Monday, December 20, 2010

Julius on a roll!

Not too much excitement on the news front of late.
However, a very cool present did arrive at the news desk.
How cool is this? Julius Malema's likeness on a bog roll. Fantastic!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

And so grinds the old news machine...

We're into the last slide at the end of the year, but the news machine is not wanting to slow down.
I cannot remember when last I worked as hard as I did today. When I last wrote as many words as I cranked out today.
At 6am this morning I jumped on my first story. A South African man living on Australia's Gold Coast was gunned down in an apparent random shooting. There he was, walking along the esplanade at Surfer's Paradise after a game of tenpin bowling with his kids, holding his wife's hand, when BAM! A bullet ripped through his arm and tore through four of his internal organs.
He had been shot in a violent crime incident in South Africa a few years ago and had relocated his family to Queensland. One would think it was the best thing a family man could do - but apparently violent crime has spread around the globe.
I made scores of calls to Australian journalists and found them to be amazingly friendly. Sweet Henry at the Gold Coast Bulletin even sent me the audio clips of the press conference and the police comments, so for once this Joburg journo could put out a multimedia online version of the story of the morning.
I cannot believe that just three months ago I was on holiday and walked the esplanade at Surfer's Paradise with my family. So weird.
And then it was time to crack onto the Anni Dewani murder story playing out in Cape Town. I don't quite understand why I got pulled into a story in another city, but hey - someone had to put together a piece on the unanswered questions, draw up a detailed timeline and then write a long narrative piece about what happened to the poor young bride in Gugulethu.
As I researched and wrote my heart out, the taxi driver told the Cape High Court how he had been commissioned to do the hit for R15 000 by Anni's husband Shrien.
It was all very dramatic, and all of us in the newsroom were glued to the TV, listening to the whole confession going down.
And then it was time for Shrien's publicist in London, Max Clifford, to give out Shrien's statement in response. He urged people to treat this latest development "with the contempt it deserves". Spoken like a true spin doctor.
This story is going to be great when it goes to trial!!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Laid up!

Laid up with a bad, bad back ache is what I have been of late. And it is beyond horrible.
In between visits to specialists, trips to the hospital and sending a fairly hysterical e-mail to the one professor I know at the Wits Medical School I have been going in to the office. Hobbling like a geriatric and sitting gingerly with my pink bunny hot water bottle neatly place against the small of my back - but present and at work all the same.
Life goes on and papers go out daily - but it's not so much fun to be part of the process when your back is sore and drains all your energy and enthusiasm to the point where you watch the clock and count down the hours til you can go home and lie down.
But it has not been all bad news. Oh no - I was booked into hospital for a mylogram which, I was told, is a hideous test where you get dye injected into your spinal cord. And that's the fun part.Then you have to lie flat for 24 hours so your spinal fluid doesn't leak out, and you get a crushing headache. However, the radiographers who do this procedure took pity on me and decided to try and see if they could rather do an MRI. This is a whole lot better, and it actually worked!
I got to lie down in a hospital gown, get wheeled into a tunnel and then wait for what felt like about an hour while machines took pictures of what was going on. It was a big machine and I had to wear massive earphones because it all sounded like a bunch of jackhammers around me - but I was not going to complain! It all makes your body weirdly hot, so winds are blasted on you throughout the whole process.
I discovered the power of visualisation as I imagined myself raving it up at Ibiza (never been there, but I figure it's an island, there must be beach breezes) with the thump-thump-thump in my ears being nothing more than really loud, bad techno tunes. And hey presto, it was all over.
Then more specialists, more fights as I declined their polite offers of spine fusion surgery.
So far I am winning.
I got fitted for a lumbar corset today, and on Tuesday I go into hospital for an epidural and spinal block procedure.
Let's hope it works and that I get to spend a few more months happily living my life before I go under the the knife.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

A jolly expensive gate indeed. In a state of disrepair....

Today the Health Department responded to a story I wrote last week. Yay!
It was an expose on the most expensive gate ever built (hopefully) at taxpayer's expense. All about the entrance to the Sizwe TB Hospital in Sandringham. Basically it is a brick structure built to cover two boomed gateways serving the entry laes, two booms for the exit lanes with a little guard house in the middle. Oh ja - the guard house apparently has a toilet in it.
So how much would one pay for such a structure? Well - the Health Department forked out R4.1-million for it!
In response to questions put to them in the Gauteng Provincial Legislature, the department said the company that won the tender to do this had given the cheapest quote with both other contenders quoting more than R5-million. I swear!! For that little brick structure.
So I checked out the opposition companies and found out that one of them doesn't even exist. And now, adding insult to injury, I found out that this little gateway - which is little more than a year old - is falling to pieces. The ceiling boards are hanging loose and the stone cladding on the one side has crumbled off and is lying in heaps on the ground.
That was last week's story.
Now today I hear that the Health Department, apparently quite anxious to prove that they didn't overpay for a soundly built structure, sent out a notice that the damaged ceilings had been caused by the driver of a waste disposal truck who drove through against the instructions of security guards who pointed out that his truck was too high to go through.
Nowhere did they say why such an expensive gateway was not high enough to accomodate the passing through of a big truck (which apparently entered the property without damage to the roof over the entry booms), nor did they say if the driver bashed through the one exit boom and then reverse and bash through the other side too. Because the ceiling is badly damaged over both exit booms.
The crumbling stone cladding, they said, was caused by delivery trucks. They did not say how the trucks had crashed into the stone and cement wall situated on the inside of the property at the entrance. From my own observation, this would only be possible if the trucks reversed and crashed the wall, causing the stone structure to crumble without touching the metal gutter in front of it, which remains unscratched.
But hey! Government statements go out, no further information is supplied.
Here is a picture I sneaked with my phone. Check out the damaged roof!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Auction action!

