Thursday, January 28, 2010

Opening the flood gates.

I am tired.
I am sunburnt - but today was great!
I cannot say I was terribly excited when I was sent racing out of the office at 7am to a tiny little town on the Free State border called Deneysville.
It is here that you find the Vaal Dam offices where the people who monitor water levels and pressure and all that scientific stuff are based. And it's here that they open the sluice gates to let water through so that the Vaal Dam, which is now 109% full after the past few weeks of constant rain, can drop a little. It's the first time they've done this in 14 years.
And so Chief Photographer and I were lucky enough to be present when two of the gates were opened.
It was incredible to watch the water thunder through and literally raise the level of the river below. But then the challenge: how to put the figures into amounts that make sense.
I spoke to the experts. But midday today they said the outflow of water would be 2 040 cubic metres of water per second. I asked them how many pools at my local gym that would fill. The reckoned about 20! A single cubic metre of water weighs a ton. So we did the sums.
The final figure we eventually got to was two million litres of water per second. It was deafening. The spray kicked up high in the air and made a rainbow.
People stopped on a bridge nearby to watch.
It was spectacular!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Telkom explodes in Yeoville.

A Telkom Exchange building exploded in Yeoville this morning. Quite spectacularly.
Just after 8am apparently one of their technicians was tinkering about with a giant electricity transformer when it just blew up.
It rocked the suburb something chronic, shattering windows, damaging cars and cracking the pavements up to a block away. A guy driving past suddenly had his front and back windscreens shattered, the bumper ripped off and one side of his old white Corolla completely covered in mud. He got such a fright that he drove on for a little bit and then abandoned it, keys still in the ignition, in the middle of an intersection. Fortunately it was still there when he recovered enough to realise that he had not been shot or hit by a dump truck and went to fetch it.
Paramedics rushed the poor Telkom technician off to hospital along with another woman who wasn't badly injured but needed to be treated for shock.
So there we stood, a glum collection of journalists, photographers and cameramen all gathered in the drizzly weather waiting to get near to someone, anyone, who had information. And, as often happens, a bunch of stroppy men had taken control of the scene and cordoned off the area so that we were kept far, far away from the action.
I felt sorry for myself as my hair frizzed, until I saw a bald cop walk past and noticed little rivers of water running off his head and down his neck.
Little kids at a playschool nearby were evacuated for "safety reasons", which I later worked out to be some concern that there might be another explosion.
We waited while rescue workers dug through the rubble to check that there were no more victims. It took a few hours.
And then I spotted the cast iron cover from a manhole that was ripped open by the explosion. It had been flung clean over the church hall across the road and landed on the pavement a block away.
Sheesh - so much damage and so little injury and no loss of life. Quite a miracle.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Watermelons and fat cats.

A very varied day today. Starting off with even more financial opportunities my way - this time an old duck on her death bed has selected me, her "Dear Beloved" to inherit her fortune. While she apparently doesn't know my name, she believes in my inherent goodness and worthiness. Unfortunately, since I don't trust in her inherent goodness, I am not about to pass on my bank account details to her.
But anyway - on to more important things like watermelons. Yes indeed. Today the biggest ever watermelon seen by the head of the Joburg Fresh Produce Market's Watermelon Panel (I never dreamed such a title existed), who is apparently also known as The Watermelon King (this one I can believe!!), arrived at the market.
So off I went to check it out. And there it was. A monstrous 73kg hulk of a fruit. It was a Carolina Cross watermelon grown by a Free State farmer from some seeds his brother in America sent him. Pretty cool. One of the customers bought it for R400 and is going to use it for "advertising purposes". Well. Okay. Like, obviously.

