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For the first time in my life, I’m all out of jokes

This time a week ago, all I could think about was getting my Covid-19 vaccination and taking the first real step towards getting over the fear of dying from the virus that has held our lives hostage since March last year.

As day 476 of the Covid-19 lockdown begins, I’m no longer living in fear of the virus. 

It’s not because I got my jab. 

Vaccinations in Durban were canned on Monday morning. Nobody knows when they’ll start again. The head of state is already talking about medicine insecurity, so the chances of me getting the long-awaited needle anytime soon look pretty slim.

Right now I’m more worried about where we’re going to get bread from; what we’re going to do from next week when the groceries we managed to buy on Sunday run out; what’s going to happen in a month’s time when the real hunger sets in, than getting the virus.

For the first time since Monday, there’s no smell of burning in the air; no plumes of black, acrid smoke tainting the early morning sunrise; no sound of gunfire or exploding stun grenades competing with the birds heralding the day. There’s no chopper overhead; no angry voices; no wailing of sirens.

I’m thankful for the quiet moment.

We’ve been under no real personal threat in this part of lower Glenwood, but it’s still been harrowing to watch all three malls in the suburb being stripped of pretty much everything that could be carried away.  

The Queensmead Mall, Glenwood Village and Davenport Centre were all totalled on Monday, following on the Ultra Liquors, the first major target of the rioters who started hitting the area on Sunday night. 

Granted, it’s not the industrial-scale, highly organised looting we’ve seen in the commercial and industrial hubs to the north, west and south of the city, but it’s still terrifying to watch.

On Monday, Helen Joseph Road turned into a human conveyor belt of stolen goods; thousands of people — grannies, children, young people — carrying off whatever they could take with them up the hill, totally unafraid of being arrested, calm, as if they’re performing a legal, paid job, rather than looting, before making their way down the hill. 

It wasn’t just the supermarkets and the liquor stores.

Hair salons; the prosthetic limb supplier; the local cannabis dispensary; all were stripped bare in the day’s looting. 

Everything conceivable was taken.

Shop mannequins.

Medical trolleys.

Pots and pans.

Hair dryers.

Bulwer Park suddenly became some kind of an impromptu staging area for looted goods, with people offloading what they had taken — warehousing it, for pickup and transportation — before heading back down the hill for more. 

I’m not sure that Durban — or the rest of KwaZulu-Natal — can ever recover from this. 

Or any of us who live here.

The city’s industrial and warehousing hub has been stripped bare and burned to the ground.  Logistics companies — central to whatever future we have in the province — are gone, obliterated. Thousands and thousands of jobs are gone, probably forever.

The township economy has also been largely destroyed around the city: north, west and south.

The CBD is wrecked: buildings are still being torched, army deployment or not.  

Suburbs are either looted or locked down by angry, terrified residents who have tooled up and set up roadblocks on street corners out of fear that they will be the next target. 

Racial tensions are boiling, not just in areas like Phoenix, where 15 people have already been killed, but all over the city, where fear and desperation are starting to turn deadly.

There are already massive queues for bread; for petrol; for whatever food is left in the few stores and service stations that have survived. 

Four hours of queuing on Wednesday morning yielded R100 worth of petrol.

No rice.

No flour.

No mealie meal.

Nothing.

By the time we got home, the baker who had arrived outside the school across the road with a couple of hundred loaves he had baked for people in the area had just sold his last loaf. 

I could have cried when I saw the look on our soon-to-be 15-year-old’s face when he found out there was no bread for breakfast for the third consecutive day.

Hopefully, the baker will be back today.

For the first time in my life, I’m all out of jokes;  wish I lived somewhere else, instead of Durban.

Ogies, Jozi — even Cape Town for that matter — right now anywhere else would be better than Durban and what lies ahead for us here.

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Paddy Harper
Paddy Harper
Storyteller.

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