my desk. A couple of weeks back it had a glorious bunch of colourful flowers in it - courtesy of news ed C-for-Serious. She bought them for me after we'd had a long discussion about stress-reducing strategies. I told her about this super cool exercise I'd read about in "The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari". It's called The Heart of the Rose, and involves taking a bit of time out to sit in peace and quiet so simply contemplate on a rose. It's supposed to help you train your mind to become focussed and disciplined.
And so I arrived at the office the next day to find a magnificent bouquet on my desk, placed in a blue vase swiped from the office of Ballerina, the graphic artist. I was a bit confused about who might have been giving me flowers, but then C-for-Serious arrived and told me she had bought them and we were going to use them - plucking one flower each a day - to sneak off quietly and spend some time in contemplative meditation. The intentions were good, the enthusiasm was there - but hey, this is Jozi and we work at a daily paper! Stress is our life!! So, alas, the entire bunch died before we contemplated the heart of even the longest lasting dried out blossom before the whole lot got tossed out after it was identified as the source of the manky smell suddenly infiltrating the newsroom. It's that bad, I'm afraid.
"So what is it with flowers? Is it a white thing or what?" my colleague Diva remarked when she arrived this morning and noticed the as-yet unreturned vase on my cabinet.
"I'm not sure. I just know I love getting them. Don't you?" I asked.
"No ways! I don't own a vase and I don't see the point in why someone would actually want a bunch of flowers. Some guy bought me this whole big thing of flowers on Valentine's and I was like 'What the hell am I supposed to do with this?'" Diva stated.
Ah yes - her utter confusion brought back memories of an old colleague, a Swazi princess. She, like Diva, had never been excited by flowers - no matter how elaborate.
Years ago a Frenchman met her at Kippies in Newtown and was smitten. He called her and then sent her a fabulous bouquet. She was not moved.
"I am an African woman. I like fruit and vegetables. What the hell am I supposed to do with flowers?" she told her besotted admirer.
She went on an overseas trip, came home and stepping out into the arrivals hall she was greeted by a Frenchman bearing a tray filled with with incredible vegetables.
"Now that is a fantastic story!" Diva remarked, sounding as impressed as Swazi Princess - who now lives in France with her Frenchman husband and their children.
On my way home from work I popped in for a visit with my best friend. On my recommendation, she has been reading "The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari".
As I left she gave me a perfect pink rosebud. Tonight I am most definitely going to contemplate The Heart of the Rose.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Taking stock...

Woeful Wednesday! Indeed today was a sobering time as we collated the impact of yesterday's mayhem and madness of the taxi strike.
The front page this morning carried a photograph of a bunch of marauding taxi drivers trying to intimidate a cafe owner. They were aggressively threatening him, and the picture caught, frozen in the air, a silver metal chair that had been hurled at him. My first assignment was to track this guy down.
So off I headed with PixDeskGuy to the little cafe in Newtown. And there we found the owner. The chair, it turns out, had hit him on the ankle and he now sported some ugly big red sores under his sock. He was shaken and unnerved, but pretty matter-of-fact about what happened and back to work as usual. Good attitude, I suppose, but it left me feeling a little sad that this is how some people have to live.
And then I received an e-mail from a guy who had witnessed one of the awful violent clashes that happened on the highway. He sent me pictures of it!
He had been driving behind Sam The Emergency Painter (I totally had NO idea that there were such things as emergency painters!!). Sam, he said, was transporting a bunch of gents who worked for him - which annoyed the taxi drivers. And so, like a pack of wild dogs, they turned on him and beat him up.
The incident was one of very, very many.
The total number of arrests yesterday?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Taxi Tuesday - and all hell breaks loose in the city!

