Monday, February 22, 2010

The state of our province...

Boom, boom, rah, rah!
This morning was our Premier Nomvula Mokonyane's time to shine. Her moment of glory as she delivered the State of the Province Address, laying out all the progress made during her last eight months in office.
It started out with a stack of streets being blocked off for the event. It caused unbelievable mayhem in the streets for hours on end. There was road rage aplenty as motorists stood still in gridlocks around the Provincial Legislature building. Traffic officers, obviously fearing for their lives, took to standing on pavements instead of in the streets, waving their arms frantically as they were ignored by taxi drivers and the like.
Fortunately my office is walking distance from the Legislature building, so I got there ahead of time with no parking worries or anything like that, ready for the pomp and ceremony.
But it was a challenging assignment indeed. I am completely confused by the dress code. This event was taking place in Africa, in summer, in the midday heat. Yet everyone looked like they were dressed for an evening function, in Europe in winter. There were brocade jackets, shiny fabrics and sequins in abundance. Women sporting wigs and hair pieces as well as glorious hats had on stockings and heels so high they made your eyes water to look at them.
Now cram this warmly dressed crowd into a small space, and the sweat is bound to be a-flowing. Yes indeedio. Flow and flow.
The police band (all dressed for winter) played their hearts out in the sun. The guests were herded together into their seats.
Nomvula, nattily attired in a warm gold long-sleeved ensemble eventually gave her address.
But unfortunately for her, the event was overshadowed by the ANC Youth League's Julius Malema who held a press conference apparently to say all the media reports about his apparent huge wealth were obviously obtained by journalists who sleep with their sources. As my colleague stated: my, how lucky are we?!
Of course Sweet Julius still gave absolutely no explanation as how his houses, cars, designer clothes and R250 000 watch were paid for!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Superjumbo arrives!

The day after the Budget started quietly - anxiously looking for angles that hadn't been covered or an analyst that hadn't been quoted. And of course the first of the new Zuma jokes linking his shenanigans to the Budget - like the one above.
But then it tumbled into one of those fun days that had me wondering how it is that I actually get paid to do what I do.
It was a momentous day - the arrival in Johannesburg of an Airbus A380. Only the largest commercial airliner in the world!
PicturesEditor and I headed out towards OR Tambo International Airport to scout for the perfect spot to witness the touchdown of the monstrous beast. We found scores of plane spotters packing out the Boksburg roads that circle the airport, and they were ready. They had flasks of coffee, cups of tea and their cameras all ready.

There were shouts of excitement everytime a Boeing appeared, and then it would die down to enthusiastic chatter. And then the great white spectacle loomed, distant in the sky. It came in low over the East Rand Mall and appeared to hang for a while before zooming in with engines roaring.
The giant bird that had flown in from Paris landed on the runway, dwarfing all other planes. The spectators clapped and cheered and whooped in delight.
Strangers became friends in a moment of joy.
I am glad we could head back to the office after that. I pity the 538 passengers on board who had to go and negotiate the newly extended baggage carousels to find their luggage and take a place in what was bound to be a congested customs hall!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Bravo for the Budget?

Our new Minister of Finance Pravin Gordhan made his maiden Budget speech today. The financial experts and analysts have all praised him and said it was good.
However, I am absolutely gobsmacked that he made not even a single reference to crime, security issues, policing, courts, the criminal justice system or prisons.
We're a crime-rattled society with an average of 50 murders a day. Government has regularly claimed that our unacceptably high crime is among its top five priorities.
And then today nothing gets said about it. Not a word.
I'm totally amazed.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Tata ma chance...

