Tuesday, June 30, 2009

My name is Jane. I want to be a mouse.

Today a press release arrived advertising a new one-woman play starting later this month at a new downtown theatre. I checked out the poster (above) and realized that I have lost the plot on this one.
My colleague TheBrat (funky clothes, some of them shiny and looking a little like lingerie, long deep red tresses – just like those Bratz dolls) usually tends have the lowdown on what’s hot and happening around town. So I forward her the poster via e-mail, with the message: “Am a complete and utter pleb when it comes to the arts? I look at this and I my reaction is more “Eeeeeeeeew, my gahd!” than “Good golly gosh, get me a ticket right now, dahling!”?
She looks across at me with a horrified expression and states that she is with me on this one.
So we forward this to TallandAttractive who declares the poster “a beautiful juxtaposition”.
Confusion mounts.
So we forward it to MomOfThree and ask her opinion.
“Personally, I would never see this play. But I find myself strangely fascinated by this sensual depiction of bestiality on another level. But that's the porn-lover in me,” she says.
The press release for the pending performances is headed: “Rejection. Desire. Obsession. Revenge. Escape. Mice.”
Still does nothing for me, I’m afraid.
Although I am a little tempted to fork out 100 bucks for a ticket just to check out what kind of audience this production draws.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Thrilling and amazing!

Great, great day today!
I saw my little friend Courtney Ellerbeck - the nine-year-old kiddie left paraplegic by a hijacker who shot her mom's pregnant stomach two months before she was due to be born - actually walk.
I have followed Courtney's story since the day she was born. And like many other people who have only the best of wishes for this little blonde poppet dealt such a raw deal in life, I prayed I would get to see her walk when she first started wishing for the chance because a new type of calliper that had been developed made it a real possibility.
Last week the parts arrived from America after many glitches and delays and customs hold-ups. Then on Wednesday she heard that she could go for a fitting. But her great granny, who lives with her family, died that same morning putting a very big damper on what would have been one of the most exciting days of her young life.
It was so sad, because her great granny had been anxiously waiting to see Courtney walk, but she didn't quite make it.
On Saturday Courtney finally got the callipers - fitted, finished and completely sorted. Benny the orthotist told her to start off by wearing them for 10 minutes each day and practice her walking. But noooooooooooo. Courtney allowed the giant supports to be taken off her only when she went to bed.
On Sunday she wore them to church. Mike the musician gave her a drum roll and everybody clapped. She stood through the entire service, refusing to sit.
I saw her today and she was beyond proud as she walked across her backyard. She showed me how she can winch herself upward in a little jump move. She swung her paralysed legs and kicked a ball. It was a magic moment.
PicturesEditor and I asked her if we could get pictures of the calipers without her tracksuit pants covering them. At first she declined and got quite tearful about this, viewing it as a dent in her dignity. So we explained that this was more for information purposes and not for actual publication, and the leggings she had on underneath meant that her underwear would not be exposed and she quickly cheered up.
"Aunty Jozi, if I let you see my calipers, will you let me play with your long hair please?" she asked.
How could I refuse? So I spent some time sitting on the floor while she happily brushed my hair and told me how now that she has got the walking thing right, she plans to become a ballerina!
Go Courtney!

PS The news wires of the world are still buzzing with ongoing revelations following the the death of the king of pop. Michael Jackson - RIP. Loved your concert in Jozi back in the day! The tank on stage amid bewildered, tearful children was a tad OTT here in Gangsta's Paradise, but otherwise it was a totally amazing life highlight. Kiddy fiddler allegations, chemical addictions and never-ever-ask-for-this-procedure-unless-you-truly-want-your-face-to-look-like-melted-plastic surgeries aside, the guy was a talent ahead of his time and his death is incredibly sad and came much too soon. Let's hope Prince Michael, Paris and Blanket will have a more normal life.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Light at the end of a very long tunnel!

