“I’ve got to go, there is some shooting going on not far from here” were my parting words as I hung up the phone to the London office. I’d just finished filing the morning pictures, and was clarifying the caption to a small piece of video I had shot when the crack-crack of small arms fire rang out.
This was not something I was expecting with the election coverage, at least not outside of the capital, Kinshasa.
Out in the street, people were running from the direction of the gunfire. I have to get there. The driver didn’t agree. More gunfire, some of it heavier. A rush of adrenaline that I hadn’t felt since Libya surged through my veins.
After what seemed like an age, we were in the car, scanning the streets. A column of soldiers were walking down the road. I stepped out of the car to take a photo, but the commander shoved me back in. “No photos” he said, and wasn’t in the mood to discuss. I was still new to Congo, and didn’t know how far I could push these guys. A rocket launcher passed by.
In the Bel Air cemetery—where the white colonialists used to bury their dead—a stage had been set for The Final Confrontation between the gunmen and the army. Soldiers and armed police stood on the road. Occasional bursts of gunfire rang out from inside — everybody ducked.
After some negotiation, I joined them. Skirting along the wall towards the entrance I came across a group of soldiers taking cover behind a wall. Camera held high, I approached them. They weren’t keen to have a civilian there, but did agree to show me something.
As we crossed some open land, another column of soldiers strafed across the grass a hundred metres ahead of us. Our soldiers called out, and they had turned and trained their guns on us. Shouting in a language I didn’t speak. They eventually turned and continued towards the cemetery. And then I was directed towards a lone body, lying on the grass, trousers around ankles and the skin missing from the side of the face; burned off. This is what they wanted to show me. “Rebel” they said, in French, but that’s all they could give me. The gri-gri on his arm suggested he was a member of the Katanga secession group, but nothing was sure. He had been dragged from where he was shot dead, so there was no way to know if he had been involved in the fighting or not. An unidentified dead man lying in a field.
The day becomes more complex.