A rock and a hard place
Helen Zille battled to be heard over the heckling by Cosatu supporters – their anger growing as the DA leader continued speaking. At first I noticed fluttering shadows on the tarmac and as I looked to the sea of blue, rocks flew into the red – both sides eagerly meeting the other’s aggression.
As I turned to face Cosatu’s side, I shouted: “Rocks! Watch out for the rocks!”
Although Cosatu started the violence, it was met with equal vigour from the DA.
As Phillip de Wet tweeted: “Cosatu group arguably started trouble, but DA didn’t turn other cheek.”
I saw the rock coming as I scurried for cover. It struck me. My legs gave out. I hit the ground.
Trying to get back to my feet, I noticed my blood splattering the road. Not realising immediately that I had been hit by one of the missiles, I stood up in the middle of what had become a full-scale political clash on the streets of Johannesburg. Two opponents on either side of the political spectrum. Both ready for battle.
“Where do you want to go?” shouted freelance photographer Jordi Matas as he helped me to my feet.
I was confused. Where do I go? I opted for the pavement between the reds and blues. I propped myself against the locked door of a Stiemens Street salon.
A little groggy, I looked up and watched the chaos unravel before me, blood dripping onto my iPad.
“Screw it. I can’t report anymore, let’s tweet this then,” I thought.
Post tweeted, I laid back and continued to watch the action. The first photographer came up to me snapping away, then a second, a third – before long a full-scale media scrum formed around me.
I have never liked the way the media have been labelled as vultures. But being on the other side of the lens and mic, it’s a bit difficult not to equate us with the scavengers.
The questions came thick and fast. “How do you feel? What happened? Who threw it?”
The salon door opened and a cup of water and a handkerchief were thrust into my hand. Dabbing the wound on my head while the impromptu interviews continued, the situation became worse as stones continued to fly. The mass of blue began to retreat. The red tide, keen for more, pursued them. The police tried desperately to control the crowd. Time to run, I thought.
Reaching Bertha Street, Cosatu clashed with the DA and the teargas followed without warning.
I finally found safety on Jorrissen Street.
Still dabbing my bleeding head and wiping my eyes after being stung by teargas, bystanders were still interested in me.
“Can I take a photo for my Facebook profile?” one curious passer-by asked.
I replied with an indignant expression, illustrating my displeasure in becoming a spectacle. She took the hint and carried on walking.
Between being ordered to sit down and force-fed Coca-Cola, I picked up a mic and did a piece-to-camera.
“Is this gonzo?” I thought. “No, you idiot!” I replied in my head.
The vultures returned to harass me on the way to the hospital. I couldn’t complain; I had agreed to the interviews.
I was released after three stitches and a short briefing on sustaining a concussion – luckier than the other walking wounded filling Milpark Hospital’s emergency room.
While the comparisons with Kiefer Sutherland’s Jack Bauer character of 24fame were fun and Eyewitness News’s Alex Eliseev’s joke about me receiving the “Order of the Toyi-Toyi” put a smile on my face, being labelled a hero was wrong.
I am no hero. I am a journalist.
I was doing my job and got caught off-guard. I chose to be there. It could have been worse.
The media make a big deal of it when one of their own are injured but it detracts from the real issues.
Unemployment and political intolerance is the news to report on. A journalist taking a rock to the head is not.