Welcome to Pollsmoor

The typography of the sign at the entrance looks better suited to a theme park than a notorious maximum security jail. Pollsmoor’s prison gates appear innocuously opposite open green space along a leafy boulevard in moneyed Tokai. Most of the landscape around here is dedicated to gated three-storey new build residential complexes and quasi-suburban wine estates with award-winning restaurants recommended South Africa’s top gourmand guides. Once you turn into the parking lot for Pollsmoor and step out of the car, you’re well and truly through the rabbithole.

M. turned up late. He was to be our fixer: a former inmate and close friend the prisoner we were here to see. At 8am on Easter Saturday we began circling Salt River train station, on the fringes of the Cape Town CBD – never looking quite so bleak in a heavily overcast, rainy squall – trying to spot a dude in a leather jacket and white hat. One-eyed with a big scar on his cheek, my colleague Lee and I (both underslept) were already anxious by the time M. appeared. We hastily bundled him into the car and made our way through the fall-out from the morning’s Two Oceans marathon that had threatened to delay this journey at its outset. As we rattled down the M3 in my old Golf, the tail-end of the runners steamed along the other carriageway. The overweight, the walkers, the wheezing. The costumed funrunners.

We knew we were at the early stages of our own small ordeal: to try and navigate our way through the levels of red tape, inefficiency and apathy of the South African Department of Correction’s visiting procedures, starring a cast of seemingly thousands brown-jerseyed guards, desk clerks, marshalls, managers, friskers, watchers and general malingerers: each playing a bit part in making it a bewildering and painstaking process, largely organised by small pieces of handwritten scrap paper.

M was appointed to come along as he was armed with the previous experience (inside and out) of navigating through the steeplechase of waiting areas, chits and frowning bureaucrats. We warmed to him in the car, his tardiness quickly forgiven as he opened up about life inside and his apparent dedication to self-rehab. Only 23 years old, he spent 4 years in juvenile and the rest in Medium B, with a short spell in the notorious Maximum wing where the infamous Numbers gangs run things (as seen on Ross Kemp’s sensationalist documentary). He had been inside with our newly incarcerated friend, but had stayed out of trouble by devoting himself to his books and education. The gang Generals, he told me, left him alone: he respected them and they respected the fact that he was a bookworm with no interest in the thug life – apparently referring to him as ‘Brother’ as if he were a scholarly priest.

Entering the jail, we almost fell at the first hurdle: a pre-entry ‘chat’ where two facetious warders (known by inmates as ‘Members’) almost rumbled that we were a group of three when only two are allowed to visit each inmate. M, thinking quickly on his feet, came up with the name of a second inmate (we never asked if he made it up) and the scowling guards waved us through.

After a passport and Visa check (the guard swore he’d met me before), a frisk inside a floral cloth curtained booth, and a short wait for Lee (delayed since most visitors are women so the queue is longer for their frisking) we found ourselves in the first level of purgatory: a painfully slow snaking seated queue edging along benches waiting to register ourselves with the desk clerks. Here we had our first glance of inmates, unmistakable in garish orange prison tunics and slacks, wafting brooms around and casting sideways glances at the living, breathing, and mainly female, technicolour citizens of this temporary halfway house between their hell and the real world.

Wives, daughters, girlfriends and grandmothers eyed us up with curiosity – us waiting patiently in line, M told us later, was an unusual sight, as this crew of regulars were used to white visitors pushing straight to the front.
After over an hour we reached the desk where a portly female Member noted down our passport numbers and addresses, and gave us a slip of paper with X’s name. Although not his actual name, as it turns out. An administrative error had meant he was registered under a completely different – and unlikely sounding – first name. The Members chuckled as they handed us the slip of paper and wafted us toward the far door.

