Tag Archives: freelance journalist cape town

Trevor Manuel takes on Jimmy Manyi

In South Africa, only very rarely will political leaders openly criticize each other for their shortcomings, stupid and controversial statements, and despicable actions. Whether you are charged with rape, unsafe sex with someone you know is HIV positive (whilst having a wife or two), misusing tax money, corruption, fraud, or bloody murder: for what ever reason, South Africa’s leaders tend not to openly lambast each other very often. That does not mean, they support each other – they just prefer to keep quiet.

Throw race in the mix and you have got a completely different scenario. Take Trevor Manuel’s open letter to Jimmy Manyi.

Trevor Manuel, former minister of finance and now one of the ministers in the president’s office, is known as a clever, quiet, calm and thoughtful man who seems to over think every idea before opening his mouth.

I remember him while he presented South Africa’s budget in 2009, his last one. At that particular time, South Africa had just been hit by the global economic crisis, which had resulted in the country’s first recession in 17 years. Times were tough, extremely tough and incredibly insecure. Left, right, and center people were losing, companies were closing their doors and folded, mining companies had to decimate their production and the overall economic situation looked gloomy. Trevor Manuel, who must have been terribly worried about the situation, however stood there in utter confidence and managed to inject some much-needed optimism into the Rainbow Nation.

This very man is also known for keeping quiet with regards to the actions of other public figures. Up until now. Out of the blue, Manuel let it rip like no public figure in South Africa has let it rip before. His target: Jimmy Manyi – a government spokesperson, the President Black Management Forum (BMF), and known for a racist statement with regards to South Africa’s coloured population a year or so back.

In March 2010, Manyi – director general of labour at the time – stated during an TV-interview  that coliured people “should spread in the rest of the country… so they must stop this over-concentration situation because they are in over-supply where they are.”

These statements practically went unnoticed but were dug up this month, shortly after the publication of a controversial column by Sunday World’s Kuli Roberts – herself black – about coloured women. The column (Jou Ma se Kinders), which was poorly written and riddled with senseless, sensitive and false stereotypes about coloured woman, was taken down shortly afterwards due to heavy criticism from all corners of society.

Shortly afterwards, the conversation’s focus switched to what Manyi had said about a year before.

Trevor Manuel hit back with full force by writing an open letter, that was published in various newspapers and websites. Some passages.

“I want to put it to you that these statements would make you a racist in the mould of HF Verwoerd. I want to put it to you that you have the same mind that operated under apartheid, never merely satisfied with inflicting the hurt of forced removals and the group areas act, would encamp language groups so that horrible aberrations, such as Soshanguve, were created to accommodate “non-Tswanas” in their own little encampments in greater Mabopane.”

“Mr Manyi, you may be black, or perhaps you aren’t, because you do not accept that label and would prefer to be “only a Xhosa”. Whatever the label you choose, I want to put it to you that your behaviour is of the worst-order racist.”

“I have never waged any battle from the premise of an epithet that apartheid sought to attach to me but I will do battle against the harm you seek to inflict. When I do so, it is not as a coloured but as a non-racist determined to ensure that our great movement and our constitution are not diluted through the actions of racists like you.”

“I now know who Nelson Mandela was talking about when he said from the dock that he had fought against white domination and that he had fought against black domination. Jimmy, he was talking about fighting against people like you.”

I can help but to wonder what the content of Manyi’s reply will be.

* Fore the full version of Trevor Manuel’s letter to Jimmy Manyi, click here.
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Posted by on March 2, 2011 in Stuff that Happens in the News


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Life of a freelancer: When it rains, it pours!

The life of most freelance journalists, writers, and photographers (or any freelancer, really) is dominated by a couple of tricky issues. First and foremost there is the challenge of getting paid when you want to get paid, not when the client thinks it is time to come to the table.

While we humble freelance service providers are expected to meet deadlines at all time in order not to be shown the finger, many clients seem to be far more relaxed when it comes to their part of the deal – namely ‘paying out’. A Portuguese newspaper (Publico) took over ONE YEAR to pay me, despite the hundreds of emails I sent!  (Last year, I dedicated a blog post to Freelancers’ pet hates).

