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Thabiso Goba
3 minute read
22 Jun 2022
06:35

Pillay says killings in Phoenix do not rise to definition of massacre

Thabiso Goba

Prominent leaders in the Indian community said it would be a mischaracterisation to define what happened in Phoenix during the July unrest as a “massacre”.

Prominent leaders in the Indian community said it would be a mischaracterisation to define what happened in Phoenix during the July unrest as a “massacre”.

Ravi Pillay, KwaZulu-Natal MEC for the Department of Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs, said this during his testimony on Wednesday before the South African Human Rights Commission hearings into the 2021 civil unrest.

Pillay read into record a joint statement signed by several prominent Indian leaders namely the granddaughter of Mahatma Gandhi, Ela Gandhi, former ANC Shallcross councillor Previn Vedan and others.

A confirmed 37 people died in Phoenix during the unrest, with 34 of them being black and three of Indian descent.

On social media, the events in Phoenix have come to be known as the “Phoenix Massacre”, a characterization Pillay said they gravely reject.

“We believe that the labelling of the entire Phoenix community and through the characterisation of the events in Phoenix as a ‘massacre’ has demonised the entire Indian community because of the actions of a few,” he said.

“We are of the view that the commission should make a conscious effort to distinguish between the actions of the perpetrators of violence from those of the community as a whole,” he said.

Pillay said the killings in Phoenix do not rise to the definition of massacre, as that implies mass killings that happened in one area at the same time.

Pillay said a chronological timeline of the killings in Phoenix have not been made publicly available by police and they are of the belief that the killings happened over a period of time in different areas.

“Acts of violence and killing occurred in Phoenix, but unlike similar incidents in other areas it took on a particular racial form.”
MEC Ravi Pillay

“It is not objective and neutral to characterise the events in Phoenix as ‘massacre’, instead it is a subjective and partisan view of the events,” he said.

However, Pillay did say that the violence in Phoenix did have racial undertones, something that they “condemned without qualification”.

Pillay said many communities across KZN were involved in self defence during the unrest.

“Acts of violence and killing occurred in Phoenix, but unlike similar incidents in other areas it took on a particular racial form,” he said.

Pillay said the events in Phoenix have deepened racial divides in the country and serve as a “distraction” to the real problem, which he said were the instigators of the unrest.

Pillay said he was worried that the commission had not received testimony that implicates the “real” instigators of the civil unrest.

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He said he was of the belief that the “strategy” to destabilise the country was developed prior to the incarceration of former President Jacob Zuma.

Pillay said KZN suffered massive economic damage and an incalculable loss of investor confidence.

He said the unrest was also driven by a culture of impunity and the rising levels of inequality and poverty in the country.

“The phenomenon of impunity and state capture laid part of the foundations for the unrest and could be construed as some of the underlying causes,” he said.

Pillay said there is a “toxic” link between race and inequality and unless that is addressed, the country remains fertile for future unrest.