Witness number 2 at the South African Human Rights Commission’s hearing for the July unrest in Phoenix, Chris Biyela (left), gives his testimony at the Gateway Hotel on Tuesday. Picture: Jehran Naidoo/Independent Media
Witness number 2 at the South African Human Rights Commission’s hearing for the July unrest in Phoenix, Chris Biyela (left), gives his testimony at the Gateway Hotel on Tuesday. Picture: Jehran Naidoo/Independent Media

Human Rights Commission hears witness accounts of civil unrest in Phoenix

By Zainul Dawood Time of article published Nov 17, 2021

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DURBAN - THE Human Rights Commission of SA (SAHRC) heard testimony from two victims who were assaulted during the July unrest while travelling through Phoenix.

This is part of a national investigative hearing into the unrest and its impact on human rights.

Bhambayi resident Chris Biyela on Tuesday testified how he was stopped at one of the Phoenix roadblocks, slapped three times, pulled out of the vehicle and verbally abused with derogatory words and racial undertones. He said he was lucky at the time that someone said they knew him and let him go.

“That is how I escaped.”

Biyela said two men from his road were missing after going into Phoenix to refuel a car. Neighbours made calls and feared to search for them because of messages they were receiving on WhatsApp that Indians were killing Africans in Phoenix. He submitted these videos and images to the commission.

“The next day, we received a WhatsApp video. I identified my neighbour’s car which was partially burnt parked on Phoenix Highway.”

Biyela said his neighbours were found in two different hospitals in Durban with multiple injuries. He said Police Minister Bheki Cele visited the area and asked the community to elect three people to volunteer their assistance to police detectives. Biyela was one of them. “We requested to be escorted to go in search of people. The survivors told us where they had left others being assaulted. We found some in the hospital and others in the mortuary.

Biyela said he received gruesome pictures from his neighbours via WhatsApp depicting their injuries.

One of his neighbours told Biyela that when he flagged down a patrolling police vehicle the policemen insulted him. “They told him to f*** off from here and go die in hospital.”

He then walked to the Inanda Clinic. Biyela said he did report his incident to the police but did not open a case.

“I was not physically harmed and my vehicle was not damaged. After the incident, I developed hate feelings. I started having nightmares. I did speak to social workers.”

Biyela said he was unaware of any social cohesion programmes.

Chief panellist of the hearing, Panel Commissioner Philile Ntuli, said not all Indians are racist and not all Indians were involved in this situation.

Biyela acknowledged that not all Indians were racist but lamented that many of them still were. Phoenix community members have shown no remorse for what they’ve done, he said.

“They spit in the face of the bereaved families and human rights. They call themselves heroes for slaughtering people. Have programmes to advocate the wrong they have done, then we will realise the community that has done wrong to black people is willing to work together with black people.”

Biyela said rushing to finish social cohesion programmes was a waste of time. “Once it is completed you will see messages that say free Phoenix heroes.

The problem is still deep. All the stakeholders are just recapping and expecting everything to be just fine. Until they confront racism and root it out those programmes won’t be effective.”

Inanda resident Thulani Mseleku said he was attacked after passing four roadblocks set up along Phoenix Highway. At the fourth, he was stopped. One of the people snatched his Versace sunglasses off his face, took R200 from his dashboard and his cellphone.

“They only stopped African drivers. They let Indian drivers through. They smashed my front windscreen. They insulted me with racial tones. They said, ‘this is our area’.”

At a fifth roadblock, shots were fired and a brick was thrown through Mseleku’s windscreen. He kept low in the car and drove to Phoenix police station.

“There were many police officers inside. I asked the police why they were in the station while others were outside stopping cars and shooting at vehicles. They could not answer.”

Mseleku was treated for head wounds in hospital.

Phoenix community activist and founder of the Ubuntu Peace Committee Sham Maharaj blamed acts of vigilantism on social media messages, drug syndicates and gangsters. Maharaj testified that he saw looting take place at Southgate Shopping Mall.

The commission deliberated with Maharaj on whether it was a massacre or killing. Maharaj said people were not killed in one instance and that the commission had its own view if they called it a massacre.

Deputy chairperson of the Hearing Panel, Commissioner Chris Nissen, referred to an incident in Cape Town where six people were killed by gangsters.

“We call it the Delft massacre. In Phoenix, it has been dubbed the Phoenix massacre. It does not implicate all the people in Phoenix.”

Daily News

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