Nice to see a familiar byline in the @LasVegasSun. Heartbreaking story out of Oklahoma though. cc: @NomaanMerchant http://t.co/HvNhjgRj2v
Why isn't New Orleans Mother's Day parade shooting a 'national tragedy'? | David Dennis: http://t.co/yvOivs2LIS (via @guardian)
RT @nycjim: AP's letter to AG Eric Holder protesting "massive and unprecedented intrusion" into news gathering. http://t.co/Q0T2nIck8B
RT @HuffPostPol: RT @HuffPostMedia: We thank the wonderful @elisefoley for coming up with this splash headline http://t.co/A0gzKfdYEF
RT @mediatwit: Journalists who tweet their own links less and RT others more see a 17% gain in followers http://t.co/wtSowibogu cc: @AdamS …
NASA's time-lapse video was visually more impressive though: http://t.co/zT2FnWcjE9
Google's time-lapse satellite footage of #LasVegas, the fastest growing city in the last two decades: http://t.co/xRs0wmOLGZ
My new favorite Tumblr site: http://t.co/VbS694UAQM
A Final Embrace: The Most Haunting Photograph from Bangladesh: http://t.co/wgGHDSlkZc (via @TIMEPictures)
RT @coopnytimes: New Jersey becomes the only Eastern Seaboard state north of Virginia without same-sex marriage. A map: http://t.co/BltwzSH…
RT @CenturyLink: CenturyLink is currently experiencing a service disruption. We are working to restore service and apologize for any inconv…
RT @LasVegasSun: A nation-wide internet service disruption has caused http://t.co/1281EhXOne to go offline. Sorry for the inconvenience. Be…
RT @motokorich: If "transformational," "innovation," and "solutions" were banned words, my inbox would be practically empty today.
Heading back to the 201. (@ McCarran International Airport (LAS) - @lasairport w/ 87 others) http://t.co/iGZcHxCfe3
Column: When the perpetrator is Muslim, the motive must be Islam: http://t.co/wW5TTvx8GR (via @chicagotribune)
RT @LasVegasSun: Grace through Grief: Join the discussion with the reporters who covered the story today from 3-5pm. -- http://t.co/itaE9B…
Commencement address (2008) by Adrian Tan. #wordstoliveby
University of Chicago, a surprisingly beautiful school where fun goes to die. #northwesternforlyfe #missingchitown
Photos edited with CameraBag 2.
Chicago | March 2012 | © Paul Takahashi
So my friend is an RA here at UC Irvine and he went to Chik Fil-A with his residents. The cashier did NOT ask for their names, but when they got their receipts, this is what they said. If you know anything about UCI, you probably know that we have a reputation as being an Asian-dominant school. Fifty-three percent, actually. And while the victims of this act are indeed Asian, it shouldn’t matter. The fact that ignorant language like this is used to describe people is UNACCEPTABLE.
“I went to talk to the manager, and I told him that this cannot happen ever again. I chose to be calm about it, but I was ready to go off. I made it known that it wasn’t okay, and that I didn’t appreciate it whatsoever. I think I indirectly fired Lia…”
- RA Friend
I thought people had learned after what happened to the girl from UCLA, but apparently not. Racism is still alive these days, people.
Photos: Joel, the cat | © 2011 Paul Takahashi
So I met tennis star and Las Vegas native Andre Agassi last week. Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush were touring his charter school. Agassi looks a bit puzzled at the sight of a reporter crouching below the TV cameras to get this shot. My published photos at the link.
Photo: Andre Agassi | © 2011 Paul Takahashi
RIP Steve Jobs. From Jobs’ 2005 Stanford commencement address:
“No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.
Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”
I have no interest in policing the content of such projects. However, as chief executive I am duty-bound to ensure that taxpayers are not footing a $420,000 bill for a project which does nothing more than perpetuate misconceptions about the State and its citizens.
New Jersey governor Chris Christie, in a letter to New Jersey Economic Development Authority CEO Caren S. Franzini announcing the vetoing of a tax break benefiting the company that produces MTV’s Jersey Shore.
The tax credit was dubbed the “Snooki subsidy” by its opponents.
