Navigating a KZN war zone

2012-10-08 09:38

It started innocently enough for the Crocman and Harper.

Put the finishing touches to the copy from our latest home invasion of the Commander in Chief’s Nkandla crib and snatch a new picture at King’s House, his Morningside hacienda. No sweat.

The rest of Saturday should be easy skanking: one eye on the laptop and the other on the footie while the Guinness chills until the big boss hits send at about 6pm.

Then it’s the Arsenal game and either Ray Phiri at Freedom Park in KwaMashu or Jimmy D Lane, son of Chess blues genius Jimmy Rogers, at Wilson’s Wharf.

A decent start to the weekend.

Then I get this text. IFP ward councillor Themba Xulu had been snatched by five men dressed as cops at KwaMashu hostel.

The place had gone mad. My old Albert Park neighbour Nathi Mthethwa is addressing the community at the stadium at 3pm to try and chill things out. Bummer, but what can one do?

The hostel’s a war zone. The stadium is occupied by 3 000 pissed off residents. They’re armed to the teeth: clubs, pangas, hammers, crowbars.

Homemade guns are everywhere. They’ve locked down the hostel blocks and shackland with overturned rubbish tips, old cars; anything they can get their hands on.

Nathi’s entourage, media in tow, are in a holding pattern. There’s a crew of very nervous Somali shopkeepers gathered outside the cop shop. Nobody’s going anywhere.

Croc calls his contact who’s a block leader from the hostel. Our man materialises. We snake our way between mountains of rubbish, chanting amabutho and panicked chickens and goats and park in a hostel block. T

here’s an angry, cursing army between us and Nathi’s armoured vehicles. He and IFP strongman Albert Mncwango, surrounded by amaberet bristling with firepower, are trying to address the tooled up, cursing residents.

We’re on the wrong side of the R5 barrels if they go off.

We worm our way through the crowd, who are hearing nothing from Nathi. Eventually Nathi gives up and his entourage moves. We follow the hostel cats.

Home-made guns start going off as they surge towards the railway line and E Section, where Bhungu Gwala, the NFP councillor they blame for Xulu’s abduction, has a house.

We’re crouched over as Croc weaves between shacks. These aren’t AK rounds but they can kill or maim you just the same.

After what seems forever we hit Malandlela Road outside Thembelihle Station. The amabutho are packed onto the railway bridge. Shooters are sniping between the slats of the concrete fence along the line.

Croc hits the brakes. We bail out. There’s a person down about 25 metres away; cops aiming at the shooters from the bank below the road. Croc’s shooting (pics) furiously as occasional bullets fly over us.

We huddle behind our Golf. The road’s littered with cartridge cases, shoes and discarded knobkierries and shields. We got about 30 minutes till deadline.

Croc starts editing his pictures on the laptop. Mine’s in the boot – I’m trying to finish the dictate I’d started when it went off inside the hostel.

We realise we’ve taken cover outside NFP councillor Gwala’s house, which explains the odd bullet or two. Not the most intelligent of choices, but who was thinking?

We wrap up as the amabutho retreat and TV crews arrive. Crime scene units start their work. Paramedics cover the body of the woman – her name is Celiwe Shezi – with a foil blanket.

A couple of kilometres along Malandlela the Freedom Park gig is on. We grab a plate of food, but we’ve no stomach for the wait till Ray comes on. We’re out.

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