One of the most important lessons I learnt in journalism was: “If you manage to piss off both sides of the story, then you know you did your job well!” Certainly, not the kind of thing that an insecure eager-beaver such as myself wanted to hear.
But it also happens to be the toughest lesson in life. You cannot please everyone. And, in life, it’s every man for himself and God for us all. I’m prone to taking myself seriously. Too seriously at times. I think this was the cause of the chip on my shoulder.
So, many years ago, before facebook and twitter and the dawn of the citizen reporter, a judge reversed into the wall of an expensive house in the suburbs. He was clearly intoxicated. He played for time.
Becoming aggressive and difficult whenever the word “breathalyser” was mentioned. He also played to his audience, trying to convince the other black people on the scene to do a revolt on the rules. Let me go home, he pleaded. I’ll fix the wall in the morning.
The owner of the property happened to be a white man. Disclaimer: much of the posturing requires a dumming down of intelligence in order to appreciate the nuances of this “race” dynamic. But on reflection, this disclaimer may well be better to warn animals.
Remember my race holiday? Yes, holiday. I’m still on it. It’s a rainy sunny day at the mud drenched venue. That sticky race mud entrapping one’s feet. Think Twice. It’s just another day for you, you and me, in paradise….
Or maybe not you and me. But definitely you. Not me. I’m on the butt end of this racist behemoth. But this is back in 2007. I’m not a quarter as jaded as I have since become. I still thought I could pass for white. What a joke. I think I may have covered one court appearance in the trial.
This is the drunk driving trial for the guy who smashed into another guy’s wall. The judge maintains his innocence. He had a right to put the state to the proof of its own case. And he did it. With gusto. But I only covered a postponement or something minor like that.
I followed it in the news media. It was plastered on every billboard everywhere. But I can’t seem to record how (or, to be fair, if) I became aware of the racism allegation levelled against the homeowner. Years later, a more seasoned reporter, I got to cover the country’s first ever impeachment proceedings.
It was the same judge. Apparently some of his colleagues complained that he conducted a dishonourable defence, lying to keep himself out of trouble. And maintaining the lie, that he only had tea to drink on the night in question, throughout the trial. Even lodging (and later losing) an appeal.
Those in the know, say the Judge is adopting a stalingrad approach, which has become all too familiar to many South Africans. That’s when they force numerous delays, tying the other side in technical manoeuvrings and the like, to exhaust the plaintiff (physically, mentally and financially).
All this judge had to do was reach retirement. The incident happened in 2007. Yet his impeachment hearing was set for more than 12 years later. By which time, he was comfortably enjoying his retirement. On special leave since the trial began, the Judge ended up serving only 6 years in active service.
He circumvented the rules. Played for time. And won. I know he’ll be pissed off about this story. I definitely know that it’s the pet gripe of the homeowner. We remained friendly after the inquiry and would meet often for coffee and the like. But he has too much baggage. He seems stuck.
I pushed for the idea of a podcast, which he seemed keen on at first. Then I interviewed him for part one of the series of podcasts detailing his side of the story. Then I sent him my script. A major no-no in journalism. But I just felt it was the right thing to do, seeing as this was his platform.
He made several thousand million corrections. Mostly amplifying what I had already scripted. In very clumsy English. He was treating me as an imbecile. But, he did have the courtesy of mentioning that he doesn’t trust his audience to understand complex issues like mendacity.
So, I didn’t take it personally. Anyway, he winded up using my script as a skeleton for some or other affidavit (which he often rattled on about). Then I sent the edited final audio file. Aish. I know. I know. I’m an idiot. Looking for validation?
Well, that’s kind of when things all went pear shaped. He passed the audio on to some lawyer people for vetting. And I lost my shit. How dare he paw off my work of art to some Neanderthals?! And then he hit back. He was clearly talking from a corner. It must have been a tight squeeze because he let me have it.
He wants to cancel the whole podcast series idea. Never mind all of the work I put into episode one! Oh, no, he didn’t?! Surely not?! Alas! Then he swung at me but the corner caught the worst of it. What’s that? You saying I’m not allowed to use the audio you gave me nor the interview you granted? Ridiculous.