I got the death squad  ‘evidence’


It’s the first day back at work after two weeks of leave, but I already feel like I need a holiday.

I’m more staring through the laptop screen than at it, wondering which of the four thousand, twelve hundred and eleventy three ­billion emails that have piled up over my 14 days of absence from wage ­slavery to read first. I’d been dreading this moment from the time my eyes opened, hours ago: the return to the treadmill, the nonstop noise, the social media deluge, the daily, waist-deep immersion in the nasty, ­stinking, cesspool of dirty money and dirtier politics.

It could be the after-effects of the four or so Amstel quarts and the liver special with raw chutney I threw down my neck at genius guitarist Bheki Khoza’s gig at the Rainbow the previous afternoon, but I’m not feeling up for this.

Then again it could just be a sign that I’m too old for this shit and that even two weeks isn’t long enough for the batteries to recharge these days. Either way, it’s time to get off my ass and get working.

These emails won’t clear themselves and I need to present a diary by 10am.

Khoza’s gig was beautiful. Khoza’s a deeply spiritual cat with a wicked streak of humour in him. His hands have a century and a half of Durban guitar in them, a unique sound that carries the city’s guitar history, that remarkable, stand-out Chesterville- driven thing that can, as Khoza puts it, “kill you dead”. Khoza’s generous, two-and-a-half sets rocked, a history lesson and a gentle homage to two other guitar giants, Allen Kwela and Sandile Shange, who also shaped the Durban guitar sound.

The rest of the break turned out to be a bit of a nightmare, though. Plans for a trip down the coast took two in the chest and one in the head from a nasty flu virus that laid me flat for nearly 10 days, a hacking, spluttering mess fit only for bed. My 12-year-old caught the same virus the day after me, so his school holiday was equally miserable.

His mother didn’t, so I guess she had the worst time of all, taking care of two whingeing, useless males, administering medicines, soup and chocolate brownies while they clung to dear life — and the remote control.

I start opening, reading and clearing mails. It’s heavy going and contains nothing that even vaguely resembles a story. There’s invites to the opening of all kinds of things that I would never attend; several misspelt press releases from the South African Police Service about arresting petty criminals; newsletters. Nothing.

The morning newspapers are equally lacking in inspiration. I’d read the Sundays the previous morning, breaking the self-imposed news blackout that kicks in on the rare occasions when I’m released from service.

I’d paid particular attention to the Sunday Times’s Cato Manor “death squad” debacle. The new editor of the newspaper, who wasn’t there when the Cato Manor and other dodgy stories were published by its “investigations unit”, had apologised for the story and others on the South African Revenue Service “rogue unit” and the Hawks’ Zimbabwe “rendition”, all of which cost a whole lot of career civil servants their livelihoods. He had also declared the paper’s intention to return all the awards they won in journalism competitions for the stories and to pay back the money.

A pretty honest move.

I wonder what the cats who ran with the Cato Manor story were thinking? What was going on in their minds when they published the story?

What were their bosses doing, when they were supposed to be applying some level of quality control? Did they believe that the facts shouldn’t get in the way of a good story, or were they just plain stupid?

I received the same DVD of “evidence” fed to the Sunday Times. The same gruesome pictures of people who had been shot to death.

I never used the DVD. I didn’t even tell my bosses at the time it had come my way.

I didn’t want to tempt them. It was too neatly packaged. Too convenient. The source too dubious.

It’s in a cardboard box somewhere.

From what I can recall, the Cato Manor Sunday Times story beat me, and some of my comrades, in a journalism competition or two, some of which had some serious money involved.

Clearly, we wuz robbed.


Think about it: If the Sunday Times gives back the money, admitting that their story was a fabrication, a sack of lies, and never existed, surely the people they robbed

for the prizes with their made-up story should automatically get the trophy, the certificate and, most importantly from where I sit, the money? Along with an apology from the competition organisers and a lifetime subscription to the Sunday Times.

Then again, maybe we can pass on the subscription.

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Paddy Harper
Paddy Harper

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