No Xenophobia in Port Elizabeth, Just opportunists

Most of Port Elizabeth no doubt was shocked to hear the news of the Xenophobic attacks that occurred on Saturday. Well I would like to assure those living in PE that nothing of the sort happened. Here is the story that you didn’t read in the news paper.

I received the call at about 10am Saturday morning, it seemed that my colleagues who were called first didn’t want to get out of bed or answer their cellphones. A contact in the SAPS gave me the call and told me get my ass down to Zwide, as there were looters and rioters everywhere. My self and the girl friend quickly threw on something and headed out to the scene of all the action.

According to our source, the whole thing started about 7am that same day. When a local chap got into an argument with Somalian shop owner. The shop owner acted as any rational person does, drawing a 9mm pistol and shooting him between the eyes. He then went back inside his shop, gathered some personal belongings and food. He then walked up to the body of the local chap and shot him twice again. He fled the scene. Now police have been saying that something like this is all it would take for a joburg 2 happening in Port Elizabeth. Over the next couple of hours news spread around zwide of what the shop owner had down and crowds of at first angry people gathered in front of the shop to burn the building down.

Police were already on the scene and only had to call for backup from the ever increasing crowd. As the day wore on the criminal element came to the party. People were racing from one Somali shop to the next, trying to steal what ever they could. 12 people were arrested for looting.

As the first shops were being looted police swarmed into Zwide, at least 150 police officers from all the districts came to the party, a special mention to all the reservists that also came, with out their help I am sure that things would have got out of hand. All armed with shot guns loaded with rubber bullets they camped out side Somali shops protecting them from opportunists.

As one shop was starting to be looted some community members kept the police informed about what was going on. The police radio would crackle with the location of the latest shop being looted, police would pile into their cars and high tail it to where the action was. With us trailing behind them, through the mud and rocky roads of the location. Nothing like driving at high speeds, on mud, with people all around you and gun shots going off in the background.

We arrived at a shop we had been to a couple of hours before. A looter ran from the shop, a police officer chased after him. The officer was able to hit him twice with rubber bullets. The pics below should tell the story. On a personal note, I shot this picture while driving and putting the camera outside the window and letting the shutter fly.

Police also arrested a couple of looters while we were around. A couple that thought it would be great idea to take some maize and a very thin woman.

The police had gotten a call from community members that a woman had stolen some rice, the arrived in force to the scene. Community members pointed out the woman who fled into someones shack. As she was being arrested a man holding a baby chased after the police and handed over what I assume is the womans child. Just take a look at the womans and babies face, it will tell you everything you need to know.

Police guarded Somali owned shops for hours, as the rain came in the crowds became less and less, a help hopefuls hang around in the pouring rain hoping to be the first into the shop when police left the scene.

While the Somali shops were under police guard the owners and families that ran the shops backed up everything that they could into bakkies and fled to a safe house in Durban road, Korstan. Crowds of locals were shouting get out foreigner as they sped under police escort to the safe house.

By about 5pm the action had died down and most of the people were back inside their homes. The PE police ready did a great job with what could have gotten out of hand quickly.

