Durban - A South African Police Service (SAPS) station commander from the Phoenix Police station, just north of Durban, and an investigator from the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC), Advocate Buang Jones, were locked in an exchange of words on Friday during the commission’s inspection in loco.
Jones and Brigadier BM Zondi were in a dispute over whether or not the commission was allowed to ask police officers or Zondi any questions regarding the incidents that unfolded during the July unrest in Phoenix, where around 36 lives were lost in areas like Phoenix, Amaoti and Bhambayi.
The visit to the police station formed part of the SAHRC investigation into the causes and effects of the unrest, which kicked off on Monday at the Gateway Hotel in Umhlanga. Various testimonies were given before the commission, including those of victims, community activists and business chamber CEOs.
The SAHRC, together with the help of Chris Biyela, a witness who testified at the hearing this week, walked through six sites where barricades were put up by community members as part of their defence against the protesters who had ransacked shops and malls.
Video: Jehran Naidoo/IOL Politics
An inspection was done outside the Shell garage in Eastbury, Phoenix, where Monday’s witness Thulani Mseleku experienced his ordeal when the violent riots had consumed parts of the province and parts of Gauteng.
Biyela led the commission to the sixth barricade on the Phoenix highway, where black South Africans were allegedly racially profiled and attacked. This was just outside the Phoenix police station.
“I was reminding you of your obligation as a state official because the act makes it a mandate for organs of state to afford the commission the necessary co-operation in order to effectively discharge our mandate.
“This is the first time we’ve interacted with a station commander and as part of our mandate we have to engage with the police in pursuance of our objectives. This is a courtesy visit, there are many visits of this nature that we conduct without notifying the police,” Jones told Zondi.
Zondi replied to Jones saying that he was not mandated to speak to the commission or the media and said that he was not notified by his superiors of the inspection.
“I take instructions from my provincial commissioner, coming down to my district commissioner who would have said look, prepare these documents because the Human Rights Commission is coming there. He gives me the mandate to talk to you, otherwise I am flouting protocol,” Zondi told Jones.
More than 300 people died as a result of the violence during unrest in July, which also saw mass acts of criminality and looting taking place across KZN, causing billions of rand in damages, further hindering the state's ability to provide services as municipal infrastructure was destroyed.
Major shopping complexes, business supply warehouses and even chemical factories were set alight by rioters during the so-called “free Jacob Zuma” protest.
CEO of the Pietermaritzburg and Midlands Chamber of Commerce, Melanie Veness, testified before the commission on Thursday that the police were instructed to stand down during the unrest. Veness represents the views of around 700 business.
“I tend to speak to people like the brigadiers and captains; I have their cellphone numbers and there was no response. They had teargas but weren't allowed to use it themselves. We were alone helplessly watching this stuff unfold. The looting went on for days,” Veness, said on Thursday.
“The hardest fact is that it was orchestrated. To see how people damaged water systems, pulled the line out of the ceilings, burnt the place,” Veness said, adding that the rioters spray painted derogatory slurs about President Cyril Ramaphosa on walls and cars around the CBD.