The Citizen photographer Jacques Nelles and journalist Virginia Keppler became casualties of a battle between police and residents of Pretoria’s Eersterust township yesterday.
A rubber bullet hit Nelles in the back while he was trying to protect Keppler, as about 20 police officers opened fire on protesters who had barricaded roads and were burning tyres to highlight their service delivery grievances.
“It was a peaceful day; besides the smoke from the burning tyres, the community was peaceful.
“When I saw police gather and load their weapons, the situation got tense and I knew there would be shooting,” Nelles said.
Unprovoked and without warning, the officers threw stun grenades towards a woman sitting on the ground near a burning tyre, then bullets sprayed out at the crowd and members of the media.
“That’s when I moved to the side of the road. I turned to my left and saw Virginia on the sidewalk of a bridge, taking videos of the shooting with her cellphone.
“As I was running towards her to tell her to take cover, I felt a sharp pain and realised I had been hit by a rubber bullet. I managed to reach Virginia, pulled her down, and went back to take pictures. When I returned, Virginia was on the floor, screaming in pain,” Nelles said.
A woman in the middle of the road had been shot in the face and Nelles was trying to help her too, Keppler recalled.
While she was filming the shooting, she tried to dodge the bullets flying in her direction.
“I jumped over a barricade and fell over. I tried to get up but couldn’t move and then I felt an excruciating pain. I called Jacques and that’s when he heard me screaming. As he ran to help me, the police continued firing shots in his direction.”
She was assisted by Tshwane metro police spokesperson Senior Superintendent Isaac Mahamba, who called an ambulance to take her to Tshwane District Hospital.
Protester Victoria Daniels, who was hit in the face by a rubber bullet, was also admitted to the hospital, and was referred to a plastic surgeon for her injuries. A man was hit on the forehead and has a skull fracture.
Scores more were being treated at hospitals last night. Rumours of a fatality could not be confirmed.
Minister of Police Bheki Cele’s spokesperson Nonkululeko Phokane did not respond to requests for comment on the unprovoked attack.