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.