Phoenix community members demand bail for murder accused

Community members protesting outside Verulam magistrate court for justice of the murder accused. Photo by Nokulunga Majola

The death in custody of a man accused of murder sparked demonstrations in support of the detainees awaiting trial for crimes committed during the Phoenix massacre.

A second placard demonstration calling for bail for all the accused in the July unrest killings in Phoenix was held at the Verulam Magistrate’s Court on Monday. This comes after the death of one of the Phoenix accused, Jeethendra Jaikissoon (29) who passed away while in custody on Friday at King Edward Hospital, after falling ill at the Westville prison where he was being held while awaiting trial.

The first demonstration was held on Saturday at the Phoenix police station, a day after Jaikissoon’s death. These Phoenix community members say it is unfair that the accused have spent 90 days in prison without the option of bail. They are also not happy with the information provided by the Department of Correctional Services (DCS) regarding Jaikissoon’s death.    

A statement issued by the DCS states that Jaikissoon was transferred from the prisons’ Durban management area to King Edward Hospital after complaining about difficulty breathing and chest pains. Spokesperson, Singabakho Nxumalo said a detailed investigation will be launched, starting with the autopsy report to determine the cause of his death. He further sent the department’s condolences to the family of the deceased.

The Palmview resident was among 31 people arrested and awaiting trial in connection with the violence that took place in Phoenix when people turned vigilante in the name of protecting their community. Jaikissoon, as well as brothers Ned and Dylan Govender, was awaiting trial in connection with the death of Mondli Majola during the July unrest. The trio all face charges of murder and attempted murder. Last week during court proceedings, his lawyer, Chris Gounden argued that CCTV footage of the incident showed that Jaikissoon had not harmed Majola. The state countered that he acted in common purpose with the other accused.

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Jaikissoon was described as someone who was a humble, fun-loving person.

He took ill after his court appearance in the Verulam Magistrate’s Court on Wednesday. Community members claim the deceased was deprived of his right to receive medical treatment. They claim the incarceration, the back-and-forth court appearances and not eating properly took its toll on Jaikissoon’s health. He was on chronic medication for diabetes and hypertension and his wife, Rashnee said they had brought him antibiotics at the prison hospital but he never received this medication.

Logan Reddy, chairperson of the Redfern Residents and Ratepayers Association said if Jaikissoon and his co-accused were out on bail, he would have received proper medication. “We are concerned with the long period of incarceration of the accused without the option of bail. We as the community want to make a stance and insure that the accused get bail which is their constitutional rights,” Reddy said. He said the detainees engaged in a hunger strike, a claim the DCS spokesperson dispute. Nxumalo said countless allegations are being made with hope that they will start to sound true. “There is no hunger strike, no instability. Inmates continue with programmes and receive their meals and other amenities as per our operations.”

Families of the Phoenix accused are going through hard times as their breadwinners are sitting in jail. “We are not saying there shouldn’t be no trial, all we are saying is that they should be given bail and the law can take its course,” said Raeesa Ismal who has two family members who are incarcerated. “It has been traumatic for the family as we believe they are innocent because we feel they are not being given a fair chance. We are appealing to all bodies involved to grant them bail. We feel the court and the justice system is being trampled upon. We are not saying they should not face the law, we are just saying they should get bail, give them a fair chance and the trial will continue,” said Ismail. She said everybody knows what happened during the July unrest and the people who broke the law should be punished.

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One of the organisers of the detainee support demonstrations, Rafi Bux said the accused are detained without basic necessities. “We need immediate release of the accused. We feel they are not being treated fairly. Why haven’t they been given bail? There are serious crimes that are committed and yet people are given bail so why not the Phoenix accused. We are making an urgent appeal to every community in Durban to support the cause to have the detainees released on bail,” said Bux.

He said they will be sending a memorandum to all relevant bodies, the South African Human Rights Commission and all stakeholders to assist the families of the accused, who are still incarcerated without bail at Westville prison in what he labelled a racial attack.

The Jaikissoon family had called a media briefing on Tuesday to issue a statement but it was later cancelled as the family was too emotional to address the media.

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