My first taste of photographing an event was for the 11th annual Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW), which was held at the Wits Library Lawns on 2-5 March 2015. Pro-Israel and pro-Palestine groups set up displays on different sides of the lawns and held a number of events over the week to demonstrate their support.
The event is held globally by pro-Palestinian groups who support the abolishment of Apartheid in Israel. This year the focus of the Palestine Solidarity Committee (PSC) was on the movement for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel. The pro-Israel group, consisting mostly of members from the South African Union of Jewish Students (SAUJS), focused on the need for peaceful discussions between the groups in order to find viable solutions to their problems.
When a fellow student Reuven Blignault, our photography lecturer TJ Lemon and myself arrived at the library lawns an hour before lunch on the Wednesday there was not much happening. Many of the activities take place at lunch so at that stage there were only a small number of students sitting in the shade of the gazebos which has been set up for the debates. We used the time to walk around and get as much information from those who were around.
Close to lunchtime, a handcrafted trumpet suddenly sounded accompanied by a bass drum and a fair amount of commotion. Here was the excitement we had been anticipating! A man dressed in leopard skins and accompanied by an entourage of men in suits, trumpeters and a drummer made his way towards the SAUJS gazebo. We discovered that he is King Phakama Shembe, leader of the Shembe church, an extremely traditional and devout religious group which combines elements of Christianity and Zulu culture. After greeting members of the pro-Israel side, the entourage performed traditional dances and waved the Israeli flag.
After the performance of solidarity with Israel, both sides began independent discussions highlighting their specific issue in an attempt to draw in students who were now on lunch break. Some members went over to the opposing side and started informal debates while others made an attempt at asking the opposition questions. Many of the debates became heated and there was a tangible tension as each side tried to get their point across.
I found myself caught in the action of many debates, pushing through groups, standing on a chair to get over the crowd and running after people to get their names.Photographing all this movement proved to be rather difficult as I ran around and became rather flustered while trying to get a decent shot. It was an excellent learning curve in constantly moving and anticipating what might happen next. Some students tried to pull take my attention away so I could photograph them, some tried to block my camera so I couldn’t take photos and others accused me of taking too many photos of one side while I was trying to get photos of everything. I am proud of the photos I got for my first attempt at photojournalism.
Click here for more pictures of IAW.