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Category Archives: Tales of a Freelance Journo

It sure feels good to do good! (Saartjie Baartman fundraiser)


I love the buzz of knowing that you are contributing to something good. I have never voluntary taken drugs before, but I am 100% certain that the buzz that is flowing through my veins beats any possible chemical imaginable. I am talking about the 100k in 10 Days challenge, an initiative by my friend Marelise and her sister Amelia. Last week, these two lovely chicks kickstarted this initiative to raise funds for the Saartjie Baartman Centre (SBC). The centre is threatened with closure after the Lotto failed to pay out.

In short: the SBC – situated in Manenberg, an area ravaged by violence, gang warfare, drugs, and poverty – is  the only option for many women and their children to escape the chronic physical, mental, emotional and sexual abuse. It is therefore the only chance to rebuild their lives. It is either that, or sleeping on the streets, or staying with their abusers. That is the horrid truth. When the Lotto failed to pay out, crisis struck. It appeared the centre had to close its doors at the end of May without a significant cash injection.

That is where Marelise and Amelia come in. They are determined to prevent this and aim to raise R100.000 (some 10.000 euro) to push the shelter through for a couple of months, giving it time to come up with an alternative funding strategy.

I have a soft spot for the centre. I sympathise with the women who live there. Like scores of women, I have been victim of abuse by the hand of men too (One ex decided  to smack me in the face when I was 18. Some four years later, the guy I was dating didn’t take no for an answer in a sexual way – after spiking my drink. He also emptied my bank account: In my drugged up state, I apparently told him to draw money.  To top things off, an ex – I call him the Bastard Ex – of some 2 years ago was a stealing, compulsive liar with a double life).

As opposed to the women at the SBC, I had the privilege of having a strong circle of friends and a place of safety (my home) to help me though it.

Enough about my own soap opera and back to Saartjie Baartman.

Marelise and Amelia have managed to raise R30.000 (3000 euro)! Not bad for 3 days (The challenge is only running on week days)! On top of that, the provincial government of the Western Cape has come on board: It has pledged funds to tie the centre over until September.

Last but not least, the ladies have ended up all over the news too, which is awesome! I am very chuffed that my first press release was received so well! A second one has just been issued, and I hope my media colleagues will bite once again. The more publicity, the more donations.

Gosh, who would have thought my experience in PR would contribute to something worthwhile 🙂

 >>> Now go to the 100k in 10 Days Challenge website and donate! 

 

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Freelance Life: Different Shit, Different Day


I seriously hope this week will end better than it started. Feeling seriously under the emotional weather at the moment, and it sucks ass. I have gazillions of deadlines waiting to be slain, but I can’t seem to get myself to do the job. Fuck.

First of all, I am having some serious difficulties adjusting to the fact that Significant Other and I are on separate continents again. I thought I had gotten to this scenario by now, but hey – I guess I was wrong. So much gets lost in translation when you are miles apart, despite all the forms of technolog, and you (well, me) face the risk of misinterpreting each other’s messages. Which leads to arguments / feeling of insecurity /  rubbing each up other the wrong way / etc.

Not cool. I know he is stressed with / at work, and sometimes this results in him not being able to be present as much as I would like to. It is just difficult not to have all the pieces of information, because even with Skype and BBM lots gets lost in translation. Then, sometimes, a little voice wonders whether he has actually given up, and wants to stay in Australia without wanting to tell me. Why? Because something has changed in the air, and I can’t pinpoint what.

Then I am not sure how long I can do this freelancing business. Chasing news, chasing stories, chasing payment, chasing clients … waiting for payment, waiting for clients to respond, waiting for feedback …. It is really getting to me today.

And then there is the omnipresent fear of clients ditching your ass or not paying you for the work you’ve done. Last year, I did a job for a large South African NGO. It involved co-writing a book. They have postponed first half of the payment until Feb 3 while their writers (me included) were supposed to get the first payment in December last year. It is the last thing I need at the moment, as my Australia trip pretty much chewed up my budget for this month … Australia is expensive, especially if you live off rands. The average glass of wine in a bar or restaurant (and we are talking the cheapest shit on the list) sets you back R70 easily.

So yeah, I need that money and I need it now – especially because other clients have “forgotten” to pay me last month.

I seriously hate this part of freelancing. I know there are many advantages, but Jeepers …. At least with a fulltime job you know when the paycheck comes usually).

Of course the fact my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer has been a bit of a bitch too. And that is an understatement. Luckily it seems all could have been much worse: they have removed the entire tumour, the cancer has not spread and she won’t be needing  chemo / hormone treatment (“just” 21 radiation sessions). Nevertheless this whole cancer thing has put a lot of things in but also out of perspective.

Anyway – just on the moment supreme a dear friend (Thanks Dirk) called me and another invited me for a glass of wine (Thanks Lesley-Ann). This means I am calling it a day.