Ho hum ... another taxi strike hit Jozi today. It started out quietly and then it all tumbled into chaos and got completely out of control.
I must admit, the drive into work this morning was utterly fantastic as the roads were unnaturally quiet. No taxis. Anywhere. No annoying hooting, no sudden screaming stops because the dude in front of you spots passenger potential and slams on anchors, no need for nifty lane changes to a avoid fatal collision with an oncoming taxi using your lane for his convenience. Blissful indeed, had it not been for the scores of desperate souls left hitching or queuing at bus stops.
At the office early shift journos were matched up with photographers and dispatched to various hot spots.
And then, just as normal traffic started to peak, the brown stuff hit the fan. Taxi drivers started blocking roads, intimidating people, dancing in the streets with knobkieries and causing general pandemonium.
The cops stood firm and took control as renegade bunches started moving towards Newtown where they planned to gather and then march through town to the ANC. One lot in Soweto used their cars to blockade a main road and forced motorists to turn around and head back homewards.
The police got annoyed. The grabbed one stroppy guy and slapped him. He ran back towards his taxi where he joined his mates and they began dancing in front of their makeshift roadblock, taunting our men in blue. NOT a good idea. Seconds later rubber bullets were flying their way, their taxis sported a few new dents and they were reduced to shivering wrecks with their hands in the air as they surrendered. Round one to the cops!
But then it got more ugly. Taxi drivers then targeted the highways and began causing trouble, particularly near Sandton. They stopped buses, pulled passengers out and beat them with wheel spanners. Innocent motorists were turned on as drivers hit their cars, smashed lights in their efforts to terrorise and intimidate. The police had their hands full keeping the peace.
By late morning there was utter chaos everywhere. A bunch of taxis drove bunched together through town towards the ANC headquarters which happen to be located across the road from our offices.
We heard hooting, then engines backfiring and the horrible sounds of chaos erupting followed by the comforting bangs of rifles firing off rounds of rubber bullets. The sounds of Jozi!
Those of us in the office ran towards the windows to catch a glimpse of the action in the streets below.
One concerned executive editor peered out and spotted the numerous cops, some of them armed with real R4 rifles rather than the mean-looking weapons they use for the less serious stuff.
He had some sage words of advice:
"Now would be the time to move away from the window, you guys. Because if that oke down there gets an itchy finger, you're all gonna end up doing f***ing yoga!".

Monday, March 23, 2009

The doctor and the trial that never was…

Maddening and frustrating is how I would describe the events that unfolded today.
Early this morning I was told that I needed to get out to the Hatfield Community Court in Pretoria to cover the first appearance of the Mayor’s daughter who had not only been bust with drugs by the cops on the weekend, but had managed to have assault charges added to the mix when she bit the policeman who arrested her.
So off I went after quickly downloading a map off the net. On the way I picked up a photographer from his home and we headed for Hatfield. As we neared Midrand the office called. Change of plan.
We were to abandon the druggie daughter story and head off to the magistrate’s court. There we were to chase up a dodgy doctor who apparently wrote up a medical report on Robert McBride. He claimed that the disgraced Ekhuruleni Metro police chief had, on the night he crashed his company car allegedly after over-indulging in a few too many Johnny Walkers at the traffic cops’ Christmas party, had not been drunk at the time. Investigators believe that the report drawn up by the kindly doctor, which stated that McBride was instead a tad befuddled due to hypoglycaemia, was utter hogwash. And today this man of medicine was to go on trial. Today!
We arrived at court and checked the roll. Nothing. So we went to the control prosecutor. She knew nothing and sent us off to office 13. We went there and they knew nothing. Half-an-hour had now passed.
So we went to the clerk of the court where I stood before the counter and was invisible. Nobody toiling away in the office looked up or even acknowledged my existence, let alone my anguished cries for assistance which were admittedly by now so hysterical and high-pitched that probably only the dogs in the greater Pretoria area could hear them.
Then the office responded to my frantic sms appeals for help – the trial, I was told, was going to happen in one of the court rooms on the third or fourth floor.
One by one we visited each courtroom and asked for the case. Nobody knew anything.
So we ventured back to the ground floor. By now it was after 9am and so I tried my luck again at the office of the clerk of the court. Either the job description of those manning the large office dictated that they absolutely not communicate with people coming to their front desk before 9am, or else I had suddenly become visible to them, but this time they spoke to me. And told me they knew nothing of the case and suggested I try the window next door where the appeal roll was kept.
So I did. And again, no joy. We were referred to office 91 where we spoke to more people and read more lists of cases - the closest hit being some other doctor arrested for swiping a phone.
So we walked some more, through the tunnel-like passages and underground mazes.
For two solid hours we tried to track down the illusive doctor-on-trial, with no hint of success. Eventually, as we sat cowering in the coffee shop, a radio news journo appeared looking extremely weary. We swopped stories and were gobsmacked to hear that we had in fact been to all the same places, checked out everything courtroom and read through every single roll. He had been as spectacularly unsuccessful as us.
So we decided to give it up and head back. We shall live to fight another day! As soon as I reached my desk I began phoning prosecutors linked to the McBride cases on the go. Again, no luck.
For now, it appears that the doctor and his trial have vanished from Pretoria. But he will be tracked. I am not giving up. The public has the right to know, and I shall continue my quest to be the bearer of this news!!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Bolhuis in the kakhuis