So today was the day. The day we would get to hear whether or not the Pretoria High Court judge accused of driving drunk and then crashing his Jaguar through somebody's garden wall was going to get his way.
This whole saga goes back to January 2007! He allegedly had a few toots and accidentally drove backwards through a wall. It was a bit of bad luck story because the guy who owned the wall happened to be quite sharp and immediately called his lawyer who told him to photograph the scene and record what the alleged potted driver had to say for himself. Unluckily for the judge, the wall owner is an IT whizz skilled in the safe and correct storage of digital information - so what sounds like a whole bunch of drunken ramblings, colourful language, slurring, swearing and all the rest got accepted as evidence.
One would think that in the face of such evidence the accused would perhaps back down. Not this guy. For one year and 10 months precisely to the day, he has insisted on his innocence and claimed victimisation. He was simply lost, that night, and accidentally reversed through the wall (as happens when one gets lost and does a u-turn that takes you a few metres off the road). Hey - it could happen to anyone.
The story has captured media attention and those of us assigned to cover it have become like a big old jolly family. We have followed the trial together, yawned together and listened to scientific explanations back-extrapolation calculations with regard to blood alcohol levels. And then the judge asked for the case to be thrown out because the state had failed to prove anything.
So there we all gathered this morning. Huddled in the gallery of what must be one of the smallest courtrooms in the entire Joburg Magistrate Court building. TV, radio, wire services, news agencies and us hacks from the print media were all there. At the ready. FabulousShoes (tan leather ankle boots with the most delicately pretty gold buckles gleaming on the side), QuirkyOlderWoman, the prosecution, the defence, the accused - everybody was there waiting to hear if the trial would continue or if it was all over. A quick tally and we worked out that we were split down the middle on our predictions of the outcome.
FabulousShoes was convinced the judge was about to walk free. TVreporter figured he had no chance.
The magistrate walked in, and began delivering his verdict. It took a v-e-r-y l-o-n-g time.
And then suddenly it was finished. The state had given enough evidence to for a case which the judge needs to answer to.
The defence said the judge was most certainly not going to answer to anyone and would not be testifying. They ended their case on the spot.
Postponed for a month for final arguments.
Hurray - light at the end of the tunnel. The torturous trial is almost over!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Mess ups, stuff ups and the weather

First thing this morning I was briefed to follow up a story running on radio. Some guy had apparently been hijacked a week ago by seven guys who kidnapped him and took him off to Hartebeespoort Dam where he then bravely fought all of them off and stabbed one of them in the face. It was helluva dramatic stuff, despite the fact that it was week-old news. So I called the cops to find out more. They had no clue what I was talking about. So I called the reporter who did the story and he sent me the guy's blog details, cell number and a warning that I was going to be dealing with one wild and weird character. I asked who he had spoken to for confirmation of the alleged incident and he admitted that, like me, he had spoken to all the talking heads at provincial headquarters and encountered glazed stares and no information. Fortunately he had a contact in Hartebeespoort who gave him the information he wanted, but this was his own private connection who would not speak on the record. That meant I could not confirm what already appeared to be one supremely dodgy story.
Ah well....
There's always the weather. So a weather story it was - today is apparently cold, tomorrow colder and Jozi is likely to see -2 - that is MINUS TWO DEGREES people! - on Friday. And severe frost on Saturday.
Then I got sent off to the Union Buildings in Pretoria. To cover the Health Minister's announcement on what his plans were to increase doctors salaries like immediately to avert the looming massive health professions crisis that would no doubt transpire if doctors were to go ahead with their threatened strike action.
ChiefPhotographer and I headed off, signed our way in, produced press cards, had our bags x-rayed, walked through metal detectors and made our way past the giant structure that was built on the hill for the April presidential inauguration bash. It is still in the process of being dismantled!!
I sat through the media briefing in which the minister promised raises - as big as government could possibly offer. I took down the new salary scales and filed my story, realising that one of the figures quoted did not make sense. Crisis! I found another journalist willing to share info and we checked the numbers - she had exactly the same figures. Eish. Double crisis! We checked with a third - again the same mistake.
Ah man! What to do, what to do?
I got back to the office and found a statement from the health ministry. The figures had been corrected. The minister had made a mistake. Not me. Thank goodness!
I downed a bottle of fruit punch mineral water. It's called 'revive' and apparently what is recommended for freaky situations. Such as waking up with whipped cream in your hair and the phone number of someone called 'baksteen' written on the inside of your thigh. It's supposed to be awesome enough to bring back 80's TV, mixed tapes and chopper bikes.
I dunno hey. I felt better for a while. But then I heard that the Metro boss had agreed to make some concessions to renegade taxi drivers in regard to their objections against Operation Nomakanjani. I CANNOT believe they caved to men who recklessly run red lights, drive in the safety lane and use oncoming lanes for their convenience when traffic slows down. Even if they are caught doing this, respectful traffic cops may no longer impound their taxis.
Shocking! Shocking! Shocking!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Enterprising fruit journalism, aspiring young farmers and vitaminwater

