Durban - Police in KwaZulu-Natal have had their role in July’s civil unrest questioned by government officials and the public on numerous occasions.
This was still the case on Tuesday, during the South African Human Rights Commission’s (SAHRC) hearing, when a witness detailed how police officers left him for dead in Phoenix, north of Durban.
Mbuso Xaba, 38, told the SAHRC investigators advocates Yanela Ntloko and Rantsho Moraka that on July 12 he was stopped for no reason on the Phoenix Highway and assaulted by a group of Indian men.
He said an elderly Indian man who was a part of the group tried to stop the attack, but was unsuccessful.
According to Xaba, during the attack two Indian police officers arrived in an unmarked vehicle wearing their vests and told him if he did not leave the area, he would end up dying there.
He added that the officers did nothing to stop the attack.
Further down the highway, upon reaching another community barricade, Xaba said he ran into trouble again, but was helped by a different set of policemen.
“A white polo came while they were hitting me; it was occupied by two Indian policemen. I couldn’t tell at first, because their vehicle was not marked, and they were also in civilian clothes. I only knew they were the police when I saw their bulletproof vests.
“The policemen told them to let go of me. I thought maybe they could escort me out of Phoenix. They said we cannot help you; all you can do is get in the vehicle and drive off, because if you stay here you will end up dying,”
After escaping the first attack, Xaba detailed that: “While we were in Lenham, a white, unmarked police bakkie came. It was occupied by one black and one Indian official. They were also wearing bulletproof vests. We then stood to our feet. One came to me and asked me what I was doing there. I told them that there were other police that came, but nobody helped. They promised to escort me. “
The Phoenix and surrounding areas of Amaoti, Bhambayi and Zwelitsha were ravaged by the unrest violence, and 36 lives were lost in the process.
Shopping complexes and infrastructure were burnt to the ground.
Residents set up community protection zones across the area to protect properties and businesses from the "free Jacob Zuma" protesters, who proceeded to loot and burn down major food distribution warehouses and municipal assets across KZN.
A chemical factory in the Cornubia area was also burnt down by the rioters, causing a major spill in the Durban Harbour, killing shoals of marine life in the process.
On Monday, former Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula said that there was a lack of co-operation from the KwaZulu-Natal police commissioner, Lieutenant-General Nhlanhla Mkhwanazi, during the July unrest.
She said Mkhwanazi’s “immaturity” and “ego” led to the army being deprived of information during the July unrest.
“There were indications from the police that the police were overwhelmed by what was happening. There was no co-operation whatsoever from the people responsible here [KZN]," Mapisa-Nqakula told the inquiry.
A lack of police resources contributed to the unrest, suspended national police commissioner Khehla Sitole told the commission in his testimony.
Sitole said that if there were to be another unrest situation in the province, police would be ready.