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

Peace talks useless until Phoenix residents admit what they did - July unrest victim tells SAHRC

By Jehran Naidoo Time of article published Nov 16, 2021

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Durban - Although he went through indescribable trauma during the July unrest in the Phoenix area, Chris Biyela showed composure and told the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) that social cohesion can only take place when the Indian people responsible for the violent acts admitted to what they did.

Biyela, witness number 2 at the SAHRC hearing on the July unrest, gave a graphic account on Tuesday of what he experienced on July 12, 13 and 14.

In the many years before the unrest and violent riots ensued, relations between the black and Indian communities of Phoenix appeared to be fairly stable, Biyela said, but on the night of July 12, society took a turn for the worse, as he was stopped for no reason on Stoneham Road in Phoenix, dragged out of his car, beaten up and called the K-word.

On Monday night, at around 7.30pm, Biyela said: “I was on my way home from a clinic and I experienced a group of Indian people in different areas. There were two cars that were on fire on the Phoenix highway. On my way I was stopped by a group of Indian people on Stoneham Road. I was searched harshly and they took my car keys and started smashing my car and manhandling me out of my car. They said racist words and insulted me.

“They stopped me and came straight to my door. They harshly asked me to come out and grabbed the keys and pulled me by my jacket. They started opening doors and looking under the seats. One of them knew me and said ’I know this guy’. And that is how I escaped.”

“I saw one guy carrying a gun but he did not discharge. My car was damaged in the process.

“They say ’you people killed our people in 1949 and today is our turn’. Everything was happening viciously. I was alone in the car. I didn’t know what happened in 1949, but when I read (about it) I found out that there was a historical grudge with Indians and black people,” Biyela told the commission.

Biyela opened up about how later that night, when he got home, he had to search for two of his missing neighbours who had gone to get petrol but never returned. The search continued until the next day, when Biyela’s neighbours were located - one at the Gandhi hospital and the other at Inanda Clinic.

When the turbulent waters had receded, Biyela said Police Minister Bheki Cele did not show much concern and went to Phoenix first instead of Bhambayi and the other areas where black people were killed, which angered him.

“On July 16, minister Bheki Cele came to Phoenix. The community complained as to why the minister was visiting Phoenix when not one Indian person was killed. Only black people were killed. After two days, the minister came to Bhambayi. The community told him about the gruesomeness that was done by the Indian community.

“Prior to unrest, it wasn’t bad between Phoenix and Bhambayi residents. Although there were stories of what Indians did to black people, however, those incidents would not push us to such hate that we have now towards Indians,” Biyela said.

Despite the trauma, and after much deliberation, Biyela concurred with the commission when it said that not all Indians were racist because of the actions of some and, likewise, that not all black South Africans were “looters” or criminals because of the actions of some.

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Political Bureau

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