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I am not lekker upstairs

by Aarif Saib / 18.05.2012

“Is this the South African version of John Q?” I asked my American news-editor on the other the side of the line. Moments before I had been woken by his phonecall informing me of an unfolding hostage drama taking place at Durban’s Life Westville Hospital. Groggy, sleep deprived and dressed in my clubbing regalia I jumped into my car and headed to the closest garage to stock up on a journalistic essentials: coffee, cigarettes and garage pies. Rushing to the scene after picking up my bestie (also a journalist), it felt awesome driving in the oncoming lane outside the hospital with my hazards flashing whilst the commuters were stuck with the police diverting traffic. “Move out the way bitches, media coming through.”

After trekking up the steep hospital driveway, here’s what I found out:

Former patient Bongani Shange, a 38 year old teacher from Hammersdale (a township north of Durban), opened fire at doctors and hospital staff at Life Westville Hospital after becoming impatient waiting for medical treatment at 8am on Friday. He shot three people and took a further two hostages. In so doing, he created a new definition for customer dissatisfaction.

I felt like I was in the movies. Armed police everywhere, emergency services on standby, worried relatives of patients still stuck inside the hospital, journalists sniffing for any shrapnel of information to beat their competitors and then there was Bob (not his real name).

Bob was a patient who witnessed the stand off firsthand. Being treated for depression, he was waiting for his wife to take him home when he heard the shots. Trembling in his bed, he could hear the screams. When two female hospital staff ran in to his room shouting, “he’s coming to kill me!” He cursed the staff who could have potentially led the gunman to his room. Bob soon heard the gunman in the corridor. His voice was terribly close to his room. “I nearly shit myself!” He said of the moment when the doors swung open. Thankfully it was the police who evacuated the three out of the room. “Bru, I am not lekker upstairs, and this happens.” Bob tells me. “I just want to go home but I have to wait for the doctors to discharge me.” Throughout our whole ten minute conversation, Bob did not show an ounce of trauma. He was calm and collected. He was definitely depressed.

While waiting for the police to arrest or shoot the gunman, there was ample discussion about Bongani Shange’s motives. Like the real John Q (played by Denzel Washington), did he just want a transplant for his kid and the greedy capitalistic hospital refused to throw him a lifeline?

Apparently it was a dispute over bi-polar meds.

After failed attempts by police to negotiate with him, a single shot to the head by the Police’s elite Special Task Force ended the stand off.

With the gunshot noise still reverberating in my head, I went home to watch John Q and take notes.

*Opening image © Durban News.

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