April the 14th 2013 marks the 20th anniversary of my first bang bang, the day I was first shot at. Literally. By the police.
I was a young aspiring freelance photojournalist, studying at the Cape Technikon on a part time basis at the time. Somebody told me there was trouble in town so I grabbed my camera bag and ran to find it. I had one roll of black and white film.
Chris Hani had been murdered by Polish far-right immigrant Janusz Waluś four days before and there was a demonstration march in the city. The police and the military threw a cordon around the entire city once the marchers got there and tightened it, block by block, moving the demonstrators towards the Grand Parade in front of the city hall. Some of the protestors started rioting, setting fire to cars and looting shops. The public fled for their lives.
As a photojournalist it’s sometimes as though you have ‘diplomatic immunity’ from rioters. I moved amongst them, capturing moments, shocked by what I was seeing. The rioters beat people who refused to join them, hurling abuse at those who ran away. A group of rioters came down a one way into coming traffic. A terrified man jumped out of his BMW and ran into the closest shop, the staff closing the security gate behind him just in time. The rioters jumped all over his car, smashing it to pieces, then threw rocks through the shop window. I moved on and bumped into a colleague, a freelance photojournalist for the Argus newspaper, pumped with adrenaline. We agreed to meet at the studio we shared in Jamieson street once it was over.
The police and the military continued to tighten the cordon until they moved everyone onto the Grand Parade and opened fire. I was on the parade, close to a wall of one of the stalls when I heard a strange noise behind me. I turned and saw chips of plaster flying off the wall. With a sickening sensation I realised they were shooting at me with live ammunition. People were screaming and running in every direction. I tucked my camera under my arm and ran, crashing into hysterical people, bouncing off them, desperately looking for cover in the chaos.
Once the shooting subsided I went back into the area to look around. I was out of film but needed to see for myself. I heard a commotion towards the station and ran towards it to see two big policemen beating a man lying on the ground with sjamboks. The man was screaming, shielding his face with his arms, bleeding profusely. They saw me and shouted, another policeman running towards me. I ran for my life. The image of that beating haunts me to this day. The ferociousness and brutality was beastly.
Later that afternoon I met my colleague at our studio. He told me that of the six photojournalists there three had been wounded. Luckily none of them killed.
I sold eight of my pictures to a newspaper representative from Germany. I hope they made a difference.
The following year, on the 27th April 1994, South Africa held it’s first non-racial democratic elections, that the ANC under the leadership of Madiba (Nelson Mandela) won. Twenty years later I’m told by the ‘government by the people, for the people’ that as a white, male South African I’m not wanted in the work place, despite the Freedom Charter that we fought for. Black Economic Empowerment, government policy, dictates that I’m the last on the list for employment.
I think back to the day at the parade, wondering what happened to that amazing document,the Freedom Charter, that lead to one of the most advanced constitutions in the world, that we believed so strongly in.