President Cyril Ramaphosa says the deadly unrest that engulfed KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng two weeks ago, had a huge impact on the cohesion of communities, particularly in Phoenix – north of Durban – where racial tensions were sparked by the violence.
Ramaphosa, in his weekly newsletter on Monday, said “there is still much we have to unearth about the events that took place over the course of the last two weeks”, which has resulted in the murders of 20 people in the area.
The president said the events in Phoenix were a painful reminder of how much work still needed to be done to build inclusive communities.
“During some of the worst unrest in our democracy, and in a climate already thick with suspicion and paranoia, people that had lived side-by-side in relative peace turned on each other,” Ramaphosa said.
He said the proliferation of fake news and incorrect information made it difficult to separate fact from fiction about the violence in the predominantly Indian community.
“But we do know from official reports and personal accounts that people were racially profiled at illegal roadblocks, some people were pulled out of cars and beaten, and some were humiliated and degraded. Several people were killed,” Ramaphosa said.
Ramaphosa said much of what happened was the inevitable outcome of people taking the law into their own hands.
He said law-enforcement agencies were investigating all acts of criminality, including the murders, and those arrested would face the full might of the law.
“Vigilantism will not be tolerated in this country. It is criminal and it is dangerous.”
The president said much of the narrative around the events in Phoenix were dominated by attempts to turn one race against another, but this would not succeed because South Africa had a proud history of principled non-racialism and working-class solidarity.
“It has been stoked by anonymous people on social media and in messaging groups, making outrageous claims and calling for revenge. There is an attempt to present this as a sign of imploding race relations between African and Indian communities.
“Just as there were people who tried to exploit people’s vulnerability and cause mayhem, there are those who want to present criminal acts in racial terms to serve their own purposes.”
‘We need to confront racism’
Ramaphosa said as a country, South Africa needed to confront racism in our society.
“We need to have honest conversations not only about our attitudes to one another, but also about the material conditions that divide us.
“For as long as the division of wealth and opportunity in South Africa is largely still determined by race and gender, we will not be able to build a truly united nation,” he said.
“The events in Phoenix are a painful reminder of how much work we still need to do to build inclusive communities that have successfully broken down the boundaries of the past. These events also demonstrate how determined some people are to divide us, and how we need to do everything we can to resist them.
“It is our collective responsibility to support these communities in eThekwini and elsewhere in their journey towards reconciliation and healing.”