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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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A Bit of a Meh Moment


It has been a week and a bit since Mr Significant Other has packed his bags to spend an X number of months in Australia for work.

The time difference is an absolute killer, for starters. Eight fecking hours is quite a bitch of mammoth proportions. Besides that, he is incredibly busy with whatever he is doing over there, so there is not a lot of time to chat and catch up. I understand that completely. Work is work, and he is one of those people who throws himself at work. Which I think is admirable. I don’t know many people who are as driven as him.

Yesterday, however, we had a bit of a Meh Moment over Skype after I said I felt kind of cut off from him and his life over there. I am a communicator by trade and a master in multi-tasking. No matter how busy I am, I always find the time to send texts and what ever. Not everyone works that way, and I will have to accept that.

Anyway, he managed to explain how busy he has been over the past days. It had been literally working from 7am (his time) until God knows what silly time at night due to all sorts of functions, meetings and other work stuff.

I felt really shitty and a tad guilty afterwards. Oh, and stupid too.

Then again: lots (too much?) gets lost in translation when two people are separated by half a planet. You miss the subtleties. I am sure everyone who has bene in this situation can verify that.

I must add that that last week’s stupid Blackberry outage did not exactly help our cross continental communication flow. As a result, I am now exploring my options in iPhone land. The last thing I need is another piece of unreliable technology and communication equipment. I am already dealing with a crappy Telkom connection, shoddy Vodacom and other issues such as a faulty new Skype download which quits on you at any given time in a conversation. The joys of living in a developing country.

Anyway, I am not one of those women who expect their men to be available to Skype 2/7. I have got my work (journalism, writing my Grandfather’s World War 2 story, and other things)  and life too. But I can’t help missing My Person sometimes. And I am still a woman, after all – one that is sometimes struggling with the usual female insecurities.

I am 100% sure we will make through this Long Distance Relationship phase of our lives. This is not the end of the world (although that is exactly where he is at the moment 🙂 ) and luckily I will see him at the end of next month for an entire month. Looking forward to that. Very much so.

 
3 Comments

Posted by on October 15, 2011 in The World of Mir

 

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Sometimes … I Want Out


I love being a journalist, I really do. I love dissecting a certain topic; digging deep into whatever matter; interviewing people; putting the given information into context; doing research; writing the story and then seeing it in print the next day / week / month.

I might have been in this industry for over nine years, seeing my byline in the newspaper or some magazine still give me that *Woooaaaahhhh!* feeling.

But sometimes, I want out, out, out – and today is one of those days. This for a change has nothing to do with sometimes shitty pay or shitty media communication people.

Look, in order to be a successful (freelance) journalist, you have to know what is going on ‘out there’ in order to pitch stories to your editors. And in order to know what is going on, you have to read the newspapers, listen to the radio, and wade through the internet in search for relevant news topics.

Usually, I have no problem with that. Today, however, is “one of those days”. Take a look at this screenshot.

IOL's main news on Oct 14 2011: Crime crime crime


“But you are not a crime reporter so what is the big deal?”, you’d reply. Indeed, I generally do not write about crime, accidents, rape, murder, and other shit. But we journalists – regardless of our field of expertise – are confronted with it EVERY SINGLE DAY.

And sometimes, dear reader, it is getting me down. And it is not just that, but also the fact that so many South Africans have become sort of numb for this crap. Many shrug when they read stories about raped toddlers, Facebook rapists, and other horrible things. I do understand that to a certain extent: shit like that happens every single day. You’d end up in a mental institution if had to think about everything for too long 365 days per year.

But still … A baby stabbed to death with a broken bear bottle? ARE YOU KIDDING ME?

 

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Worries of a freelance journalist


I love my job. I really absolutely and truly love love LOVE being a freelance writer and journalist. But sometimes I wonder whether I really want to do this for the rest of my life. No, let’s rephrase that: I quite often worry whether I will be able to do this kind of work for the rest of my life.

The freelance rates in South Africa have not changed for at least five years, people keep telling me, and that while expenses have gone up-up-UP dramatically:

  • Petrol (±R3.50 per liter when I arrived in South Africa in 2004, and over R8 about 6.5 years later)
  • Medical aid contributions (increase of about 15% per annum)
  • Rent (increase of 10-15% per annum)
  • Food (six years ago, R100 gave me bags full of groceries. Today R100 is nothing more than ‘petty cash’)
  • Electricity (my bill has pretty much doubled over the past three or so years, regardless of the fact that I switch off geyser during the day and despite the fact I have installed energy saving light bulbs. And guess what? Electricity will go up again this year, by 26% this year)
  • Inflation (which basically makes everything more expensive).

To make a monthly income of R9.000 a month (this is what I need to survive and to save a small amount) I have to produce between 4500 and 6000 words a month. This number of words depends on the client: some publications – the minority, let me tell you – pay the recommended rate of R2,50 a word* or more. Other pay no more than R1,50.

I can guarantee you that in three years from now, I will no longer be able to survive on R9.000 – which is quite tight as we speak (I am basically screwed when big expenses occur –  when my computer gets nicked for instance, or when my cat needs to go to the vet) but sufficient to sustain my lifestyle: I have no car, no kids, no mortgage, no credit card bills / study loan to pay off, and  have no debt.

Back to why I will not be able to live off R9.000 in three years time. Three to four years ago, I used to be able to live off R7.000 (AND save). This is no longer possible due to the reason I mentioned earlier in this blog (rent increases, power increases, food price increases, etc).

