189’d, but a bra’s still got to file

 

 

Wednesday.

I’m in the second seat from the back of a Quantum heading for Durban from Pietermaritzburg, sandwiched between a nursing student and the Croc, as photographer Khaya Ngwenya, is known.

The Croc and I go back to the 1990s. Back then he was a good Christian boy from Saint Faiths.

I hadn’t seen my bra for ages. We’d reconnected covering the stop-start first couple of days of the “Glebelands Eight” murder trial. That’s not the most creative moniker for a crew of eight alleged shooters, one of them a police detective, who terrorised the Glebelands Hostel for five years — but it does fit into limited headline space, I guess.

We’d caught a lift up from Durban with JahNoDead, but decided to grab a taxi from the rank outside the high court and head home earlyish.

The Croc had finished shooting for his employer for the day. I had far too many other stories to chase to hang around any longer listening to technical evidence from crime scene specialists who had been called in to shooting scenes at the hostel.

It was slow, tedious going. Even Bhekuwazi Mdweshu and his co-accused looked pretty weary as prosecutor Dorain Paver took the court through minute details of crime scene photos, blood sample collection protocols and the process of forensic evidence preservation.

Perhaps Paver’s trying to bore them into pleading guilty.

Perhaps.

The Croc’s fast asleep.

The Croc’s been a sleeper of note even in those early days. I’ve had to haul him out of bed more than once while working away gigs with him. The brother once fell asleep at the wheel of a Jetta, with me in the front passenger seat, while taking a bend near Mount Edgcombe on the way to Ubombo at 5am. Luckily I grabbed the wheel and the Croc woke up before we ended up in the sugar cane.

I’m not sleeping, despite the fact that my eyes opened for the day way before 3am. It’s already late afternoon.

Sleep’s been a little elusive of late.

Section 189 retrenchment notices will do that. Every time. There’s nothing like the fear of loss of livelihood; of not having a spot on the new organogram; of being declared surplus to needs, for turning sleep into an enemy. Section 189s are horrible. They’re also inevitable in a shrinking industry and a shrinking economy. It doesn’t make them any more palatable, or less painful, though.

The Croc and I got hit with section 189 notices in the 1990s in one of the first big “restructures” in the media industry. A lot of people lost their jobs. Fortunately, we both survived, although we ended up at different titles and both left that newspaper group.

We hooked up again in 2010 at our last employer. The Sunday newspaper gig mutated into the two of us working KwaZulu-Natal and most of the Eastern Cape for close on five years.

The gig was a thing of great beauty: wheels, gear and budget, with little or no adult supervision.

Things got crazy.

We hustled a helicopter after the commercial companies were too scared to take the job and over-flew then president Jacob Zuma’s home at Nxamalala to get aerial pictures of the R248-million upgrade he didn’t know about. We were in and out and halfway back to Durban before the police air wing could scramble a chopper to find out who was in uBaba’s airspace.

We were with the Inkatha Freedom Party at KwaMashu Hostel on a Saturday morning in October 2012 when they chased then police minister Nathi Mthethwa out of the hostel. We were bras with Mastesh, an IFP block chairperson from the hostel. Mastesh was murdered, shot 18 times, about a month later. After Nathi did a runner, we got caught in the crossfire between the National Freedom Party and the IFP. I got behind the engine block and carried on filing.

The Croc, apparently bulletproof, stood in the middle of the road, caught the image when Cebile Shezi, at the front of the crowd of IFP supporters, was shot dead. One of the cats who was arrested for Shezi’s killing, S’bu Ncengwa, has been charged with the murder of Umzimkhulu councillor Sindiso Magaqa.

We still got 189’d, though.

The mobile goes. It’s a contact in City Hall. Zandile Gumede, who had stepped down as mayor on the ANC’s instruction, has withdrawn her letter of resignation. No wonder the Thursday council meeting to swear in her successor, Mxolisi Kaunda, has been canned.

uMama, as Gumede is known, has put a bit of a damper on the ANC’s plan to restructure Durban and Pietermaritzburg councils.

Torn up their section 189 notice, as it were.

I start giggling. Elbow the Croc awake; the taxi’s near Tollgate Bridge. It’s time to jump off and go file.

PW Botha wagged his finger and banned us in 1988 but we stood firm. We built a reputation for fearless journalism, then, and now. Through these last 35 years, the Mail & Guardian has always been on the right side of history.

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Paddy Harper
Paddy Harper
Storyteller.
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