Waiting for worse in South Africa 14

Dr. Karin Morrow is a general practitioner in Durban, South Africa. She described on Twitter the recent violent rioting and looting that has destabilized and terrified the whole country. The pretext for the protests that became an insurgency was the arrest of the former president of South Africa, Jacob Zuma. According to AP, at least 215 people have died in “the unrest”.

We quote her account as edited by the South African journalist David Bullard:

Friday July 9th  

This was the day the planned anarchy began. Apart from the torching of trucks at the Mooi River Toll plaza there were burning tyres in the Durban CBD [Central Business District],  blocked streets and sugar cane fields set alight. All this was celebrated on Twitter by Dudu Zuma Sabudla whom I reported, as did many others, but no action was taken. KZN [KwaZulu-Natal] premier Sihle Zikalala didn’t help matters by siding with [former President] Zuma and demanding a presidential pardon. That would have encouraged the looters no end. Our mayor remained invisible.

Saturday July 10th

A brief lull and there were predictions that the N3 [freeway] would be cleared but truckers were warned to be wary. Not a word from our leaders. In the evening a black patient of mine messaged me saying she had heard that the whole of KZN was going to be shut down next week and could she get her prescription now and make an appointment for a month end consultation. I told her I lived in a bubble and hadn’t heard this and jokingly suggested that she should offer her services as ‘intel’ to Pres Ramaphosa.

Sunday July 11th 

This was the start of the real chaos, which was to become a daily occurrence during the week. Co-ordinated simultaneous looting and arson attacks were launched on various buildings including a liquor warehouse in Pinetown. Gunfire rang out that night along with shouting and screaming from Mayville/Cato Crest which is 2km as the crow flies from where I live. Frenzied WhatsApp messages went out asking what was going on?

Monday July 12th 

The frenzy of last night was explained this morning with photos of the gutted small business district of Mayville. Businesses were set alight and the police shot at. But things were about to get much worse. Today was to be Durban’s apocalypse. Warehouses, shopping centres, liquor outlets, factories, schools, storage units, pharmacies, water reservoirs all attacked and most destroyed. Even a blood bank was destroyed. The lack of chronic medication is going to be a major problem in the coming days and weeks.

Meanwhile, silence from our Premier and mayor and the eThekwini Twitter site had temporarily shut down.

I watched mobs of looters surge over the ridge and down into my suburb of Glenwood to strip the local shopping centres. Davenport Centre and Berea Centre along with smaller shops along the way were all smashed and looted. The looters returned up the hill towards the informal settlement and the university residence pushing trolleys of stolen goods, carrying bags on their heads, pulling crates of beer along the road and one even carrying a typist’s office chair.

I drove up to collect my elderly parents who live close to the settlement. The roads were barely passable, strewn with rubbish and broken glass with looters still weaving their way home with their spoils.

I drove past my local Woolies [Woolworths] which had been smashed and emptied. I saw my first police in several days.

The air was acrid with the many fires burning and fine ash rained down as we heard constant gunfire in the distance.

Our local community finally realised that nobody was coming to protect our lives and our homes so civilian volunteers gathered at a central point and patrols were set up for the night and the following day. These would be termed “vigilante militias” by smug woke journos and academics sitting in nice safe Cape Town.

That evening we watched Pres Ramaphosa’s underwhelming address to the nation as the looting of the Queensmead Mall in Umbilo unfolded on the screen behind him….and not a policeman to be seen.

Tuesday July 13th 

The destruction has spread to the large warehouses like Massmart and other buildings in what used to be the business district but is now a war zone. There are aerial shots of long queues of cars, many of them upper end of the market vehicles, all waiting to load up and transport stolen goods. So much for this being all about the starving unemployed just trying to survive. Durban residents started with the clean up process of their suburbs and it was uplifting to see how good people could come together in times of adversity. Our political leaders were still conspicuous by their absence apart from the DA’s [Democratic Alliance] John Steenhuisen (a Durban man) who gave some very welcome support on the ground to traumatised residents. By contrast, the EFF’s [Economic Freedom Fighters] Julius Malema was using social media to tell his followers to cause more mayhem.

There are food and fuel shortages and medicines are difficult to come by. Long queues are forming and decent citizens are patiently standing in those long queues and shopping for those who are unable to do so. There’s no fighting…..I guess traumatised people who have been under attack become rather docile. Some even managed to crack a few jokes to keep spirits up.

My phone has been pinging all day with patients who need new prescriptions to take to an unlooted pharmacy if they are lucky enough to find one.

Finally, the day takes its toll and I break down with the first (and I hope last) anxiety attack of my life triggered by watching yet more TV coverage of my home province being destroyed. I collapse in a sobbing heap, feel hopeless and can’t move. My family honestly believe I am dying because I can generally cope with most situations. I take the same tranquilisers I prescribe to patients who suffer anxiety attacks and they seem to help. 

Thursday July 15th 

Sporadic looting and arson has continued while the community continues to clean up and queue for what little food is left in the neighbourhood. There’s anger at the lack of adequate police presence and the Premier was chased away from Ballito, north of Durban, when he appeared and ordered residents to remove their barricades. The SANDF [South African National Defence Force] finally arrived which was a welcome sight but far too little too late. In other news, dead fish and crayfish [large lobsters] are washing up on  beaches having been poisoned by the spillage from a burnt out chemical factory. So we now have a toxic ocean to add to our toxic land.

Friday July 16th

My first day back at the surgery this week and my receptionist came in. She lives on the Bluff which managed to repel repeated attempts by looting hordes thanks to a well armed community militia. Very busy issuing new prescriptions but our COVID vaccine roll out has ground to a halt. Is there even any vaccine left in KZN?

Durbanites are strong people but this week we have been severely traumatised. Apart from the ever present threat of COVID there will almost certainly be a wave of stress related illnesses that will hit us. There may be an uneasy calm now but, but as with any post traumatic stress disorder, there is a huge anticipatory anxiety. If it happened once with such impunity and ease it can surely happen again. The question is…… when?