Back to the office for the next task of the day. Not an easy one, unfortunately. I had to track down the salaries earned by the CEO's of our country's biggest parastatals. Sheesh. Where to start, where to start?
I headed off to the business section to find someone with an idea of how to find this information. I now know that in the organisation's annual report, where the financials are listed, you can find a section on directors' earnings. And it's here that this juicy little tidbit is presented it all it's many zeros and accompanying bonuses and such. I now also know that I totally missed the mark in picking a career that would earn me bucks like these guys.
So it seems that the guys who do a good job all earn around the R3 to R4-million a year mark. But the guys who mess up do spectacularly better. Like Kaya Ngqula of SAA who got fired for incompetence. On top of his salary he got paid a R9.3-million bonus to please leave. And Dali Mpofu of the SABC got R11-million to do likewise. Now Eskom's Jacob Maroga, the man who led us into darkness and price hikes, is apparently going to score another R9-million after leaving just in shares that were signed over to him and have yet to pay out.
And still he complains and wants more!

Monday, January 25, 2010

More money coming my way...

A weekend away from the office and this morning saw me returning to another wave of e-mails informing me that I have won lotteries I have never entered and offers of co-operation deals that are - well - too good to be true.
Even Captain James Brown, the guy who wanted to give me stacks of money last week, mailed me back. He seems to be getting a bit tetchy about my apparent reluctance to assure him that I am telling nobody about the millions he found in Saddam Hussein's house and that I am working a plan to help him give me 30% of it. I figure I shall continue my silence...
But then I received another good news mail from one Ms mary Brown. I am wondering if she is perhaps related to our Captain James Brown.
Ms mary Brown sent me a letter with a Shell logo on it as well as a photograph of a bunch of people sitting in front of a Royal Dutch Shell plc banner and a USA flag emblazoned on a jolly notification that I - yes me, the one and only "Dear winner" - am the winner of "the 2nd category of our Shell Management free Net Lottery Promotional awarddraws held on 23rd Jan 2010" . I am getting 800 000 pounds only.
"We wish to inform you that your total prize money of £800,000.00 Pounds has been Returned to us by our Lotto claims delivery company as unclaimed prize after their initial letter to your address for your award payment was not successful."
Clear as mud, eh?
Ja, well. I would not want to suffer a lost of package now, would I?
But then some bad news after all this happy stuff. It seems the media has annoyed some activists by giving a whole lot more coverage to the Miss World pageant than the Mr Gay SA comp. Logically speaking, I would think this would be an obvious situation, given that South Africa had to pay something like R50-million to host the Miss World bash, and Mr Gay SA has, well, kind of a limited audience.
Can't win them all, hey!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Tough and tragic times.

Two days of HECTIC running around. This afternoon, as I finally sit still and take a moment to breathe, I can honestly say I am starving as I haven't had a chance to eat breakfast or lunch. It was that manic!
Yesterday's run around was all about the e-tv debacle - tracing the guy who killed himself. He couldn't handle the fallout from his TV appearance on Friday night when he publicly declared that he was a criminal planning to prey on foreigners coming her for the soccer world cup. This had triggered the wrath of our Safety and Security Minister and the chief of police who set detectives out to hunt him down.
I spoke to various people and pulled together the threads of the story, working together with my colleague SuperGirl who headed out to Jabulani in Soweto to speak to the dead man's family.
The suicide note he left told of his fears about what he had done, and implored the journalist who did the story to take care of the daughter he left behind. All very tragic indeed.
I have tried to reach the reporter who did the story, but he is nowhere to be found. I wonder if e-tv knows where he is, as the Hawks haven't been able to find him. I wonder how he is dealing with the awful, awful effects of what must have been a sensational scoop of a story he landed two weeks into his new job.
We've been pondering this at work amongst ourselves in the news room. It's a terrible thing to have happened. But it may become worse if it is discovered that the men who made brazen threats of violents and cocked a gun on national TV were not the real bad guys that they claimed to be, but were instead hamming it up for a bit of attention or to cause a bit of a reaction. What if?
We've heard from the family that the man who took his own life, who must have disappointed the optimistic mother who named him Lucky at birth, was once a criminal. But he had apparently paid his dues, served jail time and was rehabilitated. He had agreed to do the e-tv story in order to express his opinion of the police's shoot-to-kill policy.
It's going to take time for the facts to emerge. But they may not be of comfort to the bereaved family, an ambitious journalist, a daring news editor or a mourning daughter.
It makes me sad. One story and so much damage, pain and hurt.
I live for the happy stuff!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Buenos dias Senor Diego Maradona

