Monday, November 30, 2009

A bad day for a stressed guy at Standard Bank

A policeman overheard talk on police radio this morning about some or other drama unfolding at Standard Bank in town. He called a journalist colleague who phoned it in and so ChiefPhotographer and I were sent out to find out what was going on.
We arrived and found a group of people standing around at reception chatting - apparently barred from going up to their offices. We went to ask what was happening, and we were told to go and ask at security. Security said they couldn't help us - nobody was available to say anything.
Then three cops with rifles came storming in. They marched off and soon came storming out, jumped in their car and disappeared. Then two cops with dogs came in and then left in much the same way. Bank security came to tell us that they were aware of our presence, but weren't going to tell us anything.
We went back to the office and eventually received their formal explanation of what happened. Here it is, full and complete:
"A Standard Bank employee, who showed visible signs of distress, created security concerns at Standard Bank Centre, 5 Simmonds Street, Johannesburg, at 8am today. As a precautionary measure employees in the immediate area were evacuated. As a further precaution members of the SAPS were also engaged as well as Standard Bank’s professional counselling service. The staff member is currently receiving counselling and normal business has resumed."
So, just a case of a stressed out guy!
Then after lunch we got another call. Apparently more drama at Standard Bank.
Seems the same guy got stressed again. The second statement of the day:
"A Standard Bank employee, who showed visible signs of distress, created security concerns at Standard Bank Centre, Johannesburg, today. The staff member is currently receiving counselling.
As a further precautionary measure in order to check and secure our premises, all employees at Standard Bank buildings in Johannesburg (3 , 5, 6 Simmonds, 25 Sauer, 42 Fox Street) were asked to leave the buildings before 15h00. All our disaster recovery sites have been invoked and are fully operational. We do not expect any disruption to the business .
All Standard Bank employees were asked to go home and return to work in the morning. SAPS and emergency services are on site as a precautionary measure.
Further communications will follow should there be any further developments."
So a stressed out guy has a city bank invoking all its disaster recovery sites, calling in the cops and paramedics and sending everyone working at all their offices in the city home early? Seriously??
He must be having a really, really bad day!

Friday, November 27, 2009

When the dog bites, when the bee stings, when I'm feeling sad...

Five weeks ago today exactly I was in Austria as one of the journalists invited on the BMW EuroStyle 2009 tour. At about this time I was standing in one of the theatres in the Salzburg Festival grounds. We had eaten a splendid lunch of Wiener schnitzel and had visited the flat in which Mozart's widow had lived. A music professor had handed out whistles, triangles, wooden clackers, drums and an assortment of noise-generating implements and had, as he sat before a piano, had played conductor and guided us along in an unexpectedly charming mini symphony. It was glorious!
And so it was that, five Friday afternoons ago, I came to be standing in the arena where they filmed the end scenes of The Sound of Music - one of my all-time favourite movies when I was a kid. Right then an SMS message came through from home. "Are you going out to the family murder scene in Orange Farm?"

At that very moment it hit me how far away I was from my ordinary life in every sense possible. No, I was not rushing off to some blood-stained crime scene in Jozi. I was absorbing the delights of a different existence. As we walked on to join some of the festival staff in a room overlooking the Salzburg scene as we drank Champagne and ate Mozart chocolates I felt a sense of joy bubbling inside me.
Today was back to real life. I spent the morning at the Newlands Regional Court where a man was supposed to be sentenced for shooting a four-year-old child in the head. It was one of those unintentional accidents. His own son had been mugged and had his cellphone stolen, so he had gone running after the muggers. He fired at them, the bullet ricocheted into a creche and struck another man's son and killed him.
It seems not even four-year-olds at play school are safe in Joburg.
It chills my heart and makes me long to be where the hills are alive...

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A mascot for evil.

