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Civil Unrest: Phoenix body count rises

SANDF walking on the streets near the Phoenix police station after religious leaders held a silent protest yesterday. I BONGANI MBATHA /African News Agency (ANA)

SANDF walking on the streets near the Phoenix police station after religious leaders held a silent protest yesterday. I BONGANI MBATHA /African News Agency (ANA)

Published Jul 22, 2021


DURBAN - WITH bodies piling up at the Phoenix Medico-Legal Mortuary, there have been conflicting reports from the National Funeral Practitioners Association (NFPA) and the Health MEC, who visited the mortuary on Wednesday afternoon.

NFPA president Muzi Hlengwa said the Phoenix mortuary had reached its capacity of 500 bodies, a situation that was largely attributed to the civil unrest that gripped KwaZulu-Natal recently.

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"We have asked registered families to come and collect the bodies that have already been operated on and are ready for collection," Hlengwa said.

He said the 500 bodies were those of of paupers, those of people had “normal” deaths and close to a staggering 300 were from the Phoenix killings and stampedes.

He asked for delays to be prevented as they were in desperate need of space.

"A large percentage of the 300 bodies come from the Phoenix killings and stampedes. These 300 bodies came in last week and this week," he said.

“Some of the bodies had not yet been prepared, and the mortuary staff were now working seven days a week, and were required to double their daily operations in order to clear the backlog.

"We urge the families to bear with us. The new turnaround time for the registered families to collect the bodies will be two to three days," he said.

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Health MEC Nomagugu Simelane visited the Phoenix Medico-Legal Mortuary yesterday afternoon. I SUPPLIED

However, Health MEC Nomagugu Simelane issued a statement on Wednesday saying that her department had processed the remains of 128 people, and some of them may not necessarily be linked to last week’s civil unrest.

Simelane said the facility currently had 35 unidentified bodies and called for families with missing loved ones to go to the Phoenix mortuary where they would be assisted with the identification of bodies.

The MEC said a number of the bodies were those of people who had died at different hospitals within the catchment area of Phoenix. “Normally, this facility receives about 70 bodies a week, so when you compare the normal figures with what we currently have, you can clearly see that there is a steep increase. But we are not in a position to indicate that all of those bodies are the result of the unrest.

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“We have been hearing there are more than 300 bodies as a result of the unrest. So far, that is not true. We certainly do have a backlog because of the number of additional bodies that we have received. Therefore, we have identified a number of pathologists from different facilities, and have asked them to come and assist at this facility in particular.

“We are going to be utilising this facility and a few others so that we fast-track the process. We believe that by Friday, we will have concluded the backlog, and will then start with the bodies that have been coming in from Friday moving forward.”

Zwelethu Chamane, a businessman (truck owner) and victim who survived the recent violence in Phoenix, now dubbed the "Phoenix Massacre" on social media, told the Daily News that he had been attacked while on his way home.

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He said he was still traumatised by the incident, and claims that he was targeted because he was a black African man.

Chamane, who has been a Phoenix homeowner since 2010, gave an account of how black Africans had been targeted, and claimed that no cars belonging to people of Indian descent were burnt or vandalised. He was allegedly beaten up by a vigilante group in Phoenix Unit 10.

"As I approached the Phoenix highway, where there are roadworks, I saw a group of guys opening for the car that was in front of me, but when it was my turn to go in, they stopped me and asked where I was going," Chamane said.

He added that a short man of Indian descent carrying a huge stick hit him in the jaw while he was still inside his car, and another man removed his car keys from the ignition.

"I told them I was a resident of Phoenix, but they wouldn't let me in. They stole my wallet, which had R1 800 in cash. They also took clothes and food I had bought for my family," he said.

Phoenix resident Zwelethu Chamane’s car was torched in Phoenix during last week’s unrest. I SUPPLIED

He added that he managed to run away from the group and hid in bushes, prior to making his way to a police station. "When I thought I had survived the ordeal, I came across another vigilante group and told them I was going to the police station, because I had been robbed and my car had been burnt," he said.

He added that the group consisting mainly of elderly men told him not to go through, because he would be killed by the group ahead.

"I kept on moving in circles, and all entrances and exits were manned by the vigilante groups. I then spotted one security company car, that helped me escape," he said.

He said his phone had not been taken because it was in his pocket.

"From the car tracking company I got a notification that the car battery had been removed," he said.

Another victim, Nkosinathi Ngcobo, said he was lucky to have survived.

"I had to come up with the story that I was coming from a mortuary, to check my mother's body who had died because of Covid-19. For that reason, they allowed me to go through." He said that even though he was not beaten, his car was dented by a vigilante group.

Umesh Singh of the Phoenix CPF said he was saddened by the incidents, and felt they should never have happened. "We have asked that all the people who have witnessed any acts of killings and vigilantism to report them to the police," he said. He added that a team of detectives had been formed to investigate the violence.

Glen Naidoo, the owner of the KZN VIP Protection Services, said Phoenix was a very violent town, but the recent incidents were shocking and frightening. "We denounce the vigilante behaviour. We have been informed that people were passing through Phoenix to loot Cornubia," Naidoo said. He added that those responsible should be brought to book.

"During the mayor’s (Mxolisi Kaunda) visit in Phoenix, I requested him to activate the CPFs, because they were trained.

“I also requested that a special task team should start investigating."

When the Daily News asked about a video that was circulating on social media in which he allegedly told the Phoenix community to do whatever it took to defend themselves and their families, and also gave an instruction of how many people must man each entrance and exit, he said: "All I told the people was that they should defend themselves and their families, because of the threats and attacks."

He said people had heeded his call, but he was shocked by the killings in the area. He urged those with information on vigilantism to report it to the police. "I'm shocked that the police have not yet arrested anyone over the Phoenix killings," he said.

The SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) will host a dialogue on Friday, which will be followed by a series of stakeholder engagements.

Spokesperson Gushwell Brooks said: "The SAHRC in wishing to foster social cohesion among all people within the country aims to pay special attention to the Phoenix matter, in devising its response plan, which is being finalised."

Daily News