South Africa: “Like a Zombie Movie” – Durban is recovering from a week of looting

“Like a zombie movie” – Durban is recovering from a week of looting, with gigantic lines forming for food and medicine

It took hours to clean up the trash and clear the road leading to the Riverhorse Industrial Complex in Durban, but about 200 members of community groups showed up this morning to start cleaning up the trash littered streets.

They represented a true cross-section of South African society, working quickly and cohesively after a week of violence and unrest.

“What did you think when you first saw this place this morning?” I asked a community activist named Rodney Bengu.

“It was like a scene from a zombie movie, it was like a scene from one of those epic end-of-the-world movies,” he exclaimed.

Warehouses and distribution centers in the area have been looted and burned in an outbreak of violence that has stunned the nation – and the people who run it – although the government claims that the situation in Durban is now “moving toward stability.”

Nevertheless, looting continues, but in a somewhat less violent form.

Among the voluntary cleaners were members of poor communities who tried to carry away anything of value they could find.

For Sudesh Rajkumar, who runs a local business on the scene, their presence was highly irritating.

“We’ve been here since eight, trying to get everything ready for next Monday, but the guys are looting again, trying to take the food and the oil and the bits and pieces that are left.”

“Disappointing?”

“Very frustrating,” he said.

For Rodney Bengu, the experience was a warning of sorts in a country where half the population lives below the poverty line.

“As you can see, there are a lot of poor people in our country, especially in (KwaZulu-Natal province), these are poor people, a large number of them, as they say, they are hungry, and it showed us how hungry and desperate they are.

But this desperation now extends to the entire city, which has become a community of giant queues.

Food, medicine and fuel have become extremely difficult to obtain as supply chains are disrupted and, in some cases, destroyed.

Near the Pick ‘n Pay supermarket in the upscale suburb of Umhlanga, more than a thousand people were standing in line around the block – even though store managers were only willing to let 300 people inside.

Durban resident Kwenele Mavumengwana said he had been standing in line for more than three hours when he was told he would not be allowed in.

“It’s a tough situation,” he said. “We did the same thing yesterday at another center and got the same result. The only thing we found for the kids was a bag of chips.”

“What would you tell the looters if you could?” I asked.

“Oh, you know, all these people standing here wanting food, that’s all we want. We just want to buy some groceries, some stability for our homes-so I have no words for looters, I have no words for looters.”

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