I have solved this bloody annoying issue without mercy: I simply refuse to work for greedy bastards who take weeks, months and sometimes years to make their promised money transfer. I have indeed culled some clients who clearly do not give a rat’s testicle about whether I am able to pay my rent, electricity bill and groceries. I fired them. Water under the bridge. Weakest link. Blah.

Then there is the issue of managing the number assignments. I am the type of person who starts stressing when there is nothing to do. As a result, I begin to pitch stories like there is no tomorrow. Yes, to ALL my clients. There is however one problem: my story pitches are usually very solid and as a result, my steady clients seldom reject them. I tend to forget that sometimes.

Two weeks ago, after filing all my stories for Business Live (One of my preferred clients, by the way) I found myself staring at the ceiling. Instead of relaxing and taking a breather – I had just done four 14-hour days of reporting on the 2011 Mining Indaba in Cape Town (which was quite hectic) – I allowed the  stress  to hit me with the impact of a jack hammer on steroids.

You have to understand that a freelancer’s main worry is whether we have enough cash at the end of the month to pay our rent, bills, glass of wine, petrol, and other necessities. In addition, we have been preprogrammed to harvest while we can. Why? When you run your own show, you never know when another good month or assignment comes around.

So two weeks ago I started pitching stories like a headless chicken – forgetting that 90% of my clients would probably say ‘yes’. And so they did. Over the past ten days I wrote:

* A 12-page UNICEF report on the situation Haiti

* A 1200-word story for Leadership Magazine on the necessity of stimulating entrepreneurship in South Africa to fight unemployment

* 700-word story for Radio Netherlands Worldwide on South Africa’s economy (linked to the 2011 Budget speech)

* A 800-word story on South Africa’s budget and a 900-word story on sustainable tourism in South Africa for Het Financieele Dagblad

* A 1700-word story on drinking and driving / road safety for Mobility Magazine.

Currently I am still working on a 1000-word story on Acid Mine Drainage and water management for Energy Forecast. That story needs to be finished today (another 500 words to go) because tomorrow I have to write a report on the Transformation Audit by the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation for Business Live. This particular client also wants a story  on the Design Indaba.

Raining? RAINING? Pouring? It is more like a bloody monsoon!

I know I should not be complaining, and actually I am not. I love being a freelance writer and love being busy. I just wish I could manage the flow of work a bit better in order not to be grossly overworked like I am at this very moment. Yawn!


Posted by on February 23, 2011 in Tales of a Freelance Journo


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Bitching about Beach Politics

To me a beach is a beach, a.k.a big patch of white powdery sand that is embraced by the ocean. Whether it has big boulders, small boulders, no boulders, a wide patch of sand, a narrow patch of sand, a big surf, no surf or whether it is a so-called ‘family beach’, ‘gay beach’ trendy beach’, ‘model beach’, ‘sport beach’, the ‘Jewish beach’, the ‘Christian beach’ – I really do not care (to think that segregation in South Africa was abolished over a decade and an a half ago).

Because why would I care? I am in Cape Town for crying out loud! All beaches here are great. And honestly, there are not so many differences between them. Well, okay – those belonging to the Clifton Quartet are not so different from one another.

When observing these four beaches objectively, one will notice that Clifton 1 looks like Clifton 2 looks like Clifton 3 looks like Clifton 4. They are all über stunning beaches boasting the same lovely sand and the same icy cold water and the same boulders and the same stunning view. Okay, the one is slightly bigger than the other, but that is a small detail. From someone who was born in Northern Europe, Clifton – whether it is 1,2,3, or 4 – is heaven and no reason to be picky. Call me simplistic, but I do not care where I spread out my towel – as long as I can end my day on the frikkin’ beach!

I seem to be part of some critically endangered species of beach-befok Capetonians. Here folk stick to their own beach like there is no tomorrow and it is practically impossible to detach them from it and to make them venture to *another beach*.

Usually, people who consider Clifton 1 – First Beach – their home away from home will rarely show their booties on Second and visa versa. One thing Cliftonians do have in common is that Camps  Bay beach, for what ever reason, is considered a no-go zone.

Do. Not. Ask. Why.