So soccer icon Diego Maradona arrived in South Africa this morning. Now that his two-month ban from the sport for being disgustingly rude to journalists is over, he is allowed to rejoin the soccer world and do his thing.
And his thing, as the Argentinian team manager, would be to come here and check out the place ahead of the 2010 world cup. Being that he is such a legend, (according to one foreign journo who I have since discovered was not pulling my leg) they even have a church of Maradona in his home country, this was HUGE news this morning.
Despite my immensely limited knowledge of all-things soccer related I landed the task of heading out to OR Tambo International Airport to cover the arrival of the man named FIFA player of the century.
A growing media contingent, awaiting the arrival of SAA flight 227 from Buenos Aires, gathered restlessly at the arrivals terminal. Journalists, cameramen, photographers, TV and radio reporters - there we all were, ready to record the event for the world.
It was a bit like that scene in the film The Wrestler (which I only saw recently and have placed it on my list of all-time never-to-be-repeated, hideous, depressingly boring movies) where an extremely unattractive Mickey Rourke is approached by another equally unattractive wrestler. The guy asks him, in an extremely polite and dignified manner, if he may please attack him with a staple gun when they go up against each other in the ring. Mickey Rourke cheerfully agrees after establishing that it's not too painful.
Then they hammer each other to a bloody pulp in the ring in a spectacular fight. And when it's over they shake hands and chat like mates back in the change room. Then Rourke vomits and has a heart attack - but that's besides the point.
As we waited for Maradona's big arrival we chatted politely with each other, shared thoughts on what direction the soccer great would walk and stuff like that.
Then he stepped out and it was a free-for-all. Mayhem erupted. Suddenly cops are manhandling photographers and ripping out rifles. The sweet woman you were just chatting to elbows you viciously to get past. Every man and woman for themselves!!
Senor Maradona, with jetblack wraparound sunglasses, stepped smartly across the terminal into a waiting van with tinted windows. In a couple of minutes it was all over. He briefly teased the crowd by popping his head out to give a smiling thumbs up - but other than that he did not say a word.
And then the vicious marauding mob transformed back into a genteel bunch of colleagues, as we swopped observations and our opinions of what went down.
It was thrilling and fast and challenging. I have some bruises to show for it, but I loved it!
Bring on the world cup. It's going to be awesome!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Captain James Brown wants to give you, yes you, a bunch of money.

Almost every day I receive an e-mail telling me I have won some or other lottery jackpot in some or other country I have never visited. Of course in order to claim the squillions of Euros of whatever that is mine, all I have to do is contact their agent - who is someone with a hot-potato-sounding name who cannot spell or write a grammatically correct sentence in English. I have no doubt that if I did ever contact these people I would either be asked to give them the details of my soon-to-be-cleaded-out bank account, or else pay some or other administration fee in order to be put forward a step in the claim process which would no doubt entail many more steps that need hefty payment.
Today's windfall was a little more orginal and certainly more entertaining. The subject of the message came through like this: [SCAN SPAM DETECTED]I need your response shortly.(view attachment).
It was a message from one Captain James Brown (I swear!!) who said he was an army officer attached to the US Army. Oooookay. So what would he want with me?
Apparently he and some other guys from his batallion were working in Iraq when they happened to find US$700-million hidden behind a false wall in Saddam Hussein's palace. As army guys do! Unfortunately this poor lot only managed to grab 7.5-million from the mighty stash which they flew out to a secret location in the Middle East, where they all swore each other to secrecy while the war just carried on like nobody had found a truckload of discarded $100 notes.
But then lucky Captain James Brown's streak of remarkable good fortune just carries on.
He claims: "But unfortunately, the rest of my crew members lost their lives to the wicked Iraqi insurgents, as you know we were being attacked by insurgents everyday and car Bombs. I have kept this a secrete within me for 6 years now since I am the only survival now and I cannot leave the boxes in the security company anymore as this attracts more expenses on demurrage as long as the boxes is still with the security company."
Ah yes - American grammar schools!
So what does an army captain with a six-year-old secretion inside of him want?
He spells it out: "I am now in desperate need of a "Reliable and Trustworthy" person as partner to assist me transfer these funds into an account and invest the funds without further delay since I cannot come out openly to claim it and at the same time five US soldiers are currently being questioned by military officials after some of Saddam Hussein's money was allegedly stolen following It's discovery. You can click on the web site for more details of my story."
Obviously one to share his wealth and survival, Captain James Brown offered me 30% of his "secrete" stash for my help in moving the millions.
"Please assure me of your keeping this topmost secret within you so that my life would not be jeopardized and to protect my Country's image and my name. You can call me at +447031747863 for clarifications."
So I thought I would put his story on this here blog and put the phone number out here for anyone who cares to call him. Tell James Brown I say 'Hi'!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Back to school!

