Monday, April 11, 2011

No sense, no sensibility

Julius Malema in court for hate speech, intelligence cop Richard Mdluli trying for bail, another after shock (like how does that work, after a month??) hit Japan - the news today was pretty ordinary.
However, in the little backwater province of Mpumalanga there was a low-key news story that had me gobsmacked. Even though the stuff that comes out of that area is generally weird.
Apparently a taxi association that services the province hired a sangoma from Swaziland to sniff out a dubious unknown character who has been causing them to crash. Mpumalanga taxi crashes have been responsible for 16 deaths in the past 9 months - which they believe are the cause of bad muti after four different sangomas consulted for their insights all agreed that there was a taxi owner using muti to turn himself into a multi-millionaire. Instead of just offering a safe taxi service, he enhanced his own business by causing his opposition to crash.
According to the report, the evil muti caused the taxi drivers to feel sick and their feet to swell so much that they couldn't drive long distances.
So the Mpumalanga Taxi Association consulted with the local tribal council, which governs traditional affairs, for permission for the Swazi sangoma to perform a ritual that would enable him to sniff out the bad muti.
In the meantime some of the black magic and now the taxi drivers are all feeling well and their feet are "in good shape" .
The taxi drivers are now waiting on their permission for the Swazi sangoma to "expose the mastermind" behind all the evil so that they no longer have to live in fear.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Signature of a killer

Hitman Mikey Schultz, the guy who shot Brett Kebble dead, sends me his best wishes. In writing. Along with his sidekicks Faizel 'Kappie' Smith and Nigel McGurk. Check this out:
So how did such a cheesy event come to pass?
I happened to crack an invite to Radio Chick's book launch the other day. It was a big deal indeed - happening on the 19th floor of the Lister Medical Building at 6pm. It was a mere stone's throw away from Joubert Park and the Bree Street taxi rank. The exact spot that sane and law-abiding people would like to be very far away from come rush hour.
Weaving through chaos, encountering utter lawlessness on the roads, made the drive to the launch function of " Killing Kebble - An Underworld Expose" something of an underworldly experience in itself.
But on the 19th floor balcony the scene was different. Music played, the sun set over the city skyline, people chattered, drinks flowed and it was all very pleasant. The only slightly unnerving element was the presence of several extremely large men in white golf shirts - all bulging muscles, mean stares and important looking wiry gadgets on their ears. The place was riddled with bodyguards.
And then I realised why. The three guys who actually killed Kebble - Mikey, Nigel and Kappie - were all socialising at the launch of the book that so effectively describes how they murdered the mining magnate and completely got away with it.
So I asked them to please sign my book. And they did. Happily!
Strangely bizarre. But weirdly cool.
I haven't finished reading the book yet - but it's really good. I get a passing mention in it! And I'm so chuffed for Radio Chick! The first print run sold out in four days, so in less than a week she's into her second print run. Awesome!
I wonder if my copy will one day be valuable.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Journalist's dog finds headless corpse.

This morning a rival newspaper completely outdid the daily paper I work for with a cracker of a lead!
I have never seen anything like it. Seriously.
Last week I thought we were running with a bizarre story when my Durban colleagues gave us the story about the former Blue Bulls rugby player who went running around with an axe and killed three people, actually decapitating one of them.
It all quietened down after the guy was arrested and the courts sent him for mental observation.
But now this morning another paper came up with a brilliant new development in the story. The Citizen's investigative reporter, who is apparently based in Durban, decided to take his dog Earl for a walk in the area where the Blue Bulls guy was staying during the time he alegedly took to running around with an axe.
And get this - the dog found a fourth body lying in the bushes. Minus a head.
The headline: "Earl solves a murder mystery". I swear
Talk about pro-active journalism.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Safe like chickens on any Given day.