So the poor deaf guy from Cape Town who has gone into hiding after he apparently won R91-million in the PowerBall draw is not the real winner.
Lottery operators Gidani quickly called a press conference this morning after it emerged that the alleged winning ticket displayed in various media around the country had in fact been bought the morning after Friday night's draw and is therefore only valid for tonight's draw. Total bummer!
So I was sent to cover the press conference aimed at clearing up all the conclusion, setting the record straight and all that. Before leaving I made a quick dash to the loo and found that someone who had been there earlier had left a pamphlet in the cubicle. A pamphlet about suicide and how it impacts on everyone left behind. Dear God - I know things are hectic and chaotic at work and bunches of people are off with stress or burnout, but I hope to goodness one of my colleagues is not planning to top herself!
The off to Gidani's offices on the building site that is the intersection of Allandale and Old Pretoria Road. But it was for happy news indeed!!
It seems the real winner of the money is a happily married mom to two teenagers who slipped her winning ticket into her husband's wallet and booked them into a hotel in Cape Town for the weekend before claiming her prize this morning. She wants to remain anonymous and who can blame her after seeing what chaos and mayhem has befallen the mute cleaner who was outed as the winner by a tabloid paper??
She sounds like a brilliant person. She has no plans to go nuts with the money, not even prioritising a holiday right now as she and her hubbie don't even want their kids to know that they are the new holders of a truckload of money. She is super-impressed that her windfall - R91-million - was from a draw commemorating the life of 91-year-old Madiba and his 20th anniversary of freedom. And she's going to buy a car for her kid who starts university next year.
How cool is that?
While I have a whole lot of experience at winning random e-mail lotteries that I never entered and have never claimed - no day goes past without me getting some or other offer of large amounts of foreign currency, this is the one I would REALLY like to win. And like this latest lady - I wouldn't tell anyone!!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Power puzzles.

I cannot say I have ever had quite so much of a puzzling time as I did today.
The challenge: readers called in from a couple of different areas reporting power outages in their areas. They had been unsuccessful in their efforts to find out the cause or how long it would be before their electricity would come back on. An inconvenience to say the least.
The first attempt to find out what was going on: I called the spokesman for City Power. His landline went unanswered. His cellphone rang for ages before cutting out dead. No voicemail facility to even leave a message.
So I called another big boss at City Power, and it was the same story.
Second effort: I called the Joburg Connect call centre. A recorded message - no date or time given - stated that the city was currently experiencing power supply problems in the city centre, the eastern suburbs, Randburg and surrounds and Roodepoort and surrounds. Technicians were working on this and the problems would be resolved as soon as possible. Ooookay!
If I am not mistaken, that would leave pretty much Soweto, southern suburbs and East Rand as the only places with lights.
Third effort: I called a spokesman for the city and he did not answer his phone. I phoned another spokesman and he offered me only his sympathies. He has been trying for DAYS to get hold of the City Power guys to find out the lowdown on what's happening around Jozi, and has been a unsuccessful as I was. He in fact tried the MD and the MD's PA as well with no joy.
Fourth attempt: We sent reporters out to various areas to find people without power. But it seemed that things were fine. We couldn't find anyone battling along with no electricity. And no traffic nightmares due to robots going down. At least not more than usual.
And still the Joburg Connect call centre continued to deliver the same recorded message. And the spokespeople remained uncontactable.
Puzzling indeed....