 
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Posted by on January 18, 2012 in Tales of a Freelance Journo, The World of Mir

 

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Yesterday the African National Congress shoved a big fat middle finger in the face of democracy and all of those who died, bled, cried, fought and suffered for a free country with among other things a free press Look, I am not going to talk much about yesterday. By now pretty much everything has been said about the day that will go down in history as “Black Tuesday”. I have written two blogs about it, which you will find here and here. Here are some pictures though, to show you what went down in Cape Town yesterday. Enjoy. PS: If you for some reason like my pictures and want to use them for something, please don’t be a douche by ripping them off my blog. It would make you a thief as these are my images. So please ask first. 

 

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The ANC giveth, the ANC taketh it away


I woke up with an uneasy feeling in my stomach this morning. On November 22 1995, South Africa was celebrating the first draft of South Africa’s new constitution. A constitution incorporating rights like media freedom. Sixteen years later, it is Black Tuesday. This afternoon the South African Parliament will cast their votes for the Protection of Information Bill (POIB).

An “all thumbs up verdict” would mean a first step towards the dismantling of the precious democracy so many people fought and died for.

What a way to celebrate such memorable occasion.

The more I think about it, the more angry I get. In the process, a couple of tears have bitten the dust since my alarm clock went off at voetsek o’clock (I tend to do that when angry).

I have not done any work today. I just can’t put my head to it. The thought that these so-called freedom fighters of the ANC intend to bulldozer one of the four pillars of democracy – media freedom and access to information – makes me sick to my stomach.

What did not help, was a story in Beeld. The report stated that MPs will be forced to vote along party lines and that their votes will be checked. In other words, it is not only media freedom that will be given a firm kick in the groin.

The freedom to choose is facing a similar destiny. May I note that this practice is very common in dictatorships like Zimbabwe and ex-dictatorships such as Libya?

“Why should I bother, as I am not a journalist?” you ask. If you by now do not know how the Protection of Information Bill will affect you as a member of society, you must have been hibernating for the past two years.

Read this while you are at it. Steven Friedman sums it up rather well.

 

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Will we celebrate or mourn SA’s democracy tomorrow?



Copyright Miriam Mannak (All Rights reserved)

Tomorrow could mark a turning point in the history of the New South Africa: on Tuesday November 22 2011, parliament is to vote on the controversial Protection of Information Bill (POIB) despite the protests.

An “all thumbs up verdict” in my humble opinion would mean a first step towards the dismantling of the precious democracy so many people fought and died for.

I am not over-dramatizing the situation. Stifling the media and putting laws in place to control the press is often the first sign that a country going tits up. From the moment a government starts tampering with one of the four pillars of democracy, of which the media happens to be one, it shows that it does not care so much for democracy. Take Zimbabwe.

“But the Protection of Information Bill is not about hiding information, it is about protecting it,” a spokes person said this morning in Cape Talk radio, adding that the media in this regard has not treated the so-called secrecy bill in a fair manner.

Give me a break. In the land of politics “hiding” and “protecting” can be considered one and the same thing. Take Mac Maharaj. Just before the weekend kicked in, the ANC’s spokesperson sought to protect his own interests by making sure last weekend’s Mail & Guardian page 2 appeared with massive black boxes, apartheid style, hiding his dirty laundry.

With a growing culture of splurging, overspending, misspending, fraud, and corruption – combined with a dual-epidemic of Sticky Finger Syndrome (SFD) and Tenderitis – a free media apparatus in South Africa is crucial to keep the government on its toes.

Why you ask? Take corruption and wasteful expenditures. The millions that are disappearing each year are taz payers money. If you are a tax payer in South Africa, than it is YOUR hard earned cash we are talking about. Don’t you want to know what happens to it, and how is spent? If so, that is where we journalists come in.

I am sure that you, one of the 6 million South African tax payers, are paying your dues to make this country a better place in one way or another. I am equally sure that you are NOT giving away 25% to 40% of your paycheck – and 14% of everything you purchase – to pay for the small fortunes some ministers are spending on hotel rooms, second homes and spa visits. Well, newsflash: you are!  (among other things)

In the first eight months of 2010, the government allegedly squandered more than R1-billion of taxpayers’ money on luxury vehicles, expensive hotels, banquets, and advertising. This year was even worse.

Your money, including the cash that has gone awol, should go to the disadvantaged members of our society, people who depend on government support in the form of education, health care and grants for their day-to-day survival.

If the media are no longer allowed to freely investigate and write about these and other issues, including dodgy business deals, tenders, and political connections (from what I can gather the government at any given time can decide which information was supposed to remain ‘secret’), YOU (the member of society) will simply never know what has happened with the money YOU have earned – or deserve.

In other words: the fight against the Protection of Information Bill is not a fight of us media practitioners. It is NOT about OUR right to write. It is in the first place about YOUR right to know.

Please make your voice heard tomorrow, which has been dubbed as Black Tuesday. Please wear black.

