Monday, August 31, 2009

Rea Vaya, taxis vanish and Ninja Boy in court.

Helluva hectic day!
So today was the first day our Rea Vaya bus service was up and running. And with magical effect almost all the taxis disappeared off the road - which is a major bummer for the many poor souls who rely on them, but quite heavenly for those of us who have cars and dream of taxi-free roads.
We had teams out in force - journalists riding buses, others supposed to do the journey by taxi stranded on the roadside along with commuters, roving teams checking out the action and another perched in the inner city CCTV camera surveillance room. The stories that came in were not spectacular, so I got assigned to jump in my car and do the out-on-Market-Street and back-in-along-Commissioner loop to check out if all was as smooth and perfect as the traffic cops were saying.
So I did. Managed the trip across the city and back in 15 minutes - which was brilliant. Plus I checked a whole lot of cars using the bus lanes illegally and crossing over intersections in heart-stopping manoevres. Check out this bit of evidence captured by me - a car willfully using the dedicate bus lane. As seen through my windscreen, captured by my phone!!!

After that I got sent to the Joburg High Court to cover the pre-sentencing hearing of Morne Harmse, the Kurgersdorp schoolboy who killed a fellow pupil and injured three other people when he ran amock through the school one Monday morning, hacking away with his ninja sword.
It was a loooong day. First we had the social worker annoy the prosecutor by describing Morne as a young boy of "about 18". Advocate Gerrie Roberts got seriously annoyed and told her: "You have his birth date in front of you. He is 19-years-and-seven-months old actually - quite far from 18."
She painted him as a lonely dreamer who lived in a fantasy world and wished he could do martial arts. Roberts described him as a borderline psycho who with apparent unfulfilled wishes for karate classes had indeed managed to get his folks to buy him a PlayStation and spring for books on palmistry and tarot cards. He referred to one of those insightful psychological reports that uses terms like "anti-social" and "prone to aggression" as the observations of a trained expert. I reckon I could write one just as accurately - I mean the kid killed a boy and hacked three other people with a sword, of course he is anti-social and aggressive!!
Then the boy who got chopped across his head testified about his reaction when Morne first slashed him across the leg, prompting him to yell out "Are you fucked up?"
The groundsmen who managed to disarm the deranged boy spoke about how they still feel extreme fear working at the school.
The murdered boy's mom cried her eyes out as she said she couldn't possibly forgive the young killer for taking so much from her by murdering her 16-year-old-son Jacques.
She keeps the clothes he wore when he died in a case in her bedroom cupboard. So he can be near her all the time. And she writes him letters everyday and puts them on his grave. Looking after his ring-necked dove Birdie is her way of continuing to show him love. She remains incapable of dealing with the death...
So very sad.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Nomvula takes on the bad boys!

I LOVE our Premier Nomvula Mokonyane. She is a kick-ass woman who fears no man. Not even if he is a stick-or-rifle wielding taxi driver!
This morning ChiefPhotographer and I headed off to the end bus terminus on Joburg's shiny new bus route that from Monday will see hundreds of sparkling big buses chuffing up and down between Soweto, the city and Ellis Park. It was the venue for a press conference where Nomvula was to come and address the media on the fact that, whether taxi drivers like it or not, the new Bus Rapid Transit system is going ahead. On Monday. According to plan.
But all through this week we've seen dodgy looking taxi dudes jumping up and down on TV, threatening to block roads and cause chaos if government dares go ahed with its plan to get a cheap and reliable bus system from Soweto up and running. And, considering previous taxi strikes, it's scary stuff because those guys are a rough, tough crowd and generally mean business when they go about stirring up the brown stuff. They swear, spit, break things, hit people, kick puppies and generally behave as though the laws of the country don't apply. Sometimes they even fire off rifles and wee in the streets. Some of them are really, really bad guys and I'm not just referring to their driving.
So now today Nomvula has put her foot down and taken a hard line. She has this fabulous way of making journalists look thick when they try and stump her with tough questions.
Journalist: Premier, have seen taxi bosses threatening violence saying they will block roads, and they have gone to court to stop your buses. What are you going to do?
Nomvula: We have our intelligence gathering processes. We know what's happening and will arrest people before they start.
Journalist: The taxi bosses say they will block off bus lanes with their vehicles. What is your plan?
Nomvula: If they abandon their vehicle in the road, we will treat it like any other rubbish left where it shouldn't be and crush it. If they come and colllect the vehicle they will have to take responsibility for the fact that blocking a national road is tantamount to sabotage.
Journalist: They are threatening violence. You are now threatening harsh action. Are you not afraid this will spiral into chaos?
Nomvula: The two parties are not even matched. They are stick-wielding drivers trying to do business. We are government, we are in charge and we have the army, the police and the Metro police. Why don't you rather ask them why they are not scared to take us on?
Good point.
Roll on Monday. Let's see what happens.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Casterology = the science of running. And stuff.

