20 confirmed dead in Phoenix as racial tensions simmer
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Durban - Police Minister Bheki Cele on Thursday confirmed that the death toll in the north Durban township of Phoenix now sits at 20 with the number likely to rise as there were still some people reported as missing.
Cele was addressing members of the media and the Phoenix community on Thursday amidst growing reports of racial tensions between Indians and Africans in the area in the wake of reports of racially motivated violence.
Violence has engulfed the predominantly Indian community as armed community members have taken it upon themselves to defend the community, blockading entrance points and reportedly refusing black Africans from entering the township.
There have also been numerous unconfirmed reports of members of the community of Indian descent allegedly stopping cars driven by Africans to racially profile them, and in some cases, allegedly shoot them and burn their vehicles.
However, Cele was at pains on Thursday to downplay the reports of simmering racial tensions between the two race groups in the areas, insisting that the police’s main focus in the Phoenix was criminality.
This despite Cele on Wednesday having visited the area and told the media that the problem of the standoff between Africans and Indian South Africans in Phoenix needed to be stopped.
“People have lost their lives. We have lost 15 people here (and) police will have to work on that. People that murder people will have to be arrested. There can be no compromise.
“Those who were killed are still in the mortuary around here, and their families are being prevented from coming to identify their loved ones. Those are the things that we need to correct,” he said during Wednesday evening’s visit to Phoenix.
However, on Thursday Cele said that the element of racism in the area was only secondary to criminality.
“We are running criminality in this community. I refuse to completely take the situation here as a racial situation and pardon criminality because if it were (a) racial situation, yes, many people coming from Zwelisha died, but they were very much comrades in stealing.
“There are people that raided these shops from Phoenix. There are people that raided these shops from these other communities, your Zwelisha and Bambayi.
“They have been comrades there in stealing. For me, the domination here would be criminality. If there is that element of racism, it would be secondary to criminality. We are running criminality in this community,” Cele said.
Action SA President Herman Mashaba said that the declaration of a State of Emergency in eThekwini was a drastic but necessary step to fight the runaway criminality in the area whilst avoiding a wholesale limitation of residents' rights across KZN.
“Recently, the community of Phoenix was reported as a war zone with dead bodies, armed community militia and the torching of cars in streets. On social media, there are reports of videos showing bodies scattered on the streets of Phoenix – the authenticity of which is unverified.
“Equally concerning are the growing reports of racial tensions among community members in the city. According to reports, communities are allegedly targeting specific racial groups in alleged pre-emptive protection of their properties. These racialised tensions have spilt over onto social media, further stoking the fires of abhorrent racism,” Mashaba said.
Thulani Zulu, Coordinator of the Xubera KZN Solutions, said cordial and harmonious race relations between the different races in the country were significant for the progression of South African society.
“For as long as we are living under one roof, we will always be intertwined, and we will always depend on each other. This inequality with racial dynamics around it, which is in South Africa, is already showing that people end up moving from their places to other areas to steal because they are actually trying to survive,” Zulu said.