Stephan Welz & Company are having an auction soon. And they believe that the stuff going under the hammer is so exclusive that it warrants a press release, complete with a photograph of a particularly precious item up for sale.
It's a ginger jar, and looks like this:

According to the description, it's 32cm high on a wooden stand. It is painted with "stylised leaves, flowers and stars against a streaked green and yellow ground, gilt detailing, the cover similarly decordated, all under a lustre glaze".
It's pretty.
Then I saw that this little piece of pottery is expected to fetch between R25 000 and R35 000.
That's pretty expensive for a little item.
And then I saw the Christmas catalogue put out by Makro's liquor outlet. And I realised that R35 000 for a pretty little display item is an absolute steal.
I mean - check this out. R150 000 for a bottle of whisky! I kid you not! Here is the brochure, as photographed with my Blackberry!
And it is not a printing error or other kind of mistake. My colleague Boulders phoned them to check it out. And indeedio - a bottle of 50-year-old Glenfiddich will set you back the cost of a mid-range car!
For that price I would want it to drive me to work, make me coffee and give me a neck massage. At the very least!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Tension in Tembisa

Today I got to spend a whole bunch of hours in Tembisa. With a few hundred angry residents of the Madelakufa squatter camp - as they referred to themselves. Or the inhabitants of the local informal settlement, as Chief Photographer preferred to call them in the belief that this description bestows them with a little more dignity.
It was a typical protest - angry people cross about having been registered on a waiting list for a low cost house for 20 years and still find themselves in shacks. Apparently President Jacob Zuma paid them a visit in June and promised them that they would be getting houses in about November. And now in late October they have discovered that only about 450 of the 2 500 odd residents will be getting homes in a project set to be phased in.
So now the fight is on - who is going to be among the first to get a house, who gets to choose the priority order and where oh where will the other houses for phase 2 onwards be built because there is apparently no more land!
Chief Photographer climbed up and snapped pics of the raging crowd while the two intern photographers who accompanied us also shot pictures. It was a good training ground - all seething masses, armed cops, threatening chaos but nothing actually ever spinning out of control or getting ugly.
Tembisa is one of those townships with a dark edginess to it - where it's hard to feel comfortable and you feel the constant need to watch your back.
So it was with relief that we watched the crowds withdraw after they were promised a decent written response by the Ekhuruleni Housing Department. Tomorrow. Apparently.
I hope we don't have to go rushing back there in the morning to cover a riot!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Natural Born Killers

Spending time manning the newsdesk and looking more closely at the stories coming in has me convinced that Mpumalanga and Limpopo are strange places where real-life manifestations of Quentin Tarantino movie-type scenarios unfold with alarming regularity.
I read the stories with horror, knowing that they are real simply because your average sane and balanced person simply could not invent the stuff that goes down there.
Take, for example, the most recent event of this nature. A 42-year-old man from Bushbuckridge has been sent for psychiatric observation to determine whether he is fit to stand trial for the murder of his father.
It seems that 42-year-old Simon spent Friday afternoon chasing a small child around with an axe. His 60-year-old dad Wilson stepped in to stop the nonsense, only to have Simon hit him several times in the head with the axe.
The kid ran to the neighbours who called the cops and an ambulance. But Wilson died soon after they got him to the Matikwane Hospital in Mkhulu. The cops seem to agree that Simon could be a tad mental.
And then yesterday, in Limpopo, another guy found himself in a spot of bother following the deaths of three teenage girls.
Apparently he was driving along in his bakkie when he picked up six young women looking for a lift. He apparently failed to stop at the place where he had promised to drop them off, so the of course all jumped off the back. Three of them bounced in the road and got hit and killed by other cars.
As I say - one could hardly invent these stories!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Ducking and diving and bullet proof vests.

This whole week, I am set to stay put in the office. A colleague has had a baby and gets this week off for paternity duties at home, and I get to sit behind the newsdesk.
It is not going to be nearly as exciting as, say, yesterday when I got to dash out to fire. The Duck 'n Dive pub and pool hall at Kya Rock shopping centre burnt down, much to the enormous distress of locals. Seriously - it has been a long, long time since I have encountered such a bleak crowd, and I cover Jozi crime! Pale and silent, they stared at their gutted old haunt. I am sure some of them were actually crying, but too embarrassed to admit it. They spoke about the pool trophies, framed t-shirts and teddy bear collection all lost in the fire. Some declared themselves homeless.
So, so sad....
Now if I had been in the newsroom this morning I would have been the one assigned to the shooting at Northgate. Five armed guys stormed into a jewellery store and shot the owner dead in front of his pregnant wife before firing shots into another three people.
Like some enthusiastic adverts are telling us - Christmas is on the way. And so come the armed attacks on malls. So best we start wearing bullet proof vests when we go shopping!

Thursday, September 30, 2010

PigSpotter and the Police In Gauteng.

So PigSpotter - the guy who has been causing a stir round the world with his efforts to alert Gauteng drivers to the presence of traffic cops - is hoping to get his lawyers to negotiate a sweet deal for him in the event that they intend to prosecute him.
If it is up to the Metro cops - PigSpotter will be well and truly roasted. They are really mad with him. Steaming, frothing mad. He has offended their delicate sensibilities by referring to them with all kinds of porky references.
PigSpotter has become something of a cult hero, tweeting away any sightings he has of police activity on our province's roads. Pigs, pork rashers, crackling, swine flu brewing in the bushes - you name it - he had the most delightfully creative turn of phrase.
And he got followers by the thousand - anxious drivers wanting to avoid the ever-increasing number of speed traps, road blocks and the like. Partygoers who might be over the limit, but wanting a safe route home; speed freaks looking to avoid bad surprises or whatever - they are following him madly on Twitter.
Then the cops went public with their disapproval, threatening to sue him for defamation. Their egos are bruised and they're man enough to admit it.
So PigSpotter backtracked a little and said his porky references were not meant to be hurtful. Just funny. I mean Pig is an obvious reference to Police In Gauteng!!
Too brilliant!
I am watching this unfolding saga with bated breath...

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Rea Vaya - not so much!

