Workers clear the rubble from a burnt truck on the N3 near the Mooi River Plaza earlier this week. Picture: Darren Stewart/Gallo Images
On Thursday I shed tears as I watched dozens of cargo trucks speeding up the N3 from KwaZulu-Natal towards Gauteng.
These were tears of relief and joy. Relief that, finally, the national roads which had been blockaded by vandals during the madness that began on Sunday had finally been reopened.
Because of the closures, shops countrywide were running short supplies. For example, in my upmarket neighbourhood of Sandton, major shops such as Pick n Pay and Checkers had run out of basics such as bread, eggs and chicken.
If Sandton City, which had not been looted, was low on supplies and residents were getting fidgety about basic stuff, you can imagine the suffering of people in areas such as nearby Alexandra. The two major malls there were not only looted, but parts of them burned to the ground.
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By Wednesday, hordes from Alexandra were flocking to Sandton and Woodmead for basic stuff – bread, milk, eggs.
But what we were experiencing in Johannesburg was clearly mild when compared to what was happening in KZN.
My son, who lives in New Germany, just west of Durban, walked to nearby Pinetown in the hope of withdrawing money from an ATM so he could buy some basic stuff. The ATMs in the entire town had been ripped apart. The shops were all shut.
When he did finally find a person selling bread on the street, he was charging R40 per loaf. My son was prepared to buy.
The complication, however, was that the merchant was not accepting card payments and my son did not have hard cash, so he missed out on the bread.
Thankfully for him, a thoughtful friend who also has a car, which my son does not have, came around to his apartment with some food, including the elusive bread. That was a major relief.
Other friends of his in other parts of the larger Durban area were stuck in their flats, hungry. They too had money in their cards, but it was useless in the cash economy that had started overnight on the streets.
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Those that have cars could not travel far as there was no petrol whatsoever in the city. Many petrol stations had been looted and shut down.
Some, which were still open, did not have petrol as they had not received their regular supplies thanks to the road blockades.
For me, the most moving story of the week relates to my sister-in-law’s domestic helper. She’d taken some days off last week and was due to come back to Johannesburg on Monday for work.
She got into a taxi outside Transkei on Sunday hoping to be in time for work the following day. That’s how she normally travels.
When the taxi got to Mooi River, it got stuck in the blockade. The driver, still optimistic that the blockade would be lifted, waited at the Mooi River toll plaza for an hour.
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When it became clear to him that this was not going to happen, he did a U-turn and drove back to Durban, hoping to use an alternative route.
That route, too, was closed. He then had to drive all the way to where he started in Transkei, using back roads until he got to Bloemfontein.
Passengers were originally angry with the driver, blaming him for not having thought of alternative routes right from the onset. But they were being unfair. When the car left Transkei on Sunday the roads were still open. Things happened so fast that even the most meticulous planner couldn’t have foreseen the sudden turn of events.
No one could have told that by Monday many parts of the country would be literally on fire.
At the end of the day, a trip that should have taken about 9 hours from Transkei to Johannesburg ended up taking three days.
That’s right, my sister-in-law’s helper only got to work on Wednesday – three days after she left home in the Eastern Cape.
She told how in the three days spent travelling they’d had to stop on the side of the road to roast meat that some of the people had looted in a town they drove through at the height of the violence. Can you imagine that!
Although I was not directly impacted by the looting and the attendant madness, many people dear to me were.
Some have lost their jobs as the companies they worked for have had to shut down, thanks to the upheaval. But I am also happy that they are still alive. That’s what matters.
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I hope you people out there, wherever you are, are safe once again. Please, people, let us not get used and exploited by politicians in fulfilling their nefarious agendas.
When the fires finally die down and we bury those who died during the conflagration, the people who will be left destitute are the poorer members of society – you and I.
The politicians carry on with their lavish lifestyles, cracking bottles of champagne and patting each other on the back for a project accomplished, saying: “We have shown them!”
Let us not allow ourselves to used as canon fodder.