Crazy day. Complete chaos. It was the first day of the new school year - for every single one of the nine provinces in the country.
We had teams of reporters and photographers out in the field to catch all the tears and drama. Deadlines whizzed by.
Most people missed many of them.
Tension headaches ruled.
Then it was over.
Until next year.
I am glad I have a while before Little One starts Grade One. I am hoping I will not be a sobbing mother.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Set the Garmin for the Bahamas, and let's go!

For years I have travelled the same route to work, hardly ever diverting from the known highways and back roads. But recently I decided to place myself in the trusty hands of my Garmin - the nifty device I use to guide me to random crime scenes and the like, and see what route it would choose to follow from my home to my parking bay in the Joburg CBD.
The distance we are talking about here is about 15 to 18 kms, depending on traffic diversion tactics deployed and the status of the ongoing roadworks all around the giant building site that is our city. And blow me down - it took me through parts that I never knew existed.
I have now driven this route several times in both directions and am still making some remarkable discoveries. There are businesses, apparently thriving happily, that I would never have guessed would have been dreamed up by anyone to start off with. Like a giant supermarket named Vaganza. I am serious. I am imagining somebody decided to open up a new supermarket one day and decided to be creative about naming it and smooshed two words together to come up with a whole new one. Now, assuming that the second word was 'bonanza', I cannot imagine why they chose the other one - unless they couldn't spell vegetable properly, and intended to go big on the fresh produce line. I mean - Vaganza?? I still find it quite an alarming name for a place where people do their grocery shopping.
And then there is a little medical centre. Here, in a country where doctors are not allowed to advertise, there is a place with large wording on the door offering patients the services: "Warts" and "Small operations" at discounted prices. Really.
For the cash-strapped, I have found Kwikfin - seemingly some kind of loan shark set-up with jolly vibe, where you can get a speedy loan.
Best of all, on the border of an industrial site, I discovered this entertainment spot which has appeared to be a less-than-rocking joint every time I have passed it. In fact, it is in such a dodgy area that I photographed it while driving past, unwilling to stop and get out for fear of jeopardising my safety.
Yes - I present the "Bahamas", complete with the weird Statue of Liberty image along with a cheesy "In Music and Fun we trust" logo that is sure to annoy every passing American.
Check it out. I am sure you can feel the vibe already. Next best thing to the real deal, for sure!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

A stabbing, a hacking and the tooth fairy comes to visit.

Another day, another murder. I was busy writing about yet another day of power cuts in the city when an anonymous caller phoned to say that there was a body in the Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet two blocks away from our office.
Since everybody else was busy with matric stories in anticipation of tomorrow's big reveal of the final matric results, I was the not-so-fortunate soul who landed the task of checking it all out.
So I hooked up with the photographer fondly referred to by the newsroom as BinLaden, and headed off to find the alleged body lying in the KFC. It was lunchtime and the place was pumping, Streetwise Two's and Snack Boxes galore, but no corpse to speak off.
We continued walking a bit further and two blocks down the drag we encountered the gory scene. A guy who had been selling smileys (braaied sheeps' heads) at the taxi rank had apparently annoyed another guy. Who then chased him with a knife, slashed him across the face and then stabbed him in the chest. Killing him. There in the open street. At lunch time.
It was a nauseating scene. Crowds gathered as the police took close-up pictures of the wounds, shifting the body and causing more blood to run. A metallic taste pervaded my mouth. I still feel a bit sick.
So now this afternoon, after spending time with my Little One I feel a little more cheery. I am determined to remain focussed on all the brilliant things that happened on the few days I had off over Christmas.It was a time of blessed events, milestones and new discoveries.
A first: Four year-old Little One took advantage of a bit of quiet time alone, access to a small pair of scissors and hacked off a good chunk of the fringe she hates so much.

