YOU journalist Maxine Peters reflects on the destruction of the city she grew up in, her fear for the people she loves the most and the gnawing worry of being far away at this time of turmoil.
‘For years I’d been a fan of the TV series The Walking Dead.
If you’re familiar with the post-apocalyptic show, you’ll know it’s centred around a group of survivors who are constantly in fight-or-flight mode, hoping to see another day. The characters band together to find food, protect each other at all costs and kick some serious ass when it comes to killing flesh-eating zombies.
So yes, you’d be 100% right if you’re thinking I often imagined my family and myself in those far-fetched situations. “I know this will never ever happen, but . . . ” was how I’d start off my intricately thought-out plan of how to disarm any brazen baddie that came our way.
But since seeing the scenes on the news over the past few days, I’m not so sure about my tough-cookie persona.
I managed to put on a brave face when my 16-year-old sister, Cassidy, and I had an hour-long FaceTime session – until one sentence threw me off. She looked at me blankly through the screen and said, “I’m really scared, Maxine”. We sat in silence for a few minutes. I didn’t know what to say. How was I going to help her sitting more than 1 000 km away?
Ever since then, this so-called tough cookie sitting in Cape Town has been feeling helpless, angry and tearful. The chaos that has unfolded in KwaZulu-Natal has been like watching a horror movie on a loop. Except this time, it’s all too real and my family is in the thick of it.
That was my home millions of people saw in some of the video footage – the once sleepy city of Pietermaritzburg.
The capital of KZN is where I met my childhood best friend, the town I walked through confidently as a child holding my mom’s hand, the home of the CNA I frequently visited as a stationery-obsessed kid before Typo existed, and the only place you can talk about a “Kwagga” burger, sold at the KwikSpar in Hayfields.
When I grew up, I complained about Maritzburg being too small and how nothing ever happened there and so I left.
But in so badly wanting to stay connected to the place I left behind, my iPhone is never far from my hand – and this week it’s been my constant companion.
Almost as soon as I put it down, I pick it back up so as not to miss a single message, call or voice note from back home. I’m also obsessively watching every bit of breaking news and reading everything I can about what’s going on.
Even as I type this, I’m staring at the phone, waiting for my next notification.
I’ve seen video footage and pictures of friends and family in communities take to the streets, fully armed, to protect their businesses, homes, shopping centres. Some of the people closest to me are taking round-the-clock shifts to guard neighbourhoods and families.
My heart sank when I saw that the centre of Martizburg, which was always abuzz when I was a child, is no more.
It’s demolished, it’s broken, it’s burnt. The footage looks like something from a war-torn country.
It hit home even further last night when messages of people packing bags with important documents and warm clothes began doing the rounds in my family chat. “Has it come to this?” I thought.
Everyone is exhausted, everyone is desperately hoping this too shall pass.
While I wait, I continue to pray for my family’s safety. But my heart is heavy.
That place I left six years ago will never be the same. My Martizburg will never be the same again and my heart aches.
The words of Iranian-American writer Azar Nafisi ring so true for me now: “You get a strange feeling when you're about to leave a place, like you'll not only miss the people you love but you'll miss the person you are now at this time and this place, because you'll never be this way ever again.”