It’s a hot, humid Thursday afternoon in Durban when we head out on my assignment.
Photographer Geoff Brink and I are working on a story about a tobacco manufacturing company linked to Edward Zuma, the president’s son, which is being investigated by the South African Revenue Service for, allegedly, being run as an illegal operation.
“It’s going to be an easy assignment, all in a day’s work,” I tell myself, “Get a photo of the building and, if I am lucky, speak to the workers and hopefully get inside the building.”
We drive at a comfortable speed because there is no urgency. The faulty aircon in Geoff’s car makes it difficult for me to stay awake. The heat is unbearable. It’s 33 degrees.
When we locate Amalgamated Tobacco Manufacturing (ATM) offices, at 21 Portland Road in Mkhondeni, Pietermaritzburg, Geoff parks the car in the road and starts taking pictures. Click, click, click.
Geoff and I then decide to drive around the industrial park to get a picture from the back of the building because this is where all the activity seems to be taking place.
But the back part of the property is hidden by high walls and we are unable to see anything. We approach a neighbouring company and ask to speak to the manager.
A man comes out to our car, rests his arm on the driver’s door, and asks us how can he help us. I ask if he would allow us to take photographs of ATM from his premises, but he declines, saying he wouldn’t want to jeopardise his relationship with ATM.
We decide to do the last drive-by past the front of the building and then head back to the office. At the front, I notice two men shouting at us from ATM’s premises.
They then alert a security guard who comes sprinting towards our vehicle while attempting to draw a weapon, which appears to be a pistol.
“Drive, drive, drive, Geoff,” I shout in a panic.
We speed off fearing for our safety, leaving the security guard behind us.
Thinking we had got away, our spirits are high. “That was close, I am glad we got the photographs,” I thought. We high-five each other over the successful assignment. My adrenalin is racing and I’m shaking. We look behind to see if we are being followed and see nothing. We head back to the office because the assignment is over and, most importantly, a success.
When we stop at the traffic lights in Market Road about 300m from the factory, we notice a white unmarked vehicle pull alongside us.
Suddenly three uniformed security men alight from it and a gun-wielding man aggressively bangs on Geoff’s window with the barrel of the gun, indicating he should open it.
At this point I am afraid he may fire and shatter the window, and I scream, “Drive, drive, drive, Geoff”.
He slams his foot down on the accelerator and shoots through the red light. Next thing we hear shots hitting the car and we are petrified.
Geoff is shaking, “What right do those guys have to shoot at us?” he asks.
A short while later, we notice the same vehicle is following us as we make our way to the highway. But when we turn on to the N3 towards Durban, they stop.
At the office the first thing we do is to examine damage on the vehicle. We notice there’s a scratch on the window, a dent on the body and powder residue on the back of the vehicle which appears to have come from a self-defence paintball weapon using pepper bullets.
But whatever the weapon, we are just glad to be alive.
- A case was opened at the Alexandra Road police station and the police are investigating the incident.
- Sunday Tribune