Back at work after a public holiday, smack bang into the first deadline for the afternoon paper and decisions, decisions...
What do we lead with? The latest on Libya? Japan? The hit on dodgy underworld boss Cyril Beeka?
So Libya it was.
And just when that edition is done and dusted, time to think of what to go with for the evening edition. And of course there was lots to choose from. A train derailed in Germiston. A guy walked into the Eldorado police station and shot a cop in his office. And some armed gang robbed an Engen garage in the south just as the cash-in-transit van arrived to fill up the ATM after the long weekend, sparking a shootout.
Decision time:
Meanwhile back in the strange province of Limpopo, a man named Given Baloyi who earns his living by keeping chickens safe for R90 a month caught a python trying to prey on his feathered friends. So he killed it. And is now making a ... erm ... killing selling it off in bits.
“So far the intestines have already been booked for R300. I will charge anyone R150 for the skin and R20 per centimetre for the meat,” he told the rural news wire service in the area.
Plus he upped his chicken security fee with a bit of danger pay and now charges R100 a month. All the vendors who use him were so happy they gave him a R7 bonus.
Happy days!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The snail, the magical penis and six donkeys.

So while racism accusations, Joburg's billing crisis, the petrol price and tollgates have pretty much been the focus of news reports of late, weirdness has still been happening all the time in Mpumalanga province.
At the Tonga Magistrate's court a group of 12 people - nine men and three women - were released on bail. They apparently killed their pastor.
So why does a mob kill a man of the cloth? It seems the late Albert Malwane, pastor of the Izwi Zion Christian Church was accused of using a magical penis to sleep with women. The details of this incredible situation are not clear - and trust me, I tried to find out. All I know is that he was also something of a Dr Doolittle, because he was said to have been able to talk to the animals. Anyway his actions so enraged his local community that a bunch of people dragged him out of his house to a hill where they burnt him to death. And then they went back and burnt his house down.
Then the angry mob went after Pastor Malwane's wife. She had apparently been terrorising the community by - get this, I'm not making it up - turning herself into a snail. No, she did not transform herself into a puff adder, a scorpion or a man-eating lion. A snail! It must have been one freaky scary snail because they wanted to kill her too. As people do to you in Mpumalanga when you do such stuff. Apparently.
So the whole crowd has been sent home on bail of R1000 each and will go on trial next month. I wonder what the minimum sentence is for burning your pastor to death in that province.
And then this morning a bus crashed. Into six donkeys. The pictures we were sent are disgusting - donkey bits all over the road and some large dents in the bus. I am sure they will make page one of the Daily Sun tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

It's a tokolosh thing!

Big news in today is that some members of the Pietermaritzburg community handed in a public petition to the local court claiming that an accused in a murder case uses tokoloshes to steal court documents, and they believe justice won't be done in his case as a result.
Yes, indeed this is true.
The accused is a wealthy traditional healer or witch doctor who apparently told a local guy to behead some other guy and then keep his head in the freezer if he wanted to become rich.
So the co-accused in this case allegedly went off and beheaded an 18-year-old and stored the head, with a snake wrapped around it, in his girlfriend's freezer.
It's not clear whether he became rich by doing this, but he did indeed get himself arrested along with the sangoma.
And now the local community is really uptight about it and set the girlfriend's house on fire and expressed their concern about tokoloshe's being used to steal the docket.
All true.
I swear.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Prayers for Christchurch

Some days I find it really hard to do my job and remained completely removed from the news events and stories I have to work with. Especially now that I am based on the news desk full time and don't get to run around on crime scenes and things like that.
But this morning when I arrived at work at 6am I was hit by what has been described as New Zealand's darkest day - the quake in Christchurch. It was four hours after it hit.
I recently reconnected with an old friend from primary school days who is now living in New Zealand. I remembered him telling me all about the shocks and after shocks of the quake that hit in September. So I quickly logged on to check his details again and felt sick when I saw his hometown was listed as Christchurch. I mailed him immediately and have heard nothing back.
Then the pictures started coming in.
And the stories. News updates. And then the personal accounts.
They were hard not to read. I went through one of a woman who described how she had said cuddled her little girl the night before and taken her to play school that morning. Then quake had hit at 1pm their time. She survived the wobbling of the building in which she worked. She listened to the news and almost passed out when she heard that the building in which her daughter's day care was based was among those that had fallen.
Hours later she still knew nothing.
I cannot imagine her agony...