Today was, in many ways, a re-enactment of yesterday.
Mission one: what's the deal with the doctors' strike? Some colleagues arrived early to head out to state hospitals and see for themselves exactly what's happening. I got landed with the job of phoning the hospital CEO's for comment. I expected to encounter a bunch of difficult, obstructive government-types. Suprisingly the first three were warm, friendly, helpful women named Gladys, Florence and Susan. Some things just can't be predicted, I suppose.
Unlike my news editor, C-for-Serious who had obviously grown bored with leaving me alone and decided to forward me some arb e-mail. Like the invitation to the potato-grower foundation's annual braai. This one was a call for entries into the annual competition for great journalism on fruit. Yes indeed - Afrikaans entry form and a trophy and small cash prize up for grabs, in fact.
Joining the fun, her sidekick EvilIncarnate added to my joy by sending me a press release about aspiring young farmers. They giggled together as they conspired against my complaints, suggesting that I consider involving myself with a rich young farmer who could produce fruit that I could write about and win an award.*sigh*
Mission two: get some comment on the Egyptian soccer players who are up in arms about South African journalists implying that they entertained prostitutes in their hotel room. I am assured that there is film footage somewhere of the whole party so we are not backing down on the story. I get hold of the right guy. He whispers something about this becoming something of a diplomatic incident, says he cannot comment yet but takes my number and promises to get back to me. I am still waiting...
On the positive side - our IT guys have finally heeded our whinging about our severe internet access limitations. Our daily quota of 15 megs has been upped, and apparently moves are afoot to unban us from facebook. Now I will no longer have to apply for permission to access the social networking site which has been the source of some excellent stories. Like the Winnie Madikizela-Mandela profile clone who was racking up gazillions of friends much to the horror of the real-life lady, and the hundreds of youngsters signing up on the group "Steve Hofmeyr is my papa" .
And the new fridge in the newsroom was restocked with vitaminwater. Apparently we can help ourselves to it, for free!! At least I do. Yesterday I had dragonfruit flavour which, according to the label, contains a bunch of nutrients but by law still does not entitle the producers to claim that Thelma from Brakpan drank it and threw a cement mixer across a field.
Today I tried the berryXXX. Apparently the XXX is not to be mistaken for a porno rating but rather the triple anti-oxidants in the water, described as "kiff little ninjas that use really, really small nanchucks to beat the daylights out of free radicals".
It's quite nice. I hope it helps me kick the awful cold that has me in its grip!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Taxis, doctors and Egyptian soccer players

