Today any plans I might have had of going on another Long Street ramble were disrupted by the news that news was busy happening Right Now on Adderley Street.
The South African Municipal Workers Union (SAMWU for short) had decided to have a cosy little riot down the road from my offices. These are the people who (according to @6000) last week said: “We here in SA are civilized, in comparison to down-right hooliganism in London.” I was interested to see what a ‘civilised’ riot would be like.
On the internet, streaming video showed flames and we could hear helicopters chugging above the city from our desks. While my colleagues sensibly watched videos of the event, I went for a stroll in the sunshine through the Company Gardens and down to Adderley Street.
I scrutinised the faces of the people I passed and complemented one guy on his T-shirt. Nobody seemed concerned, agitated, interested, or in any way aware of anything unusual going on.
When I got to Adderley Street, I looked hard for any signs of rioting. All the street vendors were doing business as usual, all the shops were open. Nandos was packed. It took a while to notice anything amiss at all. The first thing I did notice were some burnt plastic dustbins on the pavement.
I asked the street vendors sitting next to this interesting object what it was. They looked at me as though they couldn’t possibly be more bored by this terrifically stupid question. Eventually the one dude mimed fighting. I raised my eyebrows and played dumb some more.
Wow. Hmm well, thanks. I’ll just leave you to carry on being bored in peace then.
I crossed the street thinking there might be more to see there. Indeed, although everyone was going about their business as usual, there was a great deal of litter and, for some reason, lots and lots of Snowflake Flour scattered all over the road (I know it was Snowflake, because the packets were still there). Further along were more burnt bins and, standing strategically near them in a puddle of flour, an ETV reporter rehearsing his lines.
‘Vendors ran terrified from the mob…’ he was saying, as I walked past vendors smiling and having a chat over neat piles of naartjies.
ETV Reporter Guy was drowned out by a riot of school children I’d noticed earlier outside the Slave Museum. They were now clustered around a short, grey-haired figure closely followed by men in suits who looked several orders of magnitude too smart to be school teachers. (I’ve also never seen a school teacher wearing an ear-wire-thingy.)
Cape Town’s mayor, Patricia de Lille, was making a tour of the damages, led by vendors whose stalls had been looted. Apparently municipal workers have a taste for imitation designer luggage, fake watches, cigarettes, sweets and milk powder. I can only assume that this is was what SAMWU meant by SA being ‘civilised’. After all, their looters didn’t steal from big name brands or High Street retailers. They stole from people with virtually nothing.
One of the street vendors led Patricia across to the car I was standing next to.
‘Look here – see! They smeshed the window end neerly yenked off the door!’
It was true. The window was smeshed. The door was still firmly on, though.
‘They can’t do thet! It’s wrong!’
Patricia agreed that it was absolutely unacceptable. Her entourage moved on.
The vendor who had done the talking bragged happily to the other vendors. ‘See! I just chetted with Petricia! Thet was a chet, hey!’ I watched one of the schoolkids get his foot stuck in an empty flour bag. A City Sightseeing bus drove past. The helicopters had flown home.
The Great Adderley Street Riot was over and my lunchbreak was too. So I walked back to the office and got a caprese sandwich from Carlucci’s.
(P.S. If you think I can’t count because I skipped Lunch #6, you’re wrong. I’m just a lazy sod who hasn’t finished the draft yet.)