The Star, Johannesburg, June 08, 2006 Edition 1

'We hate journalists because they expose us'

Dumisani Sibeko

I went to the Methodist Church to take photographs. I was reluctant when I left the office. Somehow I knew something would go wrong. I asked one of the congregants to accompany me.

I was too scared to walk past the group standing at the church, so I waited for the preacher, Livingstone Mbawula, at Smal Street. When he arrived we entered the church.

As we made our way inside I saw people sleeping and snoring on the floor. I took a few photographs. As I was busy I heard people shouting at each other. I turned and looked. A group of men were fighting. They were exchanging blows on the stairs leading to the first floor. I quickly took a few more photographs.

A church service that had started at 7pm was in progress. The congregants sang hymns as the fight continued.

The illegals were incensed when they realised I was taking photographs. They grabbed my camera and ordered me to delete the pictures.

They said: "We will break this camera in front of you. Who are you? Are you a journalist? We hate journalists because they expose us."

Mbawula fought with all his might trying to protect us from the mob. They hurled insults at him "F... you". We don't care whether you are a preacher or not."

It was chaotic; a lot of people were asking me questions. A crowd came up to me and started pushing me around.

"You are going to die today."

The preacher tried to intervene again, but they hurled insults at him.

When they overpowered the preacher I thought I was going to die. I knew it was my last day on Earth. I thought of Psalm 23: "Even though I walk in the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for the Lord is with me."

I thought there was no way I was going to escape alive, because there were hundreds of people baying for my blood.

Two tough guys pulled me away from the mob and locked me into the office.

There I was instructed not to make any phone calls.

I relied on Mbawula to phone the police. As I sat and waited, my colleagues phoned me from the office, but I could not tell them what was happening.

I just kept saying "I am okay", because the guys were keeping a close eye on me. They were listening to everything I was saying.

They asked me if I was working for a newspaper. I had to lie because I did not want to make them any angrier. I told them I was a commercial photographer.

Had I told them I worked for The Star I could have been killed instantly.

Thank God the police arrived at that moment. I was shivering as I waited for what I thought was my last day on Earth.

I am grateful to God for saving my life. Imagine dying inside a church, a holy place.


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