Today was nothing more than a tedious quest for information. No big stories on the agenda.
First mission: find out whether Operation Nomakanjani is or is not continuing. Various spokespersons for the Metro police have said that the immensely successful crackdown on lawless taxi drivers has been been suspended. The reason? They have arrested and fined so many taxi drivers that the taxi associations are now quite annoyed and threatening to strike. And we all know what happens when taxi drivers strike. So the Metro cops said they would suspend Operation Nomakanjani pending a peaceful meeting with taxi bosses to discuss their grievances with the ongoing actions. But the traffic boss was having none of it, and released a contradictory statement to say that they would not be held to ransom and Nomakanjani was indeed going ahead and they were planning to add to their impressive record of 2000 or so arrests and impounding of taxis. First one story, then the other, then they were in a meeting, no decisions....
Second mission: is the wildcat doctors' strike over salaries going ahead? Some say yes, some say no. The Health Department says they don't know - call back at 10am when we have a picture of what is happening, please. Difficult when deadline is 8,30am at the very latest! Grrrrrrrrrr.
Third mission: Apparently the visiting Egyptian soccer team's claims of having been robbed during the early hours of Friday are a tad dubious. Detectives, it seems, found no sign of forced entry at their hotel rooms, their safes were not tampered with and weekend papers claim that the players had enjoyed the company of some ... erm ... ladies of the night who may possibly have been the ones to walk off with the pile of dollars after the party.
My task? Find the team, talk to them, get the latest on the investigation, find out when they are leaving the country, what their embassy is saying and whether or not they will be interrogated by detectives today. Not surprisingly the hotel was not willing to divulge gues information, nor was Egypt Air forthcoming on their national soccer team flight bookings and their appointed spokeswoman could not be reached on either of her two cell phones nor her e-mail. The Fifa guys had no clue what was happening. The cops were annoyed about an "anonymous source" talking out on behalf of detectives. The embassy was tightlipped. Well and truly stumped.
So while I was waiting for the overly numerous phone messages I left with the gazillion or so people I had phoned I googled my name on the image setting to see what came up. Turns out I share the same name as a much older woman preacher who is going to spread God's word in Kenya next month, and in Spain in September. She sings too, and has written a religious book with an eagle on the cover. Go figure!
Then I phoned murdered Dr Sprenger's family to find out how they are doing and if there is an update needing to be done on the story. They were too sad to talk. So I went home.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Murder, madness, sadness and Father's Day

Sometimes the hideousness of Joburg’s “murder capital of the world” status literally makes people go crazy.
Today I watched a man, who must obviously have been a patient of Dr Mike Sprenger, say a prayer at the gate of the medical rooms in Rosettenville. It was here that the much-loved general practitioner was stabbed to death and had his practice set on fire on Thursday night. He then walked silently to his car and began hammering on the steering wheel and screaming. His anguished wails sounded more like those of a tortured animal than a human being.
It has been two days since Dr Michael Sprenger’s charred corpse was discovered in the fire sweeping his medical practice.
For a while today I stood at the gates of the medical practice where he has treated families in the area for the past 30 years. Between the plastic crime-scene cordons across the gate people had fastened bouquets and messages. The area remained locked off. No arrests have been made, and not even detectives seem to know why people would break in and murder a man who had apparently been sorting out medicines he dispensed to his patients.
It’s sad and insane and makes no sense. And that’s just to me, the journalist telling the story.
I have watched the murdered man’s patients cry, sob as they tried to describe him, pray and go mad.
I cannot imagine the pain suffered by the doctor’s wife, who is now a widow. Nor by his two sons and his little girl who will turn seven in two weeks. I understand that they had their own private memorial service at home today. And it’s Father’s Day!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Boiling point

The offending toilet brush, your honour!

So how is this for a story?
A trade union in Mpumalanga has put a guy under investigation, and plan to get him fired. The reason? According to the report they gave to their local news agency, he used a toilet brush to clean his employee's kettle.
Ooookay. It seems that the owner of a petrol station bought a 25litre urn for his staff at the beginning of winter. He wanted his staff to have hot drinks whenever. So he bought an urn - not a kettle, mind you. So the manager went to go and clean the urn and used, what looks in the photograph supplied as evidence, a new toilet brush to scrub the urn out.
Somebody saw him and the whole thing turned into a big hoo hah. Employees are offended, the unions have been called in and everybody wants the manager fired. They have put the story out to the media.
I dunno hey. I figure that boiling water is sterile - even if are were microscopic particles of toilet material in it. Just like tap water in many parts of the world. I mean - this is Africa where we have cholera and insane levels of unemployment, not to mention real and serious crime.
Is it necessary to turn a toilet brush and kettle saga into a national incident?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Two big fish caught!