So one would think people would be all Caster Semenya'd out by now. Apparently not!
Columnists have now started with their analysis and commentary on the whole gender-testing debacle that has the world wanting to know if our teenage bolt of lightning who pulled a gold at the the World Athletics Champs is indeed a girl. Who would have thought so much thought and debate would go into such a thing.
To my mind, it's strange that it wasn't all resolved long ago. I mean - it's been said that little Caster was pretty much used to being hauled off the race track to the toilets for quick inspections of her girly bits from time to time. If I personalise this scenario and imagine some person or persons marching my Little One off to the loo to pull her pants down, well... Let's just say I would be far from happy!
This poor young girl has returned home to a joyful welcoming - turned into an ANC rally, political posturing by the likes of Julius Malema, Leonard Chuene and Winnie Madikizela-Mandela not to mention a bit of racist allegations and a media bashing spree. It seems nobody will pass up the chance to use Caster's success for their own gain.
One reader sent in an e-mail pointing out that the holder of the women's 800m world title, Jarmila Kratochvilova, is something of a strange looking woman that we should focus on instead of Caster. I checked it out - Jarmila is a Czech runner who made the world record when she peaked in 1983 and is now 58, so I reckon she probably doesn't look like this anymore. But these are the pics he sent in. Eish:

So later in the day as more and more Caster stories rolled on in, my colleague The Brat wanted to know a bit more about the charming things dear Julius Malema had to say about whites and women at the airport yesterday.
"Apparently he reckons there were a helluva lot of ugly white women athletes at the World Champs and it wasn't fair because nobody wanted to test them. It was supposedly all dodgy and racist. Did he actually say that?"
My response: "Not over the public speaker system and most definitely not within my ear shot. If I heard that, I would have dropped the whole Caster angle and gone big on that for sure!".

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Halala, Team South Africa, Halala!!

So after days of feeling grim, getting booked off with flu (happily of the non-swine variety) I am back! And I am pleased to say I landed myself the plum job of the day. I got assigned to hook up with a bunch of boys toting cameras and head off at dawn to the OR Tambo International Airport to cover the homecoming of Team South Africa and the ever-important arrival of one Caster Semenya. Yes, she of the is-she-really-a-woman? gender controversy cum racism debacle.
I TOTALLY love stories like this. You literally get thrown into the marauding masses, every man (or, ahem, woman) for himself as you fight for your story. You get to be part of the action, there when it happened and a witness to the unfolding of an historic moment. I had done the dawn drill when the bokke came home with the rugby world cup, so I had an idea of the game plan.
We got to OR Tambo really early, in the cold, but in good time to get a parking bay and a good spot in the airport terminal building. The excitement was already starting to build. The fans were there in force, singing Shosholoza, waving posters, dancing all over and blasting vuvuzelas. And for hours it built up to a fevered frenzy when finally Team South Africa touched down and the much-awaited athletes and medal winners made their appearance.
All very thrilling, but a difficult challenge when one has to now file a story via dictate over the phone!! Mission accomplished by ducking down a side passage and wedging myself behind a vending machine which proved to be somewhat of an excellent sound buffer!
Then off the stage set up in the parking lot for Sweet Caster and the other athletes to stand on stage and receive the applause and adoration of their fans. Such events of course don't go down without official speeches and such, so even though this was not the planned press conference it was grabbed as a political platform.
First we had Athletics SA chairman Leonard Chuene urge people to celebrate our country's athletic success along with their right to be angry over the questioning of Caster's gender along with an added request that they "be angry responsibly". Not sure what that means, other than to assume it to be a request to people to not break the law, smash stuff and kick over dustbins as seems to be our custom of late. Then some other political big wigs followed by - yes, my friend, yours and everybody else's - ANC Youth League president Julius Malema. How does this guy get himself invited to all this stuff, and why is he continually set free to say stupid things?
Did he let us down? Not a chance! Once again he took the podium to spout his opinion.
"Where are all the whites? The only whites here are the media who are the ones who have been writing all those wrong things," he ranted. This spiralled into racist media bashing as he eventually yelled out "Whether you like it or not, she is a woman."
Then some dancing and singing as kwaito star Chomee did her best to get Caster to dance with a little rhythm while the gangly teenager giggled sheepishly and cringed.
An interesting morning indeed.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Happy day, just not a great lunch.

