Photos John Robinson
I am 36 Kilometres into a 40 plus Bicycle Ride Through the Durban Docklands to the Beachfront and Back. The mid-winter sun had just ducked it’s round behind the Berea ridge, and I first feel the squiggly grind of a flat front tyre on tar as I stop at the Bayhead and South Coast roads intersection.
As I am walking my bike south across the intersection down South Coast Road and home in Woodlands, I am looking for a secluded, lighted space to repair my front tube. I have all the tools for the job. I have a puncture kit, inspection dish (used ice cream container) in my pannier at the back and water in my caged drinking bottle on my Giant Talon frame.
As I walk my bicycle down off the rail overpass at Bayhead and South Coast Road, the road curves to the right and the high arc lights over an entrance to a container depot are a beacon to me. I have repaired many tubes as a cyclist, and here I have light, a workspace and if this tube can be fixed and I will be able to ride away into the night.
I lower the tube valve first, into the water in my ice cream container, the telltale bubbles spew from where the valve and tube intersect. S***, this tube cannot be fixed.
The headlights of trucks bear down on me as I walk on with my ‘cycle at my side, at times I just stop and lean away as trucks rumble past, there is no space for me and oncoming night traffic, across the road there is a pavement. A gap in the traffic allows me to change sides.
Here it is just the bright lights of trucks in route to the harbour and the night glow of the changing shifts of workers in safety gear walking past.
South Coast Road proper is just ahead with its ladies of the night and the Woonga addicts looking for the cash for their next hit. The ladies and I have a mutual respect going from my many night ‘cycle trips through in these parts of the city, the woonga addicts are another thing entirely.
I pass a parked truck on its traffic side, the pavement side is a bit long and dark, as a nightwalker/cyclist I try to make myself a hard target for anyone who has unsociable outcomes in mind. I am now walking on the road as the two young men come out of the shadows I have just detoured from while walking on the traffic side of the truck just now.
“You have nothing to fear here, you cycle past here during the day, you are one of the community” I carry on my way as they keep up with me on the pavement in the bright beam of my bicycle headlight and the soft glow of my iPhone in its pouch fixed to the bike.
“What is that there?” The tall one of my two new friends asks as he notices the glow off my mobile phone, I reply that he actually doesn’t see anything there. I press my hip up against the ‘phone pouch as I get in the way of Number Two as he tries to wrest my phone away from me. Number One threatens to poke me with a knife that I have yet to see in his hands. “I am going to poke you, I am going to poke you with a knife”
I do not care what Number One says about giving me a poke with a knife, my eyes are glued to the hand in his pocket where the said knife is supposed to be. Number Two is having trouble trying to get hold of my phone that is still firmly in its pouch, my hip is still blocking his way. I keep my firm grip on the bike, My headlight comes out of its holder in our joint scuffle and hangs by the cord that is for this very purpose.
The momentary sense of ‘being mugged’ is quickly replaced by a deep awareness of the situation around Number One’s hand in his pocket, of my close surrounds and a sense of my own physical strength and resistance to the endeavours of Number One and Number Two on this dark Durban road.
A voice calls out to the two parras, (Short for parasites, South African slang for street criminals) “Get away from him.” My guardian looks at me through rimless glasses, he speaks English with a heavy Afrikaans undertone. “Come in here, they won’t follow you in.” Number One and Number Two spring away from me and tumble over themselves into the night. I follow my guardian into the truck washing depot where he works and away from the spot where Number One and Number Two went empty-handed.
In the seclusion of the washing depot, I turn off my ‘phone and headlight, I want to proceed on my way home without calling any more attention to myself. My guardian and a woman who also works at the depot agree to walk with me as far as a tuck shop at the next intersection. Walking as three is better than walking alone. Patience signs to me that this is where she and my guardian stop.
South Coast Road is a dual carriageway here and walking along the centre island makes me a harder target for any others that want to take their chances with the man walking with a flat wheeled bicycle in the night. As I walk I keep a lookout over both shoulders to keep aware of what is around me. There is only one more contender on the pavement to my left but he does not come across the road to the centre island where I am walking. “…I want your bike” he says to me, I just wave back to him and carry on my way.
It is a six-kilometre walk from where I felt something wrong with my front wheel to my room in Woodlands. Apart from a few curious dogs, my walk is just a slog up the hills of this part of Durban. I have plenty of time to think about what has just happened to me.
- Never ride without a spare tube, tools for simple bicycle repairs, a puncture kit and fruit and water for energy and hydration.
- Always wear shoes that you can also walk in.
- Muggers don’t have a plan b, do the unexpected. Give muggers a way out and they will take it.
- Be calm and stay calm and focused, I don’t know when my angels will come.