It was early in the day when my cop connection called me with my first story. Some zealous detectives had caught two hijackers. Did I want to come down to Bramley police station with a shooter and get a picture of "these bastards" he asked. Well, now. Is a bean green?
So off I shot with Jeans-And-Tackies, my mate in photographic. I had to quickly finish off a news brief about parking issues at the Royal Bafokeng Stadium in Rustenburg during last night's Bafana Bafana victory match so she offered to hurry on down to the basement and sign out a car. Minutes later we were ready to leave.
"You see! They always give me this piece-of-shit Tazz. I don't understand why!" she said as she turned the key too far in the ignition, causing the engine to scream and splutter. The engines got a bit of a rev and we were on our way - crawling through peak hour traffic.
We arrived at Bramley cop shop where we found the inspector who had the whole lowdown on the two big fish they had just nabbed in Alexandra township. The first suspect, he said, was a wanted fugitive positively linked to 50 cases of house robbery and hijacking. The second guy was wanted for 30 cases of house robbery, muggings, smash-and-grabs, handbag snatchings and a few armed robberies. No hijackings. But he had a huge plasma TV in his house which they had seized after discovering that it had been stolen from a house up the road.
Then we followed the inspector to the holding cells.
Dodgy cop, leering: "Eish. You girls should not be in here. You are too beautiful for handcuffs."
Jeans-And-Tackies: "Hey, wena!"
Jozi Journo: eyes down, embarrassed simper.
Inspector hauls out a fabulously large shiny Samsung plasma TV and puts it down in front of us. Jeans-And-Tackies eyes him out as asks if he thinks this will make for a good photograph. He tells her no, but only one of his suspects is currently in lockdown. We have to wait for the second guy as he is busy in the toilet.
We a wait a little and then the armed cops line them up for us, backs to the camera as we can't identify them til they have appeared in court. Inspector smacks the one and yells, "Hey, don't look at me, jou moer."
Picture taken and we leave, once again crawling back to the office in bumper-to-bumper traffic.
Jeans-And-Tackies: "Jeeeesus Keyrist! Look at this traffic. Everyone at the office is excited about 2010 Soccer next year. I keep telling them, 'Guys, what about the traffic? We are going to be in hell. Complete hell for a full month.'."
I fill in the crappy Tazz's log book where the records show that indeed this hunk of junk is indeed always signed out to Jeans-And-Tackies.
Back at my desk I get another call from the inspector. He has just discovered that the first suspect has jumped bail on another case from another province. He is to be tried for a murder and an armed robbery committed at Hartebeespoort Dam.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Positives and negatives...

"And make it a flat white..."

I have spent the past two days toiling away on a feature article discussing the controversies surrounding a recent murder. Was it the four guys who beat a man into a coma where he was declared brain dead who caused his death, or was it the doctor who flipped the switch on the life support machines keeping him technically alive? It seems this is not such a cut-and-dried issue.
But as I trawled through information on the story and gathered the opinions of legal minds my mind kept wandering back to my recent holiday in Australia . Numerous colleagues questioned me on whether I am planning on joining the chicken run by moving to Australia . Am I packing for Perth?
Well, there are many good things to be said about living in Australia:
* It’s really clean and almost everything works properly.
* The people are super-friendly.
* Almost everybody obeys the law. If they drink, they make a plan rather than drive home.
* There are NO car guards. And parking at the big shopping malls is usually free.
* Their taxis are of the classy, roadworthy metered kind, not the scary death-traps on wheels that rule our roads and give us stress.
* Their crime rate is low, low, low. I have personally proven this. Firstly I accidentally left the front door to my brother's house standing open. Not unlocked! Wide open, facing onto their front lawn which runs down into the street. No walls, barbed wire or electric fencing. We returned at the end of the day to find the house untouched. On the second occasion after a wild shopping spree I somehow left my handbag standing on the front door step for a few hours (I'm not completely stupid, okay - just distracted and busy). It was after dark and the front light was on, shining brightly down on my lonely bag containing my purse, money and some other interesting stuff - yet nobody took it.
* They have Ikea!!! Oh the joyful, blissful hours I spent there. I could happily live in that store. In fact I think my dream job has to be an Ikea publicist.
* Kid's snacks are clearly labelled, healthy and - unlike our Nik Naks and strawberry Nesquick - do not contain colourants that are banned in the developed world.
* You get paid Aus$6000 if you have a baby. I swear! Plus you get given money every week after that until the offspring reaches adulthood.

That said, there's some stuff that's not so cool:
* Their shopping trolleys can drive you insane. They are demon-possessed, uncontrollable hunks on wheels that have the turning circle of an ox cart. They seem to be manufactured like that. None of the contraptions I encountered could easily navigate supermarket aisles without being lifted, tilted, pulled, reversed and rammed.
* There are no petrol jockeys. You have to work the pumps yourself with zero guidance and there’s nobody to help with wiping your windscreen.
* Child care costs about Aus$100 PER DAY!! That’s R690! For one day. Seriously….
* Ja, the koalas are cute and cuddly. But sheesh! Have you smelt them? AND they are vicious.
* A cup of coffee at the most cheep and cheerful of coffee shops costs close on R25!! It took me a while to work out that it is called a “flat white” if you add milk. Yeah – flat white. Totally obvious!
* If you take hiking boots into the country you are legally obliged to have them inspected by a customs official. Apparently there could be contaminated soil particles from your home country trapped in the grooves of the soles. And this is not allowed in Australia.

So there you have it. Much to contemplate.

Monday, June 15, 2009

A schoolboy, a sword and satanism

Back to work today.
My month-long holiday in Australia is now all but a pleasant memory. I have returned home with a hacking cough and heavy cold. But alas - Monday is a work day.
Soon after arriving at the office I was assigned the story of the South African woman whose frozen corpse was found dumped in a wheelie bin in England, three years after she disappeared. Her husband - an unemployed German chef who remarried six months ago - had apparently been arrested for the murder and had appeared in court on Saturday.
I began working on the story and before I got very far I was instructed to drop it. One of the sister papers in the group had already done it.
Second assignment for the day: head out to the Joburg High Court and cover the sentencing of the Krugersdorp schoolboy killer who hacked a fellow pupil to death with a ninja sword. Then he savaged another pupil and two gardeners who tried to stop him - and they all survived.
Okay - off I go. I found the correct court and secured myself a good place. Then I had a coughing fit - one of those awful attacks where you cough and cough til you feel you can't breathe, your eyes start streaming, your nose runs and you sound like this whole thing just might escalate into a vomit. NOT cool. But anyway, it didn't. I just sat there looking like I'd been crying for days, taking deep breaths.
And then the accused was brought into the court room. His mom and dad waved excitedly at him as he beamed brightly and went to hug them. They had a joyous little family reunion and wept tears of joy. Family of the deceased boy sat nearby and wept tears of sorrow.
The sentencing did not happen as expected. Instead the defence asked for a postponement so they could get a criminologist to testify. The state then asked for the court to secure the evidence of one Kobus Jonker. I could not believe my ears. Years ago when I did my time working on community newspapers I wrote a fair amount about "Donker Jonker" - who I believe was also known as "The Hound of God" and " God's Detective". He started the occult-related crimes unit in the police. He used to give the most fantastic presentations about satanists and the stuff they were up to - devil worshipping in grave yards, killing cats, drinking blood and that kind of stuff. He had fabulous props at his media conferences - Bibles padlocked in thick chains, candles which he would eerily mention might be made from human fat and gruesome items like that. We were allowed to touch the articles but we were always warned to wash our hands afterwards. He went silent after human rights activists got his unit closed on grounds that our constitution guarantees freedom of religion.
So it's really exciting to hear that he may be testifying in court about the kid who listened to Slipknot's heavy metal music and then killed another kid. I thought it was only hysterical sensationalists who saw Satan's hand at work. Only two months to wait til the next court appearance!!