For more information: Right2KNow Campaign

 

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The crisis from a freelancer’s point of view


I spy, I spy with my little eye that I haven’t blogged in quite a while. I blame this silly slip-up on the ginormous list of deadlines that is staring me in the eye while I type this. Well, at least I have got work, for now that is. With the 2008/2009 economic crisis in the back of my mind, I must admit that the current situation in Europe / Greece is making me nervous. I’m not sure whether I can handle another “2009” to tell you the truth.

Normally, we media freelancers – as opposed to big banks and politicians suffering from Tenderitis – never make the headlines when the going gets tough. And that is fine. Most of us rather want to report on stuff, than being reported on.

Fact of the matter is that not too many people realize that many of their news providers were hit by the economic crisis of 2008/2009.

1) As the global economy twitched and shivered, and South Africa entered its first recession in 17 years, newspapers and magazines and other publications around the world (well, those in the countries affected) saw their advertising revenue streams shrink like a silk scarf washed at 150 degrees. This impacted freelance budgets. As a result, freelance rates remained unchanged and often dropped (BTW: after the crisis, these rates were often NOT increased to pre-2008 levels). Or equally bad: there was less room (or no room at all) for freelance contributions.

2) To cut costs as a result of falling revenue, scores of fulltime media people were faced with retrenchment. Others did not have their contracts renewed. Forced by a persistent lack of vacancies, many of them joined the mighty army of freelance media professionals – who were already fighting over a shrinking pool of work. You get the idea.

All of the above was applicable to me. Well, everything apart from being retrenched.

As my editors kept their hands tightly on their purse, I was forced to take on what ever I could get, at what ever rate. And so I filled my days with brainless and severely underpaid online copy writing work for printer dealers, an online second-hand car portal, insurance companies and even an arms manufacturer. Yes, we are talking guns and war equipment, not prosthetic limbs. Yes. Me, the Pacifist. Look, I am not proud of that particular work, but I had to do something to prevent the boat from going under like a Big Ass Titanic. There were bills to pay, including the one for the extension of my Temporary Residency Permit (R12.000).

All in all, 2009 was my personal iceberg, but I managed to sail around it. In the process, I had to give up my office space as I could not cope with the monthly cost of R2000 + internet + phone calls. Having to look thrice at every rand before spending it, turned into one big frustration. But in the end I was lucky. I know of a couple of freelancers who had to revert to drastic decisions, including selling their cars / house and canceling on their life insurance and medical aid, simply because work had dried up.

As the year 2009 (aka as The Bitch) progressed, the news journalist in me got more and more frustrated: there was plenty of news in South Africa, but my editors did not have /did not want to spend money to take my contributions. I think I might have written about ten news stories in the whole of 2009.

The only positive thing about 2009 was that at some stage the rand stood 14 to the euro (some of my work is paid out in euros).

Then 2010 came, bringing the 2010 FIFA World Cup. That event in many aspects was my saving grace. In the first weeks of 2010, the first pre World Cup Assignments sailed into my mailbox: the whole world seemed to be interested in what was happening in South Africa. I also started a world cup blog, which drew people to my website and lead to more work.

I am not sure what my point is of this blog post, apart from the fact that I am feeling uneasy about 2012. While South Africa’s financial system remained intact in 208/2009, we too were a victim of the global financial crisis. Anyone who thinks otherwise is an ignorant dumb ass: the crisis which affected all sorts of industries, including tourism and the manufacturing industry, cost 1.17 million jobs. That was mainly as a result of declining export. Yes, from Europe and the US, our two main destinations for our export products.

According to my calculations this means that South Africa will be hit at some point if Europe goes tits up. So let’s send that part of the world some good vibes (or send it prayers, if that is your cup of tea).

 

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My World 1 Year Ago: Right2Know Demo


Every so often, I will write a blog about what happened exactly – or almost exactly – one year ago. Let’s start with the press freedom situation in our country.

In barely two months from now, the South African parliament is expected to vote for (well, hopefully against) the Protection of Information Bill, also known as the Secrecy Bill. The voting process was supposed to happen early September this year but South Africa’s ruling party – The African National Congress (ANC) –  decided to postpone to allow for further consultation.

South Africa is not out of the woods yet – the ANC said the legislation would be finalized by the end of the year. It is the end of October now and I find it very difficult to believe that the nature of my beloved profession might be something of the past very soon. And it is not only thing that worries me: South Africa’s future as a democratic country would then be on the line. really, can you call a country where journalists are not allowed to report freely a democracy?

Anyway – enough about that. This is not a blog about why the Protection of Information Bill is bad, bad, BAD news for South Africa. Not just for the media but for society as a whole (minus politicians, of course). I simply want to share some pictures I took almost one year ago during a Right2Know march in Cape Town. I found them a while back, and to my surprise this series contains a couple of images of the formidable and late Kader Asmal too.

 

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