Photos: Linnea | Bryan, Texas | Sept. 2011
© 2011 Paul Takahashi
‘Ellen DeGeneres Show’ donates $100,000 to Whitney Elementary (1,000+ Facebook “Likes”!)
Ten years later, it’s still so damn hard to reflect on Sept. 11, 2001. The reams of journalism, the streams of social media updates and the photo galleries of people falling 100 stories to their deaths… I cannot stop myself from crying, it’s just so overwhelming. My heart just breaks for all the victims, the heroes and soldiers who died that day and since.
I was in 8th grade when it happened. I turned 14 only two days before. It was a clear, blue morning in Ridgewood, NJ, some 25 miles from Manhattan.
My class had just walked back from gym into Mrs. Ziemba’s social studies class. The small TV perched at the top right corner of the classroom was on, and I could see the orange flames engulfing the top of the World Trade Center. Mrs. Ziemba quickly shut it off and explained to the class what little she knew about the terrorist attacks. I can’t imagine what that must have been like, to break such tragic news to kids.
I remember being stunned. I thought immediately of my dad. A few years ago, my dad had quit his job at Ernst & Young in Midtown to start his own accounting firm in Teaneck, NJ. However, he would still go regularly into the city to meet his clients, many of them North American subsidiaries of Japanese companies. I tried to remember, did he mention that morning he was planning to go into the city?
Kids were starting to cry in the room. Living in a bedroom community, many of our parents worked on Wall Street, taking the NJ Transit train some 40 minutes from our suburb into the city. So many of us had moms and dads, friends and neighbors working in those Towers. We were told we could go to the guidance office if we needed to call home or wanted to talk to someone.
Class resumed. Benjamin Franklin Middle School tried to carry on, but nothing about that day was normal anymore. My mind was blank as I stared into that equally blank TV screen where moments ago we saw the world as we knew it suddenly change. I don’t remember learning anything at school that day.
This was the age before most students had cell phones. We were all cut off – shielded for a moment perhaps – from all the chaos and hell going on outside. But the fear was palpable, it was everywhere. Hard as we tried, it was etched in our faces.
I dashed off to the pay phone after the period ended to call my mom at home. She had been running errands all morning, and didn’t know what had happened. I remember telling her to turn on the TV and call my dad. Was he in New York that day?
The rest of school was all a blur. I was shocked and angry and sad as I ambled about from class to class. After school let out, my mom picked my brother and me up. My dad was all right, she said. He hadn’t gone into the city that day.
When we got home, we sat glued to the TV, watching as the Twin Towers fell over and over and over again.
Those gleaming silver skyscrapers were more than just buildings. They were a symbol of American ingenuity and economic strength, the tallest in North America and an amazing feat of Japanese architectural design and American engineering and construction.
I remember going on a field trip there once in elementary school. We were making collages about New York City, and our teachers at Travell wanted to inspire us. I was so excited the day I visited the observation deck of the World Trade Center. The elevators went up so fast my ears hurt. But it was worth it. We were on top of the world and it was so magical and breathtaking.
Despite growing up in New Jersey, going to school in Chicago and currently living in Las Vegas; I will always be a New Yorker at heart. I was born in New York City, and to me, it will always be the greatest city in the world.
In the immediate aftermath of the attack, I remember our community and country coming together. As I attended the many vigils, ceremonies and dedications and saw the long lines at blood banks, all those brave firefighters and police officers working at Ground Zero, I never felt so so united, so patriotic, so proud to be an American.
I quickly found out my neighbor across and a few houses down the street from me died on September 11. I didn’t know him personally, but I will always remember him.
His name was Steven Patterson, and he had a wife and two twin 5-year-old boys. I would later learn he had just started at Cantor Fitzgerald not one year ago when one of the hijacked planes hit the North Tower. Patterson was just one of 12 residents Ridgewood lost that day. Whenever I stop by Van Neste Park, I always try to remember to stop by the memorial and look at his name engraved in stone.
I will never forget.
