The sound of gunshots suddenly disperses people. Running to get to safety, out of the line of fire. The men in blue clear the blockaded road of rocks. They make their way down the elongated road, before coming back up, except this time they are walking through the hostels.
“Voetsek!” is yelled to the few people remaining outside, before more rubber bullets and teargas are fired towards the residences. Teargas is a chemical weapon, used here without warning, regardless of the children inside. There is a mad rush, before the quiet settles in and the dust settles down.
Flashbacks to the Fees Must Fall protest at the Union Buildings last year cloud my mind. Anger sets in. Its the People vs the Police all over again. A service delivery protest by a small group of people, of which a couple threw rocks unleashes forceful retaliation from the police. This leaves the protesters more angry and the chance for communication and understanding wasted.
The protest took place in Soweto at a hostel where there is an 80% unemployment rate. The houses are caving in to the point where people feel safer sleeping outside. There is no electricity, the toilets are portable ones outside and access to water comes from a few taps outside. Litter covers the ground from the courtyard, winding down past the houses.
The people believe that they are unfairly discriminated against because of the political party that they support and associated tribalism. The police believe that the weapons are necessary as a means of protection, since people get ‘excited’ when they see them (violence against the police is an issue in South Africa, as is police brutality).
My role that day was being a photo journalist- a watchdog. The experience formed part of an assignment to get news photos. As I stood there, I could not divorce myself from the situation. I wanted to do more than stand on the sidelines and take photos. I may not be in agreement with their reasoning, but nobody should have to live in such conditions. I felt frustrated by the course of events and reminded of why I fear the police- are they really our public protectors? Or do they get excited and trigger happy?
South Africa is a country that is very active and alive, making it an exciting space for journalists. I’ve learnt that being a photojournalist is a tough job and one that I may not be able to fulfil on its own. I need to ask questions so that I understand, before carrying out my duties as a scribbler. I left needing to somehow help the situation. I haven’t quite figured out how, but when I do, I’ll return with an update.
*Photos were taken by me. I didn’t check the photos until after shooting, when I realised that many of them were over-exposed. Another lesson learnt. Apologies.