Book extract: The politics behind the politics

2017-11-19 05:52

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

New Times by Rehana Rossouw

Jacana Media

312 pages


In her second book, award-winning novelist Rehana Rossouw, herself a seasoned journalist, tells the story of Aaliyah ‘Ali’ Adams, a hard-nosed political reporter from the Bo-Kaap who will follow a trail of corruption during the second year of the Mandela presidency, uncovering a shocking scoop. In this extract, she attends her first meeting at her new job:

Joy’s up next.

She has a list of stories, most of them based on announcements and events copied off the Parliamentary calendar.

She’s expecting the release of a green paper on this, a white paper on that, a draft bill on something else.

There isn’t one exclusive story on her diary.

Joe nods enthusiastically when Joy tells him she scheduled an interview for him with the Speaker of Parliament to discuss the arrangements for the pope’s visit.

She turns to me and says there’s a press conference tomorrow, the Steel Workers’ Union is threatening a strike.

‘You cover that, Ali. We can start you off slow after your long break; get you back in the saddle.

It is quite an important story, the manufacturing sector is one of the biggest employers in the country, see?’

I see that I’m being sent to a press conference while the interns get to do real journalism.

While I choke on Joy’s smearing, Milly asks the environment reporter for progress on her story about the plan to construct a steel plant on the edges of the lagoon in the West Coast National Park.

Joy’s put-down pollutes the boardroom like a silent, violent fart; I can’t leave it hanging there. Besides, I know what I want to say.

‘Sorry to interrupt, Milly, sorry whatever-your-name-is.’ I can’t for the life of me remember the environment reporter’s name.

The boardroom goes silent; every head turns in my direction.

My pride wants me to lash out at Joy, to mock her pathetic excuse for a diary, but I settle myself and rein it in.

I came prepared; I’m not going to let her throw me.

Stop the horse references, I tell myself, before you say something about her face.

‘I’ve got a few things to add to the politics diary, Joy. The first one’s a bit soft, but it’s a sweet story.

Now I’m sure we’re all pretty tired of stories that start with the first black person to … I know I am, but this one is …’ Joy interrupts with a choke of a laugh.

‘Thanks Ali, for pointing out the obvious.’ She laughs again but drags it out far too long for it to be anything but false. No one joins in.

‘You’re so right, we’ve all had enough of those; hardly a day goes by without …’ ‘Let me finish, this one is …’ ‘Other people are waiting to pitch real stories, Ali.’

I’ve had enough of Joy’s verbal ping-pong, turn my back on her and pitch the story to Milly.

‘This one’s fantastic. The South African Air Force has just appointed its first black pilot. Best of all, it’s a she. And she’s going to fly fighter jets.’

I take a quick look down at my notebook and start up again before Joy lobs another interruption across the table. ‘Second Lieutenant Khanyiswa Patekile.

She trained as a pilot in Russia. I’m told she flew a MiG-21 at the battle of Cuito Cuanavale.’

A loud whistle to my left brings me to a halt. ‘No ways!’ Servaas inhales deeply through flaring nostrils; his eyes are wide in his broad face. ‘I was there, at Cuito.

Lost my best boet there, a hell of a guy.

Fuck, what a story!’ Milly’s frowning.

‘What’s Cuito Carniv … Cuito?’ Servaas describes the battle in crisp sentences.

The six-month tug-of-war in southern Angola that started when its government’s forces tried to flush Unita out of its base in the south.

The South African Defence Force crossed the border covertly to support Unita’s rebel leader Jonas Savimbi. The South Africans won the battle, he says, but the government never owned up to the scale of their casualties.

‘They told my boet’s family it was a training accident, but I was there with him when he died.’

I reach out and pat Servaas’s fist clenched tight on the boardroom table. He turns to me and nods fiercely.

This is not the time to point out to him that the South African Defence Force got its ass whipped at Cuito in 1988 and retreated all the way to the negotiating table in Cape Town to grudgingly concede Namibia’s independence.

I’ll set him right after I interview Khanyiswa. Joy jumps into the silence.

‘This isn’t newsworthy at all. No one’s even heard of this battle. Anyone? Anyone?’

She looks around, twirling a strand of hair madly between her fingers.

There’s no response except for a sad shake of intern heads at the back of the boardroom.

Milly tries to resume her discussion about the steel plant’s threat to flamingos and dolphins, but I’m not done yet.

I have more stories to add to the diary.

My next one is a front-page lead for sure. I get in quick, before the environment reporter opens her mouth.

‘The Minister of Welfare is being investigated for a tender he awarded for a new computer system.

'There’s talk that he took kickbacks from companies tendering for the contract.

'He says the system is going to eradicate fraud in the pension system, but we all know he’s the biggest fraudster in town.

'He was expelled from the University of the Western Cape for cheating on his exams. Remember?

'That story came out while he was still Minister of Education in the House of Representatives.’

This time Joy can’t claim ignorance.

She lifted the exam-cheat story after I broke it; her version rewritten just enough to wriggle out of accusations of plagiarism.

The New Times goes on sale every Friday morning; The Democrat used to hit the shelves on Wednesdays. In its last three months, Joy shamelessly lifted four stories from The Democrat without attributing a word.

I stare across the table to check if she recognises what a huge story I’ve brought.

Joy’s struggling, frowns dance across her forehead like artillery fire tracing through the night.

‘You can’t extrapolate one instance of cheating to tender fraud. Are you out of your mind? Do you want us to be sued?’

This time I’m not backing down.

I started working on this story last week, set off a major panic in police headquarters when I asked for comment on the investigation.

I’m chasing other leads. Again I turn my back on Joy and explain the story to Milly.

‘There might be another Cabinet reshuffle. When the Minister is charged, Mandela has to ask him to resign. I’ve sent questions to his party, I’m waiting for their reply.’

Milly plants her elbows on the table, laces her fingers, rests her double chin on her hands and shakes her head slowly before she pours a hefty dose of humiliation on top of the stinking pile Joy heaped on my head.

‘I’ve seen the papers lodged in support of your newspaper’s liquidation, Ali.

'There was more than two million rand in liability from court cases alone, all of them for defamation.

'There’s no place for cowboy journalism at The New Times.

'Joy is right, it’s best to start you out slowly, give you a chance to learn how we do things here, the professional way.’

I can hardly believe that Milly came out in support of censorship, in front of everybody.

All the defamation cases against The Democrat were brought by the previous regime; they used the courts to drive other liberation-supporting publications out of business.

The new government isn’t pursuing the cases. I say nothing; I’m not feeling much support in this boardroom.

At The Democrat, I would have argued until I won the room over.

I would have pleaded for a few days to confirm the story.

I would have stormed out, changed my mind and gone back in to state my case again.

Those days are gone. I’ve slid down the ladder, landed on a snake and I’m heading fast towards its gaping mouth.

The sympathy radiating off Servaas slows my momentum.

I keep my head down over my notebook until the meeting ends, drawing pictures of sharp-pointed MiGs firing on tanks while I work out my next move.

I’m the last person to leave the boardroom.

People stop to talk, the photographers Maureen and Peter I know well; the environment reporter Paula comes to introduce herself and says she knows all about Cuito Cuanavale but she doesn’t like conflict so she said nothing.

Read more on:    book  |  extract

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.