Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A grey day for the guy who hired the getaway car. And his mates.

This morning's armed robbery story was one of the more bizarre I have had to cover in my time as a crime reporter.
While the robbery itself was pretty much a garden variety hit on a garage shop, the outcome was somewhat different from the usual.
It was just after 2am this morning when seven armed men held up staff at the Engen garage on Allandale Road. The cops caught wind of it and a helicopter roaming the area was there in a flash.
Robbers scattered and took pot shots at the chopper. Chopper crew shot back and nailed Suspect Number 1 in the leg.
Grounds crews joined the chase and followed the fleeing robbers in their white Toyota Yaris. Suspect Number 2 jumped out and decided to take his chances on foot. Bad choice it was as he got cornered between some houses near Rabie Ridge and also got popped in the leg. He was arrested and found to be carrying two stolen boxes full of money.
The cunning cops meanwhile ran the fugitive vehicle's registration number through their computer system and discovered that it was a rented car. So detectives headed out to the establishment early this morning to make enquiries as to who had rented this car and all the rest. While they were there Suspect Number 3 arrived to politely return the car, and got arrested on the spot.
Damn! Can you believe that? I couldn't, so I called the chief cop spokesperson on duty to check that I had my facts straight.
"Yes. That's what he did. We couldn't believe it either. Maybe the guy was just trying to be honest," he told me.
"So what's your message to the four other guys out there who are still on the run?" I enquired.
"They must know that we will place our feet squarely on their backs," he said.
He seriously talks like that! I am just so disappointed that we weren't there to get pictures.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Baying for the blood of Jub Jub and Themba

So another day has passed with me once again passing many hours in the Protea Magistrate's Court where hip hop star Jub Jub and his unemployed mate with a liking for fast cars applied for bail.
Last week the two crashed their Mini Coopers into a group of six school boys walking home, killing four and leaving the other two in a coma. Nine days down the line, with the funerals done, the people of Soweto are now burning with outrage and ready to lynch these two boys in the streets.
The cops, apparently responding to numerous threats of violence and all the rest, barricaded the road outside the court, locked the gates and made everyone plead their case as to why they should be let in. Sorry for the journos who left their press cards behind!
Once inside, the next obstacle was the door to the court where burly cops were posted to check out the validity of press cards and allow only relatives of the accused and victims in to join the media in watching the whole hearing go down. Once the place was neatly filled (not squashed beyond breathing like last week) the doors were closed and everyone outside had to stay there regardless of their credentials.
Lucky me - I got a prime spot on the front bench. Thankfully I had not had so much as a cup of tea before I got there, so knew I would have several hours before a bladder burst. Quite amusing to watch a TV journo and her producer sip on bottles of flavoured water only to eventually give up one of their prized seats for a toilet dash.
As the proceedings droned on we could hear the masses gathered in the streets outside causing mayhem. Then a police chopper hovered overhead.
"Do you think we are safe in here?" I wrote on my notebook and showed it to the woman next to me, who shook her head sternly.
A few minutes later she received an SMS from her newsdesk telling her that rubber bullets were flying in the street outside. Clearly the place was under siege.
The cops pulled in the big crowd control water cannon and aimed it at the masses, causing them to back off a bit.
After almost seven solid hours - well, apart for one 10-minute break for a chat in chambers - the magistrate finally ordered that the matter stand down and continue again in the morning.
So more fun and games tomorrow!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Deeds indeed.

