Anton Hammerl, the photojournalist killed in Libya on April 5, will not easily be forgotten. Family, friends and the media fraternity yesterday packed His People Church in Parktown North to bid farewell to a man well loved.
The moving service would have brought only partial closure for the grieving family, whose hearts have been ripped to shreds in the past months. His wife, Penny Sukhraj, his sons Neo, 7, and Hiro, three-and-a-half months, his mother Freda and brother Alex Hammerl had travelled from London to attend the service, with close friend Bronwyn Friedlander.
Hammerl’s daughter, Aurora, and his father, Ludwig Hammerl, were present, along with the who’s who of newsmen and women – almost everyone who has worked in journalism since Hammerl arrived at The Star photo desk in the 1990s.
Hammerl was remembered for his bravery, his zany gear, as well as his skill, his quiet authority, grace, warmth, generosity and humility.
His closest friend, Ziemek Pater, recalled what Hammerl described as their “alternative”, radical teenage life in pursuit of difference and girls in Joburg’s nightclubs. The Hammerl Pater described was the essence of cool – until called up to serve two years of service in the South African Defence Force, and sent to Angola.
Struggling to compose herself, Hammerl’s widow, Sukhraj said those two years in the army had led him to “become a seeker of truth”.
She described the harrowing journey she and friends had undertaken in an attempt to find her husband and the final terrible phone call from the government representative, “Penny I am so sorry…”
Sukhraj said she and Hammerl, who had met and fallen in love in 2000 and married in 2003, “had reached the point where we finished off each others’ sentences”. She said Hammerl had found God. She said she would do her best to live “with the same passion for life and love” that he had.
Mondli Makhanya, Avusa editor-in-chief and chairperson of the South African National Editors Forum, remembered Hammerl as “the crazy guy with the funny hats and the strange goatee” who told stories in Melville bars, as well as with his camera.
Makhanya spoke of Hammerl’s courage and the love he had left behind him. Peta Krost-Maunder and Robyn Comley had worked tirelessly to bring Hammerl’s case to the attention of the world, he said.
Des Latham, online editor of Business Day, spoke of the campaign behind the scenes and the work of Human Rights Watch. Latham read a tribute by James Foley who, with Manu Brabo and Clare Morgana Gillis, was with Hammerl when he was shot on the frontline in Brega in Eastern Libya in April. “We believe he saved us by being closest to the road when the shooting began. Anton was the best of us. He gave his life trying to save ours. “
Paula Fray, regional director of Inter Press Service, read a tribute from Gilis and Brabo.
“There is no logic in this, and there is no justice.
“It was a terrible accident and while I hope it makes us better people, and I know we all work hard at that, it doesn’t fix us, or anyone else who feels a little bit broken by what happened. I don’t think that would have made Anton sad. ‘Remember that people never learn from history,’ he (Hammerl) said.
The Free Generation Movement, an activist organisation in Tripoli working towards establishing a free Libya, sent a tribute read by Krost-Maunder. Hammerl will be remembered “for his bravery, integrity, and passion for truth. To the world, he’s a great journalist. To the free Libyan people, he is a hero. Anton worked tirelessly to tell the world our story. We Libyans declare: Anton Hammerl is an honorary Libyan.”
On May 28, Hammerl’s family had begged President Jacob Zuma: “We ask you to please be our hearts and voices in appealing to Libya for the whereabouts of Anton’s remains.”
Yesterday, beyond the promises of the politicians, the remarkably full life of the small boy who loved snakes and died in a desert was remembered.
A “man of grace and love”, as he was described by Pastor Roger Pearce, Anton Hammerl “was a gift to us all”. - Sunday Independent