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Wednesday, January 18, 2017
Vigil held for kidnapped photojournalist Shiraaz Mohamed
As the sun set on Wednesday evening, the sound of sirens and car hooters filled the air as a motorcade snaked its way through the streets of Ennerdale until it reached the Civic Centre in Lenasia South.
The Ennerdale Joint Reaction unit and other community members headed towards a vigil that was organised in support of the release of South African photojournalist Shiraaz Mohamed who was kidnapped on Tuesday last week while on assignment in Syria.
His trip was facilitated by relief organisation Gift of the Givers.
Many of the cars, driven by members of the Ennerdale Joint Reaction group, had flashing lights on their roofs and posters with Mohamed's face glued to their windows.
Members of the SA Block Neighbourhood Watch in their high visibility vests walked in front of the cars chanting "Free Shiraz Mohamed".
Inside the civic centre the mood was sombre and more chairs had to be brought inside as over 200 friends, family, community members and journalists gathered.
The 38-year-old is well-loved by the community of Ennerdale, where he grew up and started a newspaper, the Ennerdale Sun, seven years ago.
Since becoming a photographer about two years ago he's captured human suffering on a number of humanitarian missions including the earthquake in Nepal, floods in Malawi and xenophobic violence in Johannesburg.
The vigil started off with prayers by a Muslim Maulana, a Tamil priest and a Christian priest.
As they prayed, attendees stood up and held hands, many with bowed heads and closed eyes.
Friends gave heartfelt descriptions of Mohamed and his impact on their lives and that of his community. They also detailed his passion for photojournalism and humanitarian causes.
He was described as humble, passionate, friendly and dedicated.
'Is he warm? Is he hungry?'
Although the overarching message was one of hope, there was no doubt that Mohamed's friends and family were taking strain.
His close friend Dennis Farrell said: "I wake at night thinking of the stress he must be enduring. Is he warm? Is he hungry? How is he coping?"
Dean Rosenberg said he met Mohamed four years ago and the two had since become close friends.
"What caught my eye was that his camera was always with him. He was a trigger happy person, he would shoot anything that moved. Through his camera he'd tell a story.
"Shiraaz needed to tell a story and he could only do that through his pictures."
Rosenberg added that Mohamed was extremely humble.
"Everything in his home tells me what a humble life he lives, there's nothing fancy in his home. He's not there for the money, he's there to tell a story."
He was confident that Mohamed would be returned to South Africa safely.
"He's coming back bigger, stronger and better."
A man among those gathered for the vigil stood up during the proceedings and agreed with Rosenberg.
"In 2013 when I was part of the Gaza Rehabilitation Fund, Shiraaz went with me to Gaza, where a similar thing happened. We were kept there for two days extra. He was a pillar, he kept everyone calm. He was one of the fundamental people who ensured we got out of Gaza safely," he said.
Palestinian ambassador Bakar Almaharneh told the gathering that he was leaving for Syria on Friday on behalf of the South African government to meet with Syrian officials to negotiate for Mohamed's release.
"We want our brother back home alive," he said.
Mohamed's cousin, Natalie Maber told News24 that the family was not giving up hope.
"We are trusting that God will bring Shiraaz home safely. Worrying is not going to help."
At the end of the vigil, people gathered outside the community centre clasping candles.
A shrine of sorts was constructed as people put photos of Mohamed on the ground and placed their candles around them.
Mohamed's ex-wife and friend Shirley Brijlal was seen kneeling next to the shrine lighting a candle.
Although she was the family's official spokesperson, she said that the Mohameds were a private family and that it had been a stressful week. She did not give comment to the media.
Earlier in the day she released a statement saying: "It is all becoming too overwhelming for myself and Shiraaz's family...We are paralysed with worry and concern for Shiraaz. All we can do is hold on to our Creator and know that His will is being done to bring Shiraaz safely back to us...His mum and sisters will not be attending the vigil. They send their heartfelt gratitude and hope this vigil and the public support will add momentum to the efforts being made to find Shiraaz."
As people slowly filtered out of the venue into the night, posters reading #BringShiraazHome and #PrayForShiraaz remained pasted on the walls.