Life back at the office has been wonderful. We’ve settled back into our daily rhythm, adapting quickly to the traffic hell-run and the hustle and bustle of the newsroom. (How quickly I had to retrieve the store of special swear words I reserve solely for those who run red traffic lights and drive like bats out of hell.
I find myself wondering when they’ll appear in our headlines for the wrong reasons. Traffic officers, please police the Chota Motala off-ramp to Willowton Road lights and fine some of these reckless drivers who pay no heed to red lights.)
Back at the office, I’ve eventually done a clean-up of my pre-Covid-19 office and things are feeling organised, tip-top and ship-shape. Just as I like them. My office at work is a bit more formal than bat cave, the nickname for my home office. I have a fancy chair, whose cushioned seat is far more comfy than the rather hard one at home. I also have an aircon which at my stage of life is absolutely bliss. I run far hotter than anyone else at work it seems. When they come in for a meeting, my colleagues know to put a jacket on first.
The icy blast of my aircon also makes those sitting near my door mutter if I don’t keep the door mostly closed. I don’t blame them at all, but I have to say it’s bliss being at my optimal running temperature. Remember how in the onslaught of Covid-19 and the initial lockdown, we all scurried back home to work faster than the reputation of sitting presidents slides? Little did we realise we’d be leaving our offices for close to two years. So, when I returned to the office, I found two-year-old papers still in a pile on my desk and the stash of Provitas and Marmite I keep in my drawer were decidedly long in the tooth. I don’t mind the perhaps slightly thicker Marmite — at least I had it — but the Provos lacked their crispy crunch and were binned.
It’s been a slow process but as I’ve had a quiet moment here and there, I’ve reorganised my drawers, throwing out sticky, expired chewing gum and soft squidgy mints and neatening things up. I’ve thrown away things that are no longer relevant and rearranged my bookcase. I also chucked out a jar of instant coffee which had moulded into a solid chunk of brown/grey goop. The good news was that I found a plethora of pens and seven unused notebooks. Yay! Any journalist will tell you that these are always a much-needed commodity in a newsroom. I straightened the seven framed Stidy cartoons hanging on my wall and carefully hung the Siyabonga Sikosana painting which celebrates the 30th anniversary of Echo in my office.
I fetched the chair of David Dale Buchanan — the founder of The Witness — which traditionally sits in the editor’s office, and reverently placed it near mine. The chair is small, the woven wicker seat set low. It’s almost holy to me. His portrait sits on my bookshelf, looking at me as I conduct my business each day. I like the reminder of the history of this newspaper. I love that our newsroom has transformed so much from what the first newsrooms in this country probably looked like. I cleaned my desk and arranged my bits and pieces. I keep a copy of The Constitution on my desk, a palpable reminder daily of what guides us.
Next to it is a little book called Feminotes containing post-its in the shape of the female symbol. The “We can do it” image of a woman is emblazoned on top of it. I also have a tiny tin with her image on it holding paper-clips, drawing pins and three unmatched screws which must have been important at some time. I kept them in that safe place but their importance is now completely lost to me. Also on my desk is another small, very sparkly, pretty tin given to me many years ago by the legendary journalist Shan Pillay, after he went on a trip to India. My last desk tin has a bird on it and inside I found Rennies, lip gloss and a key whose lock I have long forgotten.
Another favourite tiny tin of mine has a picture of a rhino on it and contains mints given to me years ago by a dear colleague. “They’re rhino mints. If you have one, you’ll grow a rhino hide and nothing will get to you,” he said. It was very sweet, because together we suffered under a boss from hell, and this became a joke between us. When the said boss’ demands were just way too much, he’d whisper, “Have a rhino mint, Steph,” or I’d offer him one. And boy, I learned that going into rhino skin mode was a valuable life skill to learn.
I came across notes from staff members that I’ve cherished over years, letters from readers and mementos from other colleagues’ trips to far-flung places. I tidied out in-trays with still-important documents and arranged my collection of nondescript small stones I filch whenever I go to a place I love, like special places in the Berg. Just holding them in my hand brings me a sense of Zen, I swear.
I also repacked the bulletproof jacket I keep in my office, making sure it’s ready for the next journalist who needs it. I bet Witness founder Buchanan in 1846 never had a need for one of these. I know he never had Rescue in his drawer for stressed reporters who return from scenes of horror and tragedy like I do. (Maybe he had whisky? I don’t have that.)
I know he never had black women journalists. I’m sure he never imagined a woman editor, deputy editor and news editor. I know he also never had a digital edition to oversee. He wouldn’t have had three computer screens like I do all alive with data and a myriad different programs. How strange it would be to be a fly on the wall in his office all those years ago and how odd he’d find our world.
How wonderful it would be to see how they did then what we do now, keep you, our reader, up to date with the latest news we can. Worlds change. And ours has altered dramatically over just a few years. What’s next, hey? What’s next … We’ll tell you as soon as we know.
• Stephanie Saville is editor of The Witness.