The Struggle for Democracy – 1989 to1994

The Struggle for Democracy

South Africa (1989-1994)

While I was living in London for a year I went to the Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday concert at Wembley Stadium. I remember the feeling of excitement and anticipation that the world felt about his release from prison. There was a sense that things were moving fast on a political level and that he would be released imminently. As a South African, I wanted to be a part of the final process of eradicating apartheid and moving the country towards a democracy. I returned to South Africa soon after attending the concert and looked around for a way to get involved photographically.

One day I wandered into the Johannesburg Reuters office with my portfolio in hand and requested an interview. I remember the Chief Photographer, Ulli Michel, having a look at my portfolio, which didn’t contain a single news image. He looked a bit doubtful, but I could see that he needed someone on board so that he could get out of the office more often. He gave me a trial period, taught me the technical aspects of the office, and then headed off to Namibia to cover some fighting that had broken out.

It all seemed easy enough at the beginning, but then violence started breaking out in the townships surrounding Johannesburg. To say that I was out of my depth was an understatement. I had never seen a dead body before and had avoided violence since junior school. On my first day out I photographed three dead bodies and I started to find myself in situations where I was the only photographer in skirmishes between rival factions in the townships. Soon the death toll in the townships rose to between 40 and 50 per day. Fear and adrenalin became a way of life.

Over the next five years the country witnessed a series of dramatic events that led up to the 1994 election in which the African National Congress (ANC) came into power. The ANC and PAC were unbanned, Nelson Mandela and his colleagues were released from prison, Namibia was granted independence, Winnie Mandela went to trial for the murder of a young boy, the white, right wing made their presence felt and the violence escalated.

At the time it seemed like the country was in a very precarious position, continuously teetering on the edge of civil war. Being involved with the changes on a daily basis was incredibly exciting and I was very privileged to have been able to earn a living while witnessing such a dramatic period in South Africa’s history.