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DA questions SA’s role in Hammerl’s death

The opposition DA on Friday questioned the South African government's role in communicating news about photographer Anton Hammerl.

It emerged on Friday morning that he was killed on the day of his capture, more than six weeks ago, despite government assurances that he was safe.

Missing SA photographer Anton Hammerl. Credit: SUPPLIED

His family only found this out on Thursday evening, after being contacted by two journalists who were with him when he was shot in the Libyan desert.

“It is unclear what the South African government did or did not know. It is, however, simply unfathomable, and difficult to contemplate, that the minister of international relations would have given the family false hope, by claiming Mr Hammerl was still alive, last week,” Democratic Alliance leader Helen Zille said in a statement.

“It is equally galling that the minister cancelled an emergency meeting on this matter because, in the words of department spokesperson, Clayson Monyela, she had 'election commitments'.”

Zille said that “in the immediate aftermath of this sort of terrible news our focus must fall on the family and friends, but profoundly serious questions need to be asked of Minister Nkoana-Mashabane, and indeed President Jacob Zuma, in the weeks to come”.

The minister was expected to address the media on the matter in Pretoria at 9.30am on Friday.

The Hammerl family released a statement in the early hours of Friday morning saying they had been informed Hammerl had been shot on April 5.

“On 5 April 2011 Anton was shot by (Muammar) Gaddafi's forces in an extremely remote location in the Libyan desert. According to eyewitnesses, his injuries were such that he could not have survived without medical attention.

“Words are simply not enough to describe the unbelievable trauma the Hammerl family is going through,” the statement read.

“From the moment Anton disappeared in Libya we have lived in hope as the Libyan officials assured us that they had Anton. It is intolerably cruel that Gaddafi loyalists have known Anton's fate all along and chose to cover it up.”

Hammerl, who used to work for The Star newspaper, was initially reported to have been captured by militia loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi near Brega on April 5.

Hammerl's wife Penny Sukraj was told by American journalists Clare Morgana Gillis and James Foley of the shooting. The pair had been released from Libyan custody and spoke to her from Tunisia on Thursday night.

They were with Hammerl when they came under fire in the Libyan desert near the town of Brega. Hammerl was shot in the stomach, according to family friend Bronwyn Friedlander.

She said assurances of Hammerl's capture in Libya, apparently given to the South African and Austrian governments, were “incredibly cruel”.

GlobalPost.com reported that Hammerl had gone with Gillis, Foley and Spanish Photographer Manu Brabo with the intention of spending a night with the rebels at a camp east of Brega.

Foley told GlobalPost.com the four had exited their car and before they could get back into the car the rebels had done an about turn and fled approaching Gaddafi forces, leaving them behind.

He said Hammerl was closest to the fighting and that bullets were hitting the ground around the four. According to Foley when he asked Hammerl if he was okay, “no” was the only answer he received. After the third barrage of shots Hammerl's cries ceased.

The journalists surrendered to the rebels and the three were tied up and thrown into the back of a bakkie.

Foley saw Hammerl's limp body lying in the sand. He said Hammerl was shot in the abdomen and bleeding severely.

While in captivity, Foley said the three journalists wrestled with how to communicate the news of Hammerl's death to his family.

“We knew collectively that if we spoke about Hammerl's death while we were detained, then we would be in greater danger ourselves. But now that we're free, it's our moral imperative to tell the story of this great journalist and father,” he was quoted as saying.

National Press Club chairman Yusuf Abramjee said Hammerl's death was a shock.

“Our prayers and thoughts are with Anton's family, friends and colleagues. We are told he was shot on April 5. Why did it take so long to confirm his death? Anton will always be remembered as an outstanding photographer and a good human being. The news is devastating.

“To the Hammerl family, please accept the condolences of the entire media fraternity.”

Last week The Star quoted Nkoana-Mashabane as saying the South African government had proof that he was alive. However on Wednesday international relations and co-operation department spokesman Clayson Monyela denied the report saying; “That issue of the minister's quote was not captured correctly.”

Monyela could not be immediately reached on Friday for comment following news of Hammerl's death.

Last month well known photographers Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros were killed after coming under fire in the besieged Libyan town of Misrata. - Sapa

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