Check out our ongoing series at The Turnaround: Inside Clark County Schools
Story: The Turnaround: Western High School’s goals include more parent involvement
Check out our ongoing series at The Turnaround: Inside Clark County Schools
From an adapted version of Silva’s speech at the Bronx Documentary Center Aug. 2, posted on the Times’ Lens blog:
I heard the mechanic click. I knew: this is not good. And I found myself lying face-down on the ground, engulfed in a cloud of dust, with the very clear knowledge that this has just happened and this is not good. I could see my legs were gone, and everybody around me was dazed. I was like, “Guys, I need help here.”
Just an incredible read.
One year ago this week, I drove 2,500 miles out to Las Vegas to work for the best media company in the country. Nowhere else do you have the opportunity to do such great work with so many great colleagues for so many great people.
Photo by Meredith Jones | Dec. 2010
Sometimes, I get these kinds of voice messages. You know, the ones that vent about “total absolute shit,” “snot-nosed, feminist-led mentality of entitlement” and “bunch of freaking idiots, lazy lout, punks, cupcakes.”0 plays
I like getting voicemails like this at work.10 plays
This past weekend, a group of us rented a car and drove out to the Pilanesberg/Magaliesberg region to the northwest of Johannesburg. (We drove an automatic, but driving on the left side of the road was a bit tricky at times since we tended to drift toward the curb.) Parts of this country are so beautiful, and the game drive in Pilanesberg proved to be almost as fruitful as the one we did in Kruger National Park.
A highlight of the weekend trip was seeing a cheetah in the wild. We were told some people had spotted one about 500 meters from the Pilanesberg Centre in the middle of the park. We rushed over to catch a glimpse of it. It was quite a distance away, resting under a tree, but it was absolutely breath-taking.
We couldn’t get enough of cheetahs, and so we visited the De Wildt Cheetah Reserve as well. The farm rehabilitates and breeds a number of different animals, many on the endangered species list. These animals – cheetahs, wild dogs, etc – are so magnificent, it’s a real shame their mere existence is in jeopardy.
Environmentalism and conservation are a major concern in South Africa. In Kruger, poachers both on a small and large scale are a huge menace and nowadays, game rangers are armed with assault rifles not to protect themselves from wild animals but to combat poachers. At both Kruger and Pilanesberg, there were pictures posted at rest stops of poached animals maimed by snares, killed by gunshots and plundered for their horns, tusks and genitals. The horrific killing of animals for such small items like ivory and ingredients for muti is sad.
Yet, animals themselves contribute to conservation concerns as well. Herds of elephants across Africa have dynamically altered the landscape, changing the vast Serengeti plains from its once lush, verdant woodlands to grasslands, plains and desert. Even in the bushveld of Pilanesburg, we caught an elephant trampling trees down. I’ve got nothing against elephants, but many say their actions are partially to blame for the desertification of Africa. Because of this, some have proposed killing elephants again to bring their population down to a more manageable level.
Conservation in Africa as well as all over the world is a complicated issue. Many of these animals are unwanted – farmers and herders actively kill vultures, baboons, wild dogs (currently, the second most endangered species in the world) and other “vermin” by poisoning carasses of their kill, setting traps and shooting them. You sometimes hear of elephants trampling through rural African villages creating havoc, and there are many a story about leopards and lions killing humans, which exacerbates the tensions. As South Africa continues to expand economically, it’ll be interesting to see what the tradeoff will be environmentally and whether sustainability and natural balance can be achieved amidst all the economic challenges facing the nation.
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This past week, I covered a church vigil in the Johannesburg township of Alexandra. The service, which was attended by about 50 Alex residents, commemorated the xenophobic attacks of May 2008.
One year ago, 62 foreigners were killed by angry mobs who felt threatened by Zimbabweans and other Africans who “were taking their jobs.” Pictures of maimed and burning bodies shocked the world, just as the violence in Kenya earlier last year had. It goes to show you that democracy is a fragile thing and a flourishing state can just as quickly turn into an illiberal democracy.
The aftermath of the xenophobic violence is still apparent in South Africa. Right after the attacks, thousands of foreigners were displaced from their homes in townships like Alexandra and Ramaphosa into squatter camps. Zimbabwean refugees still squat at the Central Methodist Church in downtown Johannesburg. The rioters and murderers still roam the streets of Johannesburg freely and boast of their shameful exploits, according to a recent Times story by my colleague Benjamin Bradlow. Xenophobia is alive and well in parts of the Rainbow Nation, which holds the credo of tolerance and non-racialism to the utmost reverence.
