eThekwini Mayor, Mxolisi Kaunda , has defended the Facebook posts he made in support of Jacob Zuma before and during the July civil unrest.
Testifying at the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) hearings into last year’s unrest, Kaunda said he does not believe his posts contributed to the incitement of violence.
Over 340 people died in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng last July with hundreds of businesses looted, torched or damaged.
In the city of Durban alone, over 45 000 businesses were affected with about R20 billion in revenue loss.
According to the SAHRC, the unrest was triggered by the sentencing of former President Zuma.
For much of Kaunda’s testimony on Monday, he was grilled by SAHRC commissioners about posts he made on his personal Facebook account in support of Zuma.
In his opening testimony, Kaunda told the commission that he was testifying in his capacity as a mayor and not a private citizen.
Kaunda said pre-emptively, “Admittedly there may very well be a grey area in distinguishing my utterances in my official capacity as opposed to my personal capacity.”
Kaunda told the commission that for much of the unrest he was at home isolating after testing positive for Covid-19 at the beginning of July.
Kaunda said he returned to work on July 12 when “most of the damage had already occurred by then.”
However between July 6 and 13, Kaunda made several Facebook posts on his personal account about the unrest that have since been deleted.
On July 6, Kaunda wrote that supporters of Zuma were well guided on their approach and should not be deterred. On July 9, a day after Zuma started his prison sentence, Kaunda wrote a post calling for peaceful protests.
Kaunda’s most controversial post came on July 10, when violence had already broken out in many parts of Durban. “We are Msholozi, Msholozi is us. #Free Zuma,” wrote Kaunda.
At the time, Nicole Graham, Democratic Alliance eThekwini caucus leader, called Kaunda’s post irresponsible.
Kaunda defended his posts saying that free speech was guaranteed in the South African constitution.
Kaunda said he was hurt by Zuma’s conviction but he respected the country’s judiciary. “All that was worrying me was the health status of the former leader (Zuma).
“So you could imagine under what conditions he will be able to survive when taken to correctional service centres rather than be afforded an opportunity, at whatever application of law, that would allow him to stay at home,” he said. “That free part was that he must be at home. We are happy that he is at home.”
Zuma was released from prison after three months on medical parole, a decision which is set to be contested in court soon.
Kaunda said when his posts are taken in totality, they do not amount to incitement. “There is danger in isolating these posts. There were other posts I made to calm people down. I asked for people who are opportunists to not hijack the sentiments,” he said.
“There was nothing wrong with calling for the freeing of Zuma as there was nothing wrong with the Zuma must fall movement,” he said.
Kaunda said the City does have a social media policy but the Human Resources Unit has never raised an issue with his posts.
Kaunda said he is not friends with Zuma and their relationship does not extend beyond political settings.
Kaunda said he followed the unrest proceedings on television and social media. He said he did not receive any intelligence warning of possible unrest in the city.
Kaunda said in his deliberations with department heads, it was very clear that the eThekwini Metro Police and SA Police Service were overwhelmed. “I can say, they relatively did a good job under the circumstances,” said Kaunda.
Kaunda also criticised the “illegal” roadblocks that were erected in many communities across the city.
Kaunda said the roadblocks led to many instances of racial profiling which culminated in the killing of 37 people (34 black, three Indian) in Phoenix.
“The reality is that most of the discontent [with Zuma’s conviction] lay within the African communities which happen to be poverty stricken.
“Most of the non-African communities were affluent and had much to lose should destruction come to their shores. This led to racial profiling and resulted in Africans being treated as “looters”,” he said.
Following the unrest, Kaunda said the city’s leadership visited many communities and businesses in an effort to mend the broken trust between government and citizens.