Hectic day, what with the taxi strike, service delivery protests and sweet Julius being found guilty of hate speech. All very busy indeed.
In amongst it all my colleague Ballerina and I took a walk across to the wrong side of town to go and locate the title deed of a property belonging to a prominent person for a scoop that shall hopefully come to be in the near future.
First discovery: the deeds office has moved to the other side of town. In an even more dodgy area. So off we stepped, sweating in the sun, eventually managing to locate the new office.
What a flipping drama! We had to supply a friendly woman at the door with the erf number of the property we wanted to know about. She checked it out on the computer, asked if the owner listed to it was who we were tracking and then handed us a form and told us to take it to another woman seated behind a counter with two chairs in front of it.
SecondWoman indicated to us to sit down and wait as she sat there and made a couple of phone calls. Then she tapped a bit on the computer while Ballerina and I surveyed the surroundings only for her to spot a passport lying on the floor at my feet. I picked it up and handed it to SecondWoman who immediately clicked her tongue and disappeared with it.
We waited. And waited. And then she came back, tapped a bit more and handed us a piece of paper to take to ThirdWoman who we would have to pay R36.
We did this and duly got sent back to a bank of chairs to wait to be summoned again by SecondWoman. It took a very long while.
But suddenly we got the document.
Another long walk back to the office in the midday heat and it was all over.
What a mission!!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

A message from Jules

It seems that people are disbelieving of Julius Malema's claims (made while drinking a glass of pink Moet) that he is sincerely aligned with the poor.
Someone was rankled enough to go and create this little poster, uttering what I gather is a sentiment shared by many:

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Arrogant man, angry people.

Horrible, uncomfortable, challenging and draining are the words that come to mind when I think about the events of today.
On Monday our Soweto hip hop star Jub Jub and a friend allegedly downed some alcohol, jumped in their Mini Coopers and went dicing down a two-way suburban road. As one would expect during afternoon peak hour traffic, they encountered an oncoming car so the one in the wrong lane dodged back, clipped the other and they both lost control.
Their cars ploughed into six teenage boys walking home from school, killing four of them.
Jub Jub - fresh back from his appearance on Celebrity Survivor which he walked out of voluntarily after developing a rash on his manly bits - and his mate were duly arrested while the media scrambled to cover what is turning out to be a HUGE story.
Today was their first appearance in court.
I have never seen such chaos. The case drew such attention that the police had to lock the gates to the court, causing thousands of people to gather in the streets. The court building itself was packed out and the courtroom where Jub Jub and friend were to appear turned into one big, heaving, hot, uncomfortable squash. For almost two hours.
It didn't take very long for the matter to eventually be postponed for a week, despite Jub Jub's smooth lawyer's argument that "yes, we have lost four innocent souls, but Your Worship this was an accident...". Ja. His real court submission.
Jub Jub's family were there to support him. His dad, his sister and another guy looking very Michael Jackson in tight pants, bouffant hair, lots of bling and a man bag dangling from his wrist. His mother Mama Jackey - known as the Angel of Soweto before she was branded a liar and convincted of assault - was absent.
And so Jub Jub and mate were escorted back to the cells. Then they were taken away in an armoured van, which was a good thing for them because the angry, angry mob outside stoned it. I think he should be grateful that he was not released on bail.
I got back to the office and filed the story for tomorrow.
There was a bit of a commotion in the newsroom when an anonymously sourced e-mail arrived with photographs of the Jub Jub crash. It was beyond disturbing. Sharp, clear images of dead children that look like they were taken for forensic evidence purposes. Young boys staring lifelessly up at the sky. One with blood dripping from his mouth. Another looking as though his legs were torn off.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Sticks and stones at UJ!

Throw rocks at the cops if you want a free tertiary education.
I swear - this was the mentality of students at the University of Johannesburg who went on a riot this morning to try and get Government to listen to their demands. They want free education for poor students.
Totally unbelievable.
They toyi-toyied. They jumped around and sang struggle songs. They threw rocks (plucked from the decorative rockery outside the residence), kicked over cement dustbins and burnt stuff.
The cops arrived in riot gear, fully prepared for a clash. Ready for battle