Gosh - another sudden, unannounced bus strike.
For the third time in four months the Rea Vaya Bus Rapid Transit system failed to operate this morning.
Nobody from the transport department knew why. Nor did anyone from the City of Joburg, or the Rea Vaya Communications office. Not even the Metro Trading Company - the business set up to manage the Rea Vaya stations knew what was going on.
I called them all back just before my late morning deadline and was told the strike action was all to do with a dispute relating to station staff employment contracts set to expire at the end of October.
I dunno, but it doesn't seem to me that going on a sudden strike is the best path to job security. But then again, these BRT workers have gone on illegal, unprotected strikes twice before and got their own way, so maybe it is the thing to do. I have been spectacularly unsuccessful in reaching anyone with authority who can tell me what they plan to do about this situation.
I heard that the Rea Vaya workers were toyi-toying and causing problems at the Thokoza Park station in Soweto and headed out there to speak to them. Dozens were gathered there, most of them lounging on the grass under trees and unwilling to speak - sure that they were not going to work, not so sure about why. The few groups of emotional people talking agitatedly about what other actions to take would also not speak.
A group of us stood in the sun and watched them. A photographer translated the shouts of one of the security workers who was complaining that his salary of R2000 was not enough for him to afford a life policy and that if he got killed on duty his family would be left with nothing.
So - none of the bosses knew what was being demanded of them. None of the workers was saying what exactly they wanted.
I have had to hand this one over to the late shift reporter in the hopes that maybe by sundown or later there will be a voice of reason or some kind of explanation of what happened.
Today was day two of this illegal strike. Still the buses were not running. And still nobody was fired. I called around and discovered that the reason for the strike was now clear. Apparently all the workers' contracts expire at the end of October and they all want to be immediately given permanent employment.
The glitch in the matrix, however, is that the Joburg City Council has apparently promised 40% of these jobs to the taxi industry.
Eish. Caught between a disgruntled worker and the taxi mafia!
So we wait to see if the city's shiny new buses will run tomorrow.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Geraldine and an unfortunate storm in a teacup.

While I might be non-athletic (although I do have a fairly well-used gym contract) and sports does feature extremely low on my list of passions, I once again had to jump on a sports story today.
A rival newspaper hit the streets today with a big scoop about a retired sprinter having been injected with a "banned"  substance. By her team doctor. Two years ago - but hey, it's a doping scandal, right?
The story is all very juicy. The doctor who apparently gave the vials of banned substance was a controversial character from East Germany named Ekkart Arbeit. He once trained a woman called Heidi Krieger who was doped with so many anabolic steroids and stuff that she went on to have a sex change and changed her name to Andreas.

My job this morning was to pick up the story and find out what the people involved had to say about it.
It did not take long for me to realise that Actovegin, the supposed banned drug involved, is actually not banned. It is not listed by the World Anti Doping Agency, nor do our local guys have it listed as prohibited.
So - a bit of a storm in a tea cup. Coincidentally happening on the eve of Athletics South Africa's elections in which Geraldine has been nominated to the Athletes Council.
This scandal cannot be undone. I feel for her!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Big Mac Benni trims down

Gobsmackingly interesting day!
Mostly because I was assigned an interesting story that revealed to me some startling facts.
The basic story, as broken by the pommie papers, is that our top soccer start currently playing on their soggy little island - one Benni McCarthy - has lost 13kg.
It seems that he went on his personal load shedding mission after he was fined a whopping R880 000 by his football club West Ham United. This, I have to admit, I at first thought was a tad excessive. I mean, how many of us can identify with the poor lad's troubles? But then I discovered that R880 000 was equal to two week's pay.
Jeeez Louise! I had no idea that soccer players earned that much. Admittedly he is a Premier League player. But 40 000 quid? A week!! Compare that with columnist David Bullard's recent noting on his NewsTime website that some SA journalists are willing to work for as little as R35 000 a month (*ahem* that would be 3 150 quid for my international reader) - an amount he further notes is equal to what someone he knows spends on whisky alone in a month.
I am betting that Benni's mom is extremely thankful that he decided to become a soccer player rather than a journalist!
And so after being fined two week's pay, or the equivalent of a townhouse in Weltevreden Park, Benni signed himself into some clinic in Austria where he proceeded to lose 13kg and is now on course to regain his spot in the team.
My contribution to this rivetting international story was to find out what the impact of losing such a vast amount of weight is likely to be on the body of a 6 foot tall professional athlete.
It was a bit difficult considering that the timeframe detailing his weight reduction regime could be found nowhere, so the passionate experts I tracked down agreed that maybe it was good and no harm done because our portly lad had been sporting an unhealthy boep. But it could have been bad if he lost it all too fast because maybe he didn't just dump body fat, and has lost muscle strength and tone.
Who knows?

Thursday, September 9, 2010

New crime stats - woo hoo!

Big excitement today when the cops released the latest crime statistics and anounced that murder is down.
Police chief General Bheki Cele reckons that they have succeeded in turning the tide against crime and that the fact that most contact crimes - the violent ones that we are all so scared of - are down, is proof of this.
And then he announced that the cops have come across a new kind of crime.
So how is this for genius? Apparently some people buy super duper luxury cars and then insure them five times over. Then, sometime before the five instalments a month drags them into bankruptcy, the car goes missing.
Then they make five insurance claims for, say, R300 000 a whack, and walk away with R1.2-million.
How do people think up stuff like this?

