For more than 24 hours I have watched scenes I did not believe possible.
Thousands of people looting with impunity in Durban, Pietermaritzburg and Johannesburg.
Police, under equip and outnumbered, have been reduced to spectators.
President Cyril Ramaphosa is obliged to draft the military in to help try to contain the anarchy.
The destruction and lawlessness by black South Africans apparently unconcerned about being stopped let alone apprehended brings to mind the apartheid-era fears of their white counterparts that they will leave their country of birth on the first available flight with nothing but their pajamas.
The looting continues as Ramaphosa addresses the nation. Indeed, it is shown in a little window on his television backdrop, giving the lie to his assertion: “this is not us!”
The looting was initially ascribed to “righteous anger” about the incarceration of disgraced ex-President Jacob Zuma for contempt of court.
It soon becomes clear that it is about much more. There are ethnic tensions involving the Zulus. There is the desperation of people rendered jobless and hungry by the protracted COVID pandemic lockdown. But most of all there is enthusiastic criminality embracing an opportunity to grab something for nothing.
With television covering moving to and fro from KwaZulu/Natal to Gauteng the anarchy seems to have become terrifyingly unstoppable.
Ramaphosa does nothing to alay those fears.
His assertion that the looters will face the full might of the law rings hollow.
South Africans who eschewed revenge for apartheid to build a greater peace are revealed to be as venal and short-sighted as their fellow Africans.
They no longer have a claim to the moral hight ground.
This morning Police Minister Bheki Cele, who was invisible yesterday, briefs the media.
He speaks of more than 700 arrests and a death toll approaching 50.
Incredibly he advises South Africans to sanitize and regularly wash their hands.
This is a reference to the pandemic and the fact that the violence and the looting and destruction of trucks traveling between Johannesburg and Durban has stopped the already botched and tardy vaccination programme in many centers.
Again, his briefing takes place against the backdrop of persistent looting in both KwaZulu/Natal and Johannesburg.
It is briefly stopped in Alexandra around lunchtime by the arrival of a few dozen of the 2500 troops dragooned into restoring order.
The mob that was minutes earlier taunting police runs from the soldiers who carry neither teargas nor rubber bullets. Their assault rifles are loaded with sharp point ammunition.
Visibly shocked as the destruction he sees after looters have stripped a shopping mall in Alexandra, within sight of salubrious Sandton, Cele says the emphasis must now be on prevention. Flanked by both police and army brass, the minister says: “It is better that this did not happen. But just because it did does not mean that it cannot be prevented from happening again.” Cele says police are investigating a dozen people believed to be instigators of the looting.
Are we meant to be reassured?