Notorious for rowdy celebrations, the final night of 2011 was relatively tame by Hillbrow’s standards.
On a night on which stabbings, shootings and other random acts of violence are the norm, fireworks emblazoned the sky as locals brought in the New Year.
Approximately 600 officers in armoured South African Police Service (SAPS) vehicles were dispatched from the suburb’s station to comb the streets.
For the team of journalists inside an Nyala armoured vehicle, it is a peephole into a world unlike any other.
The inhabitants of buildings welcomed the police by throwing half empty beer bottles, cheap furniture and the occasional brick.
“You can get out — but at your own risk, hey!” shouts one officer to wide-eyed reporters clambering over one another for the best view.
Journalists venturing outside for a better view do their best to dodge the missiles as some Hillbrow residents wish them a “Happy New Year”.
But the projectiles were thrown not in anger, but celebration.
Countless homeless people are fast asleep on the sidewalk, seemingly oblivious to the missiles pelting the road metres from their heads. Meanwhile, a lone car’s windscreen has been obliterated by a brick.
Residents are seen darting across the streets to the relative refuge of the pavement as their neighbours test their aim.
Buildings within range of each other begin impromptu firework wars. Sparks fly across the sky, ending up on opposing balconies before explosions set off shrieks of excitement.
The streets are awash with broken glass and miscellaneous items of furniture surplus to their former owners’ requirements.
Countless mattresses are strewn over the streets, interspersed with the occasional television set, dining room chair and child’s car seat.
A solitary fridge the Nyala comes across is being dragged away in the hopes of being salvaged.
In the midst of the fireworks and broken glass, a man stands naked at the entrance to a block of flats, cradling his crotch with a look of bewilderment on his face.
However, police officers don’t seem fazed, saying this has been the quietest New Year’s celebration the suburb has had in years.
Only three minor injuries were attended to in the emergency medical centre in the Hillbrow police station’s basement and a single arrest was made for possession of an unlicensed firearm.
The armoured medical emergency vehicle remained stationed outside the police station for the entire evening. Paramedics in protective gear smoke cigarettes and drink coffee — seemingly dissatisfied at the lack of action.
“We are very happy with our efforts this year. People are realising they can enjoy themselves without getting out of control,” SAPS Hillbrow cluster commander Major-General Theko Pharasi told journalists at the end of our excursion.
We are told clean-up operations will be well under way by daybreak. By midday the streets will be cleared. It’ll be just another day in one of South Africa’s most notorious suburbs.
Happy 2012 from Hillbrow.
- In the original version of this story, we incorrectly referred to the head of the police operation as “SAPS Hillbrow operations commander Major-General Teko Baratsi”. This ought to have read: “SAPS Hillbrow cluster commander Major-General Theko Pharasi”. This has been corrected.