So there is this private investigator in Pretoria called Mike Bolhuis - honest to goodness, his real name! He is a larger-than-life character - wears dark suits, carries a big gun, quotes the Bible and looks like Johnny Bravo. I swear! I have known him for years and the trademark hairstyle remains unchanged. He is something of a vigilante-type character and smacks baddies around.
He recently made it back into the news when he was appointed by one Joost van der Westhuizen to investigate the porno tape scandal. Our rugby hero was apparently filmed snorting "white powder" and cavorting with a lady of the night (although my colleague who watched the entire illicit tape reckons it was all talk and not much ... erm ...action). Joost says there is no ways that he would betray sweet Amor or his Christian faith for a roll in the hay. He cited the porn star's Polo socks, holy underpants and rather large dong as evidence that the male lead was not him as he wears other brands of socks, underpants without holes and, ahem, his family jewels are not quite as impressive.
And then he hired Bolhuis to prove that the guy on the tape is just another dude who - like the several that are out there - happens to look exactly like him.
Anyway - my colleague Brat, who is in Cape Town at the moment, called me up to get some comment from the Bolhuis character for a story she is working on. She unearthed some court records that reveal a bit of a dodge history. She was reluctant to call him, so asked me to get his response.
Q: Apparently you have a conviction for insurance fraud. What do you have to say about that?
A: There's a story to it. I suspected one of the guys working for me, and started to investigate him and found out that he hula-hooped a deal. I confronted him and he confessed, but I was already in trouble cos I never reported it immediately. The was no financial benefit to nobody.
Q: So there have been 65 assault cases against you, but they have all been withdrawn. What's the deal?
A: Actually there were more than 300 cases against me, but they only concentrated on the 65. It was the baddies all accusing me of beating them up. But then they couldn't explain in court why they were where they were, and a case is only as strong as its witnesses so they all fell apart.
So now he is back in court on charges of lending his gun to security guys who work with him.
His side: I did nothing wrong, the okes are just going after me now because I am famous and stuff. The case is going to be thrown out and the government is going to have to pay me 40 grand back for my gun
As they say: jawellnofine.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Zuma, Pastor Ray and the judge