Phones never stop ringing at busy 10111 call centre

IT‘S Saturday night and, with a trained operator at my side, I‘m getting to experience first hand what it is to be a 10111 call centre operator. Tonight I‘m the voice at the end of the line that people reach out to in their time of need – and reach out they do.
“Please, please you‘ve got to help me, they‘re beating up my husband, please send someone, please!”
This is the frantic plea I‘m confronted with as I pick up the phone. The woman is screaming down the phone for help. In the background I hear a little girl crying, shouting out: “Why are you doing that to my daddy?”
As I frantically try to capture the information, the realisation hits me: This is not as easy as people think.
The calls flood in all evening, averaging about 230 an hour – a call every 15 seconds. And apparently this is a slow night.
Early in the evening, however, it becomes clear to me that the bulk of the calls are people calling the 10111 centre for their own amusement. One man in particular calls more than 40 times in one hour. He‘s well known to the operators.
After an hour or so I feel I have the call answering thing cracked. Then the clock ticks over to 10pm and suddenly all hell seems to break loose. The call centre becomes a hive of activity. Calls come in from all over town: attempted house robberies, shootings in progress, reports of a hijacking, too many assaults and fights to even begin to write about.
It seems that come the weekend, especially at the end of the month when everyone‘s been paid and can buy drink, the rate at which people cause each other harm skyrockets.
My phone rings. On the line is a man sitting in his car in Park Drive, reporting that someone is shooting in the area. I can hear the shots in the background.
It is my first priority one call (where police need to respond as soon as possible), and feeling a bit out of my league, I hand the phone over to the professionals and listen on the speaker phone.
As the man is talking, the operator pushes a button next to her phone, triggering an alarm in the dispatch area, alerting the dispatchers that something important is happening.
They in turn begin contacting police officers in the field over the radio, ready to direct them as soon as they know more.
Back at my terminal, the operator is punching the information from the caller into the system, then clicks “report” on her computer screen.
The information appears on all the dispatchers‘ screens immediately. Radios crackle to life and orders are given about what is happening and where.
There is little to no feedback from the dispatcher back to the call operator about whether the complaint has been resolved. There simply isn‘t time. By the time you put the phone down, it‘s already ringing again.
Remember this when you get angry and spit venom down the line at the operator. They are there to get your information and pass that on to the dispatchers, who prioritise the incidents and dispatch the vehicles accordingly.
For instance, when a complaint comes in from the Mill Park area, complaining about kids in the street making a noise by setting off firecrackers, followed shortly after by a report of a gang shooting and a report of mob justice, the limited police resources will be sent to deal with the shooting first.
It is amazing to experience first hand how one Mill Park soccer mom in particular completely lost it, demanding that we do something about the fireworks “right now”.
Not having the proper training to deal with this irate woman, I hand the headset over to the operator and turn on the speaker phone. She is rude and abusive.
Not only am I surprised by the pettiness of some of the complaints I field. I am also surprised at the distinct difference in the way people from different income brackets address me. It seems the wealthy have no concept of what speaking in a civilised manner means.
In comparison, a woman from Motherwell calls in to report, in a polite manner, that there is a drunk man covered in blood banging on her door, and that she is one of three women in the house. She gives us the necessary details, then hangs up. She calls back 30 minutes later, asking if we have dispatched a van. Not once does she scream or shout, not once does she call the police useless.
I realise that the operators at 10111 have a high-stress job that brings little reward.
The little girl‘s pleas for help still haunt me, and I was only there for three hours. How much more so are the full-time operators haunted by the calls they have had to answer?
But they also have to field those abusive and prank calls, from kids playing with pay phones to irate callers screaming obscenities down the line.

Tis’ the season to be bloody

SCHOOL’S out, most people have taken leave from work and the good times are rolling. But for many, the rolling can quickly get out of hand, and not a day will go by this holiday without people being killed or badly injured in various accidents and alcohol-induced altercations.And, for most people, their only source of help is public hospitals. One of the busiest hospitals in Nelson Mandela Bay this season, and throughout the year, is Livingstone Hospital in Korsten.

I set out to spend the evening alongside the doctors and nurses there. I arrive at 7pm and already the stream of injured have begun to pour into the waiting room. Dreary, blood-covered people sit waiting to be attended to. A woman sits with a blanket covering her face. Thinking she is trying to protect herself from the rampant XDR TB that’s plaguing Port Elizabeth, I walk past without a second glance.I later learn she was actually trying to hide her bruised and bloodied face from people. She’d been beaten up so badly she could not even talk, her mouth was full of blood and her eyes were swollen to the point where she could not see.But she wasn’t in dire need of assistance, so she would have to wait her turn. Her turn would only come four hours later in the dead of night.Hearing a commotion, I peek around the corner of the suture room. Blood covers the floors and walls. Droplets of blood trail to the patients lining the walls. A man sits on the table, blood streaming down his face and back. Eleven stab wounds, the doctor tells me as he stitches the man back together. Behind drunk and pained eyes and with slurred speech the man tells me: “I was having some drinks with my friends when something happened and they stabbed me.”With friends like these, who needs enemies.The doctor doesn’t question him but instead gets right to the job at hand. I am sure he has heard this story a hundred times. And, with patients piling up, his workload is increasing by the minute.A man stabbed in the stomach, a gunshot to the leg and a young boy stabbed in the back are just a few of his patients for the evening.At times there is an eerie silence, except for a mother who sits clutching her 13-year-old son. Tears stream down her face and drip onto the young boy’s chest. They cut lines in the dried blood that seems to have covered most of his body, leaving trails of clear skin in an ocean of crimson.His stab wounds are deep. The doctor explains to the nurse: “We’re going to have to send him to the SOC (surgeon on call)”.“Is he going to be alright?” the mother wails.This young boy, a prefect and keen soccer player at his school, has not been stabbed by a stranger, but by someone close to him. His 14-year-old sister’s 24-year-old boyfriend took revenge on the family for not allowing the sister to see him anymore. So he walked up behind this young boy and cut a 12cm gash into his back, slicing through veins and damaging the child’s left kidney. With not enough orderlies around, his mother and other family members which have begun to arrive push him up to the SOC area to be seen by a surgeon.