Today was one of those smoooth, happy days that passed me by and saw me home in a bubbling good spirits. Not ripped and hagard as is usually the case. Maybe it's hormonal, maybe it's this sudden onset of pleasingly warm and sunny weather, or maybe it's the rocking good news (to be divulged in this forum at some future time) I received on entering the office this morning at 6am. No matter - I am intent on continuing to breeze through my happy day.
The stories I worked on were not particularly riveting. I got hold of a flight crew member who survived the only ever hijacking of an SAA plane 37 years ago. Nice story. The apology the hijacker apparently posted to South Africans via facebook was not actually put out publicly, so Joppie the steward mailed it to me. And then I followed up on the teenage girl whose three-day disappearance stunt last week was said to be linked to her interactions with shady characters on MXit. Spoke to her dad who refused to tell me ANYTHING. Nothing, zip, zero - all because it would supposedly stuff up the police investigation. *sigh*
JJ: "But is she at least healthy? Is she happy? Can you say SOMETHING about her state of mind?"
Girl's dad: "No comment."
And I am not even a papparazzi!
Checked with the cops. Equally unsuccessful. "No developments to report, can't say anything, the case is sensitive."
So Irish Colleague and I took a stroll upstairs to find something edible for lunch.
"Something appetising" as she put it. Not happening today. We stared glumly over the oily offerings. Definitely nothing appetising. Not much that looked edible.
"What do you recommend?" I overheard a woman ask her friend as they surveyed the lumps of flesh and soggy vegetation on display.
"Suicide?" I chirped.
We left, stopped at the kiosk and I bought some popcorn.
I intend to maintain my happy state. No canteen shall bring me down.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Another possible strike and correctional service.

So in the latest wave of strikes, Eskom workers are now threatening to embark on protest action if their salaries are not increased considerably. This seems to be a raging fashion and how each week starts. Same story, same old scenario, just a different bunch of workers saying we refuse to work anymore until you pay us more. And then they fight and negotiate. We've seen it with the municipal strike, the 2010 construction workers, doctors, emergency services, pharmaceutical workers... I lose count. Today I wrote about the possibilities of strike action that could see even more Eskom power outs than we already experience.Tomorrow we will hear whether or not it will go ahead.
And then an anonymous caller phoned in a tip-off that had me hairing off to the Roodepoort Magistrate's Court with Chief Photographer. Apparently our country's Top Detective was appearing in connection with a domestic violence charge. This was unbelievable stuff. We got there, I found him and discovered that it was actually Top Detective who was the applicant, and he was granted a protection order against his wife who had allegedly taken to abusing him. *sigh*
But the BEST development of the day just absolutely has to be the official response of the Department of Correctional Services to reports of Schabir Shaik having been spotted joyriding round Durbs with only his kid in the car, stopping even to buy balloons from a street vendor. It seems they don't believe they made any kind of error in releasing the fraudster from prison on grounds that he was in the end stages of terminal illness. He is entitled, they maintain, to leave his house on public holidays and "certain times" according to his parole conditions.
When it was pointed out to them that Schabir was driving around on his own without a doctor or nurse, in what seemed to be miraculously excellent health for one deemed soon to pop his clogs, they claimed:
"As a department, we cannot force one to die..."

Monday, August 10, 2009

Swine flu and Little One

Last week I received an e-mail from my Little One's nursery school informing me that while there had been a bit of a swine flu scare, the little sick kiddie had been checked and the Health Department had given the all clear.
I am far from hysterial or alarmist by nature so I relaxed. But the next day there were notices stuck up all over saying that the scare was no longer a scare, there was indeed a confirmed case of the H1N1 virus at the school. *sigh* What can you you do?
Then on Friday morning at 3.45am I was woken by the screams of my little girl. I ran through to her butterfly bedroom and she wept as she told me her ear was very sore and had "did get twisted on my Tinkerbell pillow". I bundled her up and put her in bed with me. But she continued to weep, sobbing that she couldn't stop crying. She just wanted it to be morning time.
By 5.30am we were snuggling on the couch watching countless episodes of 'Charlie and Lola', the current favourite. Little One's cheeks were flushed, and her temperature soared in direct proportion to my plummeting spirits. Her throat was sore, and her body ached.
It was worrying indeed. Was this going to be one of those awful cases where journalists get assigned to write from their own experience? Was this my time to do a cheesy "what happened when my kid got swine flu" accounts?
We headed off to the doctor and Little One was thoroughly checked out. Thankfully it was just an ear infection. Not a flu bug in sight.
On Saturday morning I was woke by cheery cries of "I'm better, I'm better" as my munchkin came bouncing onto my bed.
It was a happy moment.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Mixing it up on MXit!