Working on this story made me realize how reconciliation can be such an empty-handed gesture. Sure, people can pray, ask forgiveness and vow never again. Yet, the legacy of apartheid continues to exist in South Africa. The senseless nature of the violence in South Africa – the burning and the brutal beating of foreigners last year – mirror the violence that pervaded South Africa during the apartheid era. And was the church packed with South Africans and foreigners united against xenophobia? Organizers blamed the low turnout on a misunderstanding, but do they really suppose scores of Alexandra residents really want to relive this shameful period in their history? Community leaders can say one thing, but the ordinary South African would probably rather forget such atrocities ever occurred in their neighborhoods.
It’s this conflicting duality in South Africa that continues to astonish me. You can cover some of the most extravagant events, like a 75-million Rand inauguration ceremony that celebrates the conclusion of a free, fair and democratic election, and the next week, cover the aftermath of horrific violence in poor townships. It’s a constant culture shock, one I’m not sure I will ever get over.
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(That’s according to the Sunday Times this past weekend.)
On Sunday, I got a chance to cover Jacob Zuma’s inauguration in Pretoria, which was essentially one big lavish party reported to have cost 75 million Rand. It’s incredible how there are so many South Africans without basic necessities such as housing, running water or electricity that to go to one of these events and hear of expensive champagne flowing just makes my blood simmer.
Still, it was an exciting event to report from, especially because it posed a several challenges.
- It’s not easy waking up at 3 a.m. having only slept four hours. My colleagues and I had to wake up in the wee hours of the morning, along with hundreds of other journalists covering the inauguration, in order to make sure we didn’t get caught in the horrendous traffic jam between Jo’burg and Pretoria that is the M1.
- It’s scary driving around Berea at night. It’s one of two neighborhoods (Hillbrow being the other) my professors have told me never to venture into. We ran red lights (legal at night in dodgey neighborhoods of Jo’burg) and treated every darting shadow as a potential carjacker. All this made for a nerve-wrecking experience. Maybe we were just being too paranoid.
- It’s quite difficult to report when you have technical difficulties and power outages every now and then. Fortunately, the blackouts only lasted a few minutes, but when our 3G Internet dongle died on us midway through the inauguration, it became nearly impossible to Twitter and upload pictures.
- Pouring rain and cold weather does not make for comfortable reporting. I still can’t believe I wore beige khaki pants to the festivities – what was I thinking?
- It’s impossible to cover the swearing in ceremony if you’re not accredited to get into the amphitheater. It would have been nice to see many of the African dignitaries present.
- It’s hard to push out a video story close to live as possible. At one point, my editor was telling me I literally had 20 minutes to edit my piece and upload it to the Web. My first draft of that video, which went live around 11:30 a.m., was far from perfect. It had bad audio (media centre where I recorded my narration was very loud) and really rough edits. But it was up, and I can say, I didn’t break down under pressure.
- It’s crazy to head out to cover Jacob Zuma’s speech less than half-an-hour before he arrives. At the Siyanqoba Rally a few weekends ago, I chose a spot as close to the stage (and Nelson Mandela!) as possible and stood there stubbornly for several hours. This time, because I had to upload my video, I had to push my way through the thousands of ANC supporters gathered at the Southern Lawns of the Union Buildings to get remotely close to the stage. Miraculouly, a police officer saw my media credentials and waved me through into the media pool between the fence keeping the crowds at bay and the stage. I couldn’t believe my luck! I had a clear shot of Jacob Zuma!
- It was impossible to understand what Zuma was saying in his speech to the crowd (He spoke mainly in Zulu.)
- It’s pretty difficult not to collapse into bed when you get home at 8 p.m. Was Sunday the longest work day I’ve ever had?
Despite all the challenges covering the inauguration posed, it was an amazing experience. I got a glimpse of the beautiful Union Buildings and saw how many South Africans were feeling that day.
