Two years after Phoenix violence, anger at government inaction

This comes as two brothers are set to be sentenced in August

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Community members and relatives of the 36 people killed in Phoenix, Durban during the July unrest in 2021 attend a memorial service for the victims at the weekend. Photo: Nokulunga Majola

  • Families of the 36 people from Phoenix, who were killed during the civil unrest in July 2021, attended a memorial for the loved ones at the weekend.
  • Many of them said that the government has not done enough to help them get justice and other longer term aid.
  • This comes as two brothers from Phoenix, convicted for their involvement in an assault on a group of men from Amaoti during the height of the unrest, are set to be sentenced in August.

It’s been two years since the July 2021 unrest and the violent deaths of 36 people in Phoenix, Durban but many parents and relatives of the victims say they are yet to see justice.

Phoenix came under national scrutiny during the July unrest when vigilantism was blamed for the 36 deaths. The unrest in KwaZulu-Natal was characterised by violent attacks, looting, destruction of property and the disruption of economic activity. In Phoenix, community members armed themselves to protect their businesses and properties.

The “Phoenix massacre”, as it is known by the community, caused serious tension between Indian and Black South Africans.

On Saturday 22 July 2023, residents and relatives of the victims attended a memorial in their honour. The prayer service was held at the Etafuleni Cemetery in Inanda where some of the victims are buried.

Some speakers at the event said they believed that the government had not done enough to ensure that the 2021 unrest victims in the Phoenix adequately got closure and justice.

“People lost a lot, some lost their loved ones while others are disabled and cannot work anymore. It’s a sad situation as they have lost all hope that the government will help them,” said Zithobile Matyhobo from community organisation Peace and Light, which led the service.

Peace and Light was set up last year specifically to help the victims of the violence in 2021 because they saw the need in the community.

Matyhobo told attendees that the organisation has been working hard to assist the victims and their families, but it is not enough.

“The organisation and the committee that was appointed to assist with social cohesion [in Phoenix] did everything that the government asked us to do, including submitting a database of all the victims. But when it was time to assist them, they came up with excuses that there was a reshuffle in leadership which caused delays,” said Matyhobo.

“We do everything in our power to help them, but we have limited resources. For those who are disabled and cannot work, we referred them to social workers for assistance but nothing came of it … All we want is for the relevant departments to help these victims rebuild their lives,” said Matyhobo.

One grieving father, Wonderboy Caluza, said he is heartbroken after losing his 18-year-old son, Sandile Caluza, during the unrest in Phoenix. Sandile was the eldest of three siblings. His father described him as a God-fearing child who loved school.

According to Caluza, Sandile went missing on 12 July 2021, but was only found three days later at the state mortuary with stab and gunshot wounds. He said the lack of support from the government has made it difficult for their family to get closure and justice.

“It still hurts. I don’t think anything can take away the pain we feel for losing him in such a horrific manner. It is unfortunate that government has not done anything for the victims of the unrest. Many businesses were compensated but we only got food parcels.We need closure,” Caluza said.

Nonhlanhla Ndlovu of KwaMashu said her son, Mpilo Mthalane age 34 had died in Verulam. “I haven’t healed. Nothing is happening with my son’s case. I have been following up on it but there is nothing new, except that police are still investigating,” said Ndlovu.

She said Mpilo was shot on 9 July and died on 12 July, leaving behind a then seven-year-old son. “All we received was a voucher. We are asking for the government to compensate the victims of the Phoenix Massacre. It will show us that government cares. It will also help those who lost their jobs because of disability and those whose cars got burnt to get back on their feet,” Ndlovu said.

Phoenix brothers face sentencing next month

Meanwhile, the sentencing of two Phoenix brothers, Dylan and Ned Govender, is expected to happen at the High Court in Durban on 4 August. In May 2023, the pair were found guilty of attempted murder and assault with intent to cause grievous bodily harm.

However, the judge found that the state did not prove its case with regard to the murder of 19-year-old Mondli Majola. Majola had been walking with three others to Cornubia Mall near Amaoti township around the time of the unrest when they were accosted by armed members of the Phoenix community, including the accused. Dylan was found to have hit Majola with the butt of his knife, while Ned hit Majola with a pick handle, the court had heard.

The National Prosecuting Authority’s regional spokesperson Natasha Ramkisson-Kara confirmed that the accused’s bail of R15,000 each has been extended.

Government’s slow response

The South African Human Rights Commission has said its report on the hearings following the unrest is due to be finalised soon. The hearings took place in November 2021, where many people gave harrowing accounts of being attacked by mostly Indian residents from Phoenix.

According to the Commission, the scope of the hearing was to determine the loss of life, the targeting of key infrastructure like schools and transport systems as well as how the unrest worsened inequality, poverty, and food insecurity in the community.

“The Commission reached out to those who made submissions during the hearings to clarify and add missing information, which includes the correct spelling of names and addresses, CAS numbers of those who opened cases with SAPS, [all] to ensure that the testimonies were captured correctly. It became necessary to visit the communities in person as not all of them have access to email, and some telephone numbers had changed,” the commission said.

Officials at the provincial arts and culture department were tasked with restoring community cohesion after the Phoenix killings. Head of Communication Nathi Olifant said, “The Department is in contact with some of the families. Please kindly be apprised that due to [the variety of] cultural and customs … of each families’ way of life, the matter needed further consultation over the use of public funds to accommodate such needs.

“We will further communicate with the concerned families due to the privacy and dignity that some families require this process to be handled with. Kindly note that the process is not intended to be a public spectacle.”

TOPICS:  Unrest: July 2021

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