Read The Bang-Bang Club Online

Authors: Greg Marinovich

The Bang-Bang Club

Table of Contents

The Bang-Bang Club
is refreshing in its political and emotional forthrightness. At the end, the authors—wounded, hardened, defeated, victorious, chastened, sustained—reject both grandiosity and guilt, arriving instead at a hard-earned but sensible conclusion: ‘We had not personally suffered like some of the people we photographed, but neither were we responsible for their suffering—we had just witnessed it.’”

Los Angeles Times
“They have written a compelling account of what it is like to be a war correspondent in one’s own country, regarded as traitors by the establishment (whose role in the violence they attempted to expose). They do not see themselves as heroes, their creed being to shoot pictures first and aid victims later. They suffer from the survivor’s guilt that dogs war correspondents, but with the number of villains in their story it is a wonder that they found the time to criticise themselves.”

The Independent
“What this book does is highlight the extreme pressures and stress that those who make a career out of conflict photography must expect to endure.”—
African Business
“This book is one that any student of Africa and especially South Africa, journalism, and photography will want to read.”

African Studies Quarterly
“Here is a fascinating look at how photo-journalism is done and the heavy toll it took on four young men covering South Africa’s bloody struggle for freedom. To read this book is to feel the early morning wake-up calls, the menace of a crowd getting ready to kill, the shame that can go with taking a prize-wining photograph of human misery. Parts of it will haunt you.”
—SUZANNE DALEY, former Johannesburg
Bureau Chief for the
New York Times
“This powerful account intertwines the personal and professional lives of four journalists, known as the Bang-Bang Club, who helped bring the struggle for the end of apartheid in South Africa and other conflicts into the worldview. ... In this highly readable account, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Marinovich, who narrates the stories, and Silva, whose voice is represented in the third person, openly discuss this and other topics concerning the morality of journalism. . . . Libraries with collections on journalism or South Africa should seriously consider purchasing this engaging work, which raises many important questions.”

Library Journal
“This is a gripping account of the bloody action. Just as dramatic is the bitter inner conflict of those who risk their lives to bring us the news, their courage and commitment as well as their self-doubt.”—
“Balancing adventure-seeking bravado, professional competition, genuine friendship, and the stark fear of war coverage, the authors vividly describe a bloody revolution against white rule and how each came to terms with his own less-than-passive role in the violence.”

Memphis Flyer
“If you have every wondered why some men need to live on the edge, this grippingly candid trip into the ‘dead zones’ of war journalism will thrill, shock and finally move you.”
—JOHANNA MCGEARY, chief foreign correspondent for
“I have met Greg and João in ‘nasty places’ in both Africa and the Balkans, good men to be on a shitty road with. And suddenly, a great book reveals to me what they have gone through collectively and individually, in the midst of South Africa’s tragic history. At once, through their unique voice, I feel I’m in the car with them turning a corner onto a road that maybe we should not venture, that of history in the making: real, nasty, unavoidable and all too human.”

The Bang-Bang Club
succeeds where other, more self-important histories of the conflict in South Africa have failed.”

