This became my South African book in my 257 (258) book challenge quite by accident. I have had it for a while – I tend to buy South African books at airports and obviously on that trip got side-tracked and didn’t read my purchase. I remembered it the other day and dived in. and pretty much swam to the end with maybe one breath.

It’s a cracker of a read with only a few slightly less than gripping sections.

The Bang-Bang Club, for those who may not know, was a group of crazy-ass photographers who covered the township wars in South Africa in the 1990s. Mostly. They also went to other wars but their uniqueness really is that they were war photographers in their own country. They were called Bang-Bang cos they chased just that – the bang-bang of political conflict.


The book is written by two of the four members of the Bang-Bang Club – Greg Marinovich and Joao Silva. The other two, Ken Oosterbroek and Kevin Carter are both dead so they are not able to defend the way they are portrayed in the book – which is a pity.


Crazy brilliant men, the four of them, with a weird slew of demons, particularly Carter. Carter is the man who took the Sudanese vulture and starving child photo he won a Pulitzer for, and the man who committed suicide shortly after collecting the award. Oosterbroek was killed by a stray bullet from the gun of a peace-keeper gun in Thokoza and the death Mandela hoped would be the last in his speech following the announcement by Inkatha that they would participate in the first democratic election in South Africa.

Running towards bullets protected only by a camera and the burning desire to get the perfect photograph is not the occupation of rational sane people. Two words I cannot imagine ever being used to describe these men. So much of what is covered in the book I remember – I think I am probably about the age these men are, or would be. I remember some of the photographs and the events they recorded. But I was safely behind burglar bars when the shit was hitting the fan, the bullets the bodies. I did my toyi-toyi at Wits as a student but I was never ever in any real danger, just like most whities at the time.

I do wonder if these men were crazy and that’s why they did the job they did, or did the job make them crazy? And does it matter? The result was some incredible coverage of what was going on in South Africa; a record of the violent, bloody and probably orchestrated start of the miracle that was South Africa pre and post 1994.

Living in this country every day, facing the challenges we face it is easy to forget what we did as a country. This book reminded me. We are an amazing people if we only stopped to remember once in a while.

I doubt that everyone who reads this book will get from it what I did, but everyone will get something valuable. It should be read – it is an alternate and very real chronicle of some very interesting times many of us were lucky enough to survive. And if you are too young to remember it – even more reason to read it. Lest we ever forget!