13 stories that captured the stranger side of SA life in 2015

Online news content will be regulated by the Press Council rather than the Film and Publications Board. (Duncan Alfreds, Fin24)
Online news content will be regulated by the Press Council rather than the Film and Publications Board. (Duncan Alfreds, Fin24)

Johannesburg - Amongst reports of former Paralympian Oscar Pistorius, the finance minister reshuffle, and widespread corruption in 2015, a few News24 stories captured the joyous and strange side of South African life. 

Here are some of them: 

1) Vusimuzi Mbatha, an unemployed North West man, builds a 'helicopter' in his informal settlement  

It may not fly, but the 35-year-old reached for the sky with his helicopter, made from recycled material. 

Mbatha, originally from Libode in the Eastern Cape, who lives in the Siza informal settlement near Rustenburg, told News24 he became fascinated with helicopters after seeing one during a strike on the platinum belt in the North West last year.

His helicopter sports a television set, a clock on the back of a seat, a two way-radio, and a fire extinguisher. It has a green and a red light on its tail that flashes at night. Its engine is powered by petrol and a motorbike battery is used to propel the rotor. The rotor hub is housed in an old soft drink crate.

The cockpit is built out of soft drink crates. The helicopter stands on a four-wheeled trolley built out of scrap metal. The steering wheel is made from a PlayStation console. There is also a clutch and an accelerator.

Following the first story on Mbatha, News24 readers pledged to help him, saying what an inspiration he was. He was offered several jobs, and was taken on a ride in a real helicopter. 

2) A KwaZulu-Natal family opens its 20-hectare farm to foreign nationals, including children, who were displaced during xenophobic attacks. A group then turned against the family

News24 reported in July that the owners of Hope Farm in Killarney Valley, KwaZulu-Natal, Andrew Wartnaby and his wife Rae, took in over 100 foreign nationals who had fled their homes following xenophobic attacks. The group was left stranded after government closed down the refugee camps in and around Durban.

In December, Andrew told News24 his family was living in fear after one group threatened them.

"They accused me of being a government agent. They said the farm was part of government’s plot to get them back into their communities," he said. 

3) Zuma family charities flout the rules

In July, News24 reported on how non-profit organisations run by President Jacob Zuma's immediate family - including his four wives – had not filed financial reports in years, in breach of the law.

An investigation revealed that all but one of the Zuma-aligned registered non-profit organisations had failed to file their annual returns with the Department of Social Development. Some had never filed financial reports.

4) SA's youngest millionaire, whose business partner is a convicted criminal, faces allegations of plagiarism and falsely claiming to have made R30m in profit

After self-made millionaire Sandile Shezi, 23, shared his success story in the media, several industry players contacted News24 and raised concerns about the operations of his company, Global Forex Institute (GFI).

GFI provided training in currency trading. People were shown an account reflecting a R30m profit and told they would be taught to do the same. Questions were raised about the account's legitimacy, and GFI was accused of using plagiarised material to present its courses. 

Shezi denied the allegations. News24 established that GFI co-founder George van der Riet served time for manslaughter and drug dealing in the UK.

5) East Rand woman's home not cleaned for 6 years as she waits for police to take fingerprints

In October, News24 reported on Evelyn Dolly Vilakazi, who lived in a dark, stuffy eight-roomed shack which had not been cleaned since 2009.

The 60-year-old said she had not cleaned her home in the Tsietsi informal settlement in Palm Ridge on the East Rand because she said it was a crime scene. She believed she and her two children were drugged and raped in the home.

The room was so untidy that she said she could not track down the paper containing her case number. Police said they could not help without it.

When she reported the matter to police, they told her not to touch anything as they would come and take fingerprints.

6) Krugersdorp pensioners 'sitting ducks' for criminals

A group of Krugersdorp pensioners who lived between a prison, a cemetery, and a veld described how they felt neglected by the Mogale City municipality and police.

Three couples living at the Pioneer Home on the West Rand, described how they felt like sitting ducks for criminals who targeted the council-owned complex.

7) Joseph Phukubje, the beggar who got a second chance and gave it up

In July, News24 ran the story of Joseph Phukubje, a bright, homeless young man who for months had stood at a traffic light in Sandton, Johannesburg, his CV in hand, begging for a job.

Good Samaritan, Pamela Green spoke to Phukubje, and made appeals on Facebook for him to get a job, a place to stay, and get help in getting over his drug addiction.  

Job and bursary offers poured in. Within days, Phukubje had a job at a company called Locomute in Midrand, a furnished apartment, and a second chance at life.

Green later said he returned to his life on the streets.

"It is with the heaviest heart and tears in my eyes that I am writing this. Joseph's actions have led him back to his previous life choice. He has left the home given to him, and he is once again homeless and unemployed. Our hearts are broken, and I sit here, still hoping that one day he will choose a healthier future for himself," she wrote.

8) News24 brings readers into the lives of their local councillors 

Over two weeks, News24 decided to find out what a typical day looked like for a ward councillor. We randomly picked five councillors to follow around in five different cities - Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban, Bloemfontein, and Pietermaritzburg.

9) News24 takes an in-depth look into the death of a rhino

Her body had been lying out in the open for about five days. Flies climbed over the maggots writing around in the deep gashes on her face. Her mouth was half open, as if asleep. She was about seven years old.

Who was behind her brutal killing?

We met the investigators and followed them as they delved into this rhino killing and other similar crimes.

10) Young woman survives 3 comas, paralysis, and blindness by age 23

In December, News24 reported on Miranda Mpshane, who had survived three comas, being paralysed from the neck down and, at one stage, being totally blind.

Miranda’s life changed when she was seven years old and in Grade 2. At that time she was in the athletics and swimming teams, but then things took a turn for the worse.

11)  The price of getting rid of bad luck with a self-styled prophet

A News24 reporter finds that a trip to Mama Jeddah to rid him of bad luck cost him R480, two litres of milk, a litre of strawberry flavoured mageu, and his underpants.

When the job was done about an hour later, his "bad luck" lay crumpled on a plastic bag in the small room of a house in a gated suburb in Woodmead, Johannesburg.

12) Crime call by pensioner leads to community and police changing her life

In December, News24 reported on how a phone call pensioner Doris Ryan made to police to report a housebreaking set in motion a chain of events that would touch her and her community in the most unexpected way.

When Inspector Victor Botha from the Metro Police dog unit and his partner responded to the call in Malvern, Durban, he was stunned to find the 84-year-old and her caregiver, Phumelele Majozi, 57, living in squalor.

Ryan, who needed a walking stick to get around, could not describe the suspects. She had been unable to see them because she could not lift her head. She only saw their shadows and shouted for them to get out. They had fled by the time the officers arrived.

Botha called Jeff Verity from the Burro Community Assistance group and the men started The Doris Project, to repair her dilapidated house. 

13) A Durban businessman treats a car guard to lunch

Over the years, Durban businessman Thokozani Ndawonde spent his money on lavish parties to celebrate his birthday. This year he had lunch with a car guard at Musgrave’s upmarket Bertoua Café Lounge.

"I always have my meetings at Bertoua Café and I thought about this one car guard who I always see standing outside. I went there and hoped that he would be there," he said.

Ndawonde found the rain-drenched man and asked him if he had eaten. When he said no, Ndawonde went into the restaurant and asked general manager, Jayson Willett, if he could have lunch with the car guard.

"When we went into the restaurant I could see that some of the patrons were uncomfortable with the man, but I did not care."

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