Patrollers to the rescue
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“IT’S been extremely tiring, two to three hours off to sleep, actual sleep for about half an hour and feeling you should get back.”
Those were a patroller’s comments in the Upper Highway area on Thursday, while another laughed, saying he hadn’t changed his socks or even taken off his well-worn shoes since Wednesday morning. He hadn’t slept for 48 hours.
These were just two among hundreds of patrollers across the city this week who, by Thursday, had had very little sleep since Monday. That was when residents from across Durban and surrounds decided to protect their homes and families and, with private security firms, formed barricades at key entry points to suburbs and took up patrols.
This was in response to looters who went on an unprecedented rampage, targeting everything in the supply chain from transport logistics to massive distribution centres, retail centres and malls which were smashed and stripped of products, often being torched and razed on the way out.
While billions of rand were lost in stock and damage to infrastructure, as well as jobs and income disappearing overnight, the community patrollers were the heroes this week, saving many parts of the city and people from devastation.
The Independent on Saturday (IOS) spoke to patrollers and residents from Gillitts, Winston Park, Stockville and Hillcrest. They averaged about nine hours’ sleep each since Monday.
On Monday morning, a mob of enthusiastic looters were making their way to a shopping centre.
Security and CPF teams were alerted and managed to chase the looters away. A call was put out for volunteers. Hundreds of residents responded.
People asked for their names not to be used, and all who spoke to the IOS emphasised it was about teamwork, not individuals.
“It was a bit crazy on Monday night, but it was quieter on Tuesday and Wednesday. We’ve had such tremendous support from residents and it’s been an amazing experience all working together,” said one of the organisers.
During the week, the patrol teams stopped vehicles with looted goods after which civilian arrests were made and police or metro called to assist.
One of the arrests included a “mom and pop’’ travelling together with two teenage girls ‒ a search of their vehicle resulted in seven large screen televisions being recovered. The vehicle was confirmed stolen.
“We have worked well together with police and metro who have responded. It’s been a dynamic community experience,” said another.
A man, who was in charge of keeping the calm along the queue of anxious shoppers on Thursday, said Covid had forced the closure of the business he had owned for 33 years and he had been trying to get back on his feet.
With milk and bread running out across the city, desperate shoppers had started queueing at 3am. Those who joined the queue at 5am only managed to get into the shop at about 3pm.
“We’ve been helping with crowd control today and the key is communicating with them and keeping them informed which we’ve been doing throughout the day. This whole week has been a very humbling experience,” he said.
Centre owner Tony Pillay, who was outside the main retail shop on Thursday afternoon, said: “I have been in this area for the last 36 years and this week has showed us that one day you can have something and the next day nothing.
“It has been an amazing effort this week, this community has really saved us,” he said.
The Independent on Saturday