It was 1989 and I was sent to the Pretoria City Hall to photograph the National Party’s Transvaal caucus. It was one of those assignments we photographers thought of as boring. Politics, again.
But once there, I kept an eye open for something offbeat – a challenge I would set myself on quieter assignments, particularly when there didn’t seem to be much happening visually. I was too wet behind the ears to be aware of the bigger political picture and that, historically, the photographs could matter. Perhaps a bit blasé too, as we all had a chance to attend the political gatherings of the day.
I’d heard them all, from the high pitch of reverend Allan Boesak to the baritone politi-poetry of Eugène Terre’Blanche. FW de Klerk I don’t recall being as entertaining as some others: my lasting impression was of a serious man.
As the meeting went on about the “new” National Party and Gerrit Viljoen was at the podium, I noticed De Klerk surreptitiously smoking. He saw that I had noticed and was trying to take a photograph. We went on like this for a little while until I succeeded, with him looking straight at me and realising that he’d been caught. I stopped then. (Seated next to him and obscured by the flowers was Marika, his first wife.)
Some years later, I went along with a few journalists who were to interview him at the Union Buildings. We were ushered into his office and everyone was offered tea, except me. It soon became clear that he didn’t want a photographer around. I had to take some photographs as quickly as I could. As I finished and turned to leave, he grabbed his packet of smokes. I think they were Winston.