We then spent another thirty minutes waiting, watching sugared-up toddlers rampaging up and down as the dozy, dwindling group clustered around a pair of benches was summoned in small batches. We went last, into a packed minibus-taxi which whisked us all of 400 yards around the perimeter fence, taking a right at Maximum security, and dropped us at the gateway to the Medium B visiting area. Another unremarkable single story brick monolith, once again everyone except us knew the procedure: the 6-in/ 6-out flow through the metal turnstile, checking in valuables at the counter, purchasing items for our friend (which he could claim in a few days time) from the cupboard-cum-shop, and passing cash through a barred window for him to use on the inside.

As M and I stood outside, and he pointed out the Juvenile section behind us where he spent his time, we watched a new prisoner arrive, backed into the belly of the building through a double-gate. Shortly after, another prisoner exited through the same gate, this time on a stretcher, wheeled by two paramedics, looking pale and half-dead. A burly guard trailed him swinging cuffs and shackles for his arms and legs as the paramedics eased him and his drip into the ambulance.

Three hours after arriving we eventually found ourselves in the final ante-room: a small, bustling corridor with a bewildering stream of Members endlessly bowling back and forth, the female guard on the gate patiently opening and closing, opening and closing, each time turning the lock with an enormous brass key. The atmosphere was unmistakably light-hearted. Perhaps the guards enjoyed having civvies in the building. Some were helpful, some surly, but many clowned and joked like sixth formers in a common room. Meat-headed senior white warders with broken noses and granite jawlines barked commands in Afrikaans: the process was entirely unclear. As far as we could tell, one-by-one the members went through to find each requested inmate to fish them out for visiting time. Prisoners came and went from all directions, some showing little apparent deference to their keepers, chatting casually and joining in the general sense of eerie bonhomie. One or two sniffed and flexed as they walked past us back towards their cells, posturing for the real world.

As I checked in my valuables with the office, one of the female warders took a shine to me, winking and calling me sweetheart as she stapled my wallet and car keys into an envelope. “Do I need a slip?” I asked her. “No, sweetie”, she said with another wink and coy smile, “I know you.”

Feeling hard-done-by as the last few people in the waiting room, our visitee’s name (nom de plume and all) was announced by another portly guard in a woolly hat, and we were led through to a narrow room with tiny glass panels, separated with plywood and with a single stool in front of them.

And then there he was, eyes wide and eagerly smiling into the first friendly faces he’d seen in a week. After all the huffing and teeth-gnashing, the visit went like a shot. Lee and I took turns to press our hands against the glass and wish him love and strength and try and crack jokes. He was staying positive, he told me, knowing that he had been doing well outside had kept him going, and he was determined to get back out soon. M, who had managed to blag his way all the way through to the end, despite being the self-appointed one-too-many, was eventually hauled out by the guards who stood wagging their fingers patronisingly at him (he stood his ground, semi-triumphantly).

As Lee ran through a piece of business with him through the glass, the bobble-hatted Member came and shook my firmly by the hand and stared at me with an unnerving intensity. He wanted to know where I lived (in more detail than I was comfortable admitting), what my ‘programme’ was about and then, when I told him, tried to get my phone number and told me he could come to town to meet me.

He looked me up and down and asked me if clothes were cheaper in the UK. I tried to deflect the intensity of his questioning by asking him, if I had magazines delivered to Pollsmoor, would he distribute them for me. “No”, he said, and wandered off. And next moment they were banging on the walls and we were waving goodbye, back out into the cold Cape Town afternoon where the rain had just about given up.

As we left, the Members were milling about munching crisps, white rolls, drinking bottles of fizzy orange. I remarked to M how they were all quite, well, overweight. “It’s because they’re lazy and they don’t do anything all day”, he told me. All through the course of the day, he had chatted , seemingly cheerfully, to various Members in Xhosa. “They expect respect,” he told me, “but they don’t give it. And they don’t care. Today I’m telling them that they can’t do that anymore because I’m from the outside. I’m free.”

Along with a grandmother with walking stick – who subsequently struggled to step into the vehicle for the final minibus taxi ride back to the front gate – we were the last ones to leave. It was almost 2pm.

