Phoenix victims want justice

A meeting held at the Gandhi settlement in Bhambayi on Friday revealed that people are still struggling to make sense of what happened during the unrest last month. Photo by Nokulunga Majola

Victims of Phoenix vigilantes want justice.

While the dust is beginning to settle after the unrest which gripped KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng last month, many people still have unanswered questions but most importantly, want justice. 51-year-old Hleleyazi Cele from Bhambayi, north of Durban, says he is still in shock and wants answers as to why he was attacked on 13 July.

He was on his way to the Phoenix post office around 6pm as he was going to spend the night there to beat the queue the next morning when he got shot. “I was crossing the road that divides Bhambayi and Phoenix when I heard people shouting and screaming and the next thing I remember, I was running for my life after hearing gun shots,” said Cele.

He said when he got home he managed to get a neighbour with a car to take him to the nearest clinic where he was told to go to Addington Hospital. Unfortunately without the petrol to drive him that far, the driver of the vehicle told him they had to return home. “Luckily, the bullet grazed me and my neighbours all came to help me clean up the wound beneath my knee and they gave me different tablets and medication to help me with the pain,” Cele said.

The violent protests, riots and looting rocked South Africa in July for more than a week, leaving more than 300 dead and hundreds of businesses destroyed according to media reports. During the unrest, groups of Indian residents in Phoenix and surrounding areas formed vigilante groups to “protect their property” by setting up illegal roadblocks and burned tyres to prevent access to their areas. It is alleged that they were armed with semiautomatic rifles, machetes and pistols among other weapons.

Even though it has been over a month, Cele and others are still traumatised about what they went through during that week. The victims, their families and community members from Bhambayi, with the Peace Committee, Community Policing Forum and other structures, held a meeting on Thursday in Phoenix to discuss a way forward.

At the meeting, people spoke about how the unrest affected them and how the families of the injured victims that are currently receiving treatment in different hospitals are struggling as many of the victims are breadwinners. Making their ordeal worse are Covid-19 restrictions that prevent them from seeing their loved ones.

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Ntombizodwa Makubung, whose husband Bongani Makubung is at Albert Luthuli Memorial Hospital after he was brutally attacked in Phoenix on 12 July, said things have been hard since she is unemployed. Her husband has been in hospital for over a month now and she has not been able to see him. “I only talk to him on the phone and he tells me about the progress and everything that he has been going through. We miss him so much and it is difficult without him at home,” said Makubung.

Bongani was attacked while he was travelling with his friend after going into different areas to look for petrol. He said they started in Avoca and then went to Gateway but found the filling stations everywhere were closed or closing so they couldn’t get petrol.

“As we were headed home around 2pm, we decided to go through Phoenix as Bhambayi is on the other side; we were first stopped by a group of people in Stanmore and they checked the car and they let us go. We then passed another roadblock where another group of men stopped us for a search. After they were done, I heard a loud bang as they were breaking the windows and hitting the car. I drove off to get away from them,” Bongani said.

He said they continued driving with the car seriously damaged and encountered another group manning a roadblock. “It was by the garage on the Phoenix Highway where we were stopped and they started beating us with everything from sticks, to bush knives, anything you can think of. I remember hearing my arm break as I was trying to defend myself but there were just too many, I still don’t understand why they beat us up like that,” said Bongani.

His arm and leg were broken and he sustained many bruises all over his body. He has undergone surgery and will undergo another to fix some broken bones. “I am still traumatised and I don’t think therapy will do any difference. What makes me more angry is the fact that no police officer has come to take my statement, so how are they investigating my case without listening to my side of the story?” Bongani asked.

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His wife said that his work vehicle was set alight during the incident. “We don’t have any income, I have three kids that we have to take care of and I am unemployed. Without that car, he cannot work and the insurance wants R11,000 for assessment which is money we don’t have. We want justice for all victims, we want everything that happened to be investigated,” said Makubung.

Bhambayi township where three people died and 25 were injured during the unrest. Photo by Mzi Velapi

Speaking at the meeting, member of the Peace Committee, Blessing Nyoni said they want the eThekwini Municipality to fast-track the issue of the people who have lost their families and have not been able to bury them or receive any assistance. “We need to be updated on everything. We are tired of people coming here to talk about problems but not coming up with solutions. People want justice for what happened,” Nyoni said.

She said social cohesion must start with the community. According to her, in Bhambayi, three people died during the unrest with 25 injured. She said they have four missing persons cases of people who could be alive or dead. “We have ten vehicles that were reported damaged or torched during the unrest. These are the numbers we have so far but people are still coming to us with details and we encourage them to go to the police station first to open a case. People are angry, they want justice and restitution. We need solutions as we have people who are now unemployed as a result of their injuries, some are disabled, they need assistance in applying for disability grants, UIF and other things,” said Nyoni.

During a media briefing at the beginning of the month in Inanda, Police Minister Bheki Cele said the blocking of the roads gave birth to the “heinous criminal and racist incidents that resulted in brutal killings and injuries, horrendous damage to property, and untold pain and trauma”.

He said 36 people died in Phoenix during the unrest and 36 people have been arrested so far. On Sunday, Cele visited Bhambayi, Amaoti, Zwelisha and Phoenix to update the communities on progress police are making in investigating the Phoenix murders.

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