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Bad news for Emma

For two days running I have been writing about a teenage girl who broke her neck diving into her pool at home.
She was airlifted to hospital where they put steel pins in her head so she could lie in traction, with weights stretching out her injured spine. Her family believed she was waiting for surgery that could not go ahead because of our blessed public service strike.
And so her cousin called a radio station and tearfully told how this 15-year-old girl was left waiting.
Fortunately for the paralysed girl Defence Minister Lindiwe Sisulu was listening and immediately ordered whatever military intervention was necessary to ensure that young Emma got the surgery she needed.
So a bunch of high level soldiers marched through the strike action into the hospital to find out what was going on. Hospital bosses scrambled, suddenly the family were told that Emma's surgery was actually scheduled to go ahead.
And it did. Today.
It was a success. But there is now no doubt about it, the diagnosis is final. Four days after her 15th birthday, when Emma hit her head on the bottom of her pool, she became a quadriplegic.
She is still unconscious. Her family are devastated.
I feel so priviliged to have a healthy, happy daughter. She has planned for us to have a pyjama party. After supper we will sit down with popcorn, put on cardboard glasses and watch the 3D dvd she got for her birthday - "Hannah Montana and Miley Cyrus Best of Both Worlds Concert". Aaaaargh.
Even so.
I feel so sad for Emma and her family. But never thought I would be so happy to watch anything to do with Miley - simply because I can do it with my perfect little poppet.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Back on the treadmill

My month-long holiday has been absolutely annihilated!
Three days of work and it feels as though I've been back in the trenches for months.
Approximately 10 seconds after reporting for my first day back at work I was sent running. Week three of the public service strike was in full swing and not about to slow down for me (who had been on another continent for the past four weeks) to catch up with the action.
Never mind the fact that my password had expired and the company had updated the computer system while I was away - I had to make a plan and file on the latest events immediately. A tad stressful but apparently doable - I managed to slam out a front page piece by 7.30am.
Then - no resting on any laurels - there was a gas explosion out in Devland (huh? where? - yeah, my reaction too!). Some guy in an 80-ton digger accidentally pierced a disused gas pipe under a factory and caused a leak that had emergency services closing the air space above, the highway alongside and trundling one poor woman off to hospital.
Day two: a bunch of striking teachers surrounded a primary school and tried to break in and cause havoc.
Day three: More strike stuff to report on. And South Africans stuck in Mozambique because rioters there were causing a ruckus over food, electricity and water prices.
I managed it all.
But I feel tired already.
Perhaps another holiday? Just wishing.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Back from Australia!

In what feels like precisely three seconds my month-long trip to Australia is over. Finished. Done and dusted. Overs kedovers.
All that is left are some precious memories, awesome photographs and renewed respect for my five-year-old Little One who is about the best travelling buddy I could have wished for. She handled airports, jetlag and long boring flights like a trooper.
So, what lessons does one learn when travelling the globe as a single mom?
Firstly - don't try and take your brother tins of chakalaka stashed in your handluggage. You will NOT get it through the South African security check and even get on the plane with it. Trust me - I tried. But noooooooo! Got all three tins taken off me by a staunch security official.
No amount of reasoning or logic would budge him. I would perhaps have understood if he said that canned goods were regarded as lethal weapons on the basis that one could cause far more physical harm with them than you could with other banned items like, say, a deadly nail file. But this was not the case - apparently if the tins contained peas or baked beans there would be no problem. The fault with chakalaka, he told me, was that the spice content was "too high". No amount of reassuring him that I had zero intention of ripping the can open with my teeth midflight, or careful pointing out that my cans were labelled "mild" would convince the guy that allowing me to take the stuff to Australia was not a security risk.
But this was not the last of the airport security busts I fell victim too. While I had carefully packed Little One's left-handed kiddie scissors in our luggage on the way to Australia, she had unfortunately packed them in with her crayons and colouring-in book when we embarked on a flight from Sydney to the Gold Coast. And they got spotted on x-ray and the crack security guy decended on her Dora the Explorer bag like a Beagle on a bag of cocaine. Quickly he pulled the offending item and held it up, proclaiming "This is not allowed".
No amount of pleading that they were extremely difficult to find left-handed scissors garnered an ounce of sympathy. No amount of pointing out that these were small, pink plastic and girlie, not terribly sharp blades with blunt ends convinced him to relent. Rules were rules and the scissors were confiscated as lethal weapons.
But apart from that, we had an awesome time. Adventures galore.
In four short weeks we explored the Southern Highlands, checked out Sydney, walked the Gold Coast beaches and visited Surfer's Paradise, flew to Tasmania and played in snow on the top of Mount Wellington and spent a day in Canberra viewing the nation's capital.
My Little One saw snow for the first time and decided that she likes it only "when it's already fallened with a bit of sun on it, not when it is freezing cold and smashing in my face".
"I need a break from snow," she proclaimed after her first experience of white stuff that left her hands so cold they hurt, as she proceeded to fall asleep in her car seat minutes later.
All in all - totally amazing.
And then we spent 15 hours on a plane flight home. We arrived home to mile-long queues at passport control as only two officials were on duty thanks to the ongoing public service strike.
I miss Australia already.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Macabre madness

There is something macabre about sitting in court and listening to graphic details of murder from men who, when they are done, are perfectly free and entitled to step of the stand and come and sit in the gallery. Right next to you. If that's what they feel like doing.
And that is pretty much how things have been this week with the start of the Brett Kebble murder trial. We journalists covering the saga have been sitting for hours, listening to hitmen talk about how they were contracted to take guys out in a non-gay romance kind of way.
All of them have immunity for prosecution if they simply are "frank and honest with the court". That's all. So here you have people who have literally blown other people's brains out just telling how and why they did it so that Glenn Agliotti goes down for the murder and they get to walk away scot free.
We've had some quite clear descriptions from Mikey Schultz, for example, on how he aimed his gun at Kebble (who wanted to die so badly he apparently chased them round the neighbourhood when they aborted their first murder mission because his wife's car engine was overheating), watched Kebble look at him and then stare ahead and raise his shoulder a little in a protective motion before Schultz pumped him full of bullets.
Some absolutely amazing revelations: security man Clint Nassif who ruled the roost and took payments in the millions for setting his henchmen loose actually has only a standard six education.
A few glimpses of humanity: Schultz turned down an offer to go and chat to Brett and actually meet him on grounds that it would be uncomfortable because he would have to shoot him dead later.
Some gob-smacking info on the tactical workings of hitmen: Nigel McGurk on how he disposed of Stephen Mildenhall's property after their connections shot him a bunch of time in the shoulders to keep him away from the office for a couple of months. Apparently he and his friend Kappie broke Mildenhall's credit and bank cards into pieces and then chucked them out the window while driving from Cape Town back to Joburg. At one point they stopped and made a fire on the side of the road to burn the wallet.
Ja - like some unbelievable parallel universe.
And then while that was all going down some guy in Mpumalanga lost his tiger while taking it to the vet. So for 48 hours there was a big hunt for a big cat on the go.
Too bizarre for words.
But on the plus side, I am now on leave!!!
Two more sleeps and Little One and I board a plane for Australia.
Woooo hooooooooooo!
Oh ja - they found the tiger last night.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