Anyway, these bloody beach politics usually pose no problem what so ever because most Capetonians share their preference for a certain beach with their homies. Lets put it this way: there is no point of venturing to another beach if you know that all your buddies are on the beach next door. That is how I ended up being a resident of Clifton 2: I made friends a couple of years ago, they happened to be a Clifton Second resident, and the rest is history. (NOTE: I never had to venture to another beach because, as I said before, the various beach crowds do not tend to migrate so never made friends belonging to other beaches)

The problem now is that I have actually made friends who are members of the Beach One ecosystem. While I would like to hang out with them, I do not want to abandon my friends on Second. Yes, you have guessed it: my two beach crowds are very much attached to their own patch of sand. Moving  both posses to Clifton Three could be an option, but I fear that my crowd will veto that plan.

So, apart from buying new running shoes and spending my time running from Clifton 1 to Clifton 2 and back I see no other solution. Sigh.

Bloody beach politics.


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When Twitterers turn into Twats

Tantrum of the day

One of the annoying sides of being a journalist is having Bob and his uncle and his brother and his second cousins and their neighbours knocking on your virtual door with some story they think the world should absolutely know. Sometimes you are presented with absolute gems of stories yet sometimes, well, you are told about visions of Mary and Jesus and Joseph in packs of cornflakes, cats with five legs that can do the Cha Cha and other useless crap.

You also have people who present you with a potentially interesting story and who come with all sorts of allegations but refuse to tell you a) who they are b) where they got their information. Instead of coming clean, they remain hidden behind a virtual wall called Twitter or Facebook.

Yesterday was a classic example. In the afternoon, I was contacted by a Twitterer / Tweeter / Twat / Twit by the name of @Dewaninews. He had read one of my stories for I-net Bridge on the Dewani murder saga.

In short: In November this year a honeymooning couple – Anni and Shrien Dewani – got hijacked in Gugulethu. Hubby and driver are pushed out of car, wife is taken with, shot three times and killed. What seemed to be a ‘conventional’ gang murder South African style could possibly turn into something totally different – if the allegations and rumours are true of course. The fact that Shrien has been arrested in connection to the murder does not make him guilty just yet. Because we live in a democracy and a civilized state, and no longer in the middle ages. And in civilized states you are innocent until proven otherwise.

Anyway, back to my Twatter @Dewaninews, who spammed me with tweets for about an hour or two and ignored various requests for an email address. As a journalist it is my task to check not only my facts but also sources. The source claims he / she sent me a telephone number – which again proved to be BS. My replies have been erased because I have blocked him in the meantime.

A few tweets:

@dewaninews-  Shrien #Dewani is not to be trusted. I’ve known him since 1990. DM me for more info.

@dewaninews – I went to school with him + live near his family. He’s been involved in petty crime b4 + his dad always bails him out.

@dewaninews – he’s obsessed with the film ‘Scarface’ + often boasted he could have people “whacked” (murdered). But most of all – he is gay.

@dewaninews – his family, especially his Dad, put huge pressure on him to marry. Shrien is homosexual though

@dewaninews – true that petty crime does not nec mean murder. He has a history of getting away with crime tho. He felt above the law true that petty crime does not nec mean murder. He has a history of getting away with crime tho. He felt above the law true that petty crime does not nec mean murder. He has a history of getting away with crime tho. He felt above the law

@dewaninews – actually it does if you are gay and forced to marry a woman when you’re not attracted to women. This’ll all be in Daily Mail

@dewaninews – Daily Mail piece will be out online later today. Reason Shrien’s last engagement broke down is coz he is gay and she found out

@dewaninews – it may sound trivial to you but Anni threatened to ‘out’ Shrien as gay to her family and his #Dewani – he killed her instead

@dewaninews – you may as well just wait and copy the Daily Mail piece. South African press been doing that a lot. UK first with news!

@dewaninews – I’m very fond of your work actually

@dewaninews – I’ve already told you who I am. I’m a Bristolian who has known Shrien and fam for years

@dewaninews – I’m not sure you have enough clout for me to proceed. I’m only interested in big-name newspapers

@dewaninews – let’s meet for s*x Miri

@dewaninews – @urcrazytoo @miriammannak Shrien’s gay. He killed her so his family wouldn’t find out he is a faggot #Dewani

@dewaninews – I’ve DM’d you my phone number #Dewani #ShrienIsGay

And so the “conversation” goes.

