On That ‘Riot on Long Street’ piece

OK, little bit awkward this, because I generally enjoy (enjoyed?) Sipho Hlongwane’s stuff. However, while reading his “Night Out on Long Street Turns Into Riot” article here, I couldn’t help but giggle as I related some of the lines and thoughts in there to Private Eye’s Luvvies and Pseud’s Corner columns.

Don’t get me wrong; his description of Long Street’s seedy side was excellent and sadly accurate, although the poetic licence required to drop

The promise of danger looms heavier than the famous mountain just over yonder

into his opening remarks made me feel that he was already waxing rather too lyrically about the night’s events. Perhaps it was the way that he had spent his evening that brought this creativity forth. For what followed was surely one of the best lines in any column about public disorder, alleged police indifference and annoyance at media apathy that I have ever seen. And I’ve read a lot of columns about public disorder, alleged police indifference and annoyance at media apathy – mainly written by Sipho Hlongwane.

Here it is:

We arrived on the scene walking in a north-easterly direction towards our hotel in the early hours of Sunday after a night spent revelling in an avant-garde theatre performance.

Fantastic! They didn’t walk down Long Street, they walked “in a north-easterly direction”.
They hadn’t just been to see a play, they had revelled “in an avant-garde theatre performance”.

Brave Sipho, notebook in hand (probably, anyway) rushes into the fray and almost gets caught up in the nastiness. He (having run to get to the middle of the riot), is obviously a little puffed, and, as the angry mob turns on him, the notebook seemingly overlooked, he feels that it would be a good idea to inform them that he is a journalist. But in the confusion, they almost don’t hear him.
How on earth will Our Hero™ get his message across?

I summoned every last scrap of breath to shout back that I was media. It took two or three roars for the message to sink in.

Amazingly, despite this Herculean and apparently final respiratory effort, Sipho continues to live. And he continues to report. There’s no mention of where his girlfriend is right now, but I also always find that in the midst of a riot, it makes sense to split up and leave my loved ones in a place where the promise of danger looms heavier than a famous mountain just over yonder.
And that famous mountain is pretty heavy, yo.

But I digress. Often.

Back to the action now, where Sipho, having jotted down enough shorthand and somehow fortuitously become reunited with his other half, quickly heads for the safety of his hotel room to escape the full-on riot that the local police force aren’t doing anything about, save for watching.

No. Wait.

We decided to walk away. We went for the delicious Asian food that Long St specialises in

This follows a bit of a trend. Few of us could forget (because he keeps reminding us) that Sipho was at Marikana during the heinous events of August 2012. What even fewer of us know, however, is that he headed off for a burger before he wrote up his Daily Maverick columns on the subject. [This assertion may not be entirely accurate – Ed.]

Anyway, just before collecting their food (the details of which are not shared), they quickly save the lives of the friends of a white girl who has been mugged:

who knows what would have happened if we had not arrived and intervened?

before heading back out into the safety of… er…

the riot continuing unabated outside

where Sipho finds yet another group of tourists in distress. And he promptly saves them too, despite this act requiring further pulmonary effort:

They were from some European country — I forget which — and were so immobilised with fear and trauma that we had to repeatedly ask them to get off the street and to safety before they would move.

Selfless. And I love the little dig in there – imagine if I, as a *gasp* white European, had dared to describe some African country as “some African country” and dismissively chosen to “forget which” one it was? And that despite having a notebook (although I’ll concede that it’s difficult to write when carrying delicious Asian food).

Hell to pay, I tell you.

Back then, eventually, to the safety of their hotel room, from which they can watch the continuing riot beneath them while they eat their delicious Asian food (sorry for you if you had to endure the smell of black bean sauce when you booked in the following afternoon).
As things wind down and the protagonists and pugilists head back home, the raw emotion of the whole situation finally hits Comrade Sipho and he has to take immediate and drastic action:

It was all a bit too traumatic for me. I watched football on the iPad to calm myself, and went to sleep.

Probably an Arsenal game. That always makes… me… so *yawn*… sleeeeeeepy… But never when I see it on anything as mainstream as a television, obviously. I mean, how on earth is that going to help? Jeez.

But Sipho is still irritated by a few things:

I am furious with the police who did not care

Yes, understandably. It’s disgraceful.

and the journalists who did not turn up to cover this

Well, there was you, thrice roaring about being media, but you didn’t get a single photo or interview despite witnessing the whole thing – some of it from a lofty vantage point – and having a notebook. [Are we good with the veracity of the notebook thing? – Ed.]
And sure, you can be furious about the lack of any further coverage, but is your anger because no-one bothered to report a riot in Long Street in which “a pretty white girl got hurt”, or is it because it the media apathy kind of defeats your argument that township violence is selectively ignored, the media choosing only to tell us about these sort of things when they happen uncomfortably close to home or when a pretty white girl gets hurt?
(But not in this case, obviously.)

and the bystanders who shrugged and walked by.

And hang on just a moment. Wasn’t this also you, to a certain extent? I know you saved some tourists from Pretoria and then saved some more tourists from some European county (I forget which), and for that, you should rightfully expect a pat on the back. But then, with this riot continuing outside, you stood, you watched and you ate delicious Asian food.

Have you reported the police officers concerned (or unconcerned, I suppose)? Have you made any effort to tell anyone of any influence that you were an eye-witness to a young man getting stabbed, for example? Because, as someone once said

It is not good enough to shrug and say, “Long Street, hey” and move on.