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The thug and the judge

Today saw thug Gary Beuthin bounced out of court and into jail for the next seven years.
He's a bad boy with umpteen previous convictions for driving offences, public violence, malicious damage to property and assault with intent to cause grievous bodily harm.
But today this bad boy met his match in the form of Judge Kathy Satchwell - South Africa's own Judge Judy, who would without a doubt make for an excellent subject on a reality TV show if we were less American here and allowed cameras into court. But alas, Judge Satchwells actions in court remain the domain of the print media.
After a fight with the guys at prison who wanted to bring him to court without his three giant bags of court documents, Beuthin finally made it into the dock at noon. He bristled in his leg irons, flexing his muscles and grimacing at me and the only other journalist in the courtroom.
Beuthin has admitted to trapping a former Hell's Angel and then beating the guy's legs with a bat til his calf muscle popped out through his skin. The guy, who is about the size of a small truck, was left unable to walk for four months.
And so Judge Satchwell arrived in court and worked her way through Beuthin's plea agreement. She was gently and kind with him, urging him not to stress when he appeared flustered as he flapped through pages and assuring him that he had plenty of time. She reached the bottom line and when it came time to utter her consideration she made Beuthin stand up as she yelled at him like a little kid.
"You are almost 45 years old. You are big enough and ugly enough to know better," she yelled at him, rebuking him for "this kind of thuggery".
He hung his head in shame and looked embarrassed.
She did not hold back.
It was brilliant!!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Another day of the Jacob Zuma love child saga. And all the academic debate around polygamy, culture and all that. Loads of jokes about our "father of the nation", the "spear of the nation" and Zuma's version of Thabo Mbeki's "I have a dream" speech being "I have a big wet dream".
Was he sincere when he apologised to the country for his embarrassing behaviour? Considering that it came a week after his love child was made public I think it was spurred more by a painful prodding from the leading party than a place of genuine sincerity.
I don't understand why there was not more of an outcry from the country when Zuma was tried for rape. I don't understand why he was able to disband the Scorpions, go on to be sworn in as president of the country and then scupper the corruption case against himself. I find it unspeakable that he condoned the unfair paroling of his best mate from prison.
And now one four-month-old baby girl born out of wedlock - hardly an event of significant political importance one would think - and the country is screaming.
I just don't get it!!
Now - imagine if there were more love children out there? And imagine if it was made public?

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The zoo in Zuma

Another day, but more of the same continued chirping about Zuma, his wives, his mistresses, his friends and their daughters and his growing brood of children.
It seems that Zuma and his latest love child are the topic of the day and it's not likely to change for a while. I guess that's what happens when you, the president of a country, sleep around outside the marital bed or beds as the case may be. And get your mate's daughter pregnant.
And so the debate has turned to other things - such as the raising of children in polygamous households, the fathers who have jobs like running a country and their responsibilities to all their 20 offspring, and how we can possibly believe that our president believes in gender equality. I for one would love to know what he would think of a woman who took several husbands and then had a child outside of her marriages.
Plus all the brouhaha after he admitted to having fathered the baby and paid damages as dictacted by his culture. I was gobsmacked to hear that he was blaming the media coverage as "harsh" and "unfair", as by his own admission the information reported on was the truth. Any harshness or unfairness, it would seem, is purely from his own actions.
And then, get this for the kicker, he asked "I would request that the dignity and privacy of the affected individuals in this matter be respected."
Seriously! I fail to see what dignity we are asked to respect.
It's all become a bit tiresome. Zuma himself is so exhausted by it all that his office announced today that he will be taking two days off after a "hectic week".
I am wondering if his wives are going to lovingly welcome him into the home and pander to his every need while he rests, or if they are more likely to punch his lights out.
I know what I would be doing if he was my husband.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Men and monsters

The world is a strange place indeed.
Today was supposed to see the start of the Brett Kebble murder tiral. Yip, the mining magnate who was shot dead in his car in what was apparently an assisted suicide plot.
So while the matter was basically postponed for another half-a-year, all the key players in the story were at court. So that's how we got to mingle and hang out with them. It's the strangest thing.
There we had the murder accused himself - Glenn Agliotti, a large Italian guy who must have spent a significant amount in the tan can ahead of the trial judging by his brightish orangish complexion. Or else he has been violating his bail conditions and hanging out in the Bahamas or some-such sunblessed spot cos it could not have happened in Joburg during our month-long rain episode. He is a self-confessed druglord and one very, extremely rich guy.He is extremely pleasant, friendly and does not look how one would expect a person to look when they are in the dock facing a murder trial. He jokes a lot and shares intimate details of his life, such as the fact that in the three years he has spent under house arrest he has developed piles. Talk serious overshare! When asked for a comment by RadioChick he leaned into her microphone and whispered "I love you, babe", leaving her gasping "What the heck am I supposed to do with that soundbyte?"
And then there were the actual hitmen. The guys who pull off murders for money and have been given immunity for prosecution in exchange for their evidence against Agliotti. A surly bunch of burly boys indeed.
There we had Mickey Schultz, a bad boy who once ran with the Hells Angels and was boss man of the Elite Bouncer mob. He has a face like an angel and is now a boxer. He has said that the gun jammed the first time he tried to shoot Kebble. But he apparently had it in him to keep on trying, and shot the guy dead. He wore a suit that covered all his tattoos and smiled politely.
Then there was Nigel McGurk. A tall ex-bouncer who wore a white shirt and pristine white tie. A lawyer led him into the courtroom before the proceedings started and pointed out the witness box, the dock and other points in the courtroom. It was surprising as I know McGurk is no stranger to court. A few years back he was implicated in the death of Patrick Caetano who was stabbed to death with a butchers knife outside the Blueberry Grill.
Charming people indeed.
So there you have it. The human side of the type of a few characters you would imagine should all be locked away from civil society.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Baba, some dignity please!!