While we waited, a guard emerged and started throwing pieces of bread to three white ducks who were waddling towards the entrance to the visiting room. We wandered towards the Medium B gatehouse to try and usher the half-asleep Members to send for our transport. I was still holding the books I’d brought to keep our friend occupied. They weren’t allowed in because they weren’t about God.

Live SA: view from the inside

Nkuli Mlangeni: at the beating heart of the project

























So, my name is Nkuli and I’m the Project Coordinator here at Live Magazine South Africa. I’ve had a lot of interesting jobs in the past – and some not so cool ones – but this has by far been the most coolest.

It’s been a whole lot of fun hanging with the Live crew in the past two weeks.  The office went from being a plain ol’ boring office space to being a creative little joint with lots of funky images, flat plans and very busy walls.

I must say I was surprised to find out we’ve got another Grace Caddington fanatic in tha house: turns out little miss Ndu knows way more about fashion magazines than I thought. It also sounds like she got all the lowdown on who’s who in stiletto zoo.

And, I was freaked out a bit by Lauren and Roberto’s reaction when I showed them the Playstation games that they’re going to be playing for our reviews pages. They even came up with a genius idea to turn Gavin’s nothing office into a PS3 lounging area, with funky couches and a whole lot of other gaming gadgets that I’ve never heard of before.

Am really loving the energy and team spirit: thought it was so very sweet how our thoughtful editor Nicole went around collecting R5 from everyone to buy cake for  Fezeka’s birthday celebration.

And then there’s the cover story debate, So….who’s going to be the lucky star to bless the first cover of Live SA. I keep hearing Trevor Noah, Locnville, Dj Sbu, Bonang, Gareth Cliff, Julius Malema… the list goes on. And all I’m saying is Trevor Noah is my guy.

Can’t wait to checkout the new logo that the design crew’s been working on, Xolisa’s comic strip, Lauren’s sheep head experience and all the other goodies that this lot are cooking up.

Live Magazine South Africa: the new recruits

The Live Magazine SA team: (from l to r) Nana, Xolani, Cristal, Nicola and Lauren

Twenty one young people will be walking in to our office in Bo-Kaap, Cape Town, next Monday to start a journey that I hope will be life-changing for everyone involved. They are the first ever Live Magazine South Africa team. A diverse group from all across the Cape, with a range of backgrounds and abilities, but all driven by the need for experience, to taste the working world, and to become the voice of youth for their generation.

Competition for places was fierce, despite this being a voluntary opportunity. And for issue one, we are creating a core team which includes some young people who have some skills and experience, but matching this with a regular outreach programme to outposts in outlying townships to make sure there are weekly opportunities for grassroots involvement and contributions, including the Ikamva Live contributors; with the core team acting as peer mentors.

Get to know: the Live Mag SA team meet together for the first time at El Burro in Greenpoint

These 21 will be the core brains behind creating the first issue from top to bottom, assisted in their first week by Rahul Verma (editorial mentor) and Celeste Houlker (Editor) from Live Magazine UK, who will be flying out from London on a skills-transfer mission.

Week one will see us getting to know each other and talking through the history of the magazine and Livity UK, who our audience is, how the process works, why we’re doing this and, ultimately, what we are going to put in the magazine. Cathy Lund, deputy editor of Cosmopolitan, will be spending two days helping us to put the issue plan together; Chris Saunders will be talking about his career and overseeing the commissioning and shooting of photography; while Lynne Stuart and Greer Valley will be overseeing design, layout and illustration.

But, most importantly, the 21 young people who turned up bright-eyed, bushy tailed and on time for a welcome lunch yesterday, will be in charge, and this truly is their turn to show the world what the young people of South Africa are made of.

Week 8: some things I learnt from Ikamva Live

Sneak peek: Ikamva Live front cover

This morning I sent our one-off Ikamva Live mini-mag to the printers, less than seven days after the first word of the content was written. The magazine was all created by a team of almost exactly 20 young people, aged from 14 to 21, but mainly from the lower age groups.