Sure, there are a lot of questions still hovering over Jacob Zuma. The aquitted rape charges and the dropped corruption charges don’t help. His poor education and his ill-informed comment about how a shower could help prevent AIDS a while back cast a huge shadow on his ability to govern. However, the many South Africans I’ve talked with during the past few weeks are feeling hopeful. They want to give this man, a man of the people, a chance to serve for the people. Only time will tell if Zuma will keep all the campaign promises he’s made. So far, he has not.
One of Zuma’s first statements when he was chosen to become the third democratically-elected president of South Africa and its first Zulu head of state was to let the people know there will be no government plums to hand out. Yet, lo and behold, several key supporters have been appointed to senior leadership positions in his cabinet, including the South African Communist Party leader Blade Nzimande, and his ex-wife.
Surprisingly, Zuma didn’t re-appoint Barbara Hogan to the position of Health Minister, but to another powerful position: the ministry of public enterprises. Hogan was such a breath of fresh air after the previous health minister touted beet roots as a cure for AIDS. Her initiative to roll out a record number of ARVs was lauded as inspired, and although heavily criticized within the ANC leadership, Hogan’s criticism of denying the Dalai Llama a visa was internationally hailed. Some weeks ago, I had a chance to visit where Hogan was imprisoned during the apartheid years as a political dissident and I was amazed at all that she has accomplished since then. It’s mind-boggling why she wasn’t chosen to stay on as the Minister of Health.
Zuma has a lot on his plate and a lot of doubts surrounding him. Will he be the capable leader South Africa so desperately needs at this crucial time? I guess only time will tell.
Link to my video filed from the media centre in Pretoria during the inauguration:
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I apologize for not posting sooner – the lack of Internet at Kruger plus wireless issues hampered my blogging the past few days.
Update: I ventured up to Kruger National Park in Mpumalanga province this past weekend with a group of Medill students. We stayed with David Bunn, a Wits University professor (and a NU alumnus!), at a research facility near Skukuza, which was great because it wasn’t very touristy.
I’m planning to write up a longer blog post about Kruger, especially the environmental and human aspects of the park (poaching is a big problem). I’d also like to share my experiences riding around looking for these cool animals.
In the meantime, I’ve uploaded about 200 photos of my experience in Kruger. Interesting tidbit: This photo slideshow represents less than 10 percent of all the photos I’ve taken this past weekend. It was my first foray into wildlife photography – I like it a lot!
Anyway, our group spotted more than 90 species of animals, birds and reptiles. We also got to see all the Big Five (the five most dangerous animals to hunt – elephant, rhino, buffalo, leopard and lion). It was an amazing accomplishment, considering we only had two and a half days in the park. Well, maybe it had more to do with luck, but whatever.
Here’s an abbreviated account of my election day activities:
First, I tagged along with a print reporter for The Times to three polling stations in Johannesburg. We were working on a story comparing the polling environment in the affluent suburb of Illovo and the urban center of Hillbrow and Joubert Park. Suffice it to say, it was quite a comparison.
The polling station in Illovo was at a country club, so from the get-go, you already knew what kinds of people would flock there. However, there was quite a diversity among all the people voting there. Retirement-age people stood in line with university students. White people waited next to black people. Domestic workers queued up alongside business-owners. I think it was the first time I’ve seen such intermingling across class and ethnic lines on a large scale in South Africa.
After speaking with a couple of the people there, we quickly drove down to Hillbrow, a place where my professors told me never to venture to. Even our guide during orientation week refused to take us through Hillbrow, that’s how dangerous it is. To drive this point home, the print reporter I was with was hesitant to go to Hillbrow using her own car and without another photographer. I wasn’t too worried though, having walked through that area on the way back from the Siyanqoba Rally. The main road right by the park is actually quite beautiful, and I don’t recall ever being that scared I would be mugged. Maybe I’m being too naive.
We only stayed in Hillbrow for a short period of time, since we were only stopping by the polling station. The voters were were very homogeneous: black, working class people from Johannesburg’s most notorious urban neighborhood. After only a few interviews, we quickly made our way to Joubert Park, the largest polling station in South Africa with thousands of registered voters.
