WHILE the focus after the July riots has mostly been on Phoenix, other innocent people got caught up in Pietermaritzburg’s Khan Road — some lost their lives, others were injured and had their homes torched, according to Ntombi Nkwanyana, a community leader in Raisethorpe, Pietermaritzburg.
She says lessons from the attacks on communities show that people do not know each other and there is a deep mistrust.
“But we want to ensure that peace comes out of this through community efforts to get Indian and African citizens to talk about what happened so we can move forward,” she says.
Nkwanyana says Khan Road is not far from the nearest police station and there was no excuse for their absence during the riots. “Even moving the bodies that were in the settlement took a long time.”
She says there were also suspicions that the reluctance to act could have been racially motivated and perhaps some police officers did not want to act against those that they know.
“But I must note that the Indian community paid and organised for the three funerals and helped a resident who became paralysed during the riots. We want to move on, together,” she says.
Sham Maharaj of the Phoenix Ubuntu Forum says in the township, north of Durban, residents were fearful of the large groups of alleged “looters” passing through the areas, and by social reports speaking of an invasion, attacks on them, and the burning of property.
They felt abandoned by the SAPS and Metro Police, who failed to control the crowds and were noticeably absent, thus leaving residents with no option but to protect themselves.
“In our view, the events of July 2021 reflect a massive failure of government, law-enforcement authorities and other institutions generally to not only provide protection to communities under real or perceived threat to their security, but also to act swiftly to contain the looting, grand-scale theft, burning of property and general criminality.
“These failures must be thoroughly investigated, and public officials from the highest to the lowest level must be made accountable and face consequences for failing in their duties to protect the public,” he said.
Maharaj said the forum condemns attacks against individuals in the strongest terms and wants those who are criminally responsible to be punished so that the families of the victims see justice being done.
Organisations like the Abahlali baseMjondolo, a Durban-based shack dwellers’ movement, are adamant that something must be done to ensure that the poor are not left alone in moments of crisis — and generally in life.
“Police were nowhere to be found and in some parts of the looting areas they participated.
Leaders suddenly ceased to exist in KwaZulu-Natal and even our efforts to contact the premier failed,” says Abahlali president Sbu Zikode. “Suddenly there was nobody responsible for anything to a point that you could not report what was going on,” he adds Zikode says it appears that there was a clear instruction “from above” for police not to act against individuals during the looting.
“We know the police did not act. What else can you do when there are no police to protect communities, you have to defend your family, though some did overdo it. But the biggest lesson we can learn from this is we simply have to address the fact that property value was placed above human life.
“In any society, you would expect society to do all it can to protect human life, and we did not see that; not just the police going missing, along with leadership, but those who went too far. It still seems that the lives of people, especially poor blacks, are worth nothing,” he concludes.
Yunus Carrim, ANC MP and Peace and Development Forum member in Raisethorpe, says while some police officers played an effective role, overall the police were hopelessly unprepared, under-resourced and ineffective. Often, they stood by helplessly as the social unrest raged.
“The absence of effective policing simply emboldened those who took part in the unrest and added momentum to it. Obviously, there weren’t just subjective failings of the police, but objective constraints too and, hopefully, the inquiries into the social unrest will reveal both these aspects,” he adds.
He says in the case of the social unrest in Raisethorpe, Msunduzi, the Peace and Development Forum has engaged with the Mountain Rise police station about its failure to effectively investigate who was responsible for the burning down of about 60 shacks in the Khan Road informal settlement and killing three of its residents.
“I also spoke with Brigadier Pregasen Pillay, the station head, on the second day of the social unrest and, to be fair, he was very co-operative and explained that they did not have enough evidence then, but that they were hopeful of arrests soon. And they did arrest the alleged perpetrators a few days later, who are now being processed through the courts.”
Carrim says he is unaware of suggestions of an order from above for police to not act. “I don’t know anything about that. But some police did participate in the looting and others had political sympathies with some or other of the interest groups that took part in the social unrest.
“I can’t speak for ANC structures elsewhere, but in the case of the social unrest in the Raisethorpe area, while the ANC was mostly absent on the first day, we were active from the second day, July 13, onwards, even if we were not as effective as we could and should have been.
“Ultimately, as we are the governing party, the ANC must take responsibility for the social unrest and we have to take primary responsibility to address the socio-economic and political conditions that create the context for social unrest.
“And we need to address the extreme material inequalities and the related racial divides of our society if we are to reduce the prospects of further social unrest.”
• Edwin Naidu writes for the Wits Justice Project (WJP). Based in the Journalism Department of the University of the Witwatersrand, the WJP investigates human rights abuses and miscarriages of justice related to SA’s criminal justice system.