Top brass had to self-isolate as July unrest unfolded, says KZN police commissioner

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KZN police commissioner Nhlanhla Mkhwanazi.
KZN police commissioner Nhlanhla Mkhwanazi.
Danielle Karallis, Gallo Images, Foto24
  • Top police officials who were in the same room as the July unrest unfolded had to self-isolate as the looting and violence began.
  • This after a top police official tested positive for Covid-19.
  • KZN police commissioner Lieutenant-General Nhlanhla Mkhwanazi testified the violence in Phoenix, which he saw himself, was horrific and degrading.

Top police officials, including Police Minister Bheki Cele, had to self-isolate shortly before former president Jacob Zuma's arrest after a senior police official they were in contact with contracted Covid-19.

KwaZulu-Natal police commissioner Lieutenant-General Nhlanhla Mkhwanazi, who testified before the SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) on Tuesday, said much of his operational work had to be done while in self-isolation.

"The day Zuma was taken to prison, we were in the operation room with [Minister Bheki] Cele. We  found out that another general passed from Covid."

He added they were in the presence of, and in direct contact with a senior police official who tested positive for Covid-19.

Mkhwanazi said that by protocol, himself, Cele and others had to self-isolate.

"Friday we self-isolated and by Friday night, riots started."

He added despite the self-isolation rule, he resolved, by himself, to try to understand what was happening on the ground.

Mkhwanazi said:

Because of the self-isolation rule, I had to use my car and drove to Phoenix. I took my firearm and said if I die, I die. I had to go to appreciate what was happening. When I arrived, it was a warzone set-up.

Mkhwanazi said 36 people died in Phoenix, six were killed in Chatsworth and two died in Mountain Rise in Pietermaritzburg, adding all were believed to be racially motivated incidents.

ALSO READ | July unrest: 'There was a leadership vacuum' - leader of shack dwellers movement tells SAHRC

Sixty-three attempted murder cases were also reported.

He claimed they received horrific accounts of alleged racial discrimination in Phoenix.

"A man was forced to kiss another man and they are recording it, people were shot at point-blank range."

Mkhwanazi said it was not the entire community who contributed to the alleged racism.

"The community of Phoenix have helped, the Indian origin citizens are giving evidence against their own. It is few that have these racial tensions, not all. There will always be a bad apple wherever you go in life."

An expecting wife

He was criticised by the SAHRC earlier in the day for taking a leave during the unrest.

Mkhwanazi said he had taken leave because his wife was meant to give birth on 19 July.

"I told her I might not be able to do this. Luckily, she is in the police and realised what was happening. I engaged with the national minister and commissioner, I said I think I should be allowed to go to Pretoria, assist my wife, take her to a safe place and come back."

Mkhwanazi was given permission, saying he drove more than 1 000km to a place of safety with his wife when his baby was just four days old.

"My wife had an operation. I don't have to tell anyone here how taxing that was."

The inquiry continues on Wednesday.

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