I want to blog. I really do. But this is a fun, light-hearted book blog and I feel like it seems insensitive to just jump into discussing books with everything that has happened in South Africa recently.
I’ve deactivated most of my social media sites due to racist comments and threats but I still feel like I need to say something about the KZN unrest. So this is a piece I wrote during the first few days after we tried to return to normal. I’m still not completely okay and there are several things that trigger my panic attacks again. But mental health is a process so I’m trying to give myself the time and space that I need to heal.
It was the night of 11 July when I first heard the gunshots.
Naively I passed it off as fireworks even though something in my stomach warned me that something bigger was coming.
But President Cyril Ramaphosa had promised us that there was nothing to be afraid of. That the threatening messages on Whatsapp meant nothing.
The whole thing started off as a #FreeZuma protest, a protest to free former president Jacob Zuma. But somehow, somewhere, things escalated quickly.
The next day, 12 July 2021, I woke up to the news that the roads were blocked and a few industrial warehouses were broken into.
There was no police presence anywhere. So the looting continued throughout the day. I was at home with the background noise of explosions and gunshots.
Our desperation grew. As the voicenotes threatening violence continued, the communities decided that they would ban together in order to prevent a repeat of the 1949 Riots. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Durban_riots))
So each community got together, came up with community watches and patrols to ensure that no one outside the area would go in and endanger the community. It seemed like a good idea at the time. Surely if you lived in the area, it made sense that you would be in that area. If you didn’t live in the area, it was pretty suspicious that you would be there considering most people were either hiding in their houses of patrolling.
Later on, the government would go on to call this a repeat of the apartheid times. That by asking people where they were going or why they were in a certain area, it was racist.
It wasn’t done to be racist. It was done to ensure the community- regardless of race and colour- was protected as a whole. That only people from your community was in the area.
The President came and gave another speech. It meant nothing to us. Houses were being broken into (there’s even videos on Tik Tok), people were being shot and even kids weren’t spared.
And that is where my story begins.
On the night of July 14th, we heard that someone had tried breaking into one of the houses on our road. (This was later revealed to be someone from outside the Phoenix community who got into the neighborhood because he said that he lived here. So the community patrol let him through). There was a multitude of gunshots and the dogs on our road went crazy.
The shootout lasted for about 2-3 hours. The police managed to catch one guy but the others escaped in their van.
I was in bed, covered with a million blankets and trembling nonstop. Since the whole unrest started, my body was always so cold. I felt like a part of me had died inside.
I stayed curled in the fetal position, scared out of my mind, crying silently and mentally asking God to end it all. This was no way to live. Why wouldn’t anyone step in and save us?
But I knew the answer already. While the shootout was occurring in my neighborhood, several other neighborhoods were also under attack all at once.
By the time the shootout ended, some part of me had died. I had basically moved from living in constant fear to accepting that eventually I would die. It was just a matter of time.
No one deserves that kind of fear or that kind of hopelessness. But like I said, neither the government nor the police was anywhere to be seen.
They said that they had sent the army but we hadn’t seen anything.
By the end of the week, the army did eventually arrive and things were slowly calming down.
And that was when the Media started reporting on the Phoenix Massacre.
The Phoenix Massacre refers to the many Africans that were killed in Phoenix. These people deserve acknowledgement. Their families deserve closure. All families and all victims of the Massacre deserve justice.
But the way the Media tells the story, the people from Phoenix are dangerous and violent. The Indians went after the African people in a racist-fuelled rage.
Both Indians and Africans were killed. There were drive-by shootings done by African people. There were Indians who refused to let Africans living in Indian communities go home.
There was racist tendencies on both ends. But I stress. It wasn’t all people. It wasn’t everyone in a certain race group. Not every person killed every person and those who murdered ought to be brought to justice.
Right now there’s threats to the Indians all over social media and that’s ignored. The same way the government ignored the Whatsapp messages at the start of this unrest.
We’re warned that when the Indian kids return to school, they will pay for those who were killed.
The media has painted the Indian community as a bunch of killers. Now racist people who were looking for an excuse to attack have found one.
Indians and Africans are disappearing. But there’s nothing said about that in the Media.
The Phoenix Massacre is still being investigated (as it should) but there’s no mention of justice being brought to those who instigated this violence.
There’s no efforts to repair the relationships between Indians and Africans.
I work in an environment with people of various race groups. And honestly work is the only place I feel safe.
I spend my days at home, wincing and being startled by every little second, worried that someone is going to attack me. Driving to work I’m scared I’ll be the latest victim of a drive-by shooting.
Jacob Zuma still needs to re-appear in court. There’s rumors circling on social media that this isn’t over. Unlike the last time, I’m not going to ignore the grapevine. But I’ve been living every day in fear.
This is our new normal. And it terrifies the shit out of me.