The core group, who spent the first three days getting a quickfire background to making magazines, were from Makhaza in Khayelitsha. A second squadron from Masiphumelele parachuted in at the beginning of Content Blitz week and hit the ground running. We were operating out of a cluttered classroom at the Tsiba school in Pinelands, which by the end of the week was adorned with moodboards, flatplans and biscuit crumbs… with a computer room on hand for those needing to type things up or research.

It’s not over yet: we have the launch, the distribution, and our experiment with linking the content to a mobile channel via Mxit to contend with yet….

But in the meantime, here are 7 things I learned from the week:

1. You can get a lot done in one week: we did it, we made it. And it feels good. In all honesty, I was in two minds about doing this project, entirely due to the short time-scale I had to prepare for it, with a ten day trip to Geneva hoving into view (only returning the day before we started) and an already-packed meeting schedule. I had no idea how capable the learners were, how many of them we had, or whether I would be able to pull together a reliable mentoring team in time. By hook, crook, a little persuasion, a lot of goodwill, the odd sweaty moment, lots of driving around, and a flurry of phone calls, hastily-devoured sandwiches and late nights, the team managed to pull it all together.

2. Some people just GET it: Every day I rocked up to the Tsiba school with a bakkie packed with a different collection of odd-fellows as mentors. Everyone who turned up mucked in, even though they weren’t journalists (see point 3 below). Sometimes with barely a 30 second briefing from me, we had people sitting down to work on pieces with kids they’d never met, for a magazine that didn’t yet exist.

We couldn’t never have done any of this without the hard-work of Lynne Stuart, our design mentor; but particular mention must also go to volunteers Nkuli Mlangeni (stylist and photographer) and Claire Conroy (marketing and advertising), who both stayed the distance and got the very best out of the kids… with an honourable mention to Cebisa Zono, who would have been there until the end had he not, sadly, had to return to the Eastern Cape. The Big Issue team, as well, were generous with their time, advice and input, spending a whole afternoon with us at the end of the preparatory week.

3. Some folks are flakey… or maybe just afraid: I had numerous offers of help and support from Cape Town journalists. I replied to every person, followed up as much as possible, and even squeezed in meetings with one or two to try and reassure and explain what was gong to happen. Aside from the Big Issue team, who came down to be interviewed, not one of the journalists showed up. I’m left wondering why…

Maybe I wasn’t reassuring enough, maybe I didn’t explain it fully, or maybe they are all just incredibly busy. Those are some of the more generous conclusions I’ve come to. The one thing I’m convinced of is: come down once, get stuck in, and almost always you’ll want to come back and do it again. Mentoring is a two-way experience - valuable to mentor and mentee, but I realise I have an ‘education’ job to do to persuade people in this city of that. And I’m determined to succeed.

The Ikamva Live team

4. Stay focused: Live Magazine, when it launches here, will need to be focused on an older age group. Our Ikamva Live team got a lot out of it. And although there will be plenty of opportunities for high school age kids to get involved and interact, the real sweet spot I think is post-matric, age 18 and above. I’m more convinced than ever that Live needs to help those who have already overcome the hurdle of getting their education, but are still left lost and unemployed…

5. Be clear, and don’t break promises: one girl, who joined the team late (we never found out why), was harder to communicate with the rest, and looked tense and unhappy for most of the week - possibly due to a lack of confidence in herself and her ability to speak English. She revealed that she was interested in photography, and I suggested she take the photos for the Simphiwe Dana interview later that week. She shrugged and I decided not to push it, and then later in the week forgot to ask her again.

After the interview happened (and unaware that it had taken place) she came up to me and asked me if she would still be able to take the pictures, as I’d promised her she could. I had to apologise profusely, but she simply walked off, clearly annoyed and upset. I’m now trying to hatch a plan to make it up to her.