Look @Dewaninews, buddy, whether you have your facts right or not – journalists who take their job seriously will never ever ever write something like: “Shrien Dewani is gay and therefore he killed his wife”, said a tweeter who claims to have gone to school with Mr Dewani’s but who refuses to disclose his or her identity.

We.Won’t.Do.Anything.With.It.If.We.Don’t.Know.Who.You.Are. We won’t, no matter how good your story might sound. Well, I won’t do anything with it. Period and case closed.

Why? Because you could be anyone, from a 13-year old school girl with braces, his former fiancée, my next door neighbour, and a random bored housewife to an ex-mate who for what ever reason wants to get even.

So come clean @dewaninews. If you are as real as you say you are, you send me that email I asked you for.  If not: leave me the hell alone and get a life. Thanks.



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Dear Thief, I hope you like my MacBook

Dear Sir,

Yes you, the tall guy in your yellowish suit – pretending to be a delegate of The Economist’s Angola Business and Investment Summit that took place in Cape Town yesterday. Yes you asshole, YOU damnit! 

So how do you like my MacBook Pro, which I bought a mere three weeks ago? Does she feel nice and smooth and sleek? Does she run like a charm? How do you like my pictures, by the way? They are quite nice, don’t you think? What about my three stories that were in progress (for Black Business Quarterly, Leadership Magazine and het Financieele Dagblad), of which I unfortunately have no backups? Do you think I were on the right track, or should I have changed the intros a bit?

Did you listen to the audio files of the interviews I had with Enos Banda and other prominent people – interviews I had to tape digitally because my hand injury prevented me from taking notes? Interesting stuff, hey?

Now tell me, does it give you a kick to walk into conference rooms, scout for prey and then wait until Le Moment Supreme before robbing freelancers of what keeps them afloat? Hm?

From what we could see from the camera footage you must be a genuine professional. A smooth operator. An expert, who has done this before. Wearing a suit, with a laptop bag slung around your shoulder, and pretending to be on the phone you swayed in that conference room at The Westin Grand Hotel like it were your own palace.

This was just after I had left my desk (at 16.45 – it was time for a coffee break), which was situated in the press area in the corner at the back of the room. You walked in and made yourself a way towards my end of the desk, where my laptop was (hidden some papers papers). You sat down on the chair adjacent to the desk and opposite to my chair, while continuing your ‘telephone conversation’. Then, you opened your bag, helped yourself to my Bread and Butter and f*cked off. Just like that.

Can you tell me how long you had been watching me before your struck? How long?

Oh, before I forget: I’d like to ask something to the person responsible for allowing only people with badges into the conference room. Yes you! Where on earth were you? Smooth Operating MacBook thief was identified as a non delegate by various people, and was therefore not wearing a badge. So why on earth did you allow him in if he wasn’t wearing his dog tag?

Well, maybe you weren’t there because there was no such person assigned with this task. In that case, this brings me to the summit’s organisers (who I have to admit have been very sweet to me). Guys, the necessity of wearing name badges is usually to ensure only guests – the peeps who have paid money to attend the summit – are allowed in. Next time, please do a better job in making sure non-guests are kept OUT!

I know I should also point fingers at myself. I should have taken laptop with where ever I went. I did not. Because the Westin Grand felt safe. I was wrong. Stupid me. 

But back to you, Sir in your yellow-ish suit. Thanks for absolutely ruining my day and week. It has been swell. A true pleasure. Think of me when you erase my hard drive and sell my MacBook for a few dimes. What are you going to buy from the money? If it is Tik or another drug, I hope you overdose. If it is booze, I hope you wrap your car around a tree without killing other people. If it is a gun, I hope it accidentally goes off in your pocket.

Oh no, do not get me wrong. I do not want you to die. I am not an evil person. I actually hope for you to recover from your overdose, car accident and encounter with your fire arm. I wish I’d be there with you while you regain consciousness in hospital. Why? So that I can whisper something in your ear. “How does Karma feel, my bru?” for instance.  

