South Africa


A city on its knees: ‘Civilian patrols’ take charge in Durban as violence and looting continue

A city on its knees: ‘Civilian patrols’ take charge in Durban as violence and looting continue
Thousands of protesters in and around Durban caused havoc, tearing the city apart, looting shops and burning some of the shops in the process. (Photo: Supplied)

This was not a drill and not a movie set either. As looters terrorised nearby areas, residents in Durban suburbs were forced to take their fate into their own hands – at least until the SANDF help was supposed to arrive.


Update: SANDF started arriving in Durban just before midnight on Monday.

Multiple gunshots rang out in the suburb of Umbilo, Durban, on Monday night as looters returned to the Queensmead Mall to access the Spar and a pharmacy inside the small, unobtrusive shopping centre that they had not been able to fully access earlier in the day.

Hours later, dozens of the looters were seen ambling along Bartle Road, the main one in the suburb, with full Spar trolleys, laughing as they offloaded their wares, presumably at homes in the neighbourhood, and then sped back to the mall to reload and repeat. 

Others were met by drivers in vehicles – some of them luxury sedans – and loaded their loot into the cars.

“Amandla!” shouted one young woman, punching a slim fist into the air as she tried to balance a trolley full of booze while trotting down the road. “Amandla, amandla,” she giggled, visibly drunk.

Two other women pushed trolleys behind her, laughing.

A looted Spar Tops liquor store in Sandy Centre, Pinetown, on July 12, 2021 in Durban, South Africa. It is reported that a considerable number of shops and businesses were looted over the weekend following a wave of violent protests after the incarceration of former South African President Jacob Zuma. (Photo: Gallo Images/Darren Stewart)

A few kilometres down the road, a pall of black smoke rose into the air, the result of another fire, somewhere.

Umbilo, a so-called aspirational suburb for those looking to exit working-class areas, sits beside the more affluent Berea and, here too, protesters were looting in the brightness of day and well into the evening.

Residents of Glenwood, Glenmore, Umbilo and Rossburgh – close enough to the CBD for ease of travel but far enough to offer a suburban lifestyle – are among dozens of suburbs that have been hit by the violent unrest that has spewed into eThekwini and the province.

What may have started as a backlash to the incarceration last week of former president Jacob Zuma has evolved into a full-blown, nasty, violent spectre of greed and indifference.   

The small, local Woolworths in Berea was thoroughly looted by 5pm on Monday, after criminals broke the large store windows and carried out goods. The items were loaded into SUVs and top-of-the-range bakkies. No one rushed. Teenagers were among the offenders. There were no police, no metro police and no private security in sight.

Two well-known and often used security companies in the area have not been engaging with offenders, leaving the local crime watch groups and residents “disgusted” and “terrified”. Neither security company answered calls from Daily Maverick.

Leaders in Glenwood, a Durban suburb that includes the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Howard College and top rugby school Glenwood Boys’ High School, called an emergency meeting on Wednesday afternoon via local WhatsApp security groups. Attendants gathered under a resplendent Natal mahogany tree.

Protesters in and around Durban looting shops. (Photo: Supplied)

The community is one of dozens throughout the province setting up civilian patrols and working alongside police as a stopgap before the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) finally gets to Durban.

“When we did a patrol earlier today… the people walking around who had done the looting… it was unbelievable. We don’t want another Marikana, but the issue with the SAPS is they are completely undermanned, overworked and overwhelmed,” Glenwood Community Watch coordinator Guy Perrins told the 80-strong crowd.  

“It all depends on us now. It is up to us to respond. We have agreed with [the Umbilo police station] to [set up] an interim stopgap to contain the violence,  looting and criminality until the army can take over. This is only a temporary solution.”

Perrins asked that those carrying legal weapons, and who were prepared to patrol with the SAPS on Monday night, stand to one side.

“We are going to support SAPS. You will be shocked [that] there are only eight officers available tonight for the whole sector. I can’t go into detail.

“They want the armed guys to meet at the [Umbilo police station] and patrol and work under the jurisdiction of the SAPS. We will take direct instruction from the SAPS.”

Those without firearms were asked to be part of community patrols, working in two-hour shifts.

Perrins emphasised that the civilians would be “back-up” for the police. “We will not be standing at the front. We will not be frontline. We are at the back to support only. It is as simple as that.”

The station commander at Umbilo police station did not respond to calls or text messages from Daily Maverick.

In Musgrave, an upper-crust eThekwini area popular with the Jewish and Muslim communities, residents have secured the neighbourhood with barricades. Similar scenes are playing out in Hillcrest, Westville, the Bluff, Wentworth and Phoenix.

Liquor stores appear to be the favoured target for the looters in all of the areas.

WhatsApp groups have also popped up like pimples on the north and south coasts. Several communities have blocked off the entrances to their towns and are keeping watch as the criminals riot, businesses are gutted, infrastructure is damaged and fields are burnt.

It is unclear how much damage has been done in smaller towns, but in eThekwini, the metro put out a statement saying that the water supply in Ntuzuma, Botha’s Hill, Inanda and Umlazi “could be affected as it is not possible to attend to faults in these areas currently”.

Waste collection and street sweeping services have been suspended until further notice.

Municipal parks, recreation and culture depots, nature reserves and nurseries, the Botanic and Japanese gardens, Mitchell Park zoo and the bird park, swimming pools, libraries, cemeteries and crematoria were all closed.

Clinics were closed, as were Covid-19 vaccine and testing sites. The city bus service was suspended until further notice. 

