Forgive me in advance if what I am writing might reflect that I have lost property, a business or any other asset in the looting and violence that has gripped my home province of KwaZulu-Natal. I had lost none of these things at the time of writing. My health and that of my family are intact.
I am an everyman in this tragedy, one of millions of citizens trying to make it through the night without being overwhelmed by emotion as an unprecedented number of gunshots puncture the dark, as looters carry their wares past my home, screaming, shouting, laughing, drunk and drinking.
Looters who, up to the time of publication, had chosen not to toss a match the way of any of the homes in my working to lower middle-class suburb.
This benevolence, if you will, fills me with a shameful sense of gratitude and the reddest of rage. I have zero desire to analyse it.
Within a 10km radius of my home, malls, shops and businesses are alight and looted. Factories and warehouses have been stripped and are ablaze. Highways and arterial roads are blocked.
KwaZulu-Natal’s manufacturing sector has been obliterated. Its retail sector is dead. Hospitals are under protection, medicine cannot be sourced, pharmacies have had their shelves stripped, mothers are searching for formula via WhatsApp groups.
Thousands of jobs have been lost. Scores of companies and businesses will not reopen.
It would take the most blindly optimistic investor to return to a province such as KwaZulu-Natal. Even before this insurrection, mismanagement and plundering by officials and politicians could not be contained.
Nothing is moving now besides the media, the desperate, the criminals, the opportunistic and the civilian patrols and vigilante groups trying to keep them at bay.
Police are exhausted. The defence force is stalling. National authorities are flaccid. Politicians are condemning things that they are too shit-scared to walk through without state-sponsored security.
My neighbours from African countries have not left their properties. They know that in KZN it takes little more than an accusation to focus violent attention on them.
A ragtag group armed with pangas, sjamboks, cricket bats, gas guns and pool cues (you read that correctly) locked my neighbourhood down at 6pm on Tuesday. No way in, no way out. They have been stopping every single car wanting to enter. Many have been found crammed with looted goods. The items are being confiscated.
I experienced the same on the Bluff earlier in the day, men manning the entrance to the town, many armed. Getting in is difficult. You have to have a damned good reason to be there.
Same thing in Musgrave, except here there was hyper organisation – expensive weapons and expensive cars doing the blockading. One man was carrying what looked like a newly polished and sharpened machete. It glistened. “We’d prefer if you don’t take photos. Some people are calling us vigilantes now,” he shrugged.
What would have appalled me a week ago, on Tuesday comforted me.
My immediate priorities today, now, are the same as those in scores of areas across the province, but under different circumstances: The safety and health of my family, the safety of my friends and colleagues, and the sanctity of my neighbourhood.
Do not presume to understand the devastation and anxiety in these suburbs, in these townships, until you have stepped into them. Do not assume you have a sense of what is going on from video clips or media footage. You do not.
I am the closest I have ever been to losing hope. I feel no shame in admitting it. My fear is also waning, a dangerous thing, I have learned from past experience.
My hope ebbed to the lowest levels yet early on Tuesday morning, but only after exhausted reflection.
It was a beautiful morning, a Durban morning, the skyline a mesmerising blue – no gunshots for at least five hours. Birds were again in my garden.
I drove to my local shopping centre, my bread-and-milk place, to take in the scene. There I saw people scratching around in bushes, extracting small goods looted the previous night. They casually loaded the items into vehicles, some ambled across the road to their homes. It numbed me.
I should have been comforted, though. One man, in tatty but clean clothing, was chastising the thieves. “And tomorrow you come and cry because there’s no bread here, nothing to eat.” I saw him later intently sweeping the pavement with a dry palm leaf.
Frazzled police were stopping anyone who wasn’t a business owner from getting into the gutted centre. “What the fuck do you want here? You going where? Where? Which store? To pick up what? There is nothing in any of the stores. Call your boss, get him on the phone so I can speak to him,” began one exchange.
On Monday, I watched as criminals in Mercedes-Benzes and shiny double-cab bakkies filled their vehicles with loot at the small Woolworths a few kilometres away.
There is nothing startling in what I am writing. Such scenes are playing out in the corners of many suburbs and townships in eThekwini.
It is 9pm on Tuesday now. The weather has turned. It is teeth-chattering cold, a rarity for Durban. Multiple gunshots have again just ripped through the night and somewhere in the distance explosions reverberate. DM