Durban - POLICE in KwaZulu-Natal were allegedly asked to step down during the deadly riots in July that took place across KwaZulu-Natal and parts of Gauteng, which left over 300 people dead and caused billions in damages, according to Pietermaritzburg and Midlands Chamber of Commerce CE Melanie Veness yesterday.
Veness said the events that took place in July appeared to be an orchestrated hit because the rioters used the same modus operandi on all the shopping complexes or infrastructure systems that were destroyed.
She was speaking on day four of the South African Human Rights Commission's (SAHRC) hearing as part of its probe into the effects and causal factors behind the unrest which started shortly after the jailing of former president Jacob Zuma.
The commission's hearing started on Monday and began hearing victims of the unrest, from both Phoenix and Pietermaritzburg, who had suffered in some way from the so-called failed insurrection.
“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.
“People sat on the side of the road with their looted goods waiting for their transport.
“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.
“It was traumatic and devastating to stand there and look at the young people on the ground, thinking that is someone’s son. It could have been my son and they never went home. None of it was worth the lives that were lost,” she added.
The chamber’s CEO told advocate Lotz from the commission that political individuals in the province were in support of the mass looting that was going on.
“It was a while after the unrest that the premier called a meeting. I was very vocal and told them publicly that from the ground there was complicity. We were also told our local politicians were fine with the looting.
“They were not saying the looting was wrong. If you are not going to condemn what happened and you value the investment, you give some kind of reassurance to business and people. That still hasn’t happened,” Veness said.
Other witnesses that appeared on Thursday included the Durban Chamber of Commerce’s CEO Palesa Phili and representatives from the Private Security Industry Regulatory Authority (Prisa).
Phili said Durban’s chamber had experienced problems with crime long before the unrest began.
“When I talk about crime, I talk about those issues and challenges that were there, but nothing has been done with it. Here in eThekwini we have problems with the construction mafia.
“Businesses have frustrations with crime before they invest in Durban. A proposal was sent through to the premier about a year and a half ago. It was approved but the challenge of getting funding arose,” Phili said.
The private security industry had come under scrutiny for its role in the unrest and was investigated for allegedly lending guns to civilians during the unrest in Phoenix.
“The companies that were being investigated for their alleged role in the violence that engulfed Phoenix were KZN VIP Security, Royal Protection, Reaction Unit South Africa and Sealen Security,” said police spokesperson Lirandzu Themba.
Earlier this month, KZN VIP Protection Services had all the firearms that were confiscated returned to them.
The company approached the court last month to compel the state to disclose why it was keeping the firearms and to have the firearms returned.
When the matter was heard in court, the police agreed to and returned all of the firearms except two.
The remaining two were returned to the company after a court order was handed down.