The week started fast. Today. First assignment to come my way: update the story on Jacob Zuma's visit to Rhema church. A challenge indeed. Trying to get hold of anyone from SA's rich and glitzy church before 7am on a Monday morning is mission impossible.
So yesterday our ANC president and first citizen in waiting, one Jacob "Bring me my machine gun" Zuma, took over the pulpit at Rhema and spoke for 20 minutes. Now, on the eve of our national elections. Not surprisingly, the visit went down like a bit of a lead balloon among some of the churchgoers who objected to their house of worship being used as a ploy to pull votes and so they stormed out. They were mad, and they wanted to say so.
It therefore became my task to get the latest on this unfolding storm and write it up for the lunchtime paper. I located a number for the church's spokesperson, but he was not answering. I was stumped.
So I went to the Rhema website. And there hope appeared in the form of a hotline number for pastoral care, available 24 hours a day for distressed people. And I was surely becoming distressed. Yay! So I called it. Hope faded when I realised the phone had been picked up by a cleaner. She said nobody else was there. I asked her for any available contact numbers for anybody who could speak on behalf of the church, even the spokesperson for heaven's sake! No can do - she only had him listed on speed dial and this was not revealing any information.
Just when I figured failure was about to befall me, I heard the voice of Pastor Ray McCauley chatting out on the radio. Woo hoo! The local talk radio show host had managed to track him down and was about to interrogate him on air. He described the man of God as an ex-body builder who had not skipped many meals.
I was ordered to listen and transcribe the interview - which I did and it was brilliant! Something along the lines of:
Show host: "So why would you allow Zuma to use your church for a bit of electioneering".
Pastor Ray: "Nooo. He just came to pray with us for the government and crime and soccer. And a peaceful election."
S H: "But this man is a polygamist. His behaviour does not fall in line with your church's teachings. The man is up on fraud charges. Why would you want him to preach to your flock?"
P Ray: "Erm ... we are able to change people. I prayed with him. I had a good time with him."
S H: "But dozens of people walked out of the service."
P Ray: "I didn't see them."
S H: "And now people are telling us that they have written to you and you are ignoring them."
P Ray: "Puhleez! I preached four times yesterday. When have I had time to answer letters? Anyway, we have 20 000 happy members. How many letters are you talking about?"
S H: "So will Helen Zille from the DA now be welcome to come and speak at your church?"
P Ray: "Erm ... why? What would she want to do that for? Actually we don't turn anyone away."
It was quite something!
Church story done, I headed off to court ready for the promised drama as the trial of the tea-drinking Judge resumed. His team was going to get the case thrown out of court.
The press gallery was packed to capacity. Fabulous Shoes - bronze peep-toe wedges, and her cohorts had annexed the best seats as they had arrived early.
We waited. For. Almost. Two. Whole. Hours.
EnthusiasticTV Journo played us her new ring tone which she reckons no whitie has ever downloaded. I am contemplating getting it simply to prove her wrong. "Blame it on the Alcohol" by Jamie Foxx and T Pain, apparently.
Then the legal beagles all filed in. It started. And like that it was all over. The judge's lawyers withdrew and YET AGAIN the case was postponed!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Operation Nomakanjani

This morning I was out with the Metro cops at dawn, ready to cover their traffic blitz on bad drivers in the CBD. And it was fantastic!
Normally the city centre is gridlocked in the early mornings as taxi drivers in particular take to viewing robots and road signs as nothing more than meaningless decor. It's beyond infuriating for law abiders who already have to contend with ongoing roadworks, numerous stolen manhole covers, potholes and those annoying cement ridges they're hammering into the lanes for the new transport system. Throw reckless drivers in on top of that and you have the perfect recipe for massive road rage or at least one stressed out Joburger going postal.
But at long last our dear traffic cops have seen the light and realised that they need to actually instill a bit of law and order on the city streets. And so we have Operation Nomakanjani or Operation No Matter What. Like the recent Operation Don't Smile, it's a tough crackdown that has the cops flexing their muscles and doing their jobs properly.
It was all very exciting as we hit the intersection near the Noord Street taxi rank just near Shell House. It's a notorious spot where mission-bound taxis generally ignore robots, drive on the wrong side of the road if they feel like it and pull illegal u-turns instead of entering the rank and turning around.
The cops were at the ready and we waited anxiously for the first offender. Some guy in a dented red Toyota Camry sailed through a red light. They flagged him down and he smiled, shook his head and continued on. Chief_Photographer and I gawked at the traffic cops who looked a bit sheepish as they shrugged their shoulders. We were outraged and demanded to know why they were such wimps.
And then shouts of excitement sounded. The first offender: a taxi driver across the intersection turning left from a right-turning only lane, barreling through a red light at the same time. As he was pulled over, calm as you please, he flashed a wad of cash at the cops as a bribe offering. No such luck! He got cuffed and taken to a waiting van and they impounded his taxi. Brilliant!
By 8am we had witnessed 20 arrests. One of them was a woman who, casual as you please, whipped through a red light. She looked annoyed and held her handbag over her face everytime we looked in her direction.
A pleasing morning indeed!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Bad Brad in cowboy shootout

