The winter of our discontent
This morning we went, as we usually do every second Sunday, to Atteridgeville, for the Hours and Readers’ Service. It’s All Saints Sunday, the Sunday after Pentecost. We come mainly to help the readers, Demetrius Mahwayi and Artemius Mangena to sing the service and learn the music. Artemius lives furthest from the church, so we go round to give him a lift.
On the way Artemius told us about the previous Tuesday, when these quiet streets were scenes of violence and looting, because of dissastisfaction among members of the ANC over a mayoral candidate for the municipal elections who had been parachuted in from outside. The incumbent mayor lives in Atteridgeville, and so dissatisfaction there was particularly strong, and several ANC supporters have said they will switch their votes to the DA, a rival party whose candidate happens to live locally in Atteridgeville.
Artemius lives in Phomolong, an “informal settlement” in Atteridgeville West, where most of the houses are wood and corrugated iron shacks. He said that when the violence started, local residents there gathered round the shops to protect them from looters. They didn’t want any trouble where they were, and when the troublemakers arrived, they chased them away. That is possible in the narrow lanes of Phomolong, but not so much in the wider streets of Atteridgeville and Saulsville. From what Artemius said, the troublemakers came from outside, just as they had in 2008, during the xenophobic violence then. And now, as then, it had started in Mamelodi, and then spread to Atteridgeville, and then to other places. It made me wonder whether the same people were behind it. This time it started with shops owned by foreigners, and then seems to have turned into a general free-for-all crime spree.
As we drove through Saulsville we noticed that all the shops were closed, barred and shuttered. I suppose there was no point in their opening if all their stock had been looted, and most of them were small shops. Perhaps their owners couldn’t afford to restock, or perhaps the wholesalers weren’t making deliveries for fear of further violence and having their lorries burnt.
After the service, when we gave Artemius a lift back, there was the same thing. All shops closed. Usually there are people outside, chatting after doing their shopping, but today they were deserted.
We were told that many vehicles had been burnt, buses, cars, delivery lorries. But since Tuesday they had all been cleared away — by the owners, the municipality, the insurance companies?
But the signs of the violence were not all erased. As we turned into the main road into Pretoria, there was a stain in the road, like an ominous dark shadow being cast over the future.
When we reached Villeria, we drove through an avenue of jacarandas. Most people take photos of the jacarandas in spring, when they are all over blue flowers. The jacarandas are always the last to bloom in spring, and the last to lose their leaves in autumn, and they were just beginning to show tinges of yellow.
But it’s not autumn any more. It’s winter. The winter of discontent?