There, he waits again to be treated. Family members arrive in their droves – many drunk, stumbling along the hallways – asking every staff member they see if the young boy is alright.The SOC section has only two doctors on duty and they are stretched thinly between patients. Having to tend to so many at once, they have no choice but to let this boy wait. There are more serious injuries that must be attended to. A woman has been brought in, unconscious and unable to be woken. A bad sign, the doctor tells me. Her chest has collapsed and her x-rays show she has seven broken ribs.The doctors send her for a CAT scan. I am surprised to find the radiological room is like stepping into the first world. It’s so clean and well maintained that it could put some private hospitals to shame.The scan shows she has bleeding on the brain and an operation is needed to relieve the pressure that’s building up. But she will also have to wait her turn, as the operating room is full at the moment. Unable to find out what happened to her, the doctor guesses she was either hit by a car or beaten so badly that she could die.In my short time so far at Livingstone, at least 90 per cent of the people coming in have injuries that have been caused by people under the influence of alcohol. Finally, Dr Leslie Hendricks, a 27-year-old who is her final days of community service, calls over the teenage boy’s family and tells them to bring him to the cubicle so she can attend to him.She removes the bandages the doctors in the suture room have placed on the boy. “It’s not too bad, we should be able to sort this boy out quickly,” she tells the mother as she examines the wound on his back. Mom breaks down in tears when she sees her son’s injuries. “I’ll be right back,” Hendricks says before dashing off down the hallway. I trail after her, thinking she is off to attend to an urgent new case.But no, she’s just making a dash to the bathroom. On her way she is stopped by people on stretchers and lining the hallways asking her to help their loved ones.I head back to the cubicle to await the doctor’s return, to find the boy has been joined by an uncle barely able to stand. The man looks like he himself is no stranger to the inside of this hospital. He rubs the boy’s neck with such ferocity, despite the child having a wound you could easily put your whole hand into. The boy begs his uncle to stop. The doctor returns, washes her hands and gloves up to attend to her young patient. She injects him with some pain killers and opens up the wound. It’s not as easy a task as she had thought. The boy’s veins have been cut and will have to be stitched back together. She clamps off the veins and gets to work. The swaying uncle shouts at the doctor to hurry up.

He is still rubbing the boy’s neck, making the whole stretcher shake and making a tough job all the tougher. “If you don’t stop moving the stretcher I’m going to have you removed, so please keep quiet and don’t interfere,” the doctor retorts.In one ear and out the other. The uncle doesn’t seem to be too concerned about the boy – he is far more interested in looking at the wound and the operation in progress.The doctors, nurses and security staff at Livingstone are in a constant battle with drunk and disorderly patients and family members. According to the staff I talk to in between being run off their feet, some people like to drink to the point where they can no longer stand. Then they think the best way to settle an argument is to stab each other repeatedly.More often than not, it’s friends and family who do the stabbing. From what I can see, the staff are dedicated and under an enormous amount of stress, poorly paid – but then what civil servant isn’t – and expected to perform at the top of their game, working on little to no sleep. Some people complain the waiting times are excessive at Livingstone. They are, but the number of people constantly streaming into the hospital is also excessive. At about 2am there is a brief respite and the two doctors on duty in the SOC section have time for a quick chat. “I didn’t even taste my dinner, I just stuffed it into my mouth. It didn’t even touch sides,” Hendricks tells the other doctor on duty, who nods in agreement. Then it’s back to work. The operating room is finally free and Hendricks – who at just 27 is the neuro-surgeon on call – can now operate on the comatose woman who has bleeding on the brain.She drills into the patient’s skull and begins to extract the clotted blood. It’s only for those with strong stomachs. A large clot is pulled out and blood begins pouring from Jane Doe’s head. A silent panic seems to take over the theatre. They are unable to find the source of the bleeding. Her heart rate drops and her blood pressure hits the floor. Out come a pair of pliers that would not seem out of place in a horror movie. They cut into her head, making the whole bigger. The crunch of breaking bone sends chills down my spine.No luck. They have to abort the operation and hope the bleeding will stop by itself. By 4am, the hospital is as busy as it was when I arrived. The sick line the hallways waiting to be attended. People with cuts line the walls of the suture room. Babies cry as doctors tend to them. The staff by this time look like they are running on auto pilot. For some it may be the season to be jolly, but not for the doctors and nurses in our public hospitals. They are worked almost to breaking point. And it’s inspiring to see what magic they can work with the shortage of resources available.So next time you reach for that drink while enjoying your Christmas holidays, think about where it could land you.