Just after noon today I received a call from a panicked reader who said there had been a shooting outside his shop in Orange Grove. So BrilliantPhotographer and I high-tailed it out down the Louis Botha death bends and on to the scene of the crime.
And there I met former Big Brother housemate "Bad Brad" Wood. It seems that he had been driving through the area when all hell broke loose and so, being a bit of a cowboy, he joined in the fray.
According to the one cop on the scene who was prepared to speak about what was going on, three armed robbers tried to rob a supermarket at the very moment a patrolling police car came around on routine checks. One robber shot at them and hit a constable in the arm. The cops fired back and killed him. Then the second one tried to run away and got popped in the chest a block down the road and the third guy was arrested in the shop.
So who did Brad shoot?
"I'm not telling you guys if I hit anyone. The cops have taken my gun for ballistics," he said before rushing off to catch a flight to Cape Town for some big deal assignment.
And then the Official Police Spokesperson arrived - a large guy with spin tactics. He blabbed out the official version of what went down, good police work and all that.
"So how was Brad involved?" we journalists asked.
Turns out he had no idea at all.
So back at the office I called Brad and asked him for a bit of a fuller version. Turns out he arrived at the corner shop just as the shooting started, and had seen the cop get shot. So, being an ex-police reservist and all-round tough guy, he jumped in to help. After the first robber was shot, his mates holed up inside the supermarket. So Brad linked up with two other cops, blasted into the store and found the suspects hiding in the roof. Apparently Brad was a hero and went into the roof and flushed them out.
At least that's his version. The cops say they know nothing about it.
Somehow, I believe Brad.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Bored stiff

The ongoing trial of the judge who crashed his car while allegedly driving drunk has been dragging on for 18 months. So it was with immense anticipation and excitement that the usual clan of journalists arrived in court this morning. We had been told that today the defence was going to lodge an appeal to have the entire case chucked out.
So, after covering numerous long hearings, we were ready for a new development. Something was going to happen. At last.
And then we were told that the matter was delayed for an hour. Disappointed but not crushed, we stuck to our seats and waited. The TV reporters competed to see who had the worst working conditions. SABC, we heard, had undergone so many cut backs that they no longer even got coffee at work. At e-TV the editors were so controlling that reporters were reduced to little more than robots reading completely rewritten scripts. A news agency journo sat quietly and read her book: "10 stupid things married women say and do". Fabulous Shoes (red spiky heels so sharp and high they hurt my eyes) crunched on Nik Naks. I took a crack at a fiendish Sudoko puzzle.
After almost three hours the action started, and then fizzled out almost as quickly. Defence advocate said he wasn't going to present his application to have the whole case chucked out anymore. He wasn't going to do anything and he was not prepared to say why.
The magistrate bristled. He looked annoyed and asked for a further explanation. Defence guy said he was using attorney client privilege as his reason for not making his reasons known. Magistrate asked the prosecutor if he was cool with this. Prosecutor said he had been kept in the loop, did not plan to oppose the request for another week's delay, and that he too was not going to tell the magistrate the big secret why.
And so it got postponed. Again. Til next week Monday. Talk about Groundhog Day!!
Speculation is that the judge has not been paying his lawyers and they are now fed up and ready to withdraw. I don't know if it's true, but its the only thing that makes sense to me.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Julius and the evil spirits

Working on a Sunday when everyone else you know is out there in the sunshine having fun is a dreary, tiresome affair.But every now and again something comes along to lift your spirits – like the e-mail sent so kindly by the African Christian Democratic Party today. They issued a press statement announcing their decision to “have a special prayer for Julius Woodwork Malema”.

It was a fantastic announcement, truly in line with all the bizarre electioneering currently on the go, ahead of next month’s elections.