A large guy, claiming to represent the ANC Youth League on campus, did a bit of rabble rousing, hyped up the crowd and was very much part of the political action. Another student arrived with a printed message, also purported to be from the ANCYL, which said the ANCYL distanced itself from the protest. Unfortunately he would not let me keep one of his three flyers, nor was I allowed to even copy it down which is a pity because the grammar and spelling were ... erm ... unacceptable for a teenager let alone someone busy with tertiary education.
It was all noisy and boisterous until the students went too far and annoyed the cops who opened fire on them with their crowd control water cannon. It was brilliant!
The jets of blue dye were followed by sprays of yellow solution that apparently contained CFC or some kind of pepper spray or tear gas designed to start a nasty burn on any wet spots hit by the dye. The students screamed and ran and then continued their taunting.
So they got blasted again.
We laughed from the sidelines until a side wind sent tear gas in our direction and had us coughing with streaming eyes.
All in a day's fun I suppose!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Zuma has lunch with the queen.

So our president didn't make too much of a good impression in London today.
It seems the British press were less than impressed with our JZ. According to the Mail Online: "Jacob Zuma is a sex-obsessed bigot with four wives and 35 children. So why is Britain fawning over this vile buffoon?"
The Daily Mirror described him as a "sex slave like Tiger Woods" and referred to him as a "goat-herder that caused outrage by fathering a child with a pal’s daughter."
The Guardian was perhaps the kindest, describing him as exuberant with a "colourful CV".
But still, he got to have lunch with the queen. And also ask the Brits to please stop imposing sanctions on Zimbabwe.
Now that I totally fail to understand!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Selebi delay

Surprise! Surprise! The corruption trial of our former police chief has stalled. Again. For a month!
It's frustrating to be called on cover court case after court case that drags through our criminal justice system, where bad guys are given good deals in exchange for their evidence and the proceedings drag along and cost taxpayers a fortune at the end of the day.
We journalists spent hours in court this morning covering what amounted to be an extremely short amount of court time in which it was decided that the matter would stand down so that Selebi's legal team could put together their application for his realease on ground that the state has failed to present a compelling case against him.
With heads down we took notes or tapped away furiously on laptops and netbooks, filing news updates to our respective media houses.
But for the most part we sat and chatted and teased the media spokesman for the National Prosecuting Authority. We were all in firm agreement - the age of journalism where reporters were old hacks with alcohol problems are long over. Today newsrooms are juniorised to the extent where most reporters are under 30. And with technology making it possible for stories to be filed unendingly - for the internet if not a specific deadline - NOBODY has time to stop for a drink!!!

Monday, March 1, 2010

The girl with a lot of tattoos

A young woman was supposed to be sentenced today for stealing R1.3-million from the legal firm she worked for.
Nicole Romy de Villiers was arrested a year ago along with her husband and father-in-law, and the three were accused of being part of an organised crime family. It was a strange situation in that it looked like the woman - the youngest - was the kingpin running the show.
But since then the State realised that the father-in-law and distraught husband had absolutely nothing to do with it and they have been released. In fact they were asked to come back to court today to testify that they are good people who will happily take the little four-year-old daughter and two-year-old son back into their home when Nicole gets sent to prison. At least that's what they are hoping for.
Yes - she has pleaded guilty admitted to having taken the money. But she's still trying to shift the blame by saying that her husband and father-in-law actually made her do it.
And it seems that she has got a whole lot of people believing her story. The parole officer from social services asked for correctional supervision and house arrest as the punishment. The social worker - a sweet, older lady who seemed to be testifying for the first time ever and kept referring to Nicole as "the defendant" instead of "the accused" - was adamant that no young mother should ever be sent to prison. In fact she kept saying that Nicole had not benefited at all from her crimes apart from maybe having an elevated lifestyle. Well helloooooo - what is one supposed to do with a whole bunch of money?
Then the Rabbi testified to say that Nicole was remorseful for sure, and in fact he thought she was put up to the whole theft thing.
I am wondering if these people who are so keen to keep her out of the slammer have done her more harm than good. Because if the State can prove that she acted alone, then she has quite plainly hoodwinked everyone near and dear to her - including her therapist - and there is no doubt that she is still lying and shifting the blame.
Ah well - a postponement means we will have to wait almost two months to find out....