Democratic Alliance (DA) leader John Steenhuisen says he will not apologise for the election posters that were put up in Phoenix, north of Durban, amid criticism that his party is being insensitive and exploiting racial tension.
The posters read: “The ANC called you racists” and “The DA calls you heroes”.
The area has been a hotbed of racial tension since the looting and riots in July.
On Tuesday, the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal labelled the posters “shameful and fascist in nature”.
Steenhuisen, however, was adamant that his party was merely defending South Africans who stood up for the rule of law.
“The people are heroes. The people that are heroes are the South Africans that, when government retreated and Saps [South African Police Service] retreated, stood up and defended the rule of law, defended the Constitution, and defended their lives and livelihoods. Those are heroes.”
“I will call them heroes and I’ll continue to call them heroes because they did not retreat in the face of danger, they did not hide away like the Saps and [Police Minister] Bheki Cele’s people.”
Steenhuisen made these comments on the day that three men from Phoenix were back in court, facing charges of murder and attempted murder.
Dylan Govender, Ned Govender and Jeetendra Jaikissoon allegedly attacked five unarmed men as they walked down a road in Phoenix. More than 30 people were killed in Phoenix during the unrest in KwaZulu-Natal in July.
Steenhuisen denied he was calling these particular men heroes, despite the fact the election posters were put up in Phoenix. He also denied that the DA was perpetuating racial tension in the area, saying it was the ANC that called the Indian community in Phoenix “racist”.
“Everyone in the ANC painted that entire community with the same brush. Yes, there were vigilantes and the law must take its course. They’re not my heroes… The heroes in that situation [in Phoenix] are the South Africans that stood on the frontline.”
Although they were only seen in Phoenix, Steenhuisen denied that the posters were targeting the Indian community in that area.
“The heroes are black, white, Indian and coloured South Africans who stood up for the rule of law,” he said.
Steenhuisen added that stereotyping the Indian community in Phoenix as racist “fans racial tension far more than a poster does”.
The DA leader claimed the police in Phoenix had no capacity to stop the looting.
“As South Africans we should be terrified about the lack of ability of the South African Police Service to keep citizens safe.”
“I’m not going to retreat from the fact that any law-abiding South Africans that stand on the side of law and order, maintaining public order, and ensuring that the law is abided by, are heroes. Absolutely, they were heroes. The villains were the government, who let the people down by allowing [the unrest] to spiral out of control.”