May God be with them!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Gone in 60 seconds. For real. Apparently.

So it seems that Mpumalanga is once again proving my theory that it is a very strange province that seems to be the chosen spot for all manner of weirdo events that would make for a Tarantino-type movie or a Stephen King book.
Like today - a story from a little news agency down that end of the world was dubbed "Gone in 60 seconds". So in Joburg one could assume it was a non-creative heading for stylish car theft racket - you know, like the movie about a master car thief (Nicolas Cage, that creepy looking guy who looks like he'd be at home in Mpumalanga). But no - not in this case.
The thing that disappeared was a brick house. Apparently. Swallowed up by the ground. Seriously. They even sent a picture:

So this was a house built by a guy called Joseph, and which disappeared into the ground four months later. In the Mbongozi section of a place called Driekoppies.
Obviously not deterred by this incident, he and his wife simply went across the yard and built themselves another one-roomed house. As one does in Mpumalanga when the ground swallows up one's first home without so much as a burp or a "thank you very much, that was delicious" .
And now look what's happening to Joseph's second house. I submit:
Joseph's neighbour Dumisa is now afraid that his house will be next.
“I wake up during the night to check if my house is not moving downwards yet. What happened to our neighbour is a nightmare that thankfully happened without anyone getting hurt," he is quoted as having said.
His observation was that the soil in the area was turning upside down every five hours, with the top layer swallowed into the ground. Sticks and stones thrown onto it just disappear. Chomped up by the hungry ground.
The geology expert from the University of Pretoria who was consulted concluded that the area was "unsuitable for residential occupation".
You think??

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Ama false teeth going cheap cheap!

Manic day.
Not only did I man the newsdesk this morning, but I also wrote a story.
Emma - the plucky 15-year-old left paralysed after hitting her head while diving into her pool at home - died this morning.
It was a story I covered when the accident happened, and now sadly - a day short of five months later - at the end of Emma's life.
Her tearful mom told me how Emma hadn't wanted to go to sleep last night and kept calling her mom and sister into her room for chats. She became increasingly distressed about pain in her shoulder, eventually stopped speaking at 1am and then 30 minutes later passed away in her mom's arms.
Sooooo sad.
Then just before I was ready to leave for home we received a tip-off.
Apparently some entrepreneurs in downtown Jozi have taken to ...erm ... recycling disused dentures. The teeth are collected from funeral undertakers al around and flogged off at R20 a pair.
I can just imagine buyers picking up a pair, trying them on, spitting them out and trying another before they find a near-perfect fit. Eeeew!
We were given an exact address where the vendor is punting the second hand munchers. But it turned out not to be so.
But somebody is definitely doing it somewhere.
Check out the picture of ama False Teeth:

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Get well soon, Madiba!

Only one story of interest today!
Nelson Mandela, Madiba, the 92-year-old hero of our nation is not well.
It's a breaking news item that has captured the globe, has journalists and photographers camped outside Milpark Hospital and reporters calling all their contacts for any and every scrap of information they can get.
We early shifters arrived at the office at dawn this morning to relieve our night shift counterparts, allowing them to go home and shower and get some sleep.
By late morning the newsroom was buzzing. Everyone was keen to be part of the story as we waited and waited and waited for some kind of official comment.
Slowly we pieced together bits - Madiba had been on holiday in the Cape when he developed a cough he couldn't shake. It's probably not terribly serious, because he did have TB in prison. But he went for some tests and it was decided that he should be flown home to rest under the watchful eye of his personal physician at Milpark.
The Nelson Mandela Foundation has said he is undergoing some routine tests. Everybody knows he is old and frail. When I last saw him at his great granddaughter's funeral at the start of the World Cup his face was alive with that brilliant beam we all know and love so much. But his body was so weak I wanted to cry! He had to be transported from his car into the hall by golf cart as he was no longer able to walk with any ease.
As he lies in his bed, the hospital is filling up with visitors of all kinds and a massive media contingent remains firmly entrenched outside. Never mind the rain.
I pray for the best. We heard rumours of a pending press statement announcing that he is out of the woods. I hope this is true. The alternative involves a pending story that every media empire is prepared for, but one I have always dreaded.
Long live Madiba!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Spooky Snuki