Oh the stress, the stress!
One would have thought that judgement on killer Donovan Moodley's appeal hearing would be a straightforward affair this morning. But that was SO not the case.
The media arrived in court en masse this morning, ready to write about Donovan's every move as well as all the details of Judge Joop Labuschagne's judgement. But first the small matter of getting permission for photographers in court. Fortunately Judge Joop is a pleasant guy, seemingly understanding of the challenges the media face in reporting on court matters and so he cheerfully granted permission for cameras to come in providing no pictures were taken while court was in session.
So I quickly called ChiefPhotographer waiting outside to tell him the good news and then put my phone on silent as judgement began. It started ringing immediately - again and again. As did the phones of my colleagues. Security downstairs had decided to block all photographers and cameramen from entering the courthouse. But we were stuck scribbling away, unable to help or even answer their frantic calls.
In less than half-an-hour the judge had dashed Moodley's hopes that the court would overlook the fact that he was four years late and then grant him his appeal. Quick discussions with the clerk of the court, a call to security downstairs and the photographers were allowed in.
Unfortunately my sidekick ChiefPhotographer got picked out and made to put all his equipment through the x-ray machines while all the other shooters sprinted into courtroom 2B. Not one to be outdone, ChiefPhotographer outdid himself. Like the pro that he is, he headed to the back of the courtroom while the others all mobbed to the front. He bounded across the room, headed down the other side, charged in front of the dock, rammed his camera up in front of Moodley's face and popped off this image. Bam!

As Moodley was led down the stairs he handed a letter to SweetYoungThing from another daily paper. She grabbed it and put it in her bag, causing a massive outcry as the Matthews family yelled at her that she was wrong to take it.
"I'm not giving this to anyone," she cried as several people demanded that she hand the letter over.
Eventually the document was taken by a security official who then handed it over to Piet Byleveld the investigating officer. He checked it out, determined that it was Moodley's own little press statement and let everyone who wanted have copies.
And therein, written in his very own psychopathic script, he posed the question:
"A country sickened by crime must choose an official face for crime and a mascot for evil. Is that me?"
Okay, so all together now: "YES IT IS!"

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Semi Finalist Mrs South Africa and her Golf Day for Jesus

The stuff that people send through to the paper I work for, the press releases and information they think is newsworthy and destined to make it into print, amazes me. For sure most of the PR companies and such are just taking a chance, hoping that something about their client will be deemed worth a story. But then there are the others who believe that their particular little event/charity day/ school sports/ Chrismas party function for sick kiddies are truly national news and obviously worth not only a full story, but a picture as well.
Today's perplexing wadge of press material was sent in by a woman whose title is Semi Finalist Mrs South Africa. She is 30 years old, has four children - one of them adopted, works for the cops' union and also runs a beauty salon from home called Simple Dimples. She does community work for a youth organisation "whereby I were the Secretary".
Semi Finalist Mrs South Africa is now organising a Golf Day for Jesus. The inspiration for this: "There is every year thousands of babies dumped al over our country and found by the community or police". The aim: To raise funds for victims of crime. The big attraction: celebrities in attendance including Melt Sieberhagen who acted in the movie "Poena is Koning", Dalen Lance and Marisa Bosman (I asked around but nobody in the news room could tell me who these people are). The request: To give massive coverage to this event. Pictures supplied. Eight of them. All of Semi Finalist Mrs South Africa.
I am not sure if, where or how this will be used in the paper.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Who's stuffing around with McBride's brakes?