- Dogs on the roads are usually are only curious about what is coming past their territories, don’t take their barking personally.
- It is always easier to ride up a hill then walk up the same.
One goal Of dialogue Among Cultures And Civilisations Is To Recognise And To Understand Not Only Cultures And Civilisations Of Others, But Those Of “One’s Own.” We could know ourselves by taking a step away from ourselves and embarking on a journey away from self and homeland and eventually attaining a more profound appreciation of our true identity.
It is only through immersion into another existential dimension that we could attain mediated and acquired knowledge of ourselves in addition to the immediate and direct knowledge that we commonly possess. Through seeing others we attain a hitherto impossible knowledge of ourselves. – Mohammad Khatami, former president of Iran. (pp 267) Reconciliation, Pocket Books, London.
Durban Beachfront in Total Covid 19 Lockdown.
South Africa is taking the call of President Cyril Ramaposa seriously, freelance photographer John Robinson cycled the length of the Durban beachfront in total isolation, meeting no one except for a few security guards and police. The public pools of Wedge Beach now have a post-apocalyptic feel to them.
HIV and TB, And Now Covid 19 In South Africa
Photos and Words John Robinson
Gogo, you kept us strong when we were bitten by the whip, and we are still strong. Though we are not a nanny state people, through you our elders, we are strong. Though we are not of orderly streets and straight lines. In this Gogo, we are strong.
We know of viruses and microbes in our midst. The devastation they cause runs deep on our pathways, soaking our fields with premature endings that alter the ways of our left-behinds totally, but Gogo, you have made us strong.
Gogo, you have done your bit, you have been strong for us. If it is your time now, pass with peace of mind, you have made us strong. What you have taught us over the years is with us now in this new thing. All your grandchildren are strong now.
-I have had an inner peace that the people of Africa will come through the Covid 19 pandemic stronger than many others with better resources. The difference is in our collective strength through the bitter experience with the viruses and microbes of our daily lives… John Robinson
Crowded in Between a Landlord And Fear of Xenophobia in the Streets of South Africa. Photo John Robinson
The Madiengua family lives in an overcrowded flat in the Point area of Durban, South Africa or “Little Nigeria” as it is locally known.
This family lives with their personal belongings packed in plastic bags in case of immediate eviction by the landlord of their building in the Point area of Durban, South Africa, Paty Madiengua stands with his wife Yvette and 4 children L to R Ephraim (15), Sabrina (14), Geffrey (10) and Genesis (2) in the kitchen of their flat ready be on the move again.
Yvette comes from the village of Buta in Oriental Province, DRC. her parents were killed by the DRC army, she escaped to Kinshasa with her brother and sister where her brother went missing. Yvette met Paty who worked as an egg vendor on the streets of Kinshasa and followed him to South Africa with their 4 children.
Paty works the night shift as a security guard in the city and Yvette sells clothes on the beachfront. Mr Madiengua’s salary does not match up to the rent on their 14th floor flat, the landlords in the area are getting rid of families on the overcrowding rule. While the Madiengua family feel safe in their flat they struggle to keep up with the rent and the cost of a family and they are “fearful of the xenophobia in the townships”.
“If You Are Foreigner Man Living in Durban This Program is Gonna Help you to improve your health and to prevent some kinds of diseases which can lead you to early death…”
The late winter sun and the sound of hustling taxis filter up through the window behind my back. I know Dr Emmanuel Tshimanga as a Congolese parking attendant at a local shopping centre here in Durban, South Africa.
The man in front of me glows with an inner light, he has such piercing eyes. he is now doing what has been bubbling up within him. Dr Tshimanga trained as a doctor in the Democratic Republic of Congo and now just waiting for his South African Health Council number to practice as a doctor in South Africa. He is here today advising fellow foreign men on how to cope with their health.
The tall figure of Dr Tshimanga flows without effort between French, Swahili and English using voice, eyes and hands to get the 3 men to my side up to speed on handling stress in their lives.
I will come back for pictures when I have the consent of the director of the Denis Hurley Centre and the men in this room. For now, I am just seeing my friend in a new light.
I now have some European editors in waiting for my proposed inner Durban City stories.
But without connection and trust, these stories will never touch down on sensor or film, so today is about connecting with a friend and building trust for tomorrow.
Ekuthuleni Transit Camp in Durban, South Africa sits on a slope in T Section of Umlazi. The camp is next to a grave yard, above a sewage processing plant and just underneath high tension power lines and in the words of Bheki Mngadi a resident of the camp “there is an uneasiness to this place” – John Robinson
I Know of a Family Who’s Daughter Bounced Out of a Coma After Massive Brain Trauma.