One of the cool things about manning the newsdesk in a busy newsroom is that you get to check out all the incoming stories first.
On occasion it's a gobsmacking experience. Of course it's part of the job to double check with the reporter who wrote the copy when you have doubts. But generally it's true and we get to read it first.
Today's big story was a judge's finding that SABC, our public broadcaster, manipulated our news during 2005 and 2006.
It seems that the man who was head of SABC news at that time, Snuki Zikalala, was quite an active force behind what all went down.
According to the evidence, Snuki went to Zimbabwe in 2005 to negotiate the terms on which SABC reporters would cover the Zim elections and decided that they would be allowed in only two days before the election - so no coverage of campaigning (or intimidation and violence) before the time.
While he was in Zimbabwe he apparently “had no problem ordering fresh bread rolls, bottled water and whisky” from room service and so he dismissed all reports of food shortages in the country.
This would be completely hysterical if it weren't for the fact that these actions completely shaped the news we were fed by our national broadcaster at that time.
He was most famous for blacklisting a whole string of political commentators and analysts whose view didn't suit his own, a cover-up that exploded a while back.
It's sad to hear how one man did so much to manipulate news. And then, when contacted for comment now that all his laundry is hanging out in the open air, he slinks away claiming he can't say anything because he hasn't seen the judgement.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Poor poochie, poor pensioners.

For most of this year so far, I have been office bound. Less than exciting.
I have been manning the newsdesk on the early shift, catching the news that broke in the night and deciding which scoops other papers have that we need to chase down.
So it has been flexing my muscles and working on my bossing-people-around skills and for the most part it has been okay. Sometimes it's hard to hand over an assignment that I would much rather run out and cover myself, but hey - somebody needs to sit in the hot seat. And while I am still stepping around gingerly, nervous about putting my back out again, it may as well be me.
But I have to say, there have been some particularly peculiar stories happening this January 2011.
Like the woman who drove herself to the airport, flew to the Netherlands and checked herself into a mental health facility. Only problem was that she took her dog as far as the OR Tambo International Airport parkade, and then left the poor poochie locked in the car. Eeeeeew! Airport authorities only discovered the now-deceased dog, like three weeks later.
And then yesterday - once again time to dispatch a reporter to the airport for a major big bust. A HUGE consignment of fake Viagra, seized by our very own crafty cops.
As the detective who informed us of this delightful breakthrough put it: "I'm not quite sure how the authorities tested the stuff. Maybe they swallowed one and waited to see what happened. I'm not sure, but whatever they did, they have determined that it's not the genuine stuff".
I am thinking a whole lot of old guys out there are pretty disappointed...
But such is the news of the day!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Happy, happy!

Six days into the New Year and already I am feeling the need for some downtime.
Half the newsroom, at least, is still on holiday so we skeleton staffers are being worked to the bone. And I get to be in charge on the early shift.
It has been an interesting experience. Covering the matric results for both private and government schools has been interesting to say the least.
Stories of kids with strings of distinctions have been the main focus for days on end. Some have been tales of epic success - like the boy at school in Utrecht (in itself a distinct disadvantage) who promised his mom he would do well as she lay dying two years ago. He then raised his two younger brothers, became captain of the first rugby team, headed the school representative council and then finished up as Dux scholar with five distinctions. So many challenges, every reason to fail - yet he succeeded.
Then there was the boy in Soweto who would stay at school til late in the night to study where he had light, walking home alone in the dark to a poverty-stricken home. He described himself as a rose that emerged from a crack in concrete.
And then the other stories that seem to be sagas of success layered over every advantage. The blonde teenager who notched up 10 distinctions, no shred of nerdiness in sight as bounced along in a mini skirt looking every bit like a promising candidate for Hugh Hefner's Playboy mansion. Or the girl who managed a clean sweep of distinctions while simultaneously taking time out to qualify as a pilot. Or the other girl who was relieved that her exams were now over and she could put her six distinctions aside to concentrate on a career as a super model.
Congrats to the class of 2010!