'It's not about Zuma ... They're having a party': Joburg resident shares tale of living above deadly riots

'This time is bad. We aren't safe to walk around the streets. Looters are even looting from each other,' said a resident of Berea, Johannesburg.

14 July 2021 - 06:00 By alex patrick
As those watching from the flats in Hillbrow looked down on Monday night what might have started as a political protest had descended into anarchy.
As those watching from the flats in Hillbrow looked down on Monday night what might have started as a political protest had descended into anarchy.
Image: Allaister Russell

For the past two days, Noma Vundla and her family and neighbours have been observing the carnage on the streets below their flat in Berea, Johannesburg.

What started as a protest against the imprisonment of Jacob Zuma has disintegrated into looting sprees and chaos in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng.

From the safety of their small home, this family, who escaped the poverty in their homeland in Plumtree, Zimbabwe, have witnessed many instances of looting and xenophobic violence before - but nothing like this.

"This time is bad. We aren't safe to walk around the streets. Looters are even looting from each other. I can't carry my groceries in case they get stolen - but I also can't find any groceries anyway. I keep my children locked away from everything. If they need to go outside they can stand on the balcony, but they must stay inside. I must also feed them. I can't find any food in the shops. 

“It’s not about Zuma. Some guy left the shop [beneath us] with meat, charcoal and spices. They’re having a party. When you look and see how much alcohol was taken you can see [the protest is] not about Zuma.”

Already financially stretched from Covid-19, Vundla is the breadwinner and works daily as a domestic worker for several households in Joburg. After being unable to secure work for months because of the contagious virus, she is once again having to miss work because it too unsafe to go in.  

"This morning my husband insisted on walking me to the taxi. There are very few running and we can't leave until it is full. It took 20 minutes because most people no longer have work [because of the looting] or they are too scared."

Vundla said a tavern in Berea had been looted but police arrived and closed the looters inside before making arrests. She said a shop in Yeoville was also looted on Monday night.

"That day I was trying to find an ATM so I could get transport to work. Now they've vandalised the only one left ... I'm not sure what we're going to do. 

"Many people didn't go to work on Monday. I know a woman who works in Alex Mall. She called her younger sister to help her loot from the store. Another woman I recognised walked past with an armful of takkies. She said she had at least five years' worth of shoes. There are cars below me full of groceries and furniture which they are unloading into their homes," she said.

As of Tuesday night, authorities had confirmed 19 deaths related to the violence in Gauteng. Soldiers had been deployed to Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal to try to stem the riots.

TimesLIVE


subscribe