She will do somethings a little different now and other things way better then those around her; and to her parents I say not all is lost and much is gained too.
The Good Doctor is a television series about a gifted and autistic young surgeon in a San Jose hospital. While the caractor in The Good Doctor is a surgeon way above par, he battles to cope with social skills, obsesses about little things and gets visibly upset because the handy man in the building where he lives fixes something that was not on his “to fix list”.
I cheer, laugh out loud and cry while watching The Good Doctor. The producers of the show have captured realities of post brain injury life. The presence of being a bit weird to others, not always having the word you really wanted and knowing that my left hand likes to do the funky without telling me first. On the other hand being so focused and perceptive now that I feel that my photography is enhanced. I feel that the pictures I now take are some of the best and better then before I had my stroke in 2012.
I don’t want other’s pity, I am comfortable in my skin now. I now know the new me and am leaving that somewhat arrogant person in the past; there is no reversing option after coming around after a stroke in a hospital bed. There is no going back after brain injury, you have got what you have now got, like wetting my hospital bed ’cause my muscle control had to be still relearned. With time you realise that you have got more then first realised too. Rather then your pity I always like a bit of space when my brain is rebooting, often you won’t even realise that I am in pause mode as it only takes about 20 seconds and we are a masters at masking when it happens in public.
While in that hospital bed I talked with a doctor doing her rounds “ma’am, people are supposed to die from strokes”. The doctor just said “yes”. A stroke is devastating. As devastating as it has been, my stroke has also proved to me a life changing event too. I live consciously now, every day, each day, I smell, see things as never before and I am stronger in mind and body then before the stroke.
I am shit awful at religion and in that class I am a bad Johnny at the back, but I sense a greater being, I so believe. I believe in a God that let his son die a public death in Palestine and loves me more then any parent loves their child. Belief is different to religion, it’s not like the brittle dead stick of religion. Belief has flex and it is so strong.
I really like my whole self now with all the quirks and yes my favourite colour is magenta. A friend who knew me pre stroke said that I seem different “you are more tender now, I recognise you as John but you have changed”. My CT scan report includes the following; “A large wedge shaped hypo density involving the grey and white matter is noted in the right frontal region with involvement of the insular region and the right basal ganglia… in keeping with right chronic MCA territory infarct”. I am not medically trained and I do not know what my right frontal region does or does not do now, but I do know about living in my body post stroke. I find other words when the ‘right’ word is not there anymore. Day to day I have slight fine motor skill loss in my left hand, a very slight weakness in my left lower leg and foot. I find that eating with my right hand is easier, riding a bicycle is better then walking long distances and living as though each day is a gift as I could have been already dead as the lady doctor said.
I would not like to back track anymore if it were even possible, I am now accepting of my self and I am a lot more accepting of others too. Though I cope much better when in a congruent situation be that my home office or on a bicycle rush hour traffic and I am so much more perceptive now.
I would not wish a stroke on anyone, but my brain injury has come to me as a bit of a gift in disguise and life is short enough as it is to not take hold of what is. – John Robinson
In 2004 I Was in The Sudan Taking Pictures for Mennonite Central Committee.
After taking pictures in IDP camps in Darfur of people who were raped, burned by the Sudanese government backed Janjaweed militia. I was stopped by security officers at the Nyala Airport on our way back to Khartoum with my camera, detailed notes and the client’s 40 rolls of films. I was allowed onto the flight with the assurance that I would be taken aside by more government men on landing in Khartoum.
While we flew out of Darfur a deep sense of peace descended down over me while sitting in that seat on the Marsland Aviation Tupolev airplane , I prayed to God for a way out, heard a voice saying that I was his loved son had to just accept his peace and walk on… He would position the hole in the net that I was caught in, I just had to walk on and trust him to do the rest.
I looked around the cabin for government agents, I was trying to do things my way and the deep sense of peace lifted up off me with the words “do you want my peace or not?” I re accepted the peace and it fell right down tangibly over me again.
I walked down off the Tupolev on the airport apron with my camera, notebook and film right pass a reception of about 6 men who did nothing to stop me, again in the airport building 2 police officers ran into the terminal building where we landed looking for someone again they ran right straight past me.
A few days later an Italian Roman Catholic nun approached me in the Athbarah Comboni Mission Centre; she said that she just had to hug me because she felt that I needed it; and I did need it after Darfur.
Back at our hotel in Khartoum a journalist from a Nairobi based news service offered to secret my film out of the country with all their camera kit for me…
I believe that God is true to his word; and loves us so deeply and can be trusted. He did position holes right where I needed them and I, my kit and pictures got out of the net that I felt to be caught in in The Sudan and then added a much needed hug because he can.