Lastly and on a friendly note: Thank you David, editor of Black Business Quarterly,so much for giving me an extension on my deadline. You are a rock star. Thank you Jackie from I-Net Bridge, for your kind email and understanding that I was unable to send my fourth and final story on the summit. Thanks Ray, also from I-Net Bridge, for calling me to see if I was okay. Thanks Karen from Phoenix Partnership for resending the pictures of Enos Banda and finding out if there are audio files of his chat somewhere. Oh and thanks to my friends and loved ones for your sweet messages and in particular to my Wing Women for coming to the rescue, as you always do, with a bottle of wine and sushi. You rock.


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Thought Leader: To chop or not to chop

Column of the day

My most recent column on Mail & Guardian’s Thought Leader dealt with HIV and circumcision. Oh boy, what a debate it fueled. Some people accused of being shortsighted and taking the side of criminals, others said I was wrong in acknowledging studies that prove there is a link between circumcision and a lower infection rate among men. Because I am not a scientist and have no access to tests results, I decided not to dismiss them. Simple as that. Anyway – for a list of replies, please click here.

Now, for my column:

To curb the spread of HIV in its overcrowded prisons the authorities of Kwa-Zulu Natal have come up with a Plan d’Excellence Supreme Edition. Instead of focusing on key problems that form the root of HIV pandemic in its prisons, the province put all their eggs in the ‘let’s treat the symptoms’ basket by circumcising inmates. Epic fail, as far as I am concerned.

Look, we all are aware – myself included – that circumcision can make a man less vulnerable for HIV infection compared to their counterparts who have their penises intact. As a 2009 International Aids Society fellow (which does not make me an expert by the way), I am not disputing that the link between circumcision and HIV infection.

However, by going through the various studies and reports, I have come to the conclusion that chopping off a man’s foreskin does not make the patient invincible for the virus. It neither prevents a circumcised man living with HIV, whether the infection happened before or after his operation, from passing on the disease to someone else.

Just have a closer look at South Africa. In this country, circumcision is pretty much a custom in all segments of society. Whites, blacks, coloureds, Indians, Jews, Christians, Muslims – it happens everywhere and it is not something of the past recent years. If circumcision would be the answer, why are there over 5 million South Africans, little less then half is male, living with HIV?

“But studies show that circumcision does make males 50% less receptive to the virus,” you’d say.  Yes indeed, and I acknowledge these studies, which form part of the key in finding a proper solution to this dreadful disease.

However, without being a pessimist, “50% effective” means that infection can still very much occur. It is basically comparable to handing out condoms that work half of the time: there might a 50% chance you are protected, and there is a 50% chance you won’t be. Would you use such ‘Russian Roulette 2010 style’ condom? Not me.

In addition, please note that the “50% effectiveness rate” of circumcision applies to men who are involved in heterosexual relationships (non anal). The stats therefore do not and cannot apply to our prison environment – where woman and men are strictly separated and where HIV is spreading from man to man to man to man (various explanations exist why men who are engaged in anal sex are more prone to the virus compared to men who ‘do it’ with women and their female bits).

So based on the above: even if male inmates would be circumcised en masse, what are the chances they will not end up popping ARV pills every single day after all?

Just to be clear on this matter: I do appreciate the fact that the KZN authorities are thinking about ways to fight HIV in our prisons. I however,  don’t agree with their shortsighted plans. Circumcision can be part of the strategy, but I think much more time and energy should be spent on fighting what causes the high HIV infection rates in our prisons.

To name a few: rape and other forms of violence, drugs, gangs, and overcrowding.  Abuse by wardens. Condoning of rape by wardens. Overworked wardens who are not equipped to deal with violence and rape in their prisons.

Sending inmates to the doctor for an operation will simply not eradicate these said elements.

“Ag, but why bother? They are just inmates right? We do not owe them anything as they broke the law,” could be a reply to this blog post, one I do not agree with.

Firstly, at some point inmates will pay their dues and make their way back into society; to their wives and girlfriends or partners to be. By protecting inmates from an HIV infection, you help protecting innocent outsiders from this nasty virus too. Circumcision alone just does not make the cut. More is needed.