High noon in Germiston

Germiston Magistrate's Court was where my action was today. The R250-million drug smuggling matter involving the Paparas family.
Quite boring for the most part apart from the few exceptional showdowns between the prosecution and defence.
The prosecutor on this case was one Advocate Gerrie Nel:
He is the same guy who has just successfully prosecuted our former police chief, dirty Jackie Selebi. He might be a small guy, but put him in court and he throws his weight around and pulls some impressive punches.
Squaring up against him today was Advocate Sita Kolbe SC:

She is basically a female version of Gerrie. Put her in a courtroom and she is like a Rottweiller let loose.
So letting the two of them go head to head against each other is quite entertaining.
This morning's first witness was an undercover Scorpions agent who had raided a plot where the two-ton hashish consignment had been stashed. He had filmed it all with a hidden camera and recorded it in his investigations diary.
Once done with his evidence, Sita let Gerrie know that she took exception to his nodding and shaking his head during her cross examination, implying that he had been communicating with the witness when not to answer and how to respond.
Gerrie took huge exception, revealed her allegations to the court and placed on record that he most certainly never, ever would do such a dastardly thing.
Then Sita accused him of adding in an undisclosed witness as a stalling strategy designed to get the case postponed because he knew she would not be available next week.
Again, he furiously denied this.
And on and on.
And it continues tomorrow.
Oh joy!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

A bush surgeon gets a visit from the gods

The gods have appeared to Maine Thifhulufheli Nemavhulani, owner of a circumcision school in Limpopo. Actually they appeared to him in 1982 already, but he is only taking heed now.
According to a rural news agency, Nemavhulani says the gods have instructed him to go to the Eastern Cape to help stop the mess-ups made at circumcision schools in that province.
Apparently the guys in the Eastern Cape have made so many botch-ups at this past winter circumcision school that 42 young boys actually died and scores more have been left maimed in hospital.
Nemavhulani however, has a clean record. In fact he was recently invited to a party held for all Vhembe circumcision school owners to celebrate the fact that "not a single life was lost during this winter's circumcision period inVhembe district. And it was here that he revealed the gods desire for him to go and help out in the Eastern Cape.
Nemavhulani, of Tshimbupfe village near Vuwani, said the gods came to him in a dream and were apparently extremely angry with the Eastern Cape crowd - as one can imagine.
Now I understand that we have various customs and cultures in our country, and we have to respect that.
But I do feel intensely sorry for the mothers who have to send their boys out into the cold winters' nights to attend initiation schools where they could so easily end up dead. And as for the poor boys... I have no words.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Body searched for Selebi!

Another day in the Joburg High Court's courtroom 4B - for the sentencing hearing of one Jackie Dirty Cop Selebi. And, like many, many, many other occasions it turned out to be a bit of a damp squib with a fair bit of talk, no action and ending in a disappointing postponement.
And, in honour of the fact that today's proceedings were all about sentencing, security was out in full force. Oh yes indeedio. So, like usual, we all passed our bags and laptops through the x-ray machines at the front court entrance, stepped through the metal detectors and handed our phones to the strange guy who oversees it all.
Then a climb up to the fourth floor because none of the lifts work. Ever. And if they do, trust me - the experience of cramming yourself into the single occasionally operation lift in the building with umpteen other characters all thrilled at the chance to skip the stairs is horrrrrible!
At the entrance to the fourth floor court passage is yet another metal detector, security guards who search through your stuff and a register that you have to sign with all your details - ID number included. Today's extra special added delight for us visiting females was a body search. I kid you not! We had to individually enter the enclosed entrance to another court. Behind the closed door we were asked if we were prepared to be searched before the female security official then patted us down all over. Truly - even my shoes!!
Once in the court it was the usual bunfight for plug sockets and space on the gallery benches. A growing crowd of interested spectators ensured that the wooden benches of the public gallery were truly packed to capacity.
An old guard cop was called to testify. A white Afrikaans guy waxed lyrical about what a brilliant cop Jackie Selebi had been, and how much brilliance he had brought to the SAPS in his time. The fact that Selebi had gone on to take wads of cash from criminals and show them classified documents did not seem to bother him in the least.
The RadioChick arrived in court - fresh off a plane from Spain, having cut her trip short by a day to continue covering this story.
A few minutes later and it was all over. Postponed until after I am in Australia - so I shall not get to witness the final sentencing.
Can't say I'm crying about it.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Cheers, Jeremeeeee!

Today is a sad day.
The soccer that has thrilled and united us is over. And Jeremy Mansfield was on the Rude Awakening this morning for the last time.
Tomorrow Joburg will be different.
No more Jeremy. No more Frikkie Geyser and his "very, very, very good friend Gawie". Never again will we hear that Afrikaans accented "hello, hello, hello, hello, hello, how aaaaare we?"  greeting. No more Simphiwe the reprobate taxi driver. No more Lovemore Sibanda and his relatives Eet-Sum-More, Lovechance, Tupperware and Mistake Sibanda. No more Professor Wim Beukes with his post nasal drip and disgusting snorting.
Yes - all these characters were Jeremy himself.
The time has come to bid farewell to the big guy who is leaving for a life without alarm clocks and leave breaks planned 18-months in advance. He has been lured away by the promise of "an unstructured life" .
Considering that he had to get up every morning well before 4am, and had go through leukaemia treatment publicly, it's understandable that he now wants a quieter existence where he can dabble in all kinds of other stuff.
But Joburg's gonna miss him. Love him or hate him, Jeremy has been a huge feature on the Joburg scene for ages. He cried like a baby when he said goodbye today. As did many of his callers.
Cheers, Jem!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Paul the Psychic Octopus

