‘I thought I was going to die ...’
Cape Town - When the mob started jumping on the roof of the car and the rocks came flying through the back windows, I thought I was going to die.
This was De Doorns on the first day of the farmworkers’ strike. I had been assigned to cover strike action in the small farming town that straddles the N1.
We had expected some trouble: De Doorns had been the epicentre of the farm protests when they first erupted in the Western Cape in November. Strikers had taken a decision to restart the strike in a meeting held in the town on Sunday.
We were parked near the local sportsfield. Photographer Ryan Jacobs was following a group of strikers. I was in the front seat of the car filing a story to the Cape Times from my laptop. Aw Cheng Wei, a visiting journalism student from Singapore, was in the driver’s seat.
I was writing about how the strikers had marched down the N1, with the police following, and how another smaller group had run out and blocked the N1 with burning tyres and rocks.
We were parked near the sportsfield, my computer on my lap. Suddenly there were about 10 people around us, telling us to move. Wei started to drive the car and then a whole lot of people surrounded us. They were shouting and swearing, “Jou ma se p***,”
Wei’s window was open. He told them he couldn’t drive because there were people in front of the car, and he couldn’t reverse.
At first there were just a few people with stones in their hands, about the size of a man’s hand. Then I saw some were carrying sticks and they started to hit the car. They kept on striking it, yelling at us to get out. I still had my laptop open on my knees when the first rock hit the windscreen. It didn’t break.
Then the rear window on the driver’s side was smashed, and then the whole of the back window. The rocks started coming in through the broken windows and people were climbing on top of the car and hitting it. At that moment I really thought I was going to die.
I shouted to Wei to duck because the rocks were coming in all around.
Then my door opened and I was pulled out. I saw it was Pat Marran, the ANC regional chairman in the Boland. He kept on shouting to the people: “This guy’s a journalist, this guy’s a journalist.” At that moment some of the people tried to grab my laptop from the floor, but I grabbed it first. The crowd was pushing and they were trying to grab me and then went for my phone, but I grabbed it back. They kept on shouting: “He’s resisting, he’s resisting.” and someone hit me on my back.
It was then I saw blood on my jeans. I realised I was bleeding from a cut on my wrist.
The ANC leader was joined by others and they started pulling me towards the church to safety.
Once inside someone came to tell us to stay there. The crowd had overturned the car and set it alight.
AW CHENG WEI reports: They started going crazy and climbing on the car.
I tried to start the car and drive but we were surrounded. They smashed the rear windows. Then I knew we were under attack and I had to do something fast or we were going to die.
My most immediate thought was I had to get out of the car. I shouted to Xolani to get out and I just pushed the door and some of the people fell back.
I told them I was a journalist. They kept trying to grab my back pocket with my wallet as we were moving to the church. I have bruises on my head and a long cut on my shoulder.