According to my calculations I will have to earn between R2.000 and R3.000 more a month in 2014 to make ends meet. And this, dear readers, means I will have to up my work load as I doubt the freelance rates will go up.

Of course, squeezing in one extra 1o00-word story (equivalent of R2000 to R3000) extra a month should not be a problem (assuming that my clients want more work from me, of course. What if they do not want to?), but what about 10 years from? Firstly, there is only so much one can do in a month without burning out like a piece of cheap charcoal. Secondly, there is only so much work available for us freelancers.

So what to do? Luckily I have more than one skill apart from news and feature writing. I do translating (from Dutch to English and vise versa), photography, I write reports, I have basic SEO skills, and am able to write press releases. Nevertheless the future worries me. And I doubt that I am the only freelancer in this position. Or am I? What are your thoughts?

*Recommended rate set by the Southern African Freelancers’ Association (SAFREA)

 
11 Comments

Posted by on March 3, 2011 in Tales of a Freelance Journo

 

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My 2011 New Year resolutions


With Santa and his cronies being around the corner and the first day 2011 just a week or so away, it is time for me to draw up my list of new year resolutions. I must tell you that never do this, to be very honest. I hate new year resolutions because well, I never tend to stick to them. Half way through the first week I am basically back to square one. But since 2010 was a bit of a nightmare year and I want 2011 to kick ass, I tought: why the hell not? At least these are resolutions that are doable.

1) I will not allow a cockroach to fracture my hand – Earlier this year, I fractured my hand because of my fear for cockroaches. Now that is something that will not happen again. Ever-ever.

2) I will not ditch someone via sms / facebook / skype / pigeons / smoke signals – My Significant Other a while back felt it was necessary to let me know that ‘we’ are no longer ‘we’ – via the sms. I knew it was coming, sort of, so I am very much able to deal with the fact that from now on I will be falling asleep and waking up on my own. Let’s say that I have done it before and that I have become shareholder in the Global Super Broken Heart Super Glue Distributors.

Yes, there is a ‘but’ coming. The fact that this had to be done via the sms, was a gynormous knock below the belt. Anyway, to keep a long story short: If I ever end up with someone again and I decide that this particular person is for what ever reason not my match, I promise to act like a grow-up and not use the buttons of my Blackberry to let him know about my decision. I will suck it up, grow some balls and face that person (and the music that comes with it).

3) I will not have my Macbook stolen ever again – During a conference organised by the Economist at Cape Town’s Westin Grand Hotel, my Macbook was stolen. That was one day before my ex Significant Other broke up with me for the second time, by the way (this is the third time). This will not happen again, mark my lips. I have a new machine now which I have equipped it with a GPS tracker. I have also bought a cable with which I can tie computer a the conference table.

4) I will continue to cherish my friends – My friends are my family, and are the corner stones of my soul and sanity. I love you guys to bits, and thanks a gazillion for all the support, laughs, hangovers, glasses of wine, smiles, giggles and hugs over the past year. You guys are simply the best and you are the reason I am still in South Africa. It is because of you guys I feel I am not a foreigner, but a person who truly belongs in this country.  There are plenty of more things I would like to say to you, my dear friends, but I rather do it in person instead of via some hitech communication method.

5) I will kick ass BIG TIME as a (freelance) journalist & photographer – Apart from the heaps of personal bulls shit 2010 has given me, work-wise the past 360-something days were extremely good.  Since I started my career as a journalist in 2002, I have published stuff in over 30 different publications worldwide. Currently, I have quite a few prestigious clients under my wings. Without being arrogant: I am really proud of that and therefore I am determined to kick some more ass in 2011.

6) I will not have hair highlights done EVER again – Yesterday, a few hours before the ex Significant Other sent me ‘the’ sms, I decided to have some highlights done. Subtle highlights. You know, as in ‘sun kissed hair’. Clearly the chick in charge of my ‘do’ was deaf or stupid or stubborn, or maybe she simply did not understand what the word ‘subtle’ meant. What ever the case was: my reflexion on the mirror almost made my choke on my tea. I looked like a freaking zebra, with Marilyn Monroe blonde streaks adorning my chocolate-brown hair. Like someone dropped a bucket of ivory paint over my locks. Luckily she managed to fix things without shaving my hair off.

7 ) I will visit my family in The Netherlands – I have not been in my country of birth since June 2009 and that has to change. I miss my 84-year old granny and my bestest and oldest friend José and my folks a lot. So, hopefully, I will catch a plane in March to go see them. Do not get me wrong: I love South Africa. But sometimes living abroad is damn hard, simply because you have two worlds to think of and not just one.

8) I will write my grandfather’s story – My grandfather was an amazing man. His story of how he was arrested by the Germans during World War 2, sent off to Berlin, escaped from there, was rearrested, and sent to a salt mine in Northern Germany as a prisoner of war. There he met a Russian girl called Maria, who lived at a women;s concentration camp. It was an innocent love, but it went deep. When the Germans realised they were about to lose the war, they put Maria and other women in army trucks and drove them into the river. Most of them died. He managed to escape and walked all the way back to The Netherlands. He ended up marrying the girl next door (litterally), my beloved 84-year old Grandmother. His story needs to be written down. Period.

 
5 Comments

Posted by on December 24, 2010 in The World of Mir

 

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