KZN racial profiling slammed: Government taken to task for ignoring tensions, violence
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DURBAN - AN EFF Member of Parliament has accused the government of not paying enough attention to the racially motivated assaults and killings that took place in Phoenix at the height of civil unrest, saying this has led to increased racial tensions in Durban.
Sibongile Khawula, who has been helping families to find their missing relatives, was speaking at a meeting of the joint standing committee on defence and the portfolio committee on police, in Chatsworth yesterday. The meeting was also attended by Police Minister Bheki Cele and Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula.
The visit follows the outbreak of violence, looting and destruction of infrastructure, especially in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng last week.
As the violence escalated in the city, communities in different parts of Durban took it upon themselves to protect their areas, as the police were overstretched and outnumbered.
The Phoenix community, police and private security companies have come under fire for allegedly shooting innocent civilians, burning cars and preventing black motorists from accessing the area. It is believed that 20 people were killed in Phoenix and 13 people were killed in Chatsworth.
The SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) yesterday said it would be visiting the Phoenix community soon in a bid to quell racial tensions in the areas.
Khawula broke down as she painted a gruesome picture of how black people had been treated in Phoenix by those who were claiming to be protecting the community. She said it was worrying that law-enforcement officials were only speaking about the destruction of malls and ATMs, but forgetting to mention racially motivated attacks and killings.
“I visited people in Inanda, I have not been able to sleep. People were butchered and dragged out of their cars. It’s sad that we, black people, have gone back to being victims,” said an emotional Khawula, adding that it was disheartening that black people have become victims because of their race.
“As I’m speaking here, there are families who can’t locate their relatives after they were killed in Phoenix. In Chatsworth, a child was sent by her parents to buy bread, she was killed. We are not fighting Indians, but this needs to be looked at by both sides. Let’s leave out politics because the situation is bad out there,” she said.
Khawula added that it was concerning that black people who have relatives and friends in areas such as Phoenix, Durban North and Ballito were unable to go to these areas due to the roadblocks set up by white and Indian people.
“Even black police officers were under attack because they are black,” said Khawula.
Responding to Khawula, Cele acknowledged that racial profiling occurred at roadblocks conducted in Phoenix, adding that private security companies and criminal elements were responsible for the chaos.
“It is true. There were many cars that were burnt in Phoenix. When we asked the Phoenix community about what was the criteria for stopping the vehicles, it looks like it was only the skin colour of the occupants,” he said.
Cele told the story of a young woman who was stopped at a roadblock, while Indian motorists were allowed to go through.
“She told me that as she was stopped and had her car searched everywhere, other vehicles, driven by Indians, were passing by and were not stopped. She was taken to a nearby river and, after being assaulted, there was a debate on
whether she must be killed or not. The car was also burnt,” said Cele.
Cele said he was glad that the SAHRC was getting involved in the Phoenix matter.
“The main problem was that Africans coming into Phoenix were killed. The families could not access the bodies of their relatives, as they were stopped,” he said.
Cele said a team was established to accompany families to the area to look for missing people who were believed to be dead.
He said only one person linked to the killings in Phoenix had been arrested, and that a team of 10 detectives had been assembled to investigate the deaths.
More than 80 public order police officers had been deployed to assist local police and work together with members of the South African National Defence Force, to keep all residents and property safe, he added.
KZN Premier Sihle Zikalala yesterday met some of the families of those who were killed last week in criminal and vigilante acts in Phoenix and the surrounding areas.
“We would like to assure you, as the families, that whoever is responsible for the killings will be brought to book. If people were looting, they were supposed to be arrested, not killed. We need to address the issue of racism. We promise that we are going to be with you.”
Zikalala said that as part of rebuilding, the communities needed to be involved in two programmes – one of moral regeneration and social cohesion, and the second, a community in dialogue spearheaded by the Community Safety Department.
“Many black people were killed because of the colour of their skin. Their cars were torched while others could not enter their homes because they were prevented from doing so.”
SAHRC communications officer Gushwell Brooks confirmed that the commission would be visiting the area, saying more details would be revealed soon.
The parliamentary committees condemned the incidents and welcomed the deployment of the SAPS and SANDF to the affected areas.
“We also condemn in the strongest terms the unwarranted use of violence by private security companies in the area,” said Tina Joemat-Pettersson, the chairperson of the police committee
She said the committee also welcomed the dispatching of a team from the Private Security Industry Regulatory Authority (PSIRA) to assess the role played by private security companies in the tensions in the area and a detectives team being assigned to investigate the deaths.
“The committees call for the finalisation of investigations to ensure effective prosecution of perpetrators of violence.
“We also call for calm, the spirit of ubuntu and respect for the rule of law among different communities in the area,” she said.