A loud bang followed an alarming discomfort to the cheek is how Newzroom Afrika reporter Mweli Masilela described the moments a rubber bullet made contact with his face during the hostile moments when police were gunning for taxi operators who had closed off roads in Kanyamazane, in Mpumalanga on Monday.
Hostile taxi operators, who claimed they were not receiving adequate attention from Minister of Transport Fikile Mbalula, took to the streets in a show of bravado intent on sending a message to government.
As some taxi ranks across the country defied lockdown Level 3 laws to fill their taxis to full capacity, reporter Masilela escaped a near-death moment in Kanyamazane, when he was caught in the crossfire between disgruntled taxi operators and the police.
A thud, a sharp pain, and he was bleeding. Masilela said he immediately went to inform the officers that they had wounded him on the right side of his cheek, centimetres from his eye.
He recalls taxi operators fleeing from gunslinging officers who somehow did not see his tripod and camera when they hit him.
Confirming to The Citizen that he had opened a case at the local police station, he added that he would seek more witnesses to corroborate his case.
Thankful that he did not need any stitches, Masilela noted that things could have turned out worse, had he been closer to the officers.
A case of public violence has been opened with Mpumalanga police confirming that investigations into the incident were underway.
He is scheduled for a doctors visit on Thursday to fill in a form on his injuries.
Meanwhile, the South African National Editors Forum (Sanef) has condemned the actions of police who they say could have clearly distinguished a journalist with a tripod from operators.
“It was clear that Masilela was a journalist,” said Sanef director Kate Skinner.
“You shouldn’t be firing into a crown in the first place.”