Police Minister Bheki Cele has confirmed that 15 people have been killed in Phoenix, north Durban, this week following racial tensions sparked by public violence and the looting of shopping centres and outlets in KwaZulu-Natal.
Cele on Wednesday evening, along with members of the South African Police Service (Saps) and the South African National Defence Force (SANDF), descended on the predominantly Indian area after several reports of racially motivated attacks in the area and surrounding communities such as Zwelisha.
Cele confirmed that racial tensions between black citizens and members of the Indian community appeared to be fueled by some armed residents who formed vigilante groups to defend private property and shops from being looting.
“It has taken a serious racial connotation which is going to be a problem in the medium and long term, and we really have to work hard on reversing that. We can’t allow the racial tensions that have been witnessed here,” Cele told Newzroom Afrika.
He said the tensions in the area needed to be defused in order to de-escalate the situation. He also called for dialogue among community members to stop the ongoing violence.
“The problem of the standoff here is between Africans and Indian South Africans that needs to be stopped. People have lost their lives, we have lost 15 people here [and] police will have to work on that. People that murder people will have to be arrested. There can be no compromise.
“Those who were killed are still in the mortuary around here and their [families] are being prevented from coming to identify their loved ones. Those are the things that we need to correct.”
The minister also said police were monitoring the Mobeni area after they discovered rounds of live ammunition that were looted.
On Tuesday afternoon, hundreds of armed rioters stormed the bridge that runs over a small river that separates the two communities and allegedly opened fire in the predominantly Indian area.
Desperate residents posted frantic pleas for help and backup on several WhatsApp neighbourhood watch groups as rioters threw stones and stormed their properties. Residents who spoke to The Citizen anonymously recounted harrowing threats made by the marauders.
“They said they would burn our families in our homes,” said a mother of two, who instructed her children aged between 4 and 14 years, to hide.
Angry Zwelisha community members had stormed Shastri Park after local authorities instructed community patrollers to remove their makeshift barricades. Shastri Park community members say the attacks took place soon after the barricades were removed.
“Our husbands and brothers are in the frontlines trying to guard the entrance to the area, and they are not even properly armed. They are carrying spades and bush knives,” said the mother.
Shastri Park community elders had met with the local chiefs in Zwelisha on Monday and agreed that there would be no violence between the two communities.
Additional reporting by Narissa Subramoney. Compiled by Thapelo Lekabe.