This religious political party apparently now believes youth league leader Julius has been possessed by evil spirits. Apart from his now-legendary poor performance in matric (H for maths, G for woodwork), Malema has annoyed the ACDP with his arrogance and his “glorification of thuggery”.

The ACDP is now angry and hellbent on reforming the wayward youth. They are extreme, enthusiastic, they use astounding vocabulary, bad grammar and poor spelling in their latest missive. I quote, or rather copy and paste: “The only leasson our children have learnt from he of the displeasing metric results is to take pride in insulting their own parents and elderly people. Alas. As the ACDP we can no loneger ignore or even tolerate this dangerous conduct. If we don't pray for him not only would we be doing him and the nation a disfavor; we would be neglecting our spiritual and moral obligations as Christians.”

Do these people not have a spell checker?

And they continue: “We believe that only a man under the spell of the evil spirits which once attacked Legion of Gaderines can spew the kind of things coming out of Malema's mouth, yet never lose any amount of sleep. We now have good reasons to suspect that those evil spirits have left the pigs and have found a new home in the young man. We therefore call upon all Christians and citizens to join us in praying for Malema so that these spirits could leave him in peace. Although very little is know about Malema's late mother, we should also pray for her spirit to rest in peace in the wake of Malema's reign of madness.”

In the spirit of an organisation wanting to call a spade an evil, demon-possessed instrument of Satan, they end with a warning.

“The power to halt the likes of Malema and anyone who has displayed obvious obsession with oligarchy is in the hands of populace.”

Now who could have said it better?

Friday, March 6, 2009


Precisely 10 minutes before the official 10am start of this morning's sessions in the Johannesburg High Court we were alerted to the fact that a judgement was going to be given in yet another round of the Scorpions vs disgraced police chief Jackie Selebi. None of us on duty had been covering the ongoing saga and nobody knew what was going on. I drew the short straw, and got the assignment.
One of the news editors quickly printed out some background, I filled in a car slip and charged down to the basement where a driver was waiting. I closed my eyes in prayer as he did 0 to 100km's an hour through city traffic and dropped me off at the front entrance, mere seconds later.
The hearing itself was a tedious and boring as I expected. No big dramas.
As I tried to leave I encountered a whole stack of women in purple t-shirts protesting. They were standing in solidarity with a woman named Buyisiwe who was gang-raped by six men in 2005. Posters detailing each step in her stalling court case were tied to the palisade fencing in front of the court. It was a truly horrifying account and my heart went out to the poor soul.
The protestors however, unfortunately seemed to attract more curious stares than pledges of support. They were angry and loud. One sported a giant badge appropriately sporting the logo "Pissed Off Woman". Some had duct tape over their mouths. The main attraction was a woman with a shaved head in a white robe and leather sandals splattered with fake blood, lying on the steps leading up to the grand court entranceway. She had a bandage over her eyes with JUSTICE writted across it, presumably for those who didn't get who she was supposed to be. She had the scales of justice in one hand and a giant gold cardboard sword in the other.
This in itself would have been a fairly striking image. But she would shriek out: "Why is there no justice?" to anyone walking past, which scared quite a few people and had them stepping off smartly in alarm.
I truly hope the angry women eventually managed to achieve the point they were trying to make. And that justice will eventually be served for Buyisiwe.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

A rich woman and bad boys.

