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Sunday Times STLive By ROWAN PHILP, 2010-10-24

War photographer maimed in blast

South African war photo grapher Joao Silva continued to take pictures after his legs were blown off in a mine explosion in Afghanistan yesterday.

A member of the "Bang Bang Club" of fearless photojournalists who covered political violence before South Africa's 1994 elections - and a subject of a recently released film - Silva stepped on an antipersonnel mine while on patrol with US soldiers near the war-torn city of Kandahar.

While waiting to be evacuated, Silva continued photographing the scene of the explosion.

Yesterday, his wife, Vivian, confirmed to a friend Silva had lost both legs below the knee, "but he survived, he's been stabilised and he's being flown to a military hospital in Germany".

"I'm just shocked," she said. "There is lots of support from friends; we know he's getting the best medical help."

A teary Vivian told the Sunday Times Silva phoned her at 5am yesterday to say he was injured; that he did not want her to hear the news from someone else; that he needed both his asthma pump and a cigarette; and that he was waiting to be evacuated by helicopter to a US military hospital in Afghanistan.

After that initial operation, he was to be sent to Germany for major surgery.

According to the New York Times - which employs Silva - the photographer suffered "severe" wounds when the bomb exploded in the region of Arghandab, north of Kandahar.

The newspaper reported: "A group of minesweepers and bomb-sniffing dogs had already moved over the area several steps ahead of Mr Silva when the bomb went off."

Having covered the withdrawal of US troops in Iraq in April, Silva left for Afghanistan earlier this month and teamed up with veteran war correspondent Carlotta Gall.

He was due back at his Wendywood, Johannesburg, home in December ahead of a Christmas holiday at the seaside.

The 44-year-old father of two has covered wars in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and the Balkans, and friends said he had only been injured lightly before, when some shrapnel hit him in the face.

Neels van Jaarsveld - the actor who played Silva in the film The Bang Bang Club - said the news was "atrocious".

"He's such a thoughtful guy. Would you believe - when he heard that I had hurt my knee on the movie, he called me from a phone box in Afghanistan to ask if I was okay!" said Van Jaarsveld.

"Its unfathomable, the risks he has to take - but he's professional and careful, and what he does is important.

"Alongside my father, he is the man I respect the most in the world."

Long-time friend and fellow photographer Jodi Bieber said Silva was "one of the world's greatest war photographers".

"Joao loves Afghanistan. And I love Joao. I don't know what to think until I know exactly what his injuries are," she said.

In a report for the New York Times on Thursday, Gall described the military situation she and Silva - embedded with the US 4th Infantry Division - were involved with: "Beginning in August, Afghan forces spearheaded a clearing operation in Mehlajat, on the southern edge of the city of Kandahar.

"Soon after, American forces pushed through much of Ar-ghandab, a strategic rural district that leads into the city from the north. At the same time, troops from the 101st Airborne Division moved into Zhare District to the southwest, where they initially encountered strong resistance."

The newspaper's editor, Bill Keller, said: "Joao is the state-of-the-art war photographer, fearless but careful, with an amazing eye. We're all waiting anxiously and praying for his quick recovery."