A fellow journalist shares his memories from their time together reporting from the front lines
South African photographer Anton Hammerl at work east of Brega, March 31
South African photojournalist Anton Hammerl is believed to have died on April 5 when he and three other journalists were attacked by loyalist forces on the outskirts of Brega. But news of Anton's likely death only came to light yesterday, when American journalists Clare Gillis and James Foley explained in interviews with the Global Post and The Atlantic that Anton had been shot and probably killed. Anton's family has said they believe he is dead.
Gillis, Foley, and Spanish photographer Manu Brabo were with Anton that day, and were subsequently held for six weeks by the Libyan government. They have just been released. During their captivity, South African officials -- based on communications with Tripoli -- appear to have believed that Anton was still alive. Anton's family, and the rest of the world, were given this impression as well. So when Gillis, Foley, and Brabo were released this week without Anton Hammerl, it was a shock.
Anton was a father and an incredibly talented photographer. (Check out his portfolio -- have you ever seen cleverer pictures of Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, and the Dalai Lama?) From the short time we spent together, I got to know him as a warm and thoughtful man as well. I spent a day driving to the front with Anton and three other journalists on March 31, six days before his disappearance. This is a story about that day.
On the long highway between Benghazi and points west, it's sometimes hard to know where exactly the "front line" is. In our big red Ford Flex SUV, we'd drive along that highway -- a lone road through the desert -- to the top of one hill, where a lot of guys were standing around holding Kalashnikovs and other weapons. We'd stop, roll down the window, and ask what was going on. If things looked interesting, we'd get out, talk to people, and take photos. And then we'd see other guys on top of the next hill a kilometer or two down the road, maybe with a Grad rocket launcher on it or some pickup trucks with anti-aircraft guns, so we'd drive on to that hill, after convincing our driver it was a good idea. And so on. We were about 15 to 20 kilometers east of Brega and about 55 km west of Ajdabiyah.