Phoenix haunted by July unrest

It has been a year since the deadly scenes in Phoenix, Durban, when more than 36 lives were lost, but for most of the survivors the emotional scars live on.

About 36 people lost their lives in the traditionally Indian suburb next to the historically black townships of KwaMashu, Ntuzuma and Inanda.

The turmoil started as a nationwide protest against the incarceration of former president Jacob Zuma, as protesters went on the rampage, damaging property and looting malls. It turned into a racial affair when people of Indian descent allegedly started killing black people.


They committed the atrocities under the guise that they were protecting their properties and businesses from being looted by the residents of the neighbouring black townships.

Many of those killed were innocent victims caught in the racial rage.

Community activist Billy Msane described race relations between the communities in the aftermath of the mass murders as an illusion of normality.

“I would just say ihlekisana ihlomile, an isiZulu phrase meaning to pretend as if things were normal,” he said.

“There is a view from the affected families that they were forced to reconcile while those who killed their loved ones were regarded as heroes.”

Msane lamented the tense underlying atmosphere and continuing mistrust.


Local pastor Devon Moodley, who has been spearheading peace initiatives between Indians and blacks in the area, said the social cohesion project was a work in progress and rebuilding trust between the communities will take years.

“Over the years, Indian and black communities had lived side by side enjoying a peaceful co-existence. The July unrest destroyed a lot of work that had been done. But we’re hopeful that eventually communities will find each other again for the sake of peace and future generations,” he said.

Moodley also lauded the role that IFP founder Mangosuthu Buthelezi had played to quell the violence, saying there were fears that various hostels in Durban had planned to avenge the killings.

“There was a major concern that there would be a bloodbath because of the threats by hostel dwellers. But the IFP leader as a key figure in the province stood up and preached peace,” he said.

Thokozile Msomi, an elderly woman who lives in Phoenix and who lost two family members during the unrest, said the damage was irreparable.

“If it was up to me I would wish nobody would talk about July because it evokes painful memories. I lost my daughter and her son, who were killed and dumped in the stream. My daughter was the only one working. How can I forgive and forget that brutality?” she asked.

The victims also complained of delayed justice after it emerged that only six men had been charged for the atrocities.

They also claim that more anger had resulted from the stance taken that the killings should not be called a massacre because this will worsen tensions.

Timothy Govender, Tyreece Govender, Julian Maharaj, Shaheen Gopal, Ravine Naidoo and Trevor Gopal are facing a string of charges including murder, attempted murder, robbery with aggravating circumstances and public violence.

The local police station has also come under scrutiny after it emerged that police had distributed illegal firearms to vigilante groups.

Police are also accused of using state vehicles to transport vigilantes, who were hunting their intended targets.

In total, the national death toll from the unrest stood at more than 340 people, with most deaths recorded in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal.

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