Police Minister Bheki Cele has assembled a team of ten detectives to investigate the deaths of 20 people that are believed to be linked to criminal and vigilante acts in Phoenix, northwest of Durban.
This follows racial tensions in the predominantly Indian community that were sparked by the recent wave of rampant looting and violent unrest in parts of KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng.
According to the police ministry, 80 public order police officers have also been deployed to assist local police and will work together with members of the South African National Defence Force to keep all residents and property safe.
On Saturday, Cele returned to Phoenix to engage with residents and urged them not to allow criminal elements to highjack their efforts of trying to protect themselves.
This was after residents complained about the role of some private security companies as well as policing shortcomings being some of the elements fuelling the instability in the area. The racial tensions are between the Indian community of Phoenix and the neighbouring settlements of Bhambayi, Umaoti and Zwelisha.
Cele also said he agreed with some community members that the acts of violence were just not criminal and could be motivated by the racial tensions.
“Residents have the right to defend themselves within the law, but if we hear that people are being racially profiled at roadblocks set up in the area where people are trying to access Phoenix – including police are being intimidated – violated and in extreme cases people are being beaten up, and their cars are searched and torched – is simply criminal and won’t be tolerated,” Cele said in a statement.
“Police will not negotiate with criminals. Those who commit these criminal acts will be found and dealt with regardless of who they are and where they come from,” he added.
The minister asked the communities to develop a list of people who are reportedly missing.
He also urged residents of the area to form a community grouping that would work with police at district level to rebuild relations and bring about peace and social cohesion.
“The district commissioner of the area has been tasked to assemble a ‘peace committee’ made up of community representatives who will work towards addressing racial tensions and crime challenges in Phoenix and neighbouring settlements.
“The team of investigators will also focus their work on the alleged involvement of the local South African Police Service members and private security companies in the violence in the area.”