Philadelphia City Paper
We want to thank our endlessly patient and insightful editors Elizabeth Burrows and Johanna McGeary, and especially Suzanne Daley who pulled our chapters together.
Jonathan Diamond and Christine Tomasino, our agents and friends, who had passionate faith in the book when it was just a bunch of notes and anecdotes. Abner Stein in London. The editors Ravi Mirchandani at William Heinemann and Tim Bartlett at Basic Books.
Impimpi: Jerry, Joan, Julia and Mitchell Balich, Howard Burdett, David Brauchli, Kevin Carter’s parents - Jimmy and Roma, Tom Cohen, Gisella Cohen, Robin Comley, Kathy Davidson, Jude Domski, Horst Faas, Denis Farrel, Louise Gubb, Themba Hadebe, Joyce Jenetwa, Bafana Khumalo, Carolyn Lessard, Julia Lloyd, R&P, Nancy Lee, Scott MacLeod, Peter Magubane, Chris Marais, Judith Matloff, Brian Mkhize, Monty Montgomery, James Nachtwey, Juda Ngwenya, Mike Nicol, Patrick de Noirmont, Mike Persson, Gilles Peress, Rodney Pinder, The Rapoo family - Maki, Sandy and Reginald (Boytjie), Heidi Rinke, Vivian Silva, Tina Susman, Paul Velasco, John Wills, Chuck Zoeller.
Monica Hilton-Barber and
The Star
for allowing us to use Ken’s pictures, and Guy Adams for his picture of Kevin.
Jerry Marobyane for the ‘Songs from the Struggle’ and Dr Onen of Gulu, Uganda for the Acholi songs.
By Desmond M. Tutu, Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town, South Africa
Nearly everybody made the most dire predictions about where South Africa was headed. They believed that that beautiful land would be overwhelmed by the most awful bloodbath, that as sure as anything, a catastrophic race war would devastate that country. These predictions seemed well on the way to fulfilment when violence broke out at the time of the negotiations for a transition from repression to freedom, from totalitarian rule to democracy. At the start of the 1990s, the most awful bloodletting began to seem endemic. What appeared to be random killings were taking place on the trains, massacres were happening when township residents were pitted against the hostel dwellers who led an unnatural existence in single-sex hostels and were being alienated from the more stable community-life in the black urban townships. People were dying like flies and dying gruesomely, through the notorious necklace when a tyre filled with petrol would be placed around a victim’s neck and then set alight. Whenever the daily statistics of casualties were published and they said five or six people had been killed in the previous twenty-four hours, most of us would sigh with relief and say, ‘Only five or only six’ - it was that bad.
Conventional wisdom declared that most of this bloodletting was due to the bloody rivalry between Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress (ANC) and Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi’s Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), fighting for political turf to establish unchallengeable supremacy. That seemed a plausible explanation until one pointed out certain odd features in this whole gory rivalry. The massacres seemed almost always to take place just when the negotiations for transition had reached a delicate stage, and it was an odd coincidence that the
negotiations were put at very great risk at a critical point in the discussions.
It would seem that the train killings were a part of the rivalry between political foes, but this view was made untenable by the fact that the killers shot and killed people at random. They said nothing; they did not ask the passengers to declare their political affiliation. How would they, therefore, know that they were not murdering their own fellow members?
The explanation of inter-political party rivalry was even more difficult to accept as accounting for the drive-past shootings, which were a feature of the volatile pre-election period. It made more sense to see that it was all designed to fill township dwellers with panic and to get them saying that the ANC was unable to protect its members, and thereby erode its considerable support in the black townships. Increasingly, therefore, many of us spoke about a sinister third force somehow linked to the apartheid government and its security forces, which was intent on fomenting so-called black-on-black violence, enabling the apartheid government and many whites to crow about how these blacks were clearly not yet ready for democracy and political power. I have always been intrigued by this obsession with so-called black-on-black violence, as if black-on-white violence was somehow more acceptable. And why had no one ever described what happened in Northern Ireland or in Bosnia, Kosovo, et al. with its vicious brutality as examples of white-on-white violence? There it was just violence - then why black-on-black violence?
The apartheid government and its cohorts denied any such involvement in fomenting this gruesome and gory violence. They were to be proved liars, through for example the Goldstone Commission. Pieces began to fall into place - for instance, that explained the silent killers on the trains. Most of them, it was to be revealed, came from outside South Africa - from Angola, Namibia, etc., and could not speak the local languages. They would have given themselves away had they opened their mouths. It had in fact, nothing to do with political rivalry and everything to do with people who wanted to cling to power at all costs, at the cost of some of the most awful bloodletting.
And the world needed to be told this story. We were greatly blessed to have some of the most gifted journalists and brilliant photographers. They helped to tell the story. They captured some riveting moments on film, such as a gruesome necklacing, and the barbaric turning on a helpless victim by a baying crowd from one or other side of the conflict. Some of these professionals won high honours, such as the Pulitzer Prize, for their work, one for his picture from the Sudan of a vulture stalking an apparently dying child. It was a picture that stunned a somewhat complacent world. We were often amazed when we saw their handiwork. Just how could they have managed to capture such images in the midst of so much frenzied mayhem? They must have been endowed with extraordinary courage to work in death zones with so much nonchalance and professionalism. And they must have been remarkably cool, no, even cold-blooded to look on it all as being part of a day’s work.
Now we know a little more as the veil is lifted on the ways this remarkable breed operated, how frequently they had to be callous, to the extent of trampling all over corpses without showing too much emotion, so that they could capture that special image which would ensure that agencies would want their work. Now we know a little of the cost, the constant gambling with death, of being part of what they call, with macabre humour, the Bang-Bang Club. And we know a little about the cost of being traumatized that drove some to suicide, that, yes, these people were human beings operating under the most demanding of conditions. Yes, this is a splendid book, devastating in what it reveals about the lengths to which we are prepared to go to gain or to cling to power, and searingly honest about the high cost, as it brings to public view what has for so long been out of sight. We owe them a tremendous debt for their contribution to the fragile process of transition from repression to democracy, from injustice to freedom.

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