Secondly, you cannot forcefully subject people to circumcision. That would be a contravention of their human rights. Yes, inmates have human rights.

Thirdly, circumcision might make men less prone to an infection, but it does not prevent someone who is already HIV positive to give the disease to someone else

Finally, my main reason why I think KZN should elaborate on their strategy: an inmate’s punishment is to serve X number of weeks, months, years behind bars – not the exposure to a fatal virus (death sentence) which will eventually kill them – and the others they will infect in due course.


This column was published on Thought Leader in November 2010. Author: Miriam Mannak

1 Comment

Posted by on November 3, 2010 in Stuff that Happens in the News


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A freelancer’s pet hates

Confession of the day

“Dear Miriam. We have received your invoice, but we noticed a couple of discrepancies and wondered if you could re-issue it for payment ASAP.”

This is how an email by one of my clients – a South African financial agency – started. It was a reply to my email asking when they’d pay me.

YOu have to understand that chasing payments and clients is one of the things freelance writers – or any freelancer, I suppose – loathe.

It is stressful, it is time consuming, and it is annoying as hell. Most of us have 100 other things we’d rather do and chasing invoices is not one of them. Besides, it is frustrating that clients expect you to meet deadlines at all cost (if you miss them, you risk losing that particular client, thus par of your income), while most of them do not particularly seem to care a great deal about meeting their deadline: paying what they owe their  freelance writers and photographers!

A leading construction company for instance (yes, the one that was in charge of Cape Town Stadium) told me again last week “You will be paid at the end of this week, promise”. I checked my bank account 5 minutes ago: Nothing, nada, niks.

The Portuguese newspaper Publico is another fantastic example of how clients mistreat their freelancers.  Publico owes me money from last year November.  That is right: last year November (2009!!). It is October 2010 now. I have sent about a gazillion emails and every time they come up with some kind of a lousy excuse that makes my skin crawl. I am fed up and am not even bothered being nice to them any longer. My patience and sense of humor flew out the window a very long time ago, I guess. I can therefore say that Publico is the worst publication to work for as a freelancer. Do not work for them! Ever! Stay away, regardless ofthe fact they pay in Euros. I repeat: If you are a freelance writer or photographer and Publico asks you to do work for them: REFUSE and run for the hills! It is *NOT* worth it, trust me.

Back to my South African financial client and their email. Clients have complained about invoices before, despite the fact they okayed my rates, quote, and time spent on the project. I therefore feared the worst.

Last year for instance, I did some PR work for a Dutch developer who needed exposure for his eco-estate to-be. As promised, my monthly invoices always were provided with a detailed break down of the hours spent on his project – including a breakdown of the media exposure he received.

All went well until the third month.

“You did not do this or that, we did this and that,” he blatantly told me. While I was able to show him that I was the person responsible for the said activity (and positive outcome, namely an interview in a national South African newspaper) he kept his foot down. Very annoying and shitty situation, as what do you do in this situation? Do you keep your foot down, piss off the client and risk a) not getting paid all and b) losing your precious retainer? I bowed and rewrote my invoice, and then I fired him myself.

Last year another company – an add agency in Cape Town this time – hired me to do some copy writing. Beforehand, they asked me how long I thought I needed for then job. “Between ten and fifteen hours, but more towards ten”, I told them. I was given the go ahead, under the condition I’d let them know by hour number ten how far I was and how much time I needed to complete the project.

And so I did, and they gave me the go-ahead. The total number of hours came down to thirteen. Well, fourteen, but I gave them a discount. This was met by moaning and complaining. So again: what do you do? Keep your foot down? Risk not being paid at all? Risk not working for them ever again?

Back to my South African financial client and their email.

“Here we go again,” I thought to myself, rolling my eyes before reading a bit further.

“According to my calculations, the daily stories should be: Wednesday – XXX words @ RX p/w & 1 picture should be RXXXXX  (you have RXXX). Also the overall total, according to my calculations is RXXXXX (you have RXXX).”

In other words: It was me who made a mistake and was about to sell myself short. The client noticed this. Instead of keeping it to herself, she notified me.

It has been a first, really. And I am grateful. If only more clients would treat their freelancers with the same respect, they’d be getting even more for what they bargained.


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