Today was one big run around, following up on my two most recent stories.
First of all, I got to cover the bail application of the really rich woman who was arrested along with her hubbie and his dad for fraud, theft and money laundering. And at the same time they had their property, cars, bank accounts, companies and trusts altogether worth about R10-million seized. That's got to be annoying if you've been living it up and driving around in a Bentley Turbo and stuff!
So there they stood in the dock this morning, hardly looking like millionaires in their jeans and tracksuit tops after a night in the slammer. It turns out the woman - a one-time legal secretary turned lady of leisure - had allegedly been conning her boss into signing bunches of payments to various people which she would simply divert the amounts into her own account, her husband's, her father-in-law's bond account or whatever.
It took a while - apparently several months and about R1.4-million down the tube - before boss cottoned on, got himself an investigator and the whole family got busted. A quick look at everybody's healthy bank balances and sorry salary slips resulted in the long arm of the law snatching all their stuff and freezing it.
They got bail okay, but they now have a lot of please explaining to do to the cops. And then to the tax man!
No sooner was I back at the office than my phone rang. It was the mother of Donovan - he of the tattoo, gold tooth and bullet hole through the stomach story I did on Tuesday. She was still deeply distressed and now wanted to sue the state for Donovan's medical costs. She said her other son and Don's two friends who had all been arrested for attempted murder following the one-way street debacle had all been released before the case made it to court. She now wanted to sue for wrongful arrest. I felt sorry for her.
Then I received another call from a contact of mine who saw the story and recognised the names involved. The guys, he said, were serial housebreakers known in the area. The mother was kind of a Ma Baker character, living off the proceeds of her son's crimes.
I called the police for comment and they told the same story. The attempted murder charges had been dropped, but detectives were busy with investigations. The boys had apparently ripped off a big screen TV on their way home from court!
The story lives on...

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Concourt confusions

The Constitutional Court is both awe-inspiring and beautiful. It is an experience of note to sit in the gallery of the giant court chamber and watch the country's top legal minds in action. The sight of that grand string of cloaked judges taking their seats as they preside over the highest court in the land is quite something to behold and well worth the effort.
The upstairs press gallery, however, is another story. This morning I was sent off to cover the beginning stages of the hearing into whether or not South Africans living overseas should be allowed to register and then cast their votes in the forthcoming election - despite the fact that the deadline allowing them to do so has passed. It was a last minute decision by the editors in charge, so I was too late to get one of the prized front row seats that allows for a decent view of the proceedings below and was forced to huddle with the latecomers.
So there I was, perched with notebook on lap, frantically taking notes in case fireworks erupted into front page news for the afternoon edition of my paper. This did not happen. Lawyers acting on behalf of the applicants droned on, speaking in some kind of legal code. The judges responded intermittently: Judge Albie Sachs wanting clarification on an issue, Judge Kate O'Regan making an observation or blind Judge Yacoob arguing a point.
It was all very hushed and proper. As rows of journalists scribbled away around me, I listened intently, wondering if I was the only one who didn't quite get the meaning of the interactions taking place. Did everybody else understand a long rambling point made by a lawyer and his even longer response when asked to re-discuss it in terms of Section 37B of the Electoral Act with reference to its wider consequences and future ramifications??
I nervously checked with my colleagues and got the reassurance I needed. We were all in the dark. Thankfully. It was going to take a while for a picture to emerge and a story to formulate. I left, grateful to be able to hand the case over to the politics reporter. Phew.
Back at the office I got to grips with a good old crime story. A Pretoria family were arrested for fraud, theft and money laundering. A stinking rich woman, her husband and father-in-law were bust by a top cop and his team, and the Asset Forfeiture Unit seized all their stuff. One of the cars they took was a Bentley Turbo. I checked it out on Wikipedia and discovered that it rates as more expensive than the Rolls Royce Silver Spirit, going for US$145 000.
I bet she never took that baby joyriding through Jozi!!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