The lines at Joubert Park were long. Very long. They must have stretched for miles since it took nearly five hours for one guy to finish voting. He had been waiting since 5:30 in the morning. If that’s not evidence of dedication to a democracy consolidated, I don’t know what is.
Inside the polling station, I could see the entire voting process. Each South African must show his/her government-issued ID book with a unique code that gets scanned by a zip-zip machine (hand-held scanner). After his/her name gets crossed off a national voter’s roll, one gets his/her finger marked with indelible ink. Apparently, it takes weeks to wear off. Although it’s for verification purposes to make sure there are no repeat voters, the inked thumb is also a cool badge of honor for South Africans, acting as indisputable proof that they voted. I wish there was something similar in the States – a “I voted” sticker just doesn’t have the same weight. After he/she gets two ballots, one each for the national and provincial elections, he/she then proceeds to the voting booth and finally to the ballot boxes to cast the ballots.
From what I could see visiting the three polling stations, the voting process went fairly smoothly. No voter intimidation or violence. No fights between those waiting in line. However, there were a few instances of voter irregularities. One presiding officer at a polling station in another district was caught with lots of marked ballots. In other parts of the country, there were some ballot shortages. I don’t understand why people were allowed to vote whereever they wanted, because I’m sure that’s the cause for voting stations running out of ballots. Overall, as electoral observers and the IEC announced on Saturday, it was a free and fair election.
You must be wondering, how in the world do South Africans have the time to wait hours in line to cast their ballots? Well, Election Day is a national holiday in South Africa. The day of the first democratic elections is also hailed as a public holiday (April 27, 1994). It’s great to see such importance placed on this democratic right. It ensures that everyone is able to vote should they want to, and at a time of their choosing.
The rest of Election day and week, I spent a lot of time in Pretoria, at the IEC’s Results Centre, watching the results come in. I also got a chance to see all the major politicians come through to oversee the proceedings, which was great. Photos will be up shortly! Here’s a link to the video story I worked on: http://multimedia.thetimes.co.za/videos/2009/04/south-africans-cast-their-ballots/
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It’s been a while since I last posted. I took some much-needed rest over this past three-day weekend after pulling double-digit-hour days covering the election. And, oh, it was quite an election to cover. Although we all knew the ANC would win, we weren’t quite sure how comfortably the ruling party would remain in power. The Western Cape was definitely the biggest battleground province, with the KZN and the Eastern Cape regions close behind. With the new breakaway party COPE in the mix among the 20 some odd opposition parties, this election had all the ingredients for a fascinating political study.
My prediction, as tweeted on my Twitter feed, was that ANC would win (duh), but wouldn’t get the two-thirds majority necessary to be able to change South Africa’s constitution with ease. At points during the initial days after the election when the results were still being tallied, it seemed possible the ANC would secure this power. However, it was wrested from them by a mere 0.7 percentage point. I could only imagine how tense the ANC and opposition parties DA and COPE must have been watching the votes coming in through the Independent Electoral Commission’s Results Operation Centre in Pretoria. At a presser after the results were finalized on Saturday, Jacob Zuma said he wasn’t disappointed with the results, saying that he still “smelled” getting his predicted 70 percent of the total vote. It would’ve been worse for Julius Malema, the ANC Youth League leader if he had to speak at that presser as well. Malema declared infamously days before the election that his party would get a three-thirds majority. Yes, there are public officials here who utter Bushisms.
I had also predicted that the DA would win the Western Cape, which it did convincingly enough that they will be able to govern that one-ninth of South Africa without the help of any other opposition party. It’s a massive undertaking. While Helen Zille was able to make some substantial changes in Cape Town, expanding that success to the entire province will be a difficult task. Unlike the ANC, which can hide behind the mantra that it’s the liberation party, the DA will really have to prove itself in the next four years for it to be a viable opposition party on the national scene by the 2014 election. I don’t see Zille sleeping much until then, but then again, I never did see her sleep. She was seriously like an Energizer bunny hopping around the ROC even after months of tireless campaigning.