It seems Robert McBride has not yet exhausted every possible way to wangle his way out of a drunk driving conviction.
So far he has succeeded in having his trial stalled for years, with raging controversies along the way. This morning 702 began blasting forth with yet another new revelation: it now seems that the boss pranged his state car, not because he was driving it too fast after downing one too many at the office Christmas party in 2006 but because *shock, horror, gasp!* someone was trying to assasinate him.
Now McBride, who spent some time on death row before our laws changed and the new government decided it was better to give him the Ekhuruleni traffic chief job than hang him, is hardly your average victim. I once interviewed a death row warden who is still haunted by nightmares of the things he saw and did back then, and who was one of the guys who had to oversee McBride. He is a huge guy who played rugby and got his prison job based on his massively intimidating presence. When I asked him about McBride he clammed up and wept in terror. So this is seriously NOT the kind of man you annoy unnecessarily or accidentally don't do the job properly if you try and bump him off.
So anyway, according to 702's big investigation some idiot has been tooling around with the brakes on McBrides car. A few times apparently, without the having so much as accidentally smacked into his own garage door. Imagine!
It's yet another bend in the road to McBride's drunk driving trial set down for March next year. It's going to be an epic ride, people! If you think about it, so much has happened already.
First our esteemed traffic chief tried to claim that the crash happened because he was hypoglycaemic and his whacked out sugar levels made him do it. But the Scorpions (back in the day when they existed *sigh*) bust him and now the doctor who signed off that little report is wishing he hadn't.
Then the dudes who made up his clean-up team and were going to testify as to his innocence started fighting and so he fired them all and locked them out of theie offices.
Then there was a mysterious break in at the Joburg High Court, only one office was hit and dockets relating to the - surprise, surprise - McBride case were taken. Fortunately the guy whose office got robbed was a sussed character and had copies of everything.
Last month there was a strange fire at the Pretoria Magistrate's Court and then a day later a second one broke out in - yes, you got it - the courtroom where McBride was supposed to stand trial.
And now today - we have the sudden leaking of an "explosive" police report, complete with car service invoices to prove that the brake pads on McBrides car were changed, has made it clear that someone has all along been out to get McBride. Because he was investigating a dodgy property deal and they wanted him out of the picture.
There's also another arb statement by a guy they have located who witnessed the crash and says McBride did not roll his car without reason that night - a menacing yellow Mazda caused him to swerve and lose control. So who might this witness be? Ah, coincidence indeed - a traffic cop from McBride's office who happened to be passing by at that very moment on his way home from visiting mates in Harties. Only when he went to help the driver did he suddenly notice it was his traffic chief.
It remains clear as mud why all of this explosive stuff is only coming out now.
I cannot describe how difficult it was to write that story up objectively for print!!
I cracked up when John Robbie named the assassin on air: Johnny Walker!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Suntans and cupcakes

I was a complete zombie today.
Last night as I sat paralysed in front of junk TV after spending the last of my energy in Jonathan's 60-minute step class, the office called at about 8.45pm and asked if I could quickly please file a WHOLE new piece on Moodley. And not to worry, I could have until 11pm or so to finish it. This, when I was completely wrecked AND expected in at the office at 6am this morning. Oh yes - this is why I picked this glamorous career!!!
It was a battle to get through the day. My colleague Diva, who counts calories and gets hysterical about food, enlightened me on the latest overseas articles on the controversy surrounding skin shades in women of colour. I had never thought about it before actually.
" It's not a big deal with us black people here in Africa. If you have light skin and you get involved with a guy who is darker or lighter, it's not an issue. But with Indian girls - yo, yo, yo! Check it out when you go to the shopping malls. You will see that in Indian couples they both generally have the same skin tone as each other. A guy will never get involved with a girl who has darker skin that him, and if you see a guy with dark skin and a girl with light skin, then you must know that he is loaded," she said.
I have truly never noticed this.
She backed up her argument with a whole article published in the Daily Mail in London. Hectic stuff. Seems like that kind of thing is true. The global attitude is that lighter skin is classified as more attractive than darker.
Hey - they should have cocked my puce cheeks last week after I spent a few hours in the sun at the Randburg shootout. Why on earth would lily-white features, blotchy and freckled, rank over the glowing brilliance of Beyonce or the chocolaty sheen on Iman? Go figure.
Our spirits lifted when the cookery page editor brought in her latest load of goodies for everyone to devour after they's been photographed. Cupcakes! Disappointment set in when I picked up one pretty little white one with glitter sparkles dusted on top. It weighed as much as a small brick and the delicate icing was in fact marzipan. Yeugh. I put it on the cabinet next to my desk feeling to guilty to throw it away but unwilling to eat it.
My colleague The (diabetic) Brat arrived back from court, all pale and shaky because her sugar levels were out of whack.
"I'm starving," she said, eyeballing my cupcake.
"It's unlicensed confectionary. You may have it. Don't throw it at a car or you will dent it," I said.
She devoured it.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Moodley has his day