World cup fever reigns supreme!
Another day of writing about airport chaos, demands for hotels in Joburg ahead of the final match and all the rest.
A local communications dude sent in a pretty interesting press release in which he reated the top World Cup campaigns pulled off by creative marketers on a shoestring budget, bypassing Fifa's mafia-like iron grip and control over all things related to soccer.
Of course Bavaria breweries with their orange dresses in the ambush marketing campaign was up with with the best. But strangely enough, they were topped by the aquarium in Germany which has managed to go global with their Paul the Psychic Octopus.
Paul, it seems, has maintained a 100% correct prediction rate in picking the winning team in all Germany's matches.
Yes, this squirmy creature in a tank has managed to accurately identify which team will win simply by picking his food out of glass boxes marked with flags. Each time he has whipped his mussels or clams or whatever octopi eat out of the box with the flag of the team which then goes on to win the match of the day.
So far this has been limited to matches in which Germany plays - and since they lost to Spain last night, perhaps Paul's psychic abilities will no longer work - since he is a German octopus.
However, a Dutch colleague of mine who has been walking around in orange for weeks and is a huge participant of the Hup Holland Hup brigade, is hopeful. He bounded joyfully through the newsroom this afternoon after Oracle Paul apparently picked his food out of the Netherlands box when presented with the flags of the teams that have made it through to Sunday's historic final match.
Yes - Paul picked the Dutch team over Spain.
Methinks Paul is dicing with death and might end up as calamari after the weekend!
So strange to see the hopes of the world swayed by the whims of an octopus.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Traffic on Sunday

 As the World Cup final approaches swiftly, so South Africa is planning to ensure that the biggest sporting event on earth is a giant success.
And so today I was the lucky soul who got to write about the road closures, parking arrangements, highway blockades to protect bigshot dignitaries and visiting heads of state. It's going to be a huge day. With a bunch of chaos. Definitely - if we're writing about Sunday's traffic on Wednesday for Thursday's paper.
Ke nako. And all that.

Monday, July 5, 2010

A Burmese python named 2010201

A snake apparently used to control the progress of certain teams in the soccer World Cup has been seized by the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), the organisation said on Monday.
"The Cape of Good Hope SPCA in Grassy Park rescued a Burmese Rock Python from a sangoma in Nyanga on 30 June 2010," said SPCA regional spokeswoman Sarah Scarth.
"It is alleged that the snake was illegally transported from Natal to Cape Town specifically for the Fifa World Cup.
"The sangoma is alleged to have accepted money from soccer fans who requested that he communicates to the ancestors and appeal to them to allow their specific football team to progress in the game."
The snake -- which was found to be underweight and suffering from dehydration, mouthrot and pneumonia -- was apparently kept in a shack and car with no food or water.
It has since received medical care.
On Monday, the Daily Sun reported that the sangoma Siyabonga Mthethwa, 25, said that he was "forced" to hand over the snake, named 2010.
"2010 is my snake and I will teach them a lesson. They say a black man can't carry a snake."
Mthethwa alleged that the SPCA was not familiar with sangomas.
"Everything I said does not make sense to them."
Mthethwa said that the snake was "troublesome" when he was taken away.
"I know that he will give them many problems. I will make him disappear or kill him in their care."
He said the snake would not "last long" without him.
"I know everything about his life. I will go home and bring all my other snakes and see what they will do then."
The newspaper reported that Mthethwa owns eight other snakes, of which 2010 was the smallest.
Wildlife Unit inspector and supervisor Brett Glasby said he believed the sangoma had seven snakes in all but that the others were in KwaZulu-Natal.
Glasby said the relevant authorities had been notified about the snakes.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Headlines, shmeadlines...

So I am wondering what life would be like as a journalist working for a paper that publishes headlines like this one.

Quite interesting, I imagine!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Dutchy dress goes global!

The Dutchy dress - that bright orange skimpy little number worn by the Bavarian babes in the ambush marketing campaign - has been the focus of my day.
I got to cover the second court of the two blonde Dutch women who were arrested last week for their part in what I think was the most brilliant marketing ploy by Bavaria.
It unfortunately ended up with two women being arrested for wearing Bavaria's little orange Dutchy dresses to a soccer game. But hey - a direct competitor to Budweiser (sole brewer at World Cup matches selling glasses of beer at R30 a shot!) that was once a small Dutch operation is now known all around the world.
So we - local and international media - gathered at the court this morning waiting to catch the next appearance of these two blonde babes who were facing jail time for what Fifa was pushing was a crime.
It was a two-hour wait for an appearance that was over in a few short minutes as the state withdrew all charges against them.
The girls were relieved, supporters gave them orange roses and they were ecstatic to get their passports handed back to them.
A diplomatic incident was averted.
Apparently Fifa decided not to pursue a prosecution against the accused on grounds that Bavaria settled with them out of court.
Huh! We may not get to hear what the settlement was - but I am betting that Bavaria scored global attention that money just can't buy!
Now it's time for Bafana to kick some French backside. Hopefully.
Go Bafana!
Waka waka eh eh and all that.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Soccer and a faceplant!