For two days solid now our newsroom has been abuzz with banter. It seems, like just about everyone else in South Africa, my colleagues all have strong opinions on the recent discovery that our first citizen, President Jacob Zuma, has fathered his 20th child. With a woman who is not one of his five wives, nor one of the two wives-in-waiting who he has paid lobola for. Ah yes, she is instead the daughter of his mate Ivan Khoza the soccer boss.
There were sentiments of outrage: "I don't care, people can call me Pan Africanist if they want, but honestly, Zuma is a total disgrace".
Then jokes: "So can you imagine Zuma enjoying a social visit with Ivan Khoza, and then leaning over and saying 'my, but you have a beautiful baby granddaughter'?"
Disgust: "How the hell can a person visit his friends and see their baby daughters in nappies with snotty noses, only to wait a few years and then find those little girls sexually attractive?"
More outrage: "If you consider that the woman who accused him of rape was his best friend's daughter, he has a habit of sleeping with his friends' kids".
Some understanding: "At least he is proud to wear leopard skins and jump around and roll on the ground and is proud of his Zulu culture."
More jokes: "Hey, if he wants four better, four worse, four richer and four poorer he still has a way to go".
Ai yai yai.
The timing is soooo bad. It all comes after Zuma appealed to the international community to view his polygamy as African culture and not judge it as inferior to the western norm of monogamy. And as government tries to launch its 'One Love' campaign to encourage safe sex and Aids education.
Seems our man JZ is a bit of a joke.
Almost like having a Minister of State Security finding out that his wife is involved in an international drug smuggling ring.
Oh ja, that happened too.
What is happening to our nation's dignity?

Monday, February 1, 2010

Tattoos and toilets

Two high profile trials hit the Joburg High Court this morning - both in front of the same judge in the same courtroom.
Our former police chief Jackie Selebi on trial for taking money from bad guys in exchange for a bit of preferential treatment and self-confessed druglord Glenn Agliotti on trial for murder for his part in masterminding the assisted suicide of Brett Kebble.
All very interesting and promising of juiciness and excitement in court - but unfortunately not to be. Both ended in postponements.
*sigh* So disappointing.
There we all were at court, a whole big bunch of journalists who had passed through two banks of metal detectors, signed our way in and been issued with red cards to hang around our necks. I am not sure why - maybe it was so you could go to the toilet and come back without going through the whole security rigmarole again, but I am not sure as I do my absolute utmost to avoid the high court toilets. They are ceramic loos with no seats, no toilet paper, no doors in some cases and generally no working taps at the basin. Best to be avoided unless you are absolutely desperate and have your own supply of tissues and that nifty waterless handcleaner stuff.
We were hoping for action and sensation, but there was none. We thought we might see the tattooed boxer Mickey Schultz - the gunman who shot Kebble dead and has immunity from prosecution for it, only to discover later that he'd dressed neatly and kept out of sight.
And then it was all over. A bunch of us sat on the court steps afterwards, hoping that something else would happen or one of the mystery witnesses would suddenly appear and talk to us. But alas, no such luck.
The photographers sauntered back to the restaurant across the road where the pizzas they'd ordered while waiting for use to leave the court had been delivered and were now growing cold.
I walked back to the office.
And will have to return on Wednesday when Agliotti's trial will start for real.
It's going to be fun!