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Witness To History-bookcover

By: Mohinder Dhillon

Witness To History

Pages: 248 Ratings:
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For almost fifty years, Mohinder Dhillon was one of Africa’s foremost news cameramen and documentary filmmakers. This book is both a personal memoir and a photographic record of the many remarkable events he covered over the course of an extraordinary career – events that were to change the course of history.
This book is much more than a collection of photographs. It offers fascinating insights into the behaviour of contemporary African leaders: Emperor Haile Selassie, Jomo Kenyatta, William Tubman, Julius Nyerere, Milton Obote, Idi Amin, Col. Gamel Nasser, Léopold Senghor, Kwame Nkrumah, Muammar Gaddafi and Robert Mugabe among them. Mohinder’s encounters with these and other leading figures of the day took place against the backdrop of the Cold War proxy conflicts that were then tearing Africa apart.
While primarily a vivid eye-witness account of the many turbulent events that shaped Africa during and immediately after the colonial era, this wide-ranging memoir also documents events that Mohinder filmed in South Yemen, Vietnam and elsewhere in the world.
To the fore throughout is Mohinder’s deep and abiding sense of compassion, both in his approach to photojournalism and as a committed humanitarian.

For almost fifty years, Mohinder Singh Dhillon was at the heart of the international news-gathering machine. Starting in the 1950s, his lenses recorded the struggle for Independence in Africa, including liberation wars in Kenya, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. He travelled the world as one of the profession’s most sought-after cameramen, renowned for his extraordinary physical courage. He once fell out of a helicopter at eight thousand feet above the slopes of Kilimanjaro - it was only the dense foliage that saved him from instant death. While covering the conflict in Aden, he was caught up in so much crossfire that the British soldiers there nicknamed him ‘Death Wish Dhillon’. Most notoriously, he came within a few minutes of summary execution in the Congo before an international camera crew passing by identified him as one of their own and persuaded his captors to let him go.

When he was not covering news, Mohinder shot many award-winning documentaries on subjects as various as wildlife conservation, Kenyan athletics and global health initiatives. Above all, his footage of the Ethiopian famine in the 1980s was instrumental in raising more than 100 million dollars for famine relief. His career came to an end not long after the bomb blast that shook Nairobi in August 1998, an event that gave rise to a deeply moving film about the impact of international terrorism on ordinary people.

Mohinder’s value system was profoundly influenced by his Sikh upbringing. Sikhs believe in one God and provide selfless service, believing in universal love. ‘Humility is Virtue, Arrogance is Evil’ is a Sikh proverb by which he lives. Before he died, Mohinder’s father once told him: ‘My son, if you live for yourself it is not considered living, but if you live for others, that is the real meaning of living.’ It is a sentiment by which Mohinder lived consistently, and with the utmost sincerity.  

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