Activist Sham Maharaj, in blue T-shirt, testifies before the SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) panel about the Phoenix massacre. Screengrab: Jehran Naidoo
Activist Sham Maharaj, in blue T-shirt, testifies before the SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) panel about the Phoenix massacre. Screengrab: Jehran Naidoo

Phoenix killings during July unrest was not a massacre – activist Sham Maharaj tells SAHRC panel

By Jehran Naidoo Time of article published Nov 16, 2021

Share this article:

Durban - Despite several attempts by the SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) panel to convince the first witness for the day, Sham Maharaj, to see that the violent events in Phoenix during the July unrest where 36 people died was in fact a massacre, it was to no avail.

Maharaj, who on numerous occasions stated that he was an activist since the 1970s, said the incidents that unfolded in July were “killings and not a massacre. But if you want to call it that, then okay”.

The commission said Maharaj showed a lack of concern for the victims who died during the unrest.

He maintained that the media played a negative role in the unrest, by pushing false narratives about the area and using images that had nothing to do with what was going on in Phoenix. He also said politicians used the unrest to push their own agendas.

Day two of the SAHRC hearing into the July unrest kicked off at the Gateway Hotel in Umhlanga, north of Durban, where Maharaj, a member of the Phoenix Ubuntu Forum, gave his account as to what transpired in Phoenix.

Maharaj testified on what he witnessed first hand and saw circulating on social media spaces about the Phoenix area, particularly regarding July 12, 13 and 14.

When the riots broke out on July 12, the long-time activist said community members from his area formed a group of about 50 people – all men of Indian descent. He said the group was formed out of fear and concerns for their families and property.

“I saw images and videos of an attempt to rob a bottle store but the vigilante group burnt the taxi, in Stanmore, Phoenix. Someone was lying on the floor, what looked like a male. I have the video. The kombi they were in was torched. My group looked at the video and wondered what was going on. People hoped it didn't come to our area.

“People were allegedly seen, from the Amaoti area in northern Phoenix, marching out of Amaoti into Brookdale. The video shows people jumping into yards and being chased away by old ladies with sticks. Amaoti and Brookdale are separated by a stream of water,” he added.

“I think responsible media should report facts and verify them. Facts were unverified but still put out to the media. The media reported that ’Phoenix was on fire’ but showed images of Cornubia,” Maharaj said.

Maharaj agreed with the panel that the conduct of the vigilante groups formed was against human rights. Maharaj said the crux of the problem was the inequality between the groups of people, particularly between Phoenix residents and residents from the surrounding areas, like Amaoti, Bhambayi and Zwelitsha.

He believes Phoenix, to some extent, was scapegoated for the July unrest as underlying reasons such as poverty, inequality and high levels of unemployment were the real causes of the riots.

[email protected]

Political Bureau

Share this article: