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Things Fall Apart: Picking Up the Pieces

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Youth activist Nonku Zungu found herself caught in the middle of the violence that gripped South Africa in July 2021. As things begin to settle down, she steps in to help her community make sense of it all.

Transcript

Disclaimer: Radio Workshop is produced for the ear and designed to be heard. If you are able, we strongly encourage you to listen to the audio, which includes emotion and emphasis that’s not on the page. Transcripts are generated using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcribers, and may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting in print. The official record for Radio Workshop’s podcast stories is the audio.

 

Nonku: Three days of unrest, for us, there was no nights, there was no day – it was the same. It was a nightmare. It was a nightmare.

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Nonku: They started shooting, you know, saying, “Open up, open up.” Four men armed with guns, real firearms.

Lesedi (narration): It was the 8th of July, 2021. Nonku Zungu was at her home in Ntuzuma, a township on the outskirts of Durban, South Africa. She heard gunshots and people screaming outside.

Nonku: It was the next-door Somalian shops they were invading into, and they started pulling out things inside.

Nonku: Everybody’s crying from that house and everybody is trying to actually assist that family. And this one guy came out and he just asked, “What is happening?” And the next thing he was shot at in the left arm, by the shoulder. And we went to the clinic, a nearby clinic. They couldn’t take him in because you must know now the looting has already started. Everybody’s moving up and down.

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Lesedi (narration): Over eight days, the looting and violence spread across South Africa. Many say it was triggered by the arrest of former President Jacob Zuma.

In Ntuzuma, things continued to escalate. Nonku witnessed people burning tires on the roads to block police from coming into the neighbourhood. The local mall was pretty much emptied out – to the point where people were even pulling out the wiring – grabbing whatever they could.

Nonku’s wounded neighbor couldn’t get to a doctor for three whole days, so she stepped in and did what she could.

Nonku: Oh god it was another drama, he’s crying one way. And, you know, I had to act strong myself.

Lesedi (scene): How did you have the knowledge and skills to dress the wound?

Nonku: I’m a first aider and I’ve got a full kit here at home that my brother bought a few years back. There was a doctor on call I was phoning him, then he will tell me exactly what to use and how to use the gauze, how to sterilize everything. I followed this step by step and then I’ll take pictures and videos of what’s happening, so that the wound doesn’t swell and it get infection.

Lesedi (narration): Three days in, with the help of a brave Uber driver who gave his services for free, Nonku finally made the treacherous 40 minute trip to Addington Hospital with her wounded neighbour.

Nonku: And I left him sleeping on the floor because there was no bed.

Lesedi (narration): The hospital was overflowing. It was the third wave of COVID in South Africa and doctors had to make tough decisions. Nonku said that doctors prioritized COVID patients over those with injuries from rubber bullets.

Working her connections, she managed to get her neighbour taken care of.  He ended up spending only one night in the hospital, and was discharged the next day to look after his wounds at home.

But Nonku decided to stick around.

Nonku: Messages on WhatsApp started coming in from people in Inanda saying, I have my family member there at Addington. They are dressed in this way. Please try and find them.

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Lesedi (narration): So she’s on the phone all night and day, helping people she doesn’t even know to find their loved ones.

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Lesedi (narration): There’s something you need to know about Nonku. She’s an activist in her community. She may be young, but she’s the leader that everyone depends on.

When Nonku arrived back home, her mother made her a simple breakfast of tea and porridge. Her brother said she looked tired and told her to get some rest. But Nonku had to go out and figure out what happened.

Nonku: This lady said – it’s like she was possessed or something she couldn’t stop going. Even if she had more. She still went for more. She was going up and down the whole three days.

Lesedi (scene): Yeah, it’s almost as if people, uhm, broke into a gold mine. Then they were able to have access to all the things that they would never have dreamt of.

Nonku: So, it’s all poverty, unemployment, a lack of service delivery and most of all, break of communication between the government and the people. The government left the people hanging.

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Nonku: Is this what my parents in 94 voted for? Is this what I’m still voting for? Is this what I am going to still vote for?

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Lesedi (narration): It was difficult for Nonku to think that this was the freedom and equality her parents had fought for. It couldn’t have felt further from reality.

And just nearby in Phoenix, a mostly Indian area north of Durban, residents also took up arms to keep looters at bay.

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Nonku: I was fearful. I saw an Indian man, you know I was like okay he’s going to shoot me. And you could tell in their eyes they’re also fearing us.

The looting triggered something that has always been there. So the racial thing, you cannot just develop hate now. It’s something that has always been there and it’s something that is always being pointed out, but you’ve been ignoring it, and we have not been addressing the issue of race. So now when the looting came, it had to burst. It had to burst. Somehow, someway the racial issue amongst us, it has got to be addressed.

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Lesedi (narration): In the months since the unrest, Nonku realized that people in Ntuzuma needed to speak about the looting – including those who looted. In a safe space. With no judgment. It was clear to her that everyone was traumatized.

Nonku: You know, I felt like my dignity being stripped, you know, apart, and I felt so low. I’ve never felt so low for being black. I felt like I don’t belong to South Africa, I had no sense of belonging.

It was [sigh] traumatic, but what I discovered about myself is that I’m a warrior. I’m a fighter.

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Nonku: I can never do it alone, but with the help of others joining hands and saying we are saying no to poverty, to unemployment, we’re creating opportunities, we’re coming with innovative ideas. We can rebuild our communities.

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Nonku: Let’s start together as a community and move forward.

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Lesedi: That was Nonku Zungu and I’m Lesedi Mogoatlhe.

This episode of the Radio Workshop and the work of the Children’s Radio Foundation wouldn’t be possible without support from UNICEF South Africa. This story was produced with VIBE FM through the UNICEF Peacebuilding Project. Visit our website for more information and to support our work at: childrensradiofoundation.org

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