South African Police Minister Bheki Cele says police have so far arrested 42 people for their alleged role in what he called the racially motivated murders in Phoenix, in KwaZulu-Natal.
Speaking on Wednesday at a debate in the National Council of Provinces on the recent public violence, looting and destruction of property, Cele said:
“A Special Investigation Team, comprising detectives from the national and provincial office, was deployed to KwaZulu-Natal to look into the deaths of 36 people killed in Phoenix.
“This team has hit the ground running and has so far arrested 42 people for their alleged role in the racially motivated murders.
“These arrests have been widely welcomed by the communities of Zwelisha, Bhambhayi and uMaoti where most of the victims reside.”
Cele began the debate by remembering the 359 people who died during the civil unrest that gripped Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal six weeks ago.
Police and private security companies being investigated
He said the team is also investigating the role of police in the violence and looking closely into the role played by seven private security companies operating in the area.
“A ‘Peace Committee’ was also established to rebuild the broken community relations between residents of these areas and Phoenix. The aim is to bring about peace and stability through working with residents and police.”
Cele said this forum has worked with the SAPS in facilitating the reporting of cases of missing persons.
“They have been at the forefront of assisting the bereaved families to identify the remains of their loved ones at the Phoenix government mortuary.
“This Peace Committee is playing a vital role in ensuring that the communities they represent are kept abreast with information at all times.”
Cele details damage to infrastructure
The Minister said the violent unrest has left devastation and economic disruption in its wake.
“In this regard, the July unrests resulted in extensive damage to 161 malls, 11 warehouses, eight factories and 161 liquor outlets or distributors.
“Over 200 shopping centres were looted and damaged, while 100 malls suffered fire damage.
“Looting also took place in about 300 shops in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng, damaging over 1 400 ATMs.”
Cele said the destruction resulted in 300 banks and post office branches being vandalised.
Also, 113 communication infrastructure was also significantly damaged as well as 1 119 retail stores were impacted and damaged.
“To date, a total of 16 instigators have been identified and arrested and are going through the court processes.”
Rebuilding efforts underway
Cele said joint efforts and partnerships of rebuilding are at an advanced stage between government and the affected communities.
“Such efforts must be encouraged and supported, by all of us regardless of our political affiliation.
“This we must do so in the spirit of ubuntu and political maturity, where we limit politics and contribute to nation building and social cohesion.”
Cele said while police continue to nourish and deeply value community partnerships, government remains committed to building these to bring stability and will work with citizens to prevent the reoccurrence of the July