Langa in Ruins
Langa is one of the many areas in South Africa that were designated for Black Africans before the apartheid era. It is the oldest of such suburbs in Cape Town and was the location of much resistance to apartheid.
On the morning of July the 9th, residence of Langa staged a sit in when they obstructed all roads in and out of the township and prohibited their fellow residence from going to work by stoning their cars.
While it was originally dubbed a housing protest, it morphed throughout the day, with some residents chanting for the victims of the Marikana “massacre”, others for better living conditions.
The township was essentially shut down by an angry mob that ran through the streets, looting shops and lighting fires. Myself and four other photographers from various agencies were escorted into the township beyond police lines by a respected community leader.
We followed a group of several hundred to a thousand protesters from the centre of the township towards the taxi rank as they burned, looted and vandalised the main road. As the crowd became more violent, the police’s tactical response unit moved in to disperse the protest with rubber bullets and stun grenades. Moments later a local lady and her two dogs walked across the road to lock the steel gates of the convenient store that she was managing. A large rock was thrown towards her from the looting protesters to what she unexpectedly responded to by pulling a chrome 9mm pistol that was concealed from her waist and pointed it franticly at the crowd.
The initial reaction of the protesters was to “duck and cover” but soon turned more merciless as she was pelted with rocks and glass bottles from all direction, one of which connected with one of her dogs that was devotedly barking at her attackers.
She was chased for a while towards her house but escaped without any serious injury I was told.
The looting of stores continued and the protesters became more destructive as they started to target vehicles and shops of foreign business owners.
Shops, barricades and vehicles were burning out of control after all emergency services were kept away from the township for their own safety. There was a “mob mentality” feeling amongst the crowd and the eerie sound of the burning car’s horn that somehow got jammed and squealed in the distance between the constant thuds of stun grenades.
The aftermath was that of a warzone.
It didn’t take too long for police to move in and stabilize the situation to a certain extent. That gave a Somali shop owner the time to assess the damage to his store. Charles Quethu 35 lost everything in his store and two vehicles that were damaged beyond repair. He was crying when I left him.
© Photos by Armand Hough