Friday, February 6, 2009


Last night there was a shooting between cops and hijackers on the N3 highway. It happened during a traffic back-up caused by roadworks, with the cops managing to kill two of the three hijackers and shoot the third guy in the hand. Information made available to my night shift colleagues at the time made for a page two brief. When my earlybird shift began at 6am this morning we had to play catch up.
My colleague Supergirl and I were tasked with tracking down the whole story immediately. And so we worked the phones.
Now one would think that cops nailing the baddies would be a good news story and that the appointed SAPS spokespeople would be falling over themselves to get the story out and punt the good work of their brave heroes. But actually not.
"Call me back after 8 o'clock. Then I will have seen those reports," a high ranker tells us. Are you kidding me? My deadline for the finished story is 8 o'clock, sir!
So after like half a million early morning phone calls Supergirl and I together worked out the basics. Hijack victim, wife and son finished up some night chores at the local church and headed home to Primrose in Germiston where they got ambushed by some armed guys in a BMW. The guys took off in their green Audi.
In a tactful move, hijacked guy calls his tracking company and gets a satellite device in the car activated, and so the cops could now locate it. But then the hijackers pulled a dumb move and hopped on the highway. Big mistake. Ongoing roadworks had caused a colossal traffic jam which they drove slap bang into it and found themselves suddenly going nowhere.The cops followed likewise.
Our men in blue then jumped out their car, approached the hijackers who predictably tried to shoot them and so they fired back. Bunches of bullets and in the end two bad guys got killed, and not a single cop or road-block, crime-enraged motorist was hurt in the process. Altogether a typical good news story in crime-rattled Joburg.
Ah, but how to tell it? The cops clammed up. Nobody is allowed to speak to the media without permission. People give us bits here and there, but nobody wants to be named. Guys in charge desperately want a bit of publicity and acclaim for their brave colleagues who did their job right, but the guys in charge of the guys in charge are determined to block the flow of information.
We ask for permission to interview the heroes of the hour. We have tracked them down and their commander is keen for them to tell their story.
But then the commander's boss puts a stop to it.
"Those guys are sleeping now. We cannot wake them up. Maybe we can set something up for you on Monday".
Dude, the story is dead as a doornail by Monday! We need to talk to them NOWWWWWW! Pleeeaase.
So we contact the next one up the chain of command to ask for help from above.
He gets the guy from even higher up to call us and tell us that we can't talk to anyone. Because, they reckon, we will mess up their investigations.
But that's how it goes.
We track down a photograph of one of the dead guys lying in the road with a hole through his head. It's pretty gruesome. They smudge that part of the picture for good taste.

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