One Way Street

The story I covered today was one of those interesting ones that unfold and leave you not knowing who to believe.
It all started early this morning I received a call from a frantic mother who told me her teenage son was lying in hospital. He’d been shot by a cop for driving the wrong way up a one-way street. Oooookay.
So I fetched a photographer and we hauled ass to a hospital in Alberton where we encountered young Donovan who showed us his wounds – the entry and exit holes from a bullet shot through his gut. He had a gold front tooth, a tattoo on his neck and he was seriously annoyed cos the very same bullet had blasted a hole straight through his car door.
His version of what happened: “Me and my pal Wesley and this other retard were in my car.”
I asked for Retard’s name.
“Hey, we aren’t being nasty or anything, he knows we mean it in fun when we call him retard. He’s just this guy who fell off a roof on his head and now he’s a bit brain damaged and can’t work or anything but his company still pays him. But I think they’re gonna pay him off now cos he’s seriously a bit … like mentally handicapped or something.”
“Anyway – I don’t want to lie to you, so I admit that I had a bit of vodka in me at the time. So me and Wes and Retard go to a primary school to fetch Wesley’s nephew and I pull in the wrong way up a one-way. Next thing these two privates jump out with guns. I hear Doof! And then Wes starts yelling at me to reverse and get out cos they shot me.”
So Donovan drives home and his mom rushes him off to hospital after he stumbles out of his car all pale and dizzy and unable to speak properly.
Then the cops arrive, throw a few slaps around and then chuck Wes, Retard and Donovan's brother in the police cells.
I call the cops. Here is their version: Two cops out on patrol spotted a three guys in a car driving recklessly. They stop them, and the driver pulls a gun on them and they fire off a shot. The car races off, they chase it and find it abandoned in Donovan's yard, so they arrest the three guys they happen to find in the house after linking the car to two house robberies in the area. Then they discover that they shot someone so they release one of the guys in custody.
Don says: he was shot, then framed and all three guys are still in custody.
The cops say: he is a wanted suspect and all of them will be held in custody and will be taken to court tomorrow to face an attempted murder charge.
Totally bizarre!

Monday, March 2, 2009

Stress in the city.

I know I am able to handle deadline pressure, cover the most traumatic of stories without getting too rattled, walk past blood and bodies without flinching and view bodies in the morgue without gagging. But I have now discovered that it takes only a bit of unco-ordinated city traffic to crack me to the core and bring me to my knees.
I purposely work the early bird shift. It's tedious in winter when I begin my day in the dark and cold, but it affords me the luxury of spending a good chunk of my afternoons with Little One on the days I leave on time and means that I don't generally sit in traffic like most other Joburgers suffering the ongoing roadworks currently uplifting the city.
But alas. On Friday we were detained at the office for a newsroom strategy meeting which ended at 4pm. Coincidentally the same moment that, heralded by the sounding of taxi sirens from the streets below, the Jozi CBD turned into complete and utter chaos.
After a quick drink and a bit of social chit chat I decided to head home at 4,30pm. It took me 5 whole minutes to edge my little chariot out of the parkade and into the street. And then began the process of edging forward, little bit by little bit, and realised I was literally trapped and had no option but to continue with the flow. After 30 minutes I had travelled less than half a block.
Insanity prevailed. It was as though everyone had abandoned all traffic rules and regulations, as though all street lights and signs were invisible as the streets became a surreal free-for-all. Not one Metro police officer was anywhere to be seen. Pedestrians pushed their way into jammed intersections to try and guide traffic across from one side at a time with little success.
I have never seen such blatant lawlessness compounded by neglect by traffic authorities. It was actually scary. I listened to the radio for a traffic report or news flash to say what was going on. And it came: the CBD is gridlocked, the cause of it all being bad driving.
As I sat helplessly I fretted and steamed. I tried deep breathing and meditation. I phoned my mother. And then I settled into helpless resignation.
Now I know the Joburg City Council has spent millions and millions on scores of CCTV cameras which are now perched all around the CBD. I went to the launch of this State*Of*The*Art facility that is designed to bring law and order back to the city. Like other journos, I was fed all the PR bumpf about how a vigilant camera operator can zoom into a registration plate and detect a hijacker cruising in a stolen car. And so I know that without a doubt that chaos had to have at the very least been witnessed by those manning the control room they are linked to. Yet nothing was done about it.
After an hour-and-a-half I had moved a full two blocks and was able to turn off and head home freely. It was only a few minutes later that I encountered my next Metro cop horror. At a major intersection where cars were backed up, waiting for a filter arrow allowing them to turn into a side street, four Metro cars were parked as officers sat in wait to pounce on anyone daring to jump the light. FOUR Metro cars. None of them anywhere near the ongoing chaos in the CBD.
This, in my mind, is an outrage. It is beyond unacceptable. It has become my mission to work out a way to cover this story. I shall vent in print!!