What It’s Like to
Guard Against a Looting Spree


In Short: Very Scary.

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Read Time: 3 minutes

South Africa is a country with big problems: a shaky democracy, a factioned ruling party, corrupt government officials, racial tensions, widespread poverty, a lack of education, and a lack of economic opportunities.

On July 7, 2021, Jacob Zuma, our ex-president, implicated in state capture, graft and corruption, started his jail sentence for contempt of court. Rumors surfaced that a violent national campaign to free him was being planned on WhatsApp.

On July 9 all hell broke loose: major highways were blocked and trucks carrying vital supplies were looted or set alight. On July 12 looting started, trashing and burning shopping centers and shops. Due to the scale of the action, police and private security firms were overwhelmed and helpless to stop the mayhem.

Looted and trashed store.
The scene as Dr. P saw it (author photo).

I was at work on Monday when the Community Policing Forum called for local residents to assist in safeguarding our local shopping center. After work I drove there and offered my help, but there were enough volunteers. I had very little sleep, with people running and shouting in the street, gunshots ringing out, police and ambulance sirens.

I reported for guard duty on Tuesday 4:00 p.m. It was heartbreaking to see the parking area devoid of cars and people, fenced with barbed wire and all the roads secured by sentries and barricades. It reminded me of street scenes in war movies. I was one of the few volunteers with a firearm. Most people from our suburb came with sticks, batons, golf clubs, sports bats, machetes and the determination to stand firm against any attackers, even should the looters be armed with firearms.

I was asked to join a group of four young people guarding the west entrance of the complex. They were apprehensive, but determined to fight back with everything they had. Four ordinary citizens, three worried about their wives and children at home, armed with sticks, bats, and four Molotov cocktails, waiting in the cold night for a mob rumored to be hundreds strong.

Being older, the yoke of leadership shifted to me. I’ll never forget the look of relief on their faces when I told them I had a firearm, and I thought to myself: what could one handgun accomplish in a situation like this? There I was, a medical practitioner under the Hippocratic oath that holds life to be sacred, realizing that I might have to kill fellow human beings to protect myself, my fellow defenders and the right of my community to have access to food and medicine….

I was supposed to stand watch until 10:00 p.m. At 9:00 p.m. a rumor came through that there were plans to bomb the shopping center. Instead of people leaving, more volunteers arrived, most congregating some way off so that they could repel looters after a bombing. I was relieved after midnight, when more volunteers arrived.

The next morning there was a long queue. I will never forget the sight of grown men and women crying as they walked away dejected, with empty hands as the shop closed due to empty shelves. The following day there was a very long queue, but eventually everybody had shopped. By the fourth day, we stood down as the situation improved.

It is not all sad though: this brought the community together like never before. For once, religion, race and social standing meant nothing as people worked towards one common goal.

There is much more to tell, like the community gathering to sing hymns, people coming to the center to pray for our safety, community members bringing food and beverages. But the first night was the scariest.

Dr P is almost 60 years old, a practicing Anesthesiologist for the past 23 years, Jack of all trades and master of none that has played with computers, open source software, solar power, Cuckoo and grandfather clock repair, motorcycling, radio controlled aircraft, airguns and carpentry.

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7 thoughts on “Guard Against a Looting Spree”

  1. Wow. Just wow. I am so afraid that something like this is happening (or about to happen) in the United States. As a 65-year-old woman, I fear I wouldn’t be much help to a volunteer security detail. So grateful that people who are able do volunteer.

    • Jan, anyone can make a difference. I saw a 70-ish gentleman help direct traffic. A retired lady brought a gas stove and kettle and made coffee for anyone that wanted some. One lady walked up to the guy in command, sat down beside him and started praying. Even if you are just another face in the crowd, your presence contributes to the resistance to chaos.

  2. The looters deserve to be shot down. They are destroying a community and people’s ability to make a living and feed their families. Here in the United States if that were to happen without fear of retribution I bet that would put an immediate end to the looting and rioting. Why should looters get a pass just because there is a mob of them?

    • My knee-jerk reaction as an affected person would be to agree with you. The physician within me holds all life to be sacred. Fortunately (or perhaps unfortunately) the members of the community that resists chaos have values, that include not indiscriminately shooting. If not for that restraint, even greater chaos may have erupted. Fortunately (or perhaps unfortunately) the fear of retribution is part and parcel of most civilized governments. Maybe the answer to the question of why looters get a free pass lie in our modern perception that everybody has rights, and not privileges coupled to duties like a few decades ago?

  3. Thanks for having the kind of quiet grounded courage needed to face down the fiery ones and sharing that scary time with us. Lesson learned!


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