So it seems this is my week for stories about kids.
Interestingly enough, my aunt came over to supper last night with her two kiddiewinkles - or rather "The Teenagers" as my Little One calls them. The evening was an education indeed as I got a first hand, close-up view of youngsters hooked on MXit. There they were, two blonde spaced-out zombies with cellphones seemingly surgically attached to their hands as they clicked away furiously, networking with people obviously a whole lot cooler than the company in their presence. Between messages their eyes flicked furtively around as they waited super-anxiously for a reply - almost like an addict anticipating the next hit.It was unending, I tell you. Even during supper those darn phones were hidden on laps under the table as they frantically continued with their hot-and-happening socialising between speedy mouthfuls of roast chicken and veg.
Thus was my first encounter with the MXit fixated teen. And then I arrived at the office and immediately got busy with the latest missing kid story - a 14-year-old school girl who disappeared from Parktown Girls on Monday morning and was believed to have been picked up by a dodgy man/group/cult follower she had met on ... yes, life is indeed chock full of coincidences ... MXit.
Her dad was frantic. The school principal was calm yet firm about the fact that she needed to warn parents that their teenagers are often living double lives through MXit. She had called a parents' meeting earlier in the week to address this very issue and had encountered snarling moms and dads annoyed by what they saw as her attempts to tell them what to do with their kids.
I called a woman who does workshops and presentations on the real-life challenges that parents and teenagers need to be focussing on, and how to go about it. She too had issues with MXit. Young thrill-seekers hooking up with paedophiles and sexual predators or youngsters selling pics of their naked wobbly bits were not the main worry, she said. The issue is that youngsters are truly hooked on the phenomenon and the constant texting leads to concentration problems and poor study habits. Over-tiredness is another factor as even kids who want to go to sleep are drawn into chatting with their mates until the early hours. And parents have no clue.
Her advice? Forget privacy issues and lay down the law. Take control of the kids' phones, make rules, place limits and check from time to time to see what kind of communication is going down on the instrument - not in a snoopy kind of way, but as a kind and caring guardian wanting to ensure safety.
Technology is here to stay and the world has to deal with it. Little Nabeela Omar is still missing and her parents are still frantic. The SMS responses to my story that made it into the evening edition have gone through the roof. Readers are praying for the child and calling for a MXit ban.
I am tired.
I shall now head off to watch "Babe" on dvd with Little One and enjoy the happiness of being together at the end of our day and appreciate our many, many blessings.
Tonight I will not be the only one to utter a prayer for Nabeela Omar and her family.
Tomorrow I will write about her again...

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Suffer the children...

Sometimes it feels like the stories I cover actually tear my soul. The ones that touch me most deeply and disturb my peace of mind involve children, their pain or death.
Take the murder of 17-year-old Cassandre van Rooyen. She disappeared from a house where she was boarding with a family in February last year. Two days later her body was found metres from the house under some grass cuttings. She had been shot through the back of the head.
Now two angelic-looking boys are facing murder charges in the Joburg High Court, which is where I found myself yesterday morning when they were asked to plead.
I sat next to QuirkyOlderWoman as we watched the boys walk into the court room. The tall one is now 19, and the little one was 15 when he shot his friend Cassandre. They looked worn out. Their parents were supportive, but terribly sad.
The story they told the court was that older boy was in the house cooking, Cassandre was looking for her little dog under a hedge and youngster was getting a gun he had found recently ready for a bit of target practice. One shot went off accidentally and killed Cassandre.
It was one of those crazy, insane incidents. A terribly tragic mistake. I cannot count the number of crime scenes I have been to where scores of shots have been fired – sometimes into peak hour traffic during a police chase, at busy taxi ranks, during bank robberies at busy times, a bit too close to my own person for comfort on a couple of occasions – and yet there were no deaths or even injuries. Attempted suicides, car chases and the like where harm is intended, and there are no casualties.
But there's this ugly flip side. The awful cases where a toddler accidentally pulls a trigger or a some such unintended act causes a single shot to go off. And someone is killed.
The impact is massive. Far too often I get to see it close up. The misery and suffering is beyond description.
“Who do you think feels worse? The parents of the dead girl who are here for closure or whatever kind of comfort they can get, or the parents of the boys who caused her death and who have to support their boys through this hell?” I asked QuirkyOlderWoman.
“I think both are too terrible to even think about. I don’t want to imagine what it’s like for either,” she responded.
I agree. As a mother I cannot begin to contemplate the pain of a child taken away too soon – in whatever way life pans out.
Tomorrow the courts will see the start of the trial of three houserobbers. They were prompted to start shooting when they were interrupted by the arrival of a mother who had come to fetch a child for school. One of the bullets struck her daughter. Little Emily Williams died at a petrol station down the road where her frantic mother stopped for help, but none arrived in time.
Today starts the unfolding of events that led to the Williams family leaving South Africa for England, and to a silent march conducted by Trinity School in memory of little Emily. The mothers of the three who caused the trauma will have to watch and hear and then make peace that their sons too are not coming home, at least not for a very long time.
The ripple effects are huge. And there’s so much pain. Yet nothing changes the fact that children are dead.