I share your frustration, but if you do nothing, this will happen again and again and again. And next time, you might not be there to abandon your girlfriend, roar at some rioters, interrogate some allegedly incompetent policemen, and – wearing your undies over your pants and with a big ‘S’ (for ‘Sipho’, obvs) on your T-shirt – to save those tourists.

So yes, this deserves more effort. From all concerned.

7 thoughts on “On That ‘Riot on Long Street’ piece

  1. Jesus, 6000, that’s pretty ****ing harsh. Obviously Sipho didn’t “do nothing”. Nor do you know that he abandoned his girlfriend (is that what this piece is really about for you? — is the kind of question the style of this piece encourages, and I actually ask it genuinely). My impression here is that you’ve climbed on some kind of imaginary moral high-horse so as to mock Sipho by way of making the point that what he did was not great (though you concede it was good). My raw feelings are more like, “Who the **** do you think you are?” It’s true that you make a relevant point, that Sipho himself unconsciously demonstrated in some ways (though not at all fully) the apathy of the system he’s decrying — but the fact that it feels so grudging for me to say that indicates to me the extent to which your arrogant tone obscures your message. I think you’re guilty of the same performance-contradiction of which you accuse Sipho: you’re more interested in impressing people by being clever than in actually doing something worthwhile. If that wasn’t the case, you wouldn’t need to dress your point up in so much sarcasm and one-upmanship.

  2. Patrick > Thanks for the comment, if not the occasional filthy language therein. Still, I will endeavour to answer your questions:
    What’s the piece about for me? Well, it’s about three things: the apparent indifference of our local law enforcement, the lack of any alleged selectivity demonstrated by our media and a massive amount of flowery language, hyperbole, unfounded allegations and hypocrisy from our erstwhile friend.
    Who the goodness do I think I am? I am, in this instance, a blogger who read the Business Day page this morning while in Paarden Eiland and thought, hang on, there are both some hilarious lines and huge doses of hypocrisy and unnecessary drama in there – I’m going to blog about my feelings on those issues.

    If you don’t like what I write or perhaps the way I write it, feel free to comment, blog or ignore it. Even try your luck at getting a full refund. I was merely adding my opinion to that of superhero Sipho Hlongwane.

    I may well also be guilty of the same “performance-contradiction” as he was, but there are two important points to bear in mind if you’re going to accuse me of that: firstly, I (obviously) was ridiculing Sipho’s article; as clearly mentioned near the top, I state that it reminded me of certain columns in a satirical magazine. Thus, I think that in doing so, I’m allowed a little bit of being “interested in impressing people by being clever”, something I sometimes just can’t help doing anyway. My only serious point was that he did as little as everyone else he criticised.
    Secondly, I’m not getting paid to spout this sort of drivel. He is. If my point gets lost in the noise, so be it, but when his falls into the same black hole of verbosity, then he’s not doing his job right. I’m more than happy to pick him out on that (in my arrogant and sarcastic way).

  3. ‘We arrived on the scene walking in a north-easterly direction towards our hotel in the early hours of Sunday after a night spent revelling in an avant-garde theatre performance.’

    As Steve Biko famously didn’t say, ‘I write like I’m white’

  4. I would tend to agree with you 6k. (Aside: this is happening far too much).

    He was there. He (presumably) had a cellphone on him (one of his party certainly must have had one). Yet he decides on various occasions to go get some food, follow a mob (showing a clear lack of understanding of just how a mob behaves – sensible people get the hell out of there as fast as they can), and watch The Arsenal on his iPad (here I will differ with you, they are playing probably some of the best football by any Premiership team at the moment).

    And what exactly did he expect a small group of police to actually do about it all? Could it be that what he saw wasn’t quite as violent as he makes out? Could it be that the few police who were there, were rather too busy protecting the paramedics to take on the (by his own admission) 150 other angry mobsters?

    I’m not overly familiar with the ways of Long Street, but given the kind of establishment that exists in some parts of that street, I would imagine drunken brawls are a fairly regular occurrence (with apologies to any establishments whose covers do not describe the books within), and when groups are involved I can easily imagine that they burst forth into slightly larger events and then die down quite quickly (which is what appears to be the case here – from the way he describes it, from start to finish probably was no more than 30 minutes). I can also imagine that the police are there and simply mop up after the fact, and that there is nothing newsworthy about the whole shebang.

  5. veryblessedmama > [Note: “the batman woman”, I think, refers to journalist (and er… colleague of Sipho) Mandy de Waal, who had a pop at me over this on twiter, called me “vituperative” and “a sociopath”. Her avatar on twitter is a batman thing.]

    Thanks for the comment, VBM. But let’s just hold fire for just a moment. Do Sipho’s actions post seeing the fight scene really strike you as being those of a severely traumatised – or indeed even a bit traumatised – person? He didn’t leave the scene, he went and bought some delicious Asian food and then he chose to continue to watch from his hotel room. I’m no expert on trauma, and I’d imagine that people deal with it in different ways, but I’m sorry: getting a Pad Thai and a grandstand view doesn’t exactly strike me as something most traumatised individuals would do.
    In addition, as I said to the batty woman, I ridiculed the way he described his experiences, not the actual experiences in question, which were obviously very serious.

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