As the whole of South Africa celebrated the kick-off of the long-anticipated World Cup I got to enjoy the experience in granny mode, seated gingerly on a cushion keeping my distance from anyone who could bump me, dosed up on anti-inflammatories and painkillers.
So just how is it that this cutting edge reporter who likes to run close to the action end up being a lamer who now has to hand in a sick note excusing her from work and life in general on the most momentous occasion of this century?
First of all I blame three solid days of sitting on a hard court bench following the closing arguments in the Jackie Selebi trial as the triggering cause. This led to a dull pain in my lower back on Thursday morning that saw me organising a driver to drop me off at the Joburg High Court for day four of this ongoing boring event that was being overshadowed and overwhelmed by joyous crowds and vuvuzelas. I usually walk to court with my laptop in a backpack - but on Thursday I opted out of the 12 block trudge to look after my ailing spine.
However - this did not go so well. As Nelson the driver, in a scratched Tazz, dropped me off at court I stepped out and promptly performed a faceplant into the street as I clumsily hooked the heel of my boot in my trouser leg and bailed spectacularly onto the pavement.
I jumped up smartly and hobbled off, realising that my back pain was now somewhat increased. And court is not a fun experience for anyone with a sore back that feels pain when they have to move. I got through the morning by keeping as still as possible and successfully managed not to wail out loud every time we had to stand and bow when the good judge entered and left the room.
Slowly my back stiffened up and I realised that this was not a pain that planned to leave in a hurry. When it all thankfully came to an end and I could happily leave to write that the entire matter has been postponed for three weeks for judgement, I decided not to wimp out and call for Nelson to come and fetch me, but to instead walk back to the office.
As the day wore on, so the pain in my back increased. I filed my story, stood up to leave and the room swam in front of my eyes. My news editor Evil Incarnate ordered a junior reporter to escort me to my car, which he did obediently carrying my bags.
I went straight to the doctor where I was injected with Voltaren and sent home to rest and told to stay warm and still.
So yes - as South Africa celebrated the the kick off of the 2010 World Cup - I spent the day in granny mode.
Today I was one of the numerous lamers who handed in a sick note excusing their absence from work on the momentous historic day that June 11 was!
Rock on!! NOT.

Monday, June 7, 2010

First the high, then the low

On Friday I had the most amazing experience!
I got to be on top of the Nelson Mandela suspension bridge when the giant posters of Madiba's face - well-fastened by daring abseilers to both sides of this magnificent structure - were unveiled ahead of the World Cup.
It was supposed to happen at 8.30am according to the Joburg City Council programme. But in true Africa time, it happened close to 10am. So many people in soccer paraphernalia parped their vuvuzela's and the media skulked around as we all waited in the freezing cold while the most unexpect 80's music (we're talking Bros!!) blasted from giant speakers.
Our not-so-eloquent Mayor arrived and gave an appaling speech, thereby retaining his legendary status as one of the really, really bad speakers of our time and living up to his name generally quoted as Mayor Amos ummmm ... erm ..... uhhhhhhh .... ummmm Masondo.
Then they cranked out some World Cup tunes and there was diski dancing. With his lips tucked firmly between his teeth, I have to say that the Mayor pulled off a fairly impressive diski.
The vibe was awesome.
But the high was swamped by today. Another day in the Joburg High Court. Day one of the closing arguments in the Selebi trial. The prosecutor started at 10am. Court closed for the day at 4pm. He was not finished.
We go back tomorrow when he will continue.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Chariots and choices

I am feeling quite bleak!
Last week the motoring guys gave me a car to test drive. It has been awesome. For a week I have been driving around in a 2 litre top-of-the-range Hyundai i30. It has leather seats, a sunroof and buttons on the steering wheel that allow you to control your environment. It was silver, new and stylish. Somewhat above the level of my 1400 high spec Getz - which is black and looks like a little FBI car because the smash-and-grab protection I had put on the windows made them slightly tinted.
For one week I have been driving like those jerks that annoy 1400 drivers who can't quite keep the traffic gaps small enough to stop the smirking drivers of powerful cars and snarling taxi drivers from cutting them off at every opportunity.
Alas - my time is up.
Today I had to hand the shiny chariot back to the dealer. All that is left is to write up the experience.
I now have the choice. I can upgrade my paid-off car to one of these stylish numbers and deal with the payments, fuel bills and speeding fines that come with it. Or I can save my money and go overseas with my Little One.
So. Dilemma quickly sorted by the purchase of a couple of air tickets. Little One and I depart on July 31 for Australia. We shall be hitting the beaches of the ever-sunny Gold Coast and the snowy slopes of Tasmania and visiting family in Sydney.Woo hooo!
I may be back to driving a sluggish little car tomorrow. But I have a divine holiday to look forward. Not a bad situation at all.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Not so psychic, it seems

Being the sceptical journalist that I am, I have been reluctant to write up my feature story about the psychic from Alberton who claims to have helped the cops solve a murder. This is the woman who told me that detectives asked her for help and took her to the home of a woman who had simply disappeared.
This red-headed mystic told me that she walked into the woman's home and, through her connections with "the other side", was able to watch how the woman was trapped in her home by her domestic worker and accomplices. How they stabbed her, rolled her body in a carpet which they then stashed in the boot of her car before dumping it in a manhole near a squatter camp.
The mystic was apparently able to describe all of this to the police, and all they had to do was go and arrest the suspects and drive out to the place she told them about and find the body.
So I called the Kolonel who is commander of the Germiston Trio Task Team that solved the whole murder and found the murdered woman's body. I informed him of the claims his local fortune teller had made to me and asked him for his view.
"That lady, all those things she is saying, it is complete krepp," was the official line from the man in blue.
He further explained: anybody will know that if a carpet is missing from a crime scene that it was used to roll the body in. You see it in the movies all the time. Nobody ever steals a carpet unless it is a Persian rug, so no - we were not told something we did not know.
With regard to her predicting where the body was: in the 24 years he has been investigating murders, he has discovered that if someone says "the body is somewhere near water" they will be right in about 90% of the cases.
And did she point out where the body was found? Absolutely NOT, he maintains. The suspects themselves showed where they had hidden the corpse. Had they not done so, the body would never have been found - "not even by sniffer dogs".
Ah - somehow it's just what I thought!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Mystic pizza

