Today is World Press Freedom Day, as declared by The United Nations General Assembly. This important day serves as a reminder, to both Governments and civilians alike, of the significance of freedom of the press as well as freedom of expression as crucial workings of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
This year, we celebrate the chosen theme of ‘Media for Democracy: Journalism and Elections in Times of Disinformation’.
In accordance with these celebrations, we take a look at a group of conflict photojournalists who actively documented the political unrest, factional violence and the push for change in South African Townships between 1990 and 1994.
The Bang-Bang Club
Kevin Carter, Ken Oosterbroek, Greg Marinovich and João Silva were heroes of the photojournalist world, boldly stepping into the midst of conflict to unveil the atrocities of apartheid between 1990 and 1994.
In the wake of bans being lifted, intense violence erupted between ANC supporters and IFP supporters, coupled with the existing violence that the Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging and other groups were involved in. The group documented the scenes, from within, earning them the name ‘The Bang Bang Group’, based on the sound of gunshots and the violence that surrounded them regularly.
Their photos were controversial and daring – a truthful, raw delivery of what Civil War looked like from the ground – featuring men, women and children in their last moments and even shots of infamous necklacing executions.
Kevin Carter grew up South African, where his young life bore witness to raids and abuse suffered by black South Africans that nobody seemed to be challenging. He decided to oppose this in his own way. His camera became his tool and his mission became an exposé of all things unjust.
In 1993 he documented the Sudanese Famine, where a shot of a vulture and a starving girl earned him The Pulitzer Prize for Featured Photography. Controversy about not intervening is wide; but few know that the entire documentation was monitored by Sudanese soldiers who would prevent him from intervention. He intervened in the way a true journalist does, he let the world know.
In 1994, all that he had seen and documented had lead him down a pathway of drug abuse to escape the guilt and emotional repercussions of his work. The world knew more than it had before, but he seemingly knew too much. He took his own life at the age 33.
Named South African Press Photographer of the Year in 1991, Ken Oosterbroek valued what he calls, “…real, happening, life. Relevant work…”. It is clear that his work had to carry meaning and a purpose which is why controversial areas were his specialty.
His dedication and passion earned Ken a position as chief photographer of The Star Newspaper in August of 1991.
In April 1994, whilst documenting a conflict between The African National Congress and peacekeepers, a stray bullet ended Ken Oosterbroek’s life. Fear and panic caused peacekeepers to spook and open fire, hitting Ken as well as fellow Bang-Bang Club Member Greg Marinovich.
Greg Marinovich spent much time in Soweto in 1990 documenting The Hostel Wars. Some of his most renowned photographic works feature the brutal murder and body burning of Zulu Inkatha supporter, Lindsaye Tshabalala. Censorship, controversy around confrontation photography and documenting volatile times as a non-black journalist presented challenges for both him and other Bang-Bang Club Members.
Together with João Silva, Greg Marinovich has written a book called The Bang-Bang Club: Snapshots from a Hidden War.
Silva also shot his first pictures of murders in The Hostel Wars. Later, he was hired by Oosterbroek as staff photographer for The Star. In later years as a photojournalist, João Silva lost both his limbs in Afghanistan after stepping on a landmine.
Silva refers to his time as a photojournalist and member of the Bang-Bang Club in Chapter Five of his book, co-authored with Greg Marinovich:
“We were all white. Middle-class young men, but we went to those unfamiliar black townships for widely differing reasons and with contrasting approaches; over the year, we would find common ground in our shared experience and develop friendship.”
— Chapter 5 in The Bang-Bang Club by Greg Marinovich and João Silva
Getting the Story Out There
In the true spirit of Media for Democracy, these men sacrificed and endured personal suffering, even death, all for the sake of history and its atrocities being documented truthfully. The Bang-Bang Club serves as a reminder that what goes on in the shadows needs to be brought into the light for rectification and healing to begin.
We need to be mindful on reporting that takes a holistic approach, telling all sides of the story from beginning to end. It our right to be informed of what goes on in our world, and our responsibility to uphold those standards and ethics.
Freedom of Expression and Freedom of the Press go hand-in-hand with one another.
Stay informed and celebrate this day with us at Right Click Media.