‘A mob wielding weapons, bellowing, chasing a man’

2014-06-11 00:00

WE’RE in the midst of a crisis. Last night, I witnessed a mob nearly murder a man in the street.

I then wandered across the city in the half darkness and found that the same mob had swept across town in a fit of rage — beating scores of people with knobkerries, bricks and hockey sticks. The source of the madness? Whoonga Park. And it’s burning to the ground. Here’s how.

I got home from work at 7  pm. I needed fresh air, to get out into the night. So I grabbed my skateboard and an orange, and my phone for music. I bombed a hill and then swung into Esther Roberts Road.

Something was up. A sex worker was running down the road, shouting to the others, spreading a message. “Gijima! [run].”

It’s not unusual, I thought. Probably police handing out beatdowns. The sex worker slipped into an alley to disappear. I followed.

I caught up with her on Umbilo Road and as we rounded the corner, we stumbled right into the line of fire.

A mob of about 40 men were charging down the road towards us. They were wielding weapons. Bellowing voices. They were chasing a man. A dark shadow, a phantasm. The sex worker disappeared into thin air. I froze and watched. I witnessed. I stood possessed. I couldn’t move.

The mob caught up with the man directly across the road from me. They beat him as he ran, swayed and zig zag­ged. He took five blows and kept going like a wounded animal. But eventually they overwhelmed him and he dropped in the middle of the road.

He took several more blows on the ground. Thuds and crunches. Then the police came screaming down the road. And the mob just kept running, hitting a left down towards Sidney Road. They were like wolves.

The beaten man was motionless, lying in a pool of blood. I went to stop traffic and wait for the police but they never came. They just went off in another direction.

Then his head rose off the concrete. He came alive. I thought he was dead. I realised he was just a boy. Maybe 16.

He crawled to the side of the road and then, miraculously, he got up. He started stumbling back up the alley I had come down. He had no shoes and his clothes were torn. I followed him up the alley.

I phoned my father and put out a Facebook message asking for the number of the Umbilo police station. I couldn’t believe the boy was walking. He needed to go to hospital or he would surely die. He was stumbling, looking over his shoulder for the mob.

The boy told me he was just sleeping on the road when he was attacked (which I thought unlikely). He asked me how bad his head wounds were. “Bad,” I said. I was sick to my stomach.

But it was just the beginning.

We arrived at the intersection by Jackie Horner’s and I saw a commotion. A man was crumpled in the corner with a head wound and snapped arm. He was wrapped in a blanket. Security and local shop owners had called the police.

The boy I had followed collapsed next to the other victim. There were several homeless people gathered around. I asked them what happened.

“It’s the men from Dalton hostel. They are killing everyone,” said a slightly lucid homeless man covered in scars. “It’s worse down at Whoonga Park. Many people are hurt.”

My friend rocked up on his motorbike and I hopped on, slightly stressed that I had no helmet. But we had to get to Whoonga Park.

We jetted off, but didn’t get far. On Moore Road, we came across the next scene, outside the army surplus shop. Police and a crowd had gathered. A man lay motionless — he looked dead, but who am I to say. I took a photograph and carried on, walking now, my friend tailing me on his bike.

Around the corner, Whoonga Park was on fire. I counted several blazes. People scattered everywhere, on the pavements and in the roads. There were three or four victims in the middle of Berea Road, broken and mashed. Police and medics were on the scene. I asked a policeman how many people had been hurt.

“I have no idea,” he said.

So I went to the whoonga heads watching. They were moaning and delirious — high, bewildered and terrified. I asked them who did this, what happened?

“The men from Dalton hostel. They attacked us. They burnt all our things.”

Why? What impetus sparked the rage of the vigilante mob — causing them to sweep through the streets at dusk, attacking homeless people at random?

Who knows. I repeat. We’re in the midst of a crisis.

• Samora Chapman is a media specialist with skills in writing, photography and visual art. He is a freelancer based in Durban and contributes his work to printed publications, websites and journals. This is his account of the incident on Monday night in Glenwood.

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