My other prediction was that COPE would disappoint. I never expected that a political party formed only months prior to the election would get a surprising 7 percent of the vote and become the official opposition party to the ANC in four of the nine provinces. With a bare-bones political organization and mobilization strategy, it seemed too difficult for COPE to do that well, especially when many of its members were defectors from the ruling party (problematic since they claimed they’re not the ANC). Something like this could really only happen in a country where floor-crossing was de rigeur until recently and where political parties aren’t absolutely entrenched in society like in the States.
The biggest story post-election is what the other smaller opposition parties are planning to do now. Many of them were decimated in the election, all but one losing members. One clear example of this occurred in the traditional IFP party “stronghold” in the KZN region, where Zuma’s Zulu background helped the ANC to an extent. I’m certain these smaller parties will have to form coalitions with each other or become absorbed into the larger parties. Political parties are cementing themselves into South African society, and its people are becoming less likely to “throw away” their votes to opposition parties of the past that have tried and failed in the face of the ANC.
All in all, it was quite an experience to cover these elections. On April 22, South Africa held its fourth democratic election that once again consolidated democracy where it didn’t exist a mere 15 years ago. But more than that, it was an election that made me realize the allure of elections as a journalist. As a colleague put it to me, it represents the one day every five years where the people have all the power. Despite all the problems, all the corruption, all the politicking that contributes to the overwhelming feeling of powerlessness that the marginalized feel in South Africa, they have their ballot and their say on this one day. It’s a shame there aren’t more election days.
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It’s not common nowadays to say it’s a great time to be a journalist. After all, the industry is shrinking, newspapers are going bankrupt (especially in the States) and the profession is at a crossroads in terms of forming a sustainable business model since the advent of free content online. But I have to say, it ain’t so bad being a journalist in South Africa.
Print reigns in South Africa because Internet penetration is so low. There is still a culture of reading physical newspapers in this country, and papers like the Sunday Times, Daily Sun, The Star and Beeld are generally doing better than American papers. Of course, this will change as South African broadband increases, but for now, the few media companies operating here are making good money.
Not only is the business model quite buoyant here, the stories are far more interesting than in the States. There are stories here that will make you cry. Others will make you shake your head. There are a bunch that will make you smile. I hope to be smiling a lot tomorrow.
Tomorrow is Election Day in South Africa. It was fewer than 15 years ago that racial and political intolerance pervaded South African society, so it’s incredible to see a fledgling democracy largely consolidated if not ingrained into the South African psyche. Sure, there are problems here just as in any other country. Sure, voter turnout has declined and people are starting to turn away from the polls “in protest.” But talking with ordinary South Africans during the past few weeks has instilled within me hope for a lasting democratic South Africa. Tomorrow, upwards of 20 million voters will wait in line at polling stations, cast their paper ballots and get their fingers inked. Considering the long history of oppression here, it’s pretty amazing.
I would be remiss if I didn’t write about seeing the South African president today. The Times had scheduled a behind-the-scenes tour of SABC, the public broadcaster that is playing an integral part in the elections, getting out the vote, informing voters, etc. I knew driving out to Pretoria at 7 this morning that President Motlanthe would be showing up at some point to tour the facilities, so his visit wasn’t a surprise like it was with Mandela appearing at the Siyanqoba rally this past Sunday. Still, it’s not every day you get to meet a head of state, even if it’s at the very end of his term.
Motlanthe seemed very down-to-earth as he toured the Results Centre. He smiled at and shook hands with many of the Independent Electoral Commission workers there. His speech, which touched on the vibrancy of South African democracy, was humble. He did seem a bit aloof, however, when he had to be prompted to shake the hand of the former Nigerian president for a photo op with the media. I’m definitely not qualified to give an assessment of his brief presidency; however, on the whole, I was impressed with Motlanthe, a man whose ascension to the presidency was mired in controversy but still managed to change the course of HIV/AIDS in South Africa. Check out my video of the SABC tour and Motlanthe’s visit: http://multimedia.thetimes.co.za/videos/2009/04/behind-the-scenes-at-sabc/
Let’s see how tomorrow goes. I’ll be working crazy hours from tomorrow to Saturday when most if not all of the election results will be announced, but I’ll try my best to update my Twitter.
