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!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Convenience in a can.

Another hectic day - running around tracking down families of the poor souls killed in yesterday's Afriqiyah Airbus crash in Tripoli. I was lucky enough to get hold of the Dutch Foreign Affairs representative just after little Ruben - the only survivor - was reunited with his aunt and uncle. So something happy at least in the swamp of misery surrounding 103 tragic deaths.
And then a friend of mine sent me some interesting pictures of canned food. Things you can keep in your cupboard that won't go off and that you can open up whenever you need to rustle up a meal.
These have renewed my faith in canteen food. They removed my appetite for the longest time by leaving me feeling slightly nauseous for a few hours. And who knew pigs brains were so high in cholesterol?

Look and learn, dear reader:

Monday, May 10, 2010

Rea Vaya mystery

At long darn last the Selebi trial is beginning to wrap up. The defence has closed its case. All we wait for now is final arguments as the long-long-long awaited light looms at the end of the tunnel. I am so happy. Now I can work on some other stuff. For a change.
But - not so much fun as I anticipated today. A miscommunication mix-up saw me stuck in the office today and not hightailing it off to the metropolis of Ventersdorp for the bail application of one Chris Mahlangu who stands accused of hacking one Eugene Terre Blanche to death with a panga or some kind of farming implement.
And so from my desk I covered this morning's mysterious Rea Vaya bus strike. Mysterious, I say, because nobody seems to know how or why it simply happened. Everybody was cross about it, the council pointed fingers at the union, the union denied involvement or responsibility - and somehow every bus driver stayed away from work today in an impeccably organised strike action. I tracked down the cell number of one of the bus drivers at lunch time, shortly before the 2pm deadline that would see the whole thing declared illegal.
Me: Hi, are you a bus driver. One of the guys on strike?
Bus Driver: Yes. How did you get my number?
Me: Never mind. I just want to know, are you on strike?
Bus Driver: Yes. But if I speak to you, you may not mention my name, okay.
Me: Okay. So why are you striking?
Bus Driver: Ummmm. It's a complicated situation that I don't really understand.
Me: Oooookay. So you don't know why you are striking. Can you tell me who called on you guys to strike? Who is behind this?
Bus Driver: I don't actually know. But everybody is in meetings with management and we are going to go back to work now.
Ja. Well. No. Fine. Enlightening indeed.
I think I would rather have gone to Lolly Jackson's funeral!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Groundhog Day

Another day of the Jackie Selebi corruption trial. My life has become a boring version of Groundhog Day - same routines repeated countless times over.
Get to work, check e-mails and communicate with relevant characters.
Walk to the Joburg High Court with my large enviro friendly bag containing my notebook and pen, newspapers, bottles of water, wads of toilet paper (yip - there is none in the ablution facilities outside courtroom 4B) and throat lozenges to ward off any sudden and embarrassing coughing fits while court is in session because the germs circulating around the media bench have everyone sniffing and croaking.
Arrive at court and put my bag through the x-ray machine and walk through the metal detector. Greet creepy guy on door surveillance duty. Walk to the lifts and decide that it's just not worth fighting through the crowds for the place in the only working public lift servicing the building.
Climb eight flights of stairs. Go through a second security set-up on the fourth floor. Have my bag searched. Sign in and take the tear-out security slip labelled with the number of the stupid red security tag-on-a-lanyard that has to be worn by *T*H*E* *M*E*D*I*A*. Never mind that you have signed in umpteen times before and never presented a security hazard of any kind. Never mind that cops can just walk on by and park off wherever they want in court armed with rifles. Oh no, Sunshine - we journalists pose such a danger that we must be marked and set apart.
And so to the press bench where our dysfunctional media family sets up camp. Literally. I am talking little pillows (to ward off piles?), blankies, beverages and munchies, notebooks and laptops lie scattered around. We hunker down and embark on oversharing of personal information - pregnancy scares, the relevance of a feature headline "Will I Never Have Sex Again?" to our lives and stuff like that.
The court starts. And carries on. And on. And on.
Rarely a highlight or a smidge of entertainment. Mind you - today we had the appearance of an undercover SA Revenue Service investigator. Called as a witness, he stood proudly in the dock in a dark grey suit, hair long and curly. Italian?  Spanish? We had not yet been told who he was, so we debated whether - given a white flowing cotton blouse and a sword - he would be better cast in a Robin Hood movie or Pirates of the Caribbean.
We heard he was an undercover investigator. Cool! He was asked for his name: Johannes Hendrikus Helluvalongafrikaansurname.
Total mismatch.
And that was it.
Postponed. For another witness who is still in Mozambique.
So we all have to return again another day.
Groundhog Day!