Today I got the information I need for two massively huge, earth-shattering stories.
The downside is that the source of these impressive scoops is somewhat dodgy: a woman who refers to herself as a mystic.
She describes herself as a "weird" woman with psychic powers that enable her to see exactly what happened to murdered people, missing kids and the like. She can channel the dead - either in person with you present, over the phone or via skype. It seems technology has aided telepathy indeed. At a price of course. A heft one actually: R700 for her to remove spells, R1 500 to take bad energies out of your house and R700 to speak to your child's invisible friend for 45 minutes. In English or Afrikaans. Payment in Rands, Euros, Pounds or dollars.
She works from her home in Alberton and apparently solved both the Leigh Matthews and Sheldean Human murders although the top cop credited for the successes pretends he doesn't know who she is. She has sessions with clients all over the world apparently and is apparently one of only three people on the planet with her level of psychic abilities. Last week she led the cops to the body of a murdered woman and the killers. The reports I have seen on the murder make no mention of her and refer only to ordinary detective work for the success, but I have not yet followed this up with the police themselves so it all could be legit.
It was while getting the whole lowdown on the murder she solved in Joburg's southern suburbs that I slipped in some subtle questions that gave me the info for my two big scoops.
Mystic: Yes, I have solved a lot of murders. The police call me up all the time and I just work through another dimension and connect with what happened. I can't really explain how this works.
Jozi Journo: So do you perhaps know what happened to the six missing girls that everyone thinks Van Rooyen snatched.
M: Well, I have never, ever told anyone this before. But one day I was on holiday in Durban when a woman came up to me on the beach and asked me to go somewhere with her. My husband didn't want me to go, but I knew I would be fine and told him not to worry. This woman put a blind fold on me and took me to somewhere I don't know and introduced me to a man. I knew immediately he was one of Gert van Rooyen's victims who had never been identified and had been hiding since he ran away from home as a child. He told me all the things Gert and Joey Haarhoff used to do to them - torture, electric wires on their private parts and rape them and horrible things like that. Gert murdered those girls and took them to a funeral parlour up the road from his house where he hid them in coffins underneath the bodies of dead people, so they got cremated and the bodies will never be found.
JJ: Ooookay. So why does this guy not want to tell anybody else his story? Why would he not want to give the information to the police, or the families?
M: Well, he's very freaked out mentally and I did promise him that I would never, ever tell anyone about him. And also he is still scared because there were other people involved.
JJ: And would you perhaps know what happened with Madeleine McCann?
M:Yes. Her uncle did give me a call and I told him to have them spray the flat with luminol and they would see the child's blood everywhere. Those two guys you saw on the TV after her disappearance, those are the ones who killed her. I saw them throw her body overboard on a boat somewhere. So that's why she has never been found.
So there you go - two of the biggest mysteries clarified.
Why would I doubt her?
When I was leaving she said she also runs a non-profit organisation that feeds white children. She often takes clothes and food to one of the houses nearby where these destitute children stay, and the woman looking after them apparently gave her a funny feeling. She couldn't put her finger on what was wrong til she went there at the wrong time one day and bust the woman selling the clothes that were meant for the poor white children. AND she suddenly saw that Albany was giving the woman "200 breads every day", which the woman was also selling. Could I please investigate this matter and expose her?
So I am thinking that someone who charges lots of money for her insights - more than a psychologist in fact - should have been able to pick up on that one!
I asked her for the Lotto numbers. Seems she can't see these. Her psychic powers however do enable her to predict winning horses, but she only ever betted once to win the R16 000 she needed to divorce her first husband.
I am not sure how I am going to write up this story!!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A different view

One of the cool things about being a journalist is that you generally get to start your day by reading all the newspapers. All supplied and paid for by your company of course. After a while it becomes a kind of daily routine that you don't really think about. It's an interesting exercise, seeing how different publications cover the same unfolding news events of the day. What is important to one title, may not even make it into another - assuming of course that the story was left out by choice and not just accidentally missed. Like for example, today's Daily Sun took a story that nobody else had or perhaps wanted as their front page scorcher.
This little tabloid has a view on the world that often completely escapes me. But a helluva lot of people certainly click with the paper as it has more readers than any other daily paper in the country.
So today's Daily Sun scoop was a suicide story. My paper generally doesn't ever cover suicides, so I know that we would not have been interested in this piece even if it had been syndicated on the wires. Daily Sun, however, managed to take the story and see the link to the ongoing transport strike and scaled down rail services.
Anyway - here is their story. I have copied it exactly - down to the last capital letter and exclamation mark:
"Mpumelelo Stulo (47) wanted to die so he went to sit on a railway line...
But there is a rail strike on. And not many trains were running...
People said Mpumelelo covered his face with his hands just before being run over by the wheels of steel.
It happened yesterday on the line between Wellington and Cape Town.
Poor Mpumelelo had been there from 11 in the morning to 4.30 in the afternoon."
Ah - but the story does not end there. They continue with quotes from an unnamed witness who describes how they shouted at Mpumelelo to get off the tracks, and how even the train driver tooted his whistle - with Mpumelelo sitting firm until he was hit and killed.
Then you turn the page and continue reading under this headline: THE BIG PAGE 1 STORY CONTINUES
"The dead guy's brother, Thembilizwe, said: "I could not believe it. I do not know what got into my big brother:"
"He was a very nice person who did not talk too much," his sad brother said.
Ah. So tragic. Not sure I would have written the story in this same way myself, but it's certainly creative.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Tell me why I don't like Mondays!

Days that pass by in a haze of busyness are awful.
Like today. At about 7am I was sent out to cover the oil tanker that crashed on the N3 highway during the early hours of this morning. The driver wasn't hurt, but apparently the smashed up tanker caused the highway to be blocked off completely in both directions causing absolute traffic mayhem - moreso than the ongoing roadworks apparentely. News indeed.
So off I was dispatched, along with my photographer pal JeansAndTackies to cover this incident.
We had no idea what we would encounter. We sat in bumper-to-bumper traffic for more than an hour before we arrived at the alleged crash scene. We had been strategic in our approach, figuring that if the N3 was completely blocked, then we had to find a cunning new route to get to the N3 at Marlboro. Which we did.
The transport manager, keen to help, had told us about a garage where we could park our car and then walk towards the highway bridge that would offer us a fantastic view of the highway. So we parked and ran to the spot where we stood and watched traffic flowing fast and freely in both directions. No obstruction or mangled tanker whatsoever in sight.
Back to the office without a story.
At least I have a research project to work on that kept me busy for most of the rest of the day.
And then another 2010 planning meeting to brain storm and bash out story ideas.
Eish - at least Monday is done and dusted!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Day two down!