By Sally Evans
Two weeks ago, I wrote a story about former Gauteng crime intelligence boss Joey Mabasa’s gun allegedly being used to kill strip club tycoon Lolly Jackson.
It made me realise how far this story has come since Jackson’s death a year ago, and the unimaginable journey it has led me on as a young journalist.
When Jackson was shot in a hail of bullets last year, I was blissfully unaware, reading a book tucked up in my bed. In fact, I only found out the next morning when I tuned in to the radio on my way to work. Most of the media world — well, in South Africa at any rate — had been working around the clock already trying to piece together what had happened and why the notorious strip-club owner had been killed.
I had no idea then that over the next year, his death would lead me through a twisted world of shadowy characters and underworld mobsters, who would feel the need to tell me things that this petite blonde never imagined happened outside of the movies.
When Jackson was killed, I was tasked to work with a colleague to cover the story and we went to the house where Jackson was shot. We tried to chat to some of the neighbours but it seemed that either the street was far more secretive than Wisteria Lane or the truth of what happened on the night of May 3 would prove to be far more intriguing and complex than even they knew.
Dressed in black and as smartly as I could, I went to Jackson’s funeral in Germiston where I would soon get my first glimpse into the world that had encapsulated and then ended Jackson’s life.
The whole experience was surreal. There were hundreds of people, all in black with huge sunglasses and hats, ladies clinging onto men, crying, clasping tissues, and of course there was a scattering of very glamorous women who worked at some of Jackson’s Teazers clubs.
I didn’t realise it at the time, but I would meet a few people at Jackson’s funeral who would pull back a curtain for me, even just a tiny bit, into the rumbling Johannesburg underworld. And it was then that my fascination with what happened to Jackson and why it happened, really began.
It happened so quickly, that a lot of what I was told in the ensuing weeks and months after he was killed, did not make sense to me at the time, nor did I realise how seriously manipulative some of the people I met really were.
I think it was the night of Lolly’s funeral that I met someone (who had known Jackson) for dinner — who I had met that day — in the hopes of getting a scoop or at the very least some insight into Jackson’s final weeks, days or hours.
What I got was a scary shock of madness from a man who was as high as a kite. I am pretty sure he kept going to the toilet to snort cocaine, can’t be certain (I didn’t feel equipped to ask him if this was the case) so I smiled and pretended to ignore the white gunk streaming from his nose.
At one point he made a phone call and told the person on the other end of the phone “you owe me $???? (Inaudible). I am on my way to get it. I will break you”.
He looked at me and said: “Don’t go anywhere, I will be back in 20 minutes.”
Perhaps that would have been a good time to leave. But I really wanted to get something from this guy and I think I was probably too scared to leave.
He came back, sweating, about 30 minutes later and he reached inside his jacket pocket, whereupon he produced an envelope with a wad of cash in different currencies. He was satisfied that he had got what he went out to get and so the evening continued, until I convinced him that I needed to go home.
He told me some quite shocking things, which I scribbled on the menu, but a lot of what he told me was out of context at the time, and has only now started to prove useful and interesting.
Since that dinner, there have been many others who I have met who knew Jackson and who have each come to play their part in helping fit the puzzle together.
I learnt that information comes in sporadic fits and bursts.
The information you get from your sources may come as a breakthrough, but thereafter it is back to business and you revert back to the daily grind of searching for the other pieces of the puzzle that you don’t yet have.
And this is what I have been learning since that dinner.
As an investigative reporter you rely on people to help you fit the pieces together; there are people who genuinely want the truth to be discovered and revealed, especially those who feel the police are not doing their job. Then there are those who are pushing their own agenda. And finally, those that don’t want the truth to come out at all and will make sure of that by any means possible.
But regardless of the type of person you meet, it all seems to be pretty clandestine — you have to be careful, you have to protect the people who are brave enough to give you information.
Early morning meetings in strange places, coded messages and cryptic phone calls are standard. But the main thing I have found is that it is a process that has to happen and unfold. I am learning that as an investigative reporter you have to be patient, as you rely on the ability of your sources, and things do not happen instantaneously.
It is aggravating and it does get frustrating when an investigation goes like a rocket and then all of a sudden slows to a jog. But like we have seen with some of the biggest investigations, such as the case of Jackie Selebi and the Arms Deal, these stories have life spans of more than five or 10 years.
The story about Mabasa’s gun and the questions around his involvement are far from the end of the mystery. It is merely the beginning of a new chapter in the story of a grim and gruesome world that leads to strip bosses being killed, Cypriot drug addicts fleeing the country and Eastern European fugitives hiding behind the low doors of new Lamborghinis.
At the end of the day, the truth reveals itself regardless of who tries to suppress it. And reporters are the vessel through which this information must be carried to you the public, who deserve the truth.
Like Horatio Caine, David Caruso’s character in CSI Miami, said last week as he pulled his sunglasses down to the tip of his nose: “Bring. It. On.”