Horribly, horribly gruelling day today was.
Killer Donovan Moodley got his little moment in the sun as he took up a bit of Joburg High Court time to try and wangle his way out of jail. When he arrived, I realised why he was trying every trick in the book to get his sorry ass out of Sun City's communal cell. The guy must have lost a third of his body weight. He looked like a schoolboy who borrowed his dad's suit. Even his teeth looked too big for him. Life in jail has not been kind to him since he got bust with a cellphone and lost his single cell and all privileges. Ah well.
So he wants the court to believe that although he planned the kidnapping of Leigh, and the extorting of money from her father, the murder bit at the end was not premeditated and happened simply because it dawned on him at that moment that she would be able to recognise him if he let her go. Obviously he had no option but to shoot her, and he just happened to have his gun with him, coincidentally loaded with killer dum-dum bullets.
And in an additional application, he wants the court to rule that the trial Judge made a grave error by not questioning him and getting more clarity on his full understanding of the words he used in his confession because he did not understand that sentences like "planned to kill her" meant that he thought about the murder before suddenly freaking out and pulling the trigger. He wants the court to consider this legal technicality and grant him a retrial.
The prosecutor on the other hand wants none of it. He argued that Donovan had filed his application about 1 500 days late after the 14 day deadline following his trial expired, that he had indicated in court that he fully understood his own confession and had signed it, and that he was out of his cotton-picking mind if he thought anybody would buy into his whole "I honestly never really planned to kill her, it just happened" story.
I tried to take a photo of him and he actually smiled for me, but my Blackberry was too slow to catch the moment. I only managed to get this sad image:

And so I finished of a dreadful day by joining Jonathan's 60-minute step class at the local gym. Bad move. Now I am emotionally drained, physically stuffed and even my hair feels like it hurts. Kind of in the state I imagine Donovan spends his evenings these days.

Monday, November 16, 2009

A butchering. A massacre...

After a weekend of the usual murder and mayhem, the 94.7 Cycle Challenge and all the rest, the most talked-about news event we early morning shift workers had to follow-up was the not-so-pleasant rendering of our national anthem at the rugby in France on Friday night.
It was a relatively unknown reggae singer, one Ras Dumisani, who has pulled a stunt that has him rocketed to fame in a Susan Boyle like manner, only for quite the opposite reasons.
At the start of the South Africa vs France rugby match in which our boys lost, the national anthems for both countries were played. There was a 37-piece orchestra for a stirring performance of La Marseillaise. And then Ras and two guys on bongo drums took the stage and massacred, mutilated and finally murdered Nkosi Sikelel iAfrika.
It was not in tune or remotely melodious. In fact some people are describing it as sabotage.
Check it out on YouTube:

Thursday, November 12, 2009

A violent bloody day

A dead child, a shootout in a busy intersection, shattered victims, injured suspects - it all happened today and landed in my shift. This shift turned into one of those nightmare days that had me thinking that while it could make for a pretty good, if somewhat unbelievable fiction story.
Soon after arriving at the office I picked up a strange e-mail from paramedics about a call they'd responded to in Craighall Park where they entered a flat and found a man lying on his bed with a knife in his chest. His four-year-old daughter was found dead beside him.
So off I headed with ChiefPhotographer to the place where it all happened. We spoke to various people and pieced together the scenario: the dad was a friendly guy who often made food which he sold to people in the area and was often seen with his little girl. Last night the mom arrived home and found everything locked, the curtains all closed and nobody answering her calls. She found a groundsman who helped her climb a ladder and break a window to get in and found her child throttled and her husband lying with a knife in his chest.
This morning he was placed under police guard - seems he strangled the child and then attempted suicide. So he's probably going to go down for murder. If his life was bad before, it's about to get worse.
Before we were finished we got another call - a shooting at the intersection of Jan Smuts and Republic in Randburg. So off we went.
Crime scenes in the sun with no shop nearby have to rate as one of my least favourite places to be on a hot day. I get sunburnt, my face goes red and the smell of baking blood makes me gag after a bit. To top it all, our early arrival upset one stroppy little cop who screamed at us as we stood behind his cordons, pointing his finger at us and accusing us of destroying evidence. Truly an annoying character who did not even have a proper gun holster and kept pulling out his handgun and then sticking it back into the side of his pants. He did not look menacing or cool. He did look like an idiot.
Three armed robbers had hit a small business in the area and then caught a taxi. Their victims however, who they'd left tied up, managed to escape and followed them, and set the Metro cops on their tail. As they bounced off in their taxi they realised the cops were onto them and started shooting. The cop got hit in the stomach and fired back, hitting one of the suspects in the leg as the green taxi hit a wall and stopped. The two unhurt guys hightailed it off.
Spectators gathered at the scene and detectives would come and go. There were lights and sirens going. It was chaotic.
And so we waited for the official cop spokeswoman to arrive and give us the official line. During that time the cops managed to catch one of the fugitives and brought him back to where we were, lying him on the ground next to his injured buddy who had fallen asleep on a pillow, arms cuffed behind him with a drip feeding him from where it was hung inside the crashed taxi.
Suspect number two was badly damaged. He was bleeding from the head and hardly conscious. I thought he had been shot and checked this with the cop.
The response: "Um, no. He was running away from us and he fell."
Ja right!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Laugh It Off, Julius and the ultimate t-shirt

So the folks at Laugh It Off, creators of controversial t-shirts that regularly get them in a spot of bother, found themselves deep in the brown stuff this morning. And so I was tasked to write about it.
The team had come up with a new t-shirt design to poke fun at - wait for it - yes - you guessed it - everyone's favourite buffoon - Julius Malema. Only they did it a bit wrong. So the idea, as their man Ruan explained to me, was to highlight the fact the Julius had made some monumentally (aren't they all?) stupid remarks about hermaphrodites during the recent Caster Semenya gender testing debacle. So they took a painting of naked Saartjie Baartman, added a set of manly dangly bits to the crotch area and then posted Julius's smiling face on it. I have to say, it did not make for a pretty t-shirt.
Now, while I understand that the idea behind the design was not intended to offend, the end product was quite awful, and attracted howls of disapproval from all over. Deservedly so. Particularly from their own fans.
I called Julius to get his comment on the matter and find out what he thought about the t-shirt design. He did not pick up and his voice mail told me that his inbox was too full to take anymore messages. So I left a message with sidekick Floyd. They haven't come back to me.
But the guys at Laugh It Off seem to be a bunch of sports. They pulled down the offending image and put a new one up. Still with Julius's head on Saartjie's cropped-off body. Stubborn indeed.
Check this out:

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

God. And stuff.

It seems that God has been coming in for a bit of media attention of late. First we heard how Simon Mann and his gang were saved from all kinds of disgusting things in Equatorial Guinea. Apparently, they claim, by God and Jacob Zuma. Quite an unlikely team, I would have thought, but effective nonetheless.
It must have been this pairing up with Zuma by God that got the Western Cape leader of the ANC, Membathisi Mdladlana, all fired up and confident, crying out that God will now be judging all journalists who fail to give adequate coverage to the ANC.
How does one define "adequate coverage"?
New party Cope has taken exception to Preacher Mdladlana's brash assertions, claiming in their latest press release to be "tickled pink" .
"We were not aware that Mr Mdladlana had a direct line to God, and spoke on His behalf," the Congress of the People wrote.
"His assertion, however, is rather rich coming from an organisation whose stranglehold on the public broadcaster has seen a blackout on all neutral and positive news relating to COPE and other opposition parties. Perhaps Mr Mdladlana is used to this kind of monopoly over the airwaves given to the ANC by the SABC, so any form of equitable coverage would seem to be biased to him. It also perhaps accounts for his delusions of grandeur."

