Watch | What happened in Phoenix should be ‘left in the past’

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Tears stream down Charmaine Mhlongo’s face as she shares the ordeal of losing her son, Sanele Mngomezulu, in Phoenix last year Photo Rosetta Msimango
Tears stream down Charmaine Mhlongo’s face as she shares the ordeal of losing her son, Sanele Mngomezulu, in Phoenix last year Photo Rosetta Msimango


As people who’re trying to forge ahead in an already unequal country, we need to let bygones be bygones and forget about what happened in July last year.”

So says Vinesh Naidoo (50), a father of five and resident of Phoenix in Durban.

“How will we ever move forward if we keep dwelling on the past?”

Having lived in Phoenix all his life, Naidoo said the area was crime-ridden and scenes of violence had become the norm.

“Just last night, we heard gunshots. It’s something we’ve become used to,” he said.

In July last year, when parts of the country were burning due to violent riots and looting, 36 people lost their lives in what has been called the Phoenix massacre.

On Friday, the Justice, Crime Prevention and Security Cluster announced that 19 people had been arrested for incitement to commit public violence during the unrest that gripped parts of KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng in the middle of last year.

READ: | July Unrest: 19 alleged instigators out on bail, Hawks probing 86 more suspects

During a briefing in Pretoria, Police Minister Bheki Cele said the Hawks had arrested eight alleged instigators and that a special task team of detectives had arrested another 11.

Naidoo, however, has called for unity between Phoenix residents and those whose lives were negatively affected by the unrest.

One such individual is Andile Khupiso (28), who is still reeling from the ordeal of being struck repeatedly on the head during the unrest. He asked why government had not assisted him and other victims of the violence.

Khupiso has been unable to work since the attack last year, which has left him with a limp.

He said:

We had floods ruin our lives just this year [in April] and government was quick to react to that, but when we were attacked last year, they sat back and did nothing. A year later, people like me who need counselling still haven’t been assisted.

On July 11 last year, Khupiso, a resident in Inanda informal settlement, was struck by a car in Phoenix, a which is predominantly Indian, while on his way to the shops. He was then attacked by four men who he says intended to set him alight.

He now struggles to control the bouts of anger that overcome him from time to time as a result of the unresolved trauma.

“Isn’t government responsible for its people, especially innocent people?” he asked.

He says he would like to go for counselling, but worries about the cost.

The riots erupted last year as former president Jacob Zuma was set to be jailed for contempt of court after refusing a Constitutional Court order to appear before the Judicial Commission of Inquiry into Allegations of State Capture.

In total, more than 350 people were killed and many more were injured in the violence and looting. The economy lost R50 billion as a result of the riots, which lasted for days.

On Friday, Cele revealed that law enforcement officials were investigating 86 more people of interest.

Bheki Cele

Defence Minister Thandi Modise said that the SA National Defence Force was on standby to help the officials “deal with any threat to the country’s security and stability”.


For Charmaine Mhlongo – whose son Sanele Mngomezulu (19) was out with friends on July 12 last year when a hail of bullets struck a taxi in which they were travelling – things “will never be the same again”.

Mngomezulu was gunned down and Mhlongo, like Khupiso, asks why government has not assisted those who were affected.

“Things will never be the same again. Not just in my home, but in the whole area and our hearts as a community,” she said.

“It might seem as if all is well, but there’ll never really be peace in Phoenix until those who killed our loved ones are arrested and punished for what they did.

“Indians are disrespectful. We have heard them calling themselves heroes for what they did last year. There was a situation where I was told to watch out because they’d kill again and were better than us,” she said.

READ: | Watch: July unrest | A peaceful future for Phoenix is unlikely


The violence and chaos of last year’s unrest included the torching of many vehicles, including Siyabonga Ncobela’s bakkie.

Like many others in the province, Ncobela is still haunted by the event.

“I thought I was going to meet my maker,” he said.

He told City Press that when the looting and riots started, he was informed that his brother had been hit by a car. Because he owned a van, he was asked to take his sibling to a hospital.

“We were driving to Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Hospital in the Phoenix area, but were stopped by a group of about 15 men with rifles.

“I’ll never forget the sound of gunshots, which caused me to jump out of my bakkie with an unwell passenger still inside,” Ncobela recalled.

READ: | ‘Why has government not assisted us?’ ask July unrest victims

As he pointed out the scene of the incident – where he was forced to run for his life – Ncobela became emotional.

He recalled:

My car was riddled with bullet holes; I knew I had to run and make sure that I somehow survived. I tried to pull out my sick passenger and hold on to him, but I failed.

The bakkie was then torched, though its occupant survived.

A burnt-out car in Phoenix, Durban, after violence engulfed the community during the riots in KwaZulu-Natal last July Photo: Gallo Images

The father of three, who also takes care of his late brother’s eight children, has since been unable to feed his family, as his vehicle – which he had used to transport goods for people – is gone.

“I now depend on my wife,” he said. “To make matters worse, government officials haven’t even offered us any help. Will they ever hold anyone to account for what happened?”


Palesa Dlamini 


+27 11 713 9001
69 Kingsway Rd, Auckland Park

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