/ 3 August 2021

Phoenix killings: 22 suspects held

Safrica Unrest Politics Economy Vigilantes
Armed community members gather around a fire to keep warm at a road block set up in Phoenix Township, North Durban, on July 15, 2021 to prevent looters from reaching the community. (Photo by GUILLEM SARTORIO / AFP)

Police have arrested 22 people for 36 murders committed in Phoenix in north Durban during the week of violence and looting that swept KwaZulu-Natal and parts of Gauteng last month.

They have also seized 152 weapons from four security companies operating in the area and have sent them for forensic testing to establish whether they were used in any of the murders, the bulk of which were carried out by vigilantes manning roadblocks.

At a media briefing held in neighbouring Inanda on Tuesday, Police Minister Bheki Cele said the 22 suspects, 18 of them Indian, were appearing in court on charges of murder and 52 counts of attempted murder.

Cele said 33 of the 36 people killed were Africans from Amaoti, Bhambayi, Inanda and other areas around Phoenix who had been attacked by vigilantes manning roadblocks set up in response to the looting and arson attacks around the city.

Some 342 people were killed in the looting and arson in the two provinces, which the government has characterised as an attempted insurrection sparked by the jailing of former president Jacob Zuma on contempt of court charges for refusing to return to the Zondo commission probing state capture.

The attacks cost KwaZulu-Natal alone more than R2.1-billion in damage to infrastructure

The provincial government has applied to the national disaster management centre to have a state of disaster declared and allow it to reprioritise budgets towards repairing state infrastructure.

Cele said a 31-member detective team had made the arrests in Phoenix and recovered 112 illegal firearms in raids in the area. The team would continue its work until those arrested were brought to trial, he added. The investigative team was also probing the role of gun shops in the area in providing weapons to vigilantes.

Cele said a peace committee had been set up including representatives from Bhambayi, Zwelisha, Amaoti, Inanda and Phoenix and had helped the police and the families of murder victims in identifying their remains, in addition to stabilising the area.

Cele said the public perception of the crimes that were committed in Phoenix had been worsened by misinformation, which had a “dire impact” on events that took place there. He said another of the “big fish” believed to have instigated the week of chaos had been arrested and was expected to appear in court soon.