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Today, the ANC hosted what many called South Africa’s largest political rally. Over 100,000 people crammed into two stadiums in Ellis Park in Johannesburg: Coca-Cola Stadium and Johannesburg Stadium. I made it into the media centre at around 8:30 a.m., about half an hour before the official start of the rally. People from all over South Africa and beyond gathered in Coca-Cola Stadium mainly to see Jacob Zuma, the man who will most likely ascend to the presidency of South Africa by the end of next week.
It would be an understatement if I said this rally was massive. Just in the press area, I met people from Germany, Madagascar, Zambia and England in a span of a few hours. Right now, I’m watching Al Jazeera’s coverage of the rally and I just finished reading the NYT’s story about the rally. Indeed, this was truly an international event.
What some of us in the newsroom had surmised, but what I still found surprising, was Nelson Mandela’s appearance at today’s Siyanqoba “Victory” Rally. The 90-year-old Madiba, as Mandela is reverently called, was clearly frail, as he had to be helped up to the stage by Jacob Zuma and his ex-wife, Winnie. I had situated myself as close to the stage as possible, and so when the golf cart with Zuma and Mandela rolled into the stadium, I couldn’t see what was going on except that everyone on the field was running. Running toward that golf cart making its way around the stadium toward the stage.
As soon as the cart reached the stage, the media section went crazy. Everyone had figured out by then that Madiba was in the house. I must’ve been elbowed more than few times as photographers and videographers like me jockeyed for a clear shot of the former South African president. There was this one photographer who kept coughing on me, saying “I have TB, you better move to the back.” I sure hope she was kidding and only vying for my spot.
Boxed in and jostled around by competing journalists, I found it nearly impossible to shoot good footage until all the ANC leaders were seated. ANC secretary Gwede Mantashe, Winnie Mandela, Nelson Mandela, Jacob Zuma and other political leaders from COSATU and SACP were in attendance. They all began their rounds speaking and rallying the crowd with praise and liberation songs.
“Viva ANC, Viva!”
Zuma’s speech encapsulated the ANC’s five key platform issues, most dealing with service delivery. There are still many houses to be built and many children to be taught. Some South Africans still do not have access to electricity or running water. There are campaign promises 15 years in the making that have yet to be fulfilled. After a speech chock full of the same promises, Zuma sang Umshini Wami (Bring me my machine gun), and danced, not quite toyi-toyi’ed, his way back into everyone’s hearts. That man sure has charisma, if not motivational speaking skills.
Nelson Mandela was silent throughout the event. Occasionally, he nodded his head, smiled and shook hands with all the dignitaries present. His grandson carried an umbrella aloft above Mandela’s head, and someone had given him a cap midway through the speeches. Mandela is South Africa’s icon after all and a beacon for people power and democratization everywhere in the world. His only words were from a pre-recorded message played in the middle of the speeches, but his presence alone was more than enough to remind everyone there that the ANC is the party that liberated them from the oppressive Apartheid regime. It’s a brillant political tactic, cast only three days before Election Day, and it’s sure to pay off come Wednesday.
What troubled me with the media coverage was how Mandela’s message was taken to be an all-out endorsement for Jacob Zuma. Mandela is an ANC man. He toiled away in prison for 27 years fighting for the ANC’s mission – to bring about a rainbow nation where everyone is treated equally regardless of race, sex, creed, etc. Of course, he supports the ANC and will come out for the ANC’s final campaign rally. However, this doesn’t preclude the illogical conclusion that Mandela strongly endorses Zuma. Mandela may support Zuma, but it’s more an association, and like the Ayers-Obama one, it’s just that.
I’m extremely happy that I got a chance to see Nelson Mandela today. He doesn’t do many public appearances anymore, and aside from Wednesday’s election, it’ll be difficult to say when I’d be able to see him next. He’s such an incredible symbol of South Africa, and I couldn’t help but get goosebumps and stand dumbly star-struck as I saw him only a mere stone’s throw away. Still, I had a job to do: check out our Times video here: http://multimedia.thetimes.co.za/videos/2009/04/rock-stars-madiba-and-msholozi/
Check out more pictures in the following post!
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