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James Oatway and “The Killing of Emmanuel Sithole”

Date Released: Mon, 31 October 2016 11:28 +0200

by Ettioné Ferreira


Rhodes JMS alumnus, James Oatway won big at this year’s Standard Bank Sikuvile Awards and the CNN Multichoice African Journalist awards

Oatway won the News Photographs category as well as the SA Story of the Year at the Sikuvile awards and the Mohamed Amin Photographic award at the CNN Multichoice awards for his photostory “The killing of Emmanuel Sithole”.

Oatway graduated from Rhodes with a BJourn specialising in photojournalism His lecturer at the time, the late Monty Cooper, organised an internship for Oatway at The Star in Johannesburg after he graduated, “In my first week there I got a front page picture and more importantly got to meet Nelson Mandela. That's when I knew that this is what I wanted to do,” he says.

He spoke to Rhodes JMS about the photograph that received the awards:

Q: How did you end up getting the photo of Emmanuel Sithole?
Early on Saturday 18 April 2015 I was in Alexandra Township with colleague Beauregard Tromp, covering the latest outbreak of xenophobic violence. The roads had been barricaded and foreign shops had been looted during the night. The situation seemed quiet and I was taking photographs of the shops that had been broken into and looted. Then I heard some shouting and saw some men chasing another man. They were running in my direction. The man being chased was caught and brought to the ground. A man then began hitting him with a wrench. Another man appeared and started stabbing him with a knife. A struggle ensued and the man with the wrench rejoined the attack. Then the attackers seemed to withdraw, but another attacker arrived and began kicking the man and trying to stab him with a large knife. He was pulled away and the attackers saw me and left the scene. I screamed at the victim to run away. He stood up and walked away.

Q: What were the ethics behind taking the photograph?
I actually moved closer until I was standing right next to the attackers. When they noticed me they stopped and moved away. I think my presence there was actually a form of intervention. Remember this all happened very quickly. It's not like I was following the mob around for 20 minutes. I reviewed the time stamps on my digital files later and I worked out the attack lasted about 28 seconds. Myself and my colleague, Beauregard Tromp, took him to hospital as soon as we saw that he was seriously injured.

Q: Looking back is there anything you would’ve done differently? After he collapsed we took him to the clinic up the road. Only when we got him into the clinic did we find out that there was no doctor on duty. We wasted valuable time there. We then took him to Edenvale Hospital but he died shortly after arrival.

Q: Did you get a lot of criticism in the aftermath for taking the photo and not intervening?
Facebook and Twitter attacked me quite badly at first. Lots of people saw the photo on their phones and didn't read the story. I understand though. The images are difficult to look at. They are upsetting. The vast majority of feedback I received was positive.

Q: The photograph became a famous depiction of the violence that happened during that time, did you expect it to blow up the way it did?
I wasn't prepared for just how big it got. None of my work has ever elicited such a huge response before.

Q: What message do you have for young aspiring photojournalists?
The game has changed and only very few photographers get staff jobs. You need to prepare to be a freelancer. That means you have to be very smart, very ambitious and very hard-working. Remember that Photojournalists are JOURNALISTS! For some reason photojournalists are considered second-class citizens in the media world. They are seen as dumb and ignorant compared to reporters. Don't be dumb and ignorant! You need to know what's happening in the world around you to be able to tell stories properly.

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