With the country cut off after violent protests in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng, the country finds itself divided not only by class but also by racial lines as tensions were high in some communities affected by the violence. marauding.
Violent scenes that emerged particularly from Phoenix in KZN brought to the fore the issue of racism in the country and, somehow, revealed the façade of the South African rainbow nation.
Black people, especially, in the KZN found themselves at the end of abuse, racism, segregation, and their movements restricted by white and Indian vigilantes demanding proof of residence when they tried to access facilities in their areas.
Early in the outbreak of violent looting in KZN and Gauteng provinces, several government officials publicly called on communities to stand up and protect their malls and other facilities, unintentionally – if not deliberately, to legitimize the rapid start of stop and search groups that have effectively taken over the security duties of their communities.
Yesterday, Police Minister Bheki Cele visited Phoenix and other communities in Durban affected by looting and violence. Cele and officials from KwaZulu-Natal also went to Bhambayi, Amaoti and Zwelisha to ensure calm is restored.
“I was told that 25 people had been killed, but after visiting the areas, I was told that there could be more people who were killed during the racial tension and crime that took place in this place. People (blacks) told me they are not able to go to the Phoenix mortuary to collect or identify the bodies of their loved ones so they can bury them, ”Cele said.
Meanwhile, The Sunday Independent spoke to at least two people in the KZN who recounted their trials at the hands of racist vigilante groups. The couple, who are essential workers, asked for anonymity for fear of retaliation while detailing their plight experiences.
A health practitioner said she moved away from white areas simply because she was black when she was simply looking for fuel to go to her workplace where she works with Covid-19 patients.
“All the garages were dry around Pietermaritzburg. Next, I moved to Morse, near Grace, as I had worked in the area in the past. Before I got there, there were a lot of white people blocking the road and controlling the traffic. I tried to cross a robot and I saw a lot of them carrying baseball bats and safety sticks as if they were ready for war. They kept asking me where I was going. I explained that I was looking for gasoline. I was told I should turn around, they don’t “I don’t need it my type in the area, and only residents were allowed to be in the area, “she said.
“If you live here, you have to try it. We don’t serve black people. I was very hurt and I didn’t argue; I just darted back and left,” she said.
Her ugly experience didn’t end there. The next day, she left again, trying to find fuel to go to work. This time, clad in her nursing uniform, she found herself in a garage in Mkhondeni. There was a line for essential workers, but gasoline was ready as soon as it came to the pump.
“Then we were told to go to another garage nearby. After spending two hours in the queue there, when I was ready to be assisted, a group of colorful men arrived, and entered the shop, talked to the managers, and asked why they were they are helping black people in their area because we will create problems for them. Then the attendees said there is no petrol and we should all leave, “she said.
“When we tried to make sure who they were, they said they don’t want to talk to black people, they’re not asking us, but we have to leave. This thing of racism is a concern, and as things continue to unfold, the country you will understand what life was like during apartheid, “she said.
Another person, CEO of the company, expressed his pain when he walked away from a shop and told black people they are not welcome.
Mandla Mguni of Pietermaritzburg said that what happened in Phoenix evoked painful memories of life during apartheid.
“I never thought I would find myself in a situation where I see people being asked to produce proof of residence to move. I really thought apartheid was over and we were healing the divisions of the past and building a rainbow nation. We are clearly lying. ourselves. This country is still racist, “Mguni said.
Cele, a prominent government figure in an attempt to stem tensions, elaborated: “We have no reason to kill people, now we have to agree on a few things, things that went wrong if they went wrong need to be corrected, someone committed an offense, and that person needs to be held accountable. “
The four communities that visited Cele all complained about the lack of visibility of the police in their area which led to people taking matters into their own hands.
Cele replied: “Yes, things could have been better. As a government, we have to take out our microscope and find out what was wrong, and people have to account at every level. If that wrong was at a certain level, from the ministry to a constable, let the responsibility take place, ”he said.
Cele added that a sense of insecurity has led communities that were feeling vulnerable to take responsibility for protecting their families, “that there is nothing wrong”.
“What could have been wrong,” Cele explained, “is that (if) it didn’t happen in the framework of the law. South African law agrees that the police can and should work with the communities, those structures must work within the law and be supported by the police.There are things that can only be done by the police or civil arrest, If you are a good citizen.If you break the law, become a criminal, war for you. “
President Ramaphosa also made a U-turn on his initial assertion that the riots were ethnically motivated when he spoke to the media during his visit to the KZN on Friday. He promised to bring in the book a dozen alleged instigators that authorities claim are behind the orchestrated week of looting, destruction of commercial property and the deaths of at least 212.
Sankarist David Letsoalo said: “A situation where groups are allowed to assume law enforcement initiatives will likely create fertile ground for racial tensions due to the realities of apartheid spatial planning. Such situations will inevitably raise vigilance.
“It also gives racists in such communities an opportunity and an excuse to spark their frustrations and racial hatred under the pretext of defending lives, livelihoods, children and property. The situation we have now is putting the police in f ‘an awkward position because it won’t make sense to set up these community advocacy groups when you can’t protect them. “
Political analyst Dr Ralph Mathekga said he is worried about vigilance in communities, but he attributed this to the failure of the state. He said the government needs to redeem itself and be able to be present.
“We don’t want vigilance. Communities should protect themselves by organizing themselves in a way that shares information with the police. It shouldn’t be about the community protecting themselves and not taking the law into their own hands. The government needs to understand that they happen simply because state institutions are not present through the police, “he said.
Professor Siphamandla Zondi said vigilance always begins as the citizens concerned seek to defend the peace of their areas from the failure of the law enforcement that assures them.
“In this case, the failure of the police to anticipate and stop many cases of looting all could anticipate the port and warehouses were most evident. But also in communities where people see as little boys caused chaos they were forced to take a stand.But the process, we saw an extra reaction because civilians are not trained for the police and anger boils over, “he said.
Zondi added that racial tension between Africans and Indians, especially in Durban, has been an issue that has long existed and is beginning every time.
“At its core is competition for poor resources. We must expand socio-economic opportunities by dealing with attitudes and prejudices at the same time. These are characteristics of a national question that remains unresolved in this country,” he said. Probe.
A senior researcher for the crime and justice program at the Institute for Security Studies (ISS), Johan Burger, said protecting the property and its lives was not necessarily an act of vigilance, but vigilance action is taken when those involved resort to illegal action such as “as we have seen in some video images where alleged looters were caught and assaulted”.
“There are also reported incidents of shooting at and killing alleged looters, which would be completely illegal if shooters or others in their immediate vicinity have not faced direct threats of serious bodily harm, including the threat of killing , “Burger said.
He said he did not believe vigilance was on the rise at this stage but admitted they did not have enough research to state it as a fact.
“We must not, however, rely on incidents of possible vigilance action during widespread violence, destruction and looting over the past few days to try to determine a trend. I am convinced that as far as violence and public looting is reduced, we will see a proportionate reduction in related incidents of vigilance.