6. Ikamva Youth is truly changing lives: whatever they’ve created here, it’s working. With 5 branches nationally, and more on the way (including an international chapter in the works), the model clearly rocks. In our interview with her for the magazine, founder Joy Olivier revealed that their matric pass-rate has never fallen below 87%: an astonishing statistic for a demographic who regularly drop out or scrape through. I have much to learn from their disciplined approach (where attendance is key and only dedicated learners succeed), and there are brilliant synergies and ways of working with each other in future.

7. The kids are alright: more than alright, in fact. They were truly admirable. The Ikamva Youth learners who put themselves forward for this Media course qualify to become Ikamvanites by hard-work and dedication. They turn up three times a week for extra tutoring and then give up the vast majority of their school holidays for more of the same. They’re bright, determined, hard-working, fun, open-minded, enthusiastic, polite, attentive and I loved working with them, as did all the mentors.

It was easy to forget that the team all spoke Xhosa as their mother tongue. They were shy to begin with, as kids are when they have to speak and write in a second language. And it was also pointed out to me that my English accent is sometimes hard to understand (and in fact sounds weird). Aside from the language barrier (which also made feedback and instructions sometimes difficult for the ones who were less confident in their English) the days were long. I was thinking how bitterly I would have resented giving up every day of my school holiday, and how fatigued I’d be by 3pm after an 8am start to a daily dose of maths and science tutoring. Every day they powered on until 4.30.

To quote Simphiwe Dana, in our interview with her in Ikamva Live - ‘It is very difficult right now for an African child. You have to make it against all odds. If you are raised by grandparents, you’re probably raising your siblings yourself. If your father’s there, he’s an alcoholic, your mother the same thing. Some days you go without eating. You don’t have textbooks. Your neighbourhood is not safe. Everything is stacked against you. And that is the reason why you must succeed. So you can say one day, despite the odds, “I made it”.’

Towards the end of the week, I was packing up and trudging out of the building with the other mentors, taking one of those long exhales that teachers or child-minders must enjoy when the whirlwind of youth exits the building at the end of the day. The kids were all packed onto the slightly ancient bus in the parking lot, but I saw one figure running towards me. It was Anathi, who’d been quiet for most of the first few days, but had revealed himself as a more than competent, in fact rather eloquent, writer.

‘Gavin’, he said quietly. ‘Are we going to do this magazine again? I love being a journalist…’

Ikamva Live content blitz day 2: Lauren Beukes

Award-winning South African sci-fi novelist Lauren Beukes came to the Ikamva Live temporary editorial hub today for a quickfire interview with the Ikamva Live team from Masipumelele. With only one day to prepare, our 7 aspiring journalists asked some searching questions about her career challenges, the secrets to literary success, and what was in her handbag.

The week is hotting up: tomorrow will reach a fever pitch of excitement with the fashion shoot, an interview with two professional footballers, and all other kinds of madness. Only three days to go…

Lauren Beukes getting art directed for her portrait in the Tsiba school library

The Masi interview squad get cosy with their subject

Getting the right shot...

The portrait...

Ikamva Live: content blitz day one

Content creation week started for real this afternoon, with the squad splitting off from our group sessions and getting to work on their brief. We wre also joined by a new team of 7 reinforcements from the Ikamva Youth Masipumelele branch, who after a lightning quick briefing from me got stuck into preparing for interviewing Lauren Beukes tomorrow.

The clock is ticking. We’ve got 7 days to make an entire magazine and send it to print.

Will the team turn their features around in time? Will we get our cover star? Will Athi disappear for ever with the camera? Stay tuned to find out…

Fashion team doing the hard grind: brainstorming accessories

The Masi team prepare questions for their interview with Lauren Beukes tomorrow

Athi's self-portrait test shot for contributor profile pics

The Ikamva Live team get cracking on the machines...

Vuyani poses for his contributors' picture

The fashion team practice striking poses