Discovery: My local Spar gives away free pieces of dry wors to all customers, kids included, on Christmas Eve.
Another discovery: If your kid eats a Ben 10 icecream AND a piece of dry wors and then goes swimming with you, you can expect a sudden episode of projectile vomiting in the pool. It takes the mother absolute ages to swim around the pool and collect all the puke fallout with a sieve so that the pool can be clear, sparkly and chunk-free on Christmas Day.
A milestone: Little One developed a wobbly tooth just before Christmas. It has since fallen out, and she is beyond proud.

Roll on the happy days!!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Oh dear, oh dear.

This year has kicked off fast.
While much of the world enjoys their last few days of holiday, it's back to the routine crime and disaster checks for intrepid reporters on the beat! As usual, there's much in the way of depressing stuff to keep us busy.
Like today - the emergency services, police divers and all the rest were called out to a river in Ivory Park where they launched another big search for a suspected drowning victim. They had no idea who it was they were looking for, it was all just based on a report given in by three women last night who claimed to have seen a man struggling in reeds on the bank of the Kaal River, and they thought he may have been washed away.
Next disaster to follow: a woman who was taken in for questioning by police apparently got so stressed that she collapsed and died.
I didn't quite believe this one, but it does indeed seem that the poor woman had been minding her own business, sitting on the grass under a tree drinking orange juice when a guy got mugged nearby. The attackers apparently got away, but the victim pointed out poor innocent woman as a witness.
And so she got taken in for questioning. She claimed she had been in her own world when the whole mugging story happened and, since she didn't know any of the attackers nor could she recognise them, she was unable to offer any useful information.
But this was not satisfying for our dutiful cops who are so hard-pressed to catch the bad guys that they continued with their questions and stressed her out a bit more. To the point where she literally dropped dead.
I called the cops for their side of the story and have been given all kinds of promises that bunches of people are investigating and all kinds of bosses are asking all manner of probing questions to get to the bottom of what happened to the poor witness.
All very tragic indeed.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Back to work and crimes of fashion

Back to work today. *groan*
What a day it was indeed. Half the newsroom is still on holiday, and so our currently depleted work force was but a bleak shadow of its glorious self today. This, of course, meant a doubling up of duties.
I landed the dubious task of manning the newsdesk for the first half of the day, and then writing about the 50 candidates shortlisted on fashion designer Simon Rademan's top 10 lists of the best and worst dressed women in South Africa.
I was less than thrilled to get the assignment, I have to admit, as apart from my complete disinterest in fashion and celebrities, I intensely dislike the nastiness and mean-spiritedness of the worst dressed accolades.
Last year one of the Idols finalists got landed the title of the worst dressed woman in the country because she was photographed with a bit of her tum peaking over the top of her tight jeans. This, it seems, was a fashion crime that doomed her to utter humiliation as a close-up shot of the offending tummy roll was posted next to her name along with the snide comment " We're glad you fitted all of it in, angel.... or almost".
It seems this years shortlist knows know bounds. Rademan, who sports a cheesy picture of socialite Edith Venter and her apparently stylish dog on his home page, has put out this list of 50 names, declaring that 10 of them are the best dressed and 10 are the worst.
Our beleaguered trans-gender runner Caster Semenya appears on the list, which I think is completely and utterly unfair. The woman is an athlete, why does Rademan wish to rate her in terms of fashion and style? And while the list is specified as being for women, handyman Riaan " Die Nutsman" Venter has also been thrown into the mix.
Last year Rademan similarly named an actor on his worst-dressed list, along with the hardly-explanatory comment: "I am not saying a word about this one... except: "You go, girlfriend!" He-he".
All I can say is that I hope Rademan - who claims he creates this list in order to inspire South Africans to dress better - is less spiteful with his comments this year. And may those who come in for a hammering rise above the shallowness of it all!