Anarchy in Isithebe and 'nothing we can do about it'

Jeff Wicks, News24

Isithebe, KwaZulu-Natal - A gauntlet of burnt-out trucks line Green Street, the hulking steel beasts standing stoic sentinel at the entrance to unrest ravaged Isithebe.

In a week, as wave after wave of violent attacks on the industrial complex continue, anger has been fostered in the foothills here.

Gangs of marauding malcontents hold businesses under siege, halting the financial lifeblood of thousands of homes.

The importance of this place is engraved in its name, with the English translation of Isithebe loosely meaning a wooden plate for food.

Days on end of pitch battles have closed factories, shops and taxi routes. The plate is now empty.

These clusters of jeering youths stand toe to toe across a ravine with phalanxes of police officers and security personnel, the architects of the wanton destruction.

They had ripped a corrugated iron bus shelter from its foundations as a makeshift barricade for Red Street, along with an iron refuse skip and a section of concrete water pipe.

Policemen, harbouring a growing sense of frustration at their protracted exchange with the mob, roll the pipe from the road towards the group of chanting teens.

One of the rabble-rousers hurls a stone in the direction of his foe and in his haste to flee back to his throng, loses one of his sandals to the mud.

An officer, who asked that his identity be withheld, says: “We must show them what we can do. We must block their roads now and see how they feel.”

The exchange of rock and glare on Red Street at dusk marks a daily rise of tension, when officers must retreat for shift change and leave the industrial complex less fortified.

Moments later, a petrol bomb shatters over an adjacent clothing factory, sending a column of dark smoke billowing skyward.

So begins another frantic effort to extinguish a fire, the latest chapter in a week long opus of violence.

Once the rush of smoke and hissing steam subsides, a security boss cuts a tired figure on the fringes of the factory.

Soot is buried in the furrows of Dylan Meyrick’s face, the lines a testament to days of work here with little sleep.

“I have been here for 17 years and this place has always been militant. What we have now is anarchy and there is nothing we can do about it,” the IPSS owner says.

“I want you to tell this story. Tell them how we have had no help from anyone. The politicians come and go but we are the ones who are left here.”

While Meyrick holds a bottle of water to his lips, the sound of singing drifts in from the darkness.

Light bleeds from shack windows in the hills, softly silhouetting figures celebrating the fire.

“They are all around us here and they’re happy. I don’t know why because this factory employs 2000 people and now they are done, what good came of this for them,” he said.

Even in the quiet, with song from the hills, armed guards stand tense at the ready.

What remains veiled in mystery is what lies at the root of this impasse.

Rumours abound, from the appointment of an unwanted Induna to the return of an ex-mayor who was shuffled out under a cloud.

Even rumblings of a housing protest have been proffered, but ask anyone here and no one can tell you for certain why so much has been lost.

“No one can say for sure what the problem is, and now we have the criminals taking over. It is not only setting fire to places but looting them as well,” Meyrick adds.

With Isithebe on police imposed lockdown, the adjacent township settlement of Zavutha is cut off.

Two Somali owned shops are looted in the darkness.

The crackling of gunfire streaking into the sky gives the diesel engines of armoured police cars impetus to roar to life and tear of down rubble little streets, on another night in Isithebe.