“They're not coming.” Those were the words that reverberated around Durban, particularly around Durban North and the North Coast, as the looting, thuggery, and criminal element went out of control in the early days of last week.
After waiting anxiously for 24 hours for support and the promised soldiers, the communities finally got word back that no soldiers were coming. Also, that the police force was so incredibly outnumbered that they had all retreated. So the civilians were on their own. In the face of a violent, criminal element prepared to do whatever they wanted in a seemingly lawless environment, they were on their own.
With a high population of surfers on the coasts in Durban, and with no one to turn to, the communities grouped, they did what they had to do to stage off the forces of evil. For that's what it is – forces of evil.
It is absolutely pointless to explain the politics of the situation in a few short sentences except for this most essential description: the fight is not racial. It is not motivated by race. See Travis Logie's explanation on Instagram.
Without warning, the planned insurrection went out of control. The revolution gained a life of its own, wild and untrammelled. The original thread of #ReleaseZuma (former South African president, incarcerated for 15 months for contempt of court) morphed into a free-for-all of utter help-yourself anarchy.
On the coasts of Natal, many residential areas sit alongside and within retail areas – malls and shopping centres. As the groups of violent thugs ran amok and unchecked, so they started eyeing out private properties, vehicles, and ways to do more damage.
Sensing what was happening, these communities rose up as one, regardless of colour or creed, and stood shoulder to shoulder with whatever weapons they had to stave off the thuggery and unnamed enemy.
In Ballito, home to the Ballito Pro, it made no difference if you were a top surfer or a kook, whether you were white, black Indian or a longboarder. You had no choice but to defend
Localised Whatsapp and telegram support groups sprung up all over the place. Weapons were pooled, and in some instances, ammunition was dished out. Surfers were in the mix from the start. In Ballito, home to the Ballito Pro, it made no difference if you were a top surfer or a kook, whether you were white, black Indian or a longboarder. You had no choice but to defend.
— Leanne Manas (@LeanneManas) July 12, 2021
Where possible, private security clusters gathered to form the backbone of the resistance. At the same time, less experienced fighters did shifts through the cold night, armed with weapons ranging from licensed and unlicensed firearms to baseball bats, paintball guns to golf clubs.
Keyboard warriors, particularly those from the I-told-you-so school of ex-pats, lamented their cliched Cry The Beloved Country wailings on Facebook, saying 'thank goodness they left when they did.' All the while, oblivious to sanctimonious social bleating, the Durban crew fought the actual fight with weapons in hand and held their ground.
Surfers Not Street Children
Tom Hewitt, founder of Surfers Not Street Children is on the ground in Durban, trying to get food to local people. “The children we serve in the Point area of Durban are right in the middle of the downtown unrest,” he said. “The children in the street have fled to safer areas and those living in the local so-called shelters and in local small apartments are scared to leave those places.
“The immediate problem is that all shops are closed, food has been looted. There is no food left. Deliveries cannot be made as all the local freeways are blocked. We are literally running out of food.
“Some of our local friends have organised our first food drop today for children and we are now organising two aid flights with food, one from Joburg and one from Cape Town this week thanks to some of our amazing supporters.
“It is tricky bringing in food as we need to ensure we do not become a target locally as people are very desperate for food and supplies.”
Surf communities banding together
Gunshots were common, rounds going off sporadically. Fire and torches were used as a weapon by the looters, setting buildings alight. The communities fought to defend their houses and their loved ones. But, unfortunately, there was no way to protect most businesses. These were overrun by people deluded into believing that the short term gain of stealing goods and destroying services will have long-term benefits.
— Hermaine M (@HermaineM) July 12, 2021
Still, the communities banded together as one. Women running supplies like food and water, men handling roadblocks and dealing ruthlessly with people trying to gain entry into their neighbourhoods to steal or loot.
Those traitors who returned home to their neighbourhoods with their cars and vans filled with looted goods were turned away. Many of them had their illegal gains confiscated, and over the last few days, many were arrested.
The only way to compare it these days to something that we can relate to is that of an area threatened to be engulfed by an all-consuming fire. Australia knows this all too well, as does California. When the fires come, you have no choice but to stand next to your neighbour and your community, whether you hate your neighbour and despise members of your community. If you don't work together and form a team, you will lose everything to the fire. So you instinctively form partnerships, units, and groups focused on survival, and you fight with all that you know and with all your strength. Relying on each other for backup and support.
Hundreds of retail outlets have been destroyed. A quick glance will point to possibly north of 300 shops stocking surf apparel, and hard goods have been destroyed. So there are 45,000 businesses destroyed. Not emptied, but destroyed, with looters emptying everything, and on the way out, setting the shops alight as a final fuck you to their perceived enemies.
Eventually, the soldiers arrived, with the government deploying 10,000 armed soldiers into the area. The situation quickly calmed down as looters realised that the age of lawlessness was over. It was too late for the 212 people killed in the lootings, however. To date, there are close to 3,000 people arrested for looting, and more arrests are imminent.
Now our friends and family in Durban are fighting a different battle. Supply chains have been gutted, trucks have been burned. Shops are closed, and many of those that weren't destroyed remain shut for now. For example, South Africa's largest crude oil refinery - Sapref, has declared force majeure and has shut up shop.
There was initial panic setting in, with queues forming for food and medicine. However, it didn't take long for the people of South Africa to bandy together and start looking after one another. People started sharing food, medicine was flown in on private jets at private costs, and people cleaned up together. People began looking out for each other, no matter what the situation.
Let's not forget that South Africa is in a lockdown, buckling under a severe third wave rife with Delta strain. The problems now are that many medical facilities have been destroyed, and many clinics and laboratories have been levelled. As a result, the vaccination process in Durban has literally come to a grinding halt.
When shit gets real, and when things literally do become life and death, it is some sort of comfort to know that surfers and their families can stand up and be counted for. But, of course, that's not to take anything away from anyone else, be they fishermen, farmers, workers, unemployed, managers, salespeople, shop-owners, security or skateboarders. Everyone climbed in together, but this is a surf site, and we recognise our own.
The unrest exposed to the world the vulgarity and the brutality of a destructive scheme to destabilise the country. Yet, it also displayed the capability for solidarity and community, despite a complete breakdown of law and order.
Things are starting to swing -- but we need help
The scenes on the ground right now are starting to change, though. People share food parcels with strangers, farmers bring in produce for free distribution, and teams of volunteers clean up gutted buildings and shops for free.
Those people trying to sow discord and hate amongst our society might have just done the exact opposite and finally awoken the real spirit of Ubuntu in South Africa and South Africans.
Ubuntu is a capacity in South African culture that reveals compassion, reciprocity, dignity, equanimity, and humanity to build and maintain a community with justice and mutual caring. It might just be the new normal.
For those who wish to donate to the cleaning up and rebuilding of Durban, the Gofundme endorsed by Travis Logie and others is HERE.
Cover shot by Tyler Walker/big red photography from this feature.