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Keeping condoms in fashion...

Today a press release arrived from the Southern African Clothing and Textile Workers Union. They are planning to host a competition aimed at keeping condoms in fashion.
So the idea is for fashion design students to create garments using condoms.
They sent pictures too.
It's a bit weird for me. I find this stuff a bit icky.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Burnt buildings and that darn sex tape.

Day two after the fire.
The grand old Rissik Street Post Office building was a sad wreck today. Firefighters were still inside her blackened ruins, dousing down hot spots as the sun shone down on them while the pressed metal ceilings lay in rusty piles on the floor.
Layers on the walls show that the ground level was once painted bottle green, rooms on the first floor were chocolate brown and the top floor was a majestic royal blue and beige above the window levels. An angled line of pale triangles down the walls is all that's left of what must once have been a staircase.
It was a devastating sight.
Back at the office I found my colleague Diva hunched up scribbling down as Amor Vitone was giving her exclusive interview to Radio Backverandah. Poor Diva had interviewed scorned husband Joost van der Westhuizen about his admissions regarding his star role in that awkward sex tape.
So he suddenly decided to come clean and, in a "I sort of had sexual relations with that woman" declared what we all knew: that the guy in the dodgy undies snorting drugs and not having sex with a prostitute was not really his doppelganger, and that it was actually him. Up to no good.
This sudden confession was perfectly timed with the release of his book, so the next thing to do was to interview weepy Amor. And she was not going to talk to anyone, until presumably the price was right. And so she sobbed her heart out on radio as Diva took it all down.
"I still love my husband. The fact remains is that those people filmed him with the intention of trying to get some money out of him and that's a crime," she stated in a wobbly voice.
Well, Amor, last I heard, picking up prostitutes and snorting illegal substances hardly fall within the bounds of the law.
I am sure this is a story that is now going to run and run. And Joost and Amor will simply end up richer and higher ranked in the local celebrity stakes. All a bit of a yawn, eh?

Monday, November 2, 2009

Death to the old Post Office building...

Last night the old Rissik Street Post Office burnt down.
This was the big news needing following up this morning, as apparently last night while the grand old building went up in flames, few experts were available to comment.
And at 6am this morning this remained the case. But I gave it my best shot. And it turned out to be one of those hectic situations where people are happy to spout all kinds of information out "off the record", but not so happy to have their names associated with the whole debacle.
First off I got hold of the city's heritage expert. I felt so sorry for him because his absolute sadness at such loss was palpable, he couldn't spout his true opinion, I would imagine, without risking his job as a council employee.
And so I turned to property investors, city developers, architects and heritage site experts. At the same time my colleague Diva was sent back out to the fire site, tasked with tracking down witnesses.
I discovered that while the council owns the building, it has been left derelict for the past 10 years. Since then, enterprising thieves have managed to swipe the hands off the clock and make off with the bell out of the tower. This in itself was no mean feat considering that the bell was a replica of the smallest bell in Big Ben and weighed over 1000kg. And then apart from wooden balustrades, light fittings and switches, thieves also managed to take each one of the cast-iron columns from the building. These columns were apparently about 5-metres high and it would have taken about 20 strong men to shift it, not to mentions trucks and cranes to move them. But our city thieves did indeed manage to do this.
In the meantime several developers have had their offers to refurbish and fix up the old building go ignored. The council apparently commissioned architectural plans of the building for R3.5-million only have the drawings ruled unusable.
The estimated cost of restoring the building before the fire ruined it completely was about R45-million - an amount that was not approved for years. Today the council announced that it will host this year's Miss World pageant in Jozi - at a cost of R49-million.
Diva returned with her insights gleaned from squatters who confirmed that some people had managed to break their way into the old post office, and were living there. They had stolen copper from somewhere and were trying to melt it down when the fire got a bit out of control and they feared being caught and arrested. So they ran away.
And the whole building went up in flames.
Despite it being situated only a few blocks from the inner city fire station.
As one heritage architect put it: it's an unspeakable disgrace.