How I got my camera back from thieves

The happy ending 


Two people with aliases – Bernard from Moscow and Sally, the single mother from Cape Town, after the daring attempt to get me back my camera. Well done guys! What a team!

I am going to tell you a story now of how I recovered my camera equipment when it was stolen a few days ago. This is not for everyone to do, and where there is a reliable police force who has the time to spend on recovery, then, by all means, use them.

If the police force is inundated with cases of crime, then you should know that you have no chance of getting your equipment back; if you are uninsured, then there are two options: resign yourself to the loss – or, if your camera is your sole means of making a living, perhaps you should take steps to get your camera back.

Perhaps DIY is the way to go.

But be very careful indeed as there are some heartless and characterless people out there.

What happened

I was photographing the riots in Hout Bay recently and was returning home with some brilliant material.  I had interviews with those who were really suffering in rain-sodden tin huts, that would have melted the hearts of those who would later hear. It was not to be.

I was accosted by three men, one of whom held a knife and was no doubt ready to stab me for my camera. There were people around, even police at a distance, but no one seemed to notice as they pressed into me. At first, I resisted and held the man’s wrist so that he couldn’t stab me. I pleaded with him to leave and told him my camera was my sole means of making a living.

This was when he wrenched his wrist loose and tried to stab me in the chest that I had to surrender the camera. Two of the men sauntered down the road with my camera. I called for the police to chase them; somehow I don’t think their hearts were in it; they had enough to deal with as the riots were continuing.

If this was a chase, then tortoises would have won.


I have faced trauma before. Years ago, a man placed a gun to my head and in the other hand held a bowl of swimming pool acid, ready to throw into my eyes if I didn’t surrender my cell phone. My son had given this phone to me and I had a special attachment to it, but the violence in the man’s demeanour and because I knew I was about to be killed or disfigured for life, meant that I let it go.

Let me tell you what happens when you face trauma – or rather, what happened to me. The minute the situation occurs, adrenaline starts to pump into your blood stream – this is at the time a good thing as it gives you super-human energy for either flight or fight. Adrenaline is poison afterwards though – it takes at least 3 days to get out of your system. You are spaced out and act more than a little odd. Your muscles ache and you will, more than likely, face blinding headaches.

In that time I wrote foolish things on Facebook, but one does. There is very little sanity left with adrenaline – and getting away from computers and social media is probably a good thing.

The plan

I was willing to resign myself to my fate but it was hard – my camera had become a way of expressing myself as older age approaches and our powers to survive diminish with our decaying brain cells. My eldest daughter was not resigned at all, and unbeknown to me was scouring the internet to find anything that approximated my equipment. She phoned me while I was travelling and a few hundred miles away,

“Dad, I think I have found your camera and lens on Gumtree!”

She sent the links to my cell phone and I had a look at the images; the coincidences were just too obvious; the same make and model of camera, the same make and model of the lens and the same description of the memory card. But as I pulled off to the side of the road, my heart dropped – I looked at the scratches I knew were there and they were not; and scratches in areas of the camera where I knew I had none, they were there in abundance.

“No, this can’t be mine.”

“Just come home Dad, this is your camera, I have a gut feeling!”

While we made our way home, my daughter asked a friend to phone the number and make as if he was interested in purchasing the camera. The seller seemed friendly and normal – saying that he had bought the camera from Orms two years ago, and that it was second hand at the time. My daughter’s friend then asked for the serial numbers and it was then that the first red flag was raised because the seller never got back to him.

“To the shrewd, show yourself shrewd.”

This was where my daughter changed her identity and location. She became “Sally from Cape Town” and was a single mother who wanted to buy the camera for her son, who wanted to become a photographer when he grew up.

“I am so sorry, I don’t want to worry you, but can you send me some images you have taken with the camera just so I don’t waste your time?” asked Sally from Cape Town.

Images arrived in her inbox, but not images directly from the camera, images taken with a cell phone, images on the LCD screen of the camera.

The second red flag was raised.

“I am so sorry, can you tell me if the pop-up flash works?” asked Sally on another call.

“No it doesn’t unfortunately,” said the man who was turning out to be so nice.

The third red flag, the pop-up flash on my camera was jammed tight shut, it had never worked.

“Isn’t there supposed to be some rubber thing on the viewfinder, where is that?” asked Sally from Cape Town.

“I lost it but it only costs R50 to replace,” said the man.

We were still not sure, and feelings of guilt at playing silly buggers with this poor man began to set in. After all, he could be spending his time selling to proper buyers; and by now we were beginning to have real doubts, all three of us. He seemed so nice and so ordinary – and would a man go to the extent of making new scratches on the camera? Would he have removed the eyepiece just to get rid of the tell-tale hole in it, a hole I knew was there?

Who would do that?

The arrival

He arrived at his appointment in a public restaurant with Sally from Cape Town, very late, camera in hand. Sally was sitting at a table facing the front and he took the only other seat and had his back to the friend and me. The friend got up and pretended to be looking at the seagulls fly past, smoking a cigarette and blowing rings into the sky. If anything happened, he was right there to protect Sally from Cape Town with a son wanting to do photography.

“Dad!” yelled Sally from Cape Town, “Come over here and look at this lovely camera, do you think I should buy it?” This was no ordinary yell. It was a yell that Dad’s know, a yell that makes us move because we know the time of games is over.

“Oh Lord” I cried, approaching the table and pulling a chair up, “I love that lens! Would you sell me the lens alone? How much is it? Can I have a closer look please?”

The seller looked worried. Very worried, but he agreed.

And with that, I took the lens of the camera body and looked straight into the serial number. It was a match, but at first, I could hardly believe it.

“Pull up your sleeve Sally from Cape Town,” I said excitedly. Sally from Cape Town had written the serial number of my lens on her arm. The man looked as if the ground was about to part and his face turned a whiter shade of pale.

I won’t tell you all that happened then, it was a blur; except that we all gave the nice young man a lecture and made him promise to amend his ways. I could see my daughter struggling and at one point even consider payment.

And he was a nice guy who had got caught up with the darker things of South Africa’s vast network of criminality because it is such an awful struggle for young men to survive in South Africa now. We felt for him as he got and up left, and prayed for better things in his life. He chose to leave without the camera as he knew that he had done wrong in trying to engineer the details in his advertisement in Gumtree. He knew he had bought stolen goods from criminals.

The story continues and is not ended.

All I know is that the men who held a knife to me; and who have terrorised people in Hout Bay will pay for their deeds against others in the community.


It’s coming to them.



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