News of the 9/11 attacks came as a massive shock to UKZN’s Sakhile Hadebe, who specialises in global politics.
When the news broke 20 years ago, he was “somewhere in Pietermaritzburg” and immediately rushed to the nearest television set.
Yesterday, we asked some South Africans about their reactions to the event.
“Until then, talk of terrorism was all about hijacking and ransoms. We never thought about using an aeroplane as a weapon,” Hadebe told the Independent on Saturday.
He said it also killed the notion that the United States ‒ a lone superpower at the time ‒ was untouchable.
Environmental and intelligence analyst Professor Anthony Turton said that from the fall of the Berlin Wall until 9/11 the world intelligence fraternity, with a massive staff and high technology, had no enemy.
“Intelligence then changed from being between governments to being transnational, focused on crimes from money laundering to narcotic wars.
“Then the sudden mad scramble by the elite politicians to justify going into Afghanistan. That was the politicisation of the intelligence process ‒ the manufacturing of false information to justify decisions.”
Turton recalled receiving the news, bit by bit, between meetings in London. At first, someone’s daughter called to say a plane had gone into the World Trade Center.
“I assumed it was a little Cessna.”
Walking to the next meeting, at Shell headquarters, he heard sirens and noticed that the streets were empty.
“It felt eerie.“
On arrival at the next venue, Turton found himself walking solo in the direction of the reception desk when hundreds of people were leaving the building.
He picked up more about the incident across the Atlantic at his next meeting with a law professor who received news of the second plane hitting.
“I told him without batting an eyelid, ‘ít’s Al-Qaeda’. Seconds later a BBC journalist phoned him and, without batting an eyelid, he too said over the phone ‘it’s Al-Qaeda’.”
Durban food gardening activist Devi Munien said she had just parked her car at UKZN when the news broke on the radio.
“Oh, my God, such horror,” she recalled thinking.
“It was the first incident of such explicit terrorism. I was in total disbelief. Then there was this outpouring of global grief ... you could just imagine the aftermath … how everyone got together and got into survival mode,” she said yesterday while doing her routine rounds of food distribution to people in Durban first affected by Covid and subsequently by the looting.
“How can this monument just disappear in the hands of three people? It was definitely a defining moment.”
Dee Munks, who chairs the province’s Multiple Sclerosis Society, recalled being in utter disbelief after walking into her bedroom of her Glenwood home to see the second plane tear through the second tower.
“I called out to (my husband) Colin who was in his study – telling him to come and see urgently – that the towers were falling.
“He casually replied that he would see it later, not realising the full impact of what I had said. I then said that he should come through immediately as he would not believe what was happening. Then we watched together.”
Munks said the event remained as a vivid photographic memory.
“When I am reminded of 9/11, the video starts rolling as fresh as the day it happened. It serves as a reminder of just how inhumane and callous terrorists can be. That no one ever feels totally safe.”
The Independent on Saturday