#UnrestSA: Criminality real root of violence in Phoenix, race issues second - Bheki Cele

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Police Minister Bheki Cele.
Police Minister Bheki Cele.
Gallo Images/Sharon Seretlo
  • Police minister Bheki Cele said that while there was racial tension in Phoenix, Durban, criminality was the real root.
  • He said the racial profiling at community roadblocks throughout the unrest had to be addressed.
  • Cele added that at least 20 people had died during the unrest in Phoenix so far.

While there are racial undertones in Phoenix, north of Durban, the primary concern in the community was criminality, not discrimination, says Minister of Police, Bheki Cele.

"The primary problem here is criminality, there is a secondary problem which is the racial connotations that has happened."

He said civilian roadblocks set up in communities had been a problem since the start of the unrest in KwaZulu-Natal on Sunday evening.

READ | #UnrestSA : Petrol prices set for whopping increase

"There are things like this that have happened in places including Umhlanga and Amanzimtoti where you are stopped because of who occupies the car. It is true. That problem cannot be dismissed, but criminality is primary for me," he said on Thursday.

Cele was speaking during a press briefing at Phoenix police station where he confirmed the deaths of 20 people.

Phoenix trended on social media on Thursday with allegations of a massacre against black people who had entered the area.

Cele said police were investigating 14 cases in Phoenix and said there were at least 1 400 arrested in KZN so far. He added that 67 people had been killed in KZN in total.

The police were not slow

Addressing accusations that the police had not responded adequately or timeously to the unrest, Cele said the arrests alone indicated the work done by SAPS.  

"In KZN alone there are 1 400 people arrested and they did not walk into these cells. Failure is you saying to me that so much damage has happened, and you have arrested zero people. The arrests mean police have responded. I will concede it has taken a longer time that it would have been expected."

READ | Major disruptions at Durban and Richards Bay ports due to unrest

Cele said he was concerned that while things "could have been better" there were aspects that police worked on that were positive. He said the fact that some malls were untouched was testament to the work police had done.

"Police were overstretched. The police are not trained for war or times of complete eruption. They are not trained for that, hence the president will submit and say [SANDF] must go help them."

Sinister forces at play

He said there were sinister forces at play using fake news. He said there were manipulated videos where audio was edited to be inflammatory against Phoenix residents. The same was done to a video of mayor Mxolisi Kaunda who addressed the community on Wednesday.

In the fake Kaunda video, he was edited in a way that made it appear as if he was calling on black people to attack Indians.

READ | Zuma's 'private spy' Thulan Dlomo a prime suspect for unrest

Cele said fake messages looking to stoke racial tension on Wednesday night made the rounds on social media, prompting police and the army to take action.

"But when we got here, there was nothing. We are not held by social media on these things. Yes, there are problems here, but we will not concur very much, if there is an element of race, it is secondary. The main issue is criminality."

Unrest is beyond Zuma

Cele said the unrest in KZN had gone beyond protesters angered by former president Jacob Zuma's incarceration.

"Not everything on the ground is about Zuma. There is an excuse given that people are poor and hungry - that I don't agree with. Last night I visited Mobeni and they stole an entire container of bullets. Will they eat bullets? No, you don't eat bullets."

He said that while travelling to Mobeni on Wednesday night, he came across luxury cars driven by looters.

Volunteers from SANTACO (KZN) Taxi Association beg
Volunteers begin a clean up campaign in Anton Lembede street in central Durban.
AFP Rajesh Jantilal/AFP

"Along the fence [that we were driving past] were beautiful top cars looting. The provincial commissioner had to send a special contingent of officers. This is typical criminality, people taking advantage of the situation."

Cele reiterated the need for accountability following the unrest.

"We said as police it will be tough times in many homes. We will want to come into your house and give us receipts for appliances."

Zwelisha community leader Nkosi Mhlongo told News24 they had formed an interim committee made up of Phoenix and Zwelisha residents.

"We are urging our people to cease racial discrimination. We want to go back to work and go back to our normal lives. We have people who need to access things like hospitals and police stations and shopping centres.

"We are saying give us the right to access these things. We are discouraging roadblocks made, we formed an interim-committee to work together and solve things. We want peace and to go back to our daily lives."

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