Africa: Khayelitsha Gunman

The intense African sun rays poured into my hostel room with no invitation. I awoke to an empty room, Lucile my beautiful French roommate had left for her class already. I stumbled out onto the balcony, welcomed by the noisy Cape Town streets I checked my watch, and the date displayed reminded me it was my last day in South Africa.

The last thing on my to-do-list was to visit Khayelitsha, the largest Black township in the city. Khayelitsha is known by outsiders for its crime and poverty, but I wanted to get an inside look and learn the culture for myself, and maybe even document and photograph my experience.

A paid the hostel clerk what I owed him and hit the busy streets with my bags and hailed a cab. I told the Zimbabwean driver "Khayelitsha, please". His neck nearly broke as I finished the sentence. Looking back at me he went into a long rant about why I should not visit the community, he murmured something along the lines of getting killed, suicidal and not to go there along.

He dropped me off at Vicky's Bed & Breakfast. Vicky was murdered by her husband a couple years prior and the home was now ran by her daughters. I paid them to let me keep my larger backpack full of clothes there, and I kept my camera bag on my back.

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I went across the street to a bar where a couple men my age were sitting in the shade to escape the brutal summer sun. No one was drinking. I offered to by a round of beers. I sat with the locals and we discussed apartheid, America, and life in the township.

A couple hours and beers later, they offered to show me around the neighborhood and visit some homes. I quickly agreed. We had walked the town for an hour or so and I was receiving A LOT of attention. I looked very out of place with my white skin, tattoos, and camera around my neck.

I was taking some pictures of the township children when I noticed a man walking toward me in a ski mask. Before I could connect the irony of a ski mask in the extreme heat, an old gun was shoved in my face. The gunman demanded my camera and bag. Time froze, in slow motion I put the camera behind my back as I made eye contact with the thief. Before I could decide if I should fight back or surrender my gear, my two new friends from the bar ran over to the scene and stood between the gunman and myself.

At that moment the gun, my camera, the heat, my flight, and my life no longer mattered. All I could think about was that these two men were willing to lay down their lives for mine. The display of selflessness and sacrifice rock me still to this day.

Thank you Piwokuhle and Vuyolwethu, you are friends for life.

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