By 8pm, as President Cyril Ramaphosa was addressing the nation on live television, saying that those responsible would be arrested and speedily prosecuted, gunshots continued to tear through the Umbilo night, the smell of gunpowder, burning buildings and tyres heavy in the air.

By 9pm, there was no indication that the defence force had reached the metro. Marauding looters continued to move unhindered and unafraid, by foot and in vehicles. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Pierre-Andre van Leeuwen says:

    The same SAPS that is actively trying to disarm legal gun owners with the proposed FCA amendments, are now asking armed citizens for help?

  • Brian Cotter says:

    The missing link is where is the King of the once proud Zulu nation. Surely his words can have some influence.

  • Miles Japhet says:

    These are not protestors these are criminals, many of whom are far from poor. This is what happens when you have role models like Zuma and his kind.

  • Carsten Rasch says:

    Perhaps this is who we, South Africans, really are, behind the facade. People who do not care about constitutions, legalities, the law, moral codes. The looters were people from all the strata, the unemployed, working class, middle class, even upper middle class, and saw nothing wrong with gutting shopping malls, and stealing everything inside. Everything…. This is truly a sad sad day as the masks slip and we reveal ourselves.

    • Karl Sittlinger says:

      I am sorry, but this is not who we are. This is what the ANC is, and has been for the last 20 years: A free for all, “its our turn to eat” looting machine. They have created a culture of theft and it really is not surprising that this is the reaction we are seeing, primarily by some of their supporters.

  • Alan Jeffrey says:

    Tuesday morning in Westville and local resident patrols have done a magnificent job in holding the line. I knew this would happen. Instead of educating and assisting the poor, the truly evil Jacob Zuma presided over the looting of his country and theft beyond any understanding, gifted to foreigners. Now we are ALL paying the price. The silver lining may be that people of all races will make the connection and rally together to rebuild our country. It is NOT nor ever should e about race. It is about Good versus Evil.
    That simple

  • Cliff McCormick says:

    Is it not a pity that our deputy president the esteemed Mrs Zuma did not take the opportunity and stand up and ask her fellow people to calm down? Where is she when the kak hits the fan?

  • Birgit Edmayr says:

    Arrested people have to do the clean up!

    • Graeme J says:

      100% agree. Unfortunately, our esteemed constitution doesn’t allow for forced labour. In my opinion, every person behind bars should be required to do chain gain duty.

  • Gerhard Pretorius says:

    A lot of frustration involved from everyone. Zuma was just an excuse. Criminals, mostly youngsters are causing the harm. As I am personally involved there is no time for further comments. SANDF and Police are not helping a lot as there are not enough of them. Civilians are left to protect their families and property. Goverment cannot do it any longer.

  • Trevor Jones says:

    The message that has been missed, for whatever reason, is that 57 BILLION Rand has been stolen.

    57 Billion Rand would have built 7-800,000 homes, thus 3-4 million people now living in shacks could have been living in brick built, weatherproof, accommodation. To say nothing of the jobs and wages involved in building them.

    If those “protesting” had a clearer idea of just who has had their future job security, health and general standard of living stolen by these despicable crooks – i.e. themselves, perhaps they would not be so keen to see these scum released.

  • Terence Dowdall says:

    What’s happening is entirely consistent. The ‘Zuma supporters’ – coming out opportunistically in the name of a man who looted his country heedless of the consequences to ordinary people, are just replicating his actions, each in their own small way, each engaging in their own small opportunity to steal. It is a celebration of his vision of property, a true Zumafest.

  • Stef Viljoen Viljoen says:

    I am not surprised at all that seemingly well off people are partaking. The people have been living under the cloud of not knowing where tomorrows food is going to come from for so long that, even when they have enough the fear is still there that it might simply disappear. So they grab when they can. Concentration camp psychology 101.

  • Jane Crankshaw says:

    Do NOT underestimate the role of the EFF in all this looting. This has been a well planned , co-ordinated operation and has been years in the making.
    The makeup moment between Julius and JZ was the beginning of the plan….split the ANC, give the EFF a chance at the top and pardons all round for Zuma and his pals. Brilliant planning and the looting mob have performed better than they had hoped!

  • Rich Field Field says:

    Malema (on Twitter) asked…“The question should be: Where are the leaders to speak to their people? Are they scared of their people? And if the answer is yes, the next question should be: why are the[y] leaders in the first place?”
    Seeing that Zuma is in jail and Twitterless, this is most likely directed at President Cyril Ramaphosa. Earlier in the day, Malema tweeted with fury after it emerged that the army would be deployed after all.
    “No soldiers on our streets! Otherwise, we are joining. All fighters must be ready … they won’t kill us all. We need a political solution to a political problem, not soldiers.
    It’s not clear why Malema didn’t step in to offer his leadership to tell the looters to stop. Possibly he could score more points by tweeting — and there is also the risk of the looters not listening to him should he address them directly. (DM)
    Possibly the thought of leaving the comfort of his own lifestyle is off-putting, especially if he is shown up as not being able to do anything more than rabble rouse. He is desperate to not be the one-trick-pony he is…,its easy to break things (or point out the problems), but much harder to fix things.
    Grow up little boy, the country needs men.

  • Jane Crankshaw says:

    Thank goodness for community policing – whilst the SAP stand around outside the Pinetown Police Station picking their noses, our community has galvanized themselves into a motivated security force around the clock. I thank you all ( men and women) for keeping us safe.
    All this whilst the Pick and Pay depot is being trashed by hundreds of entitled looters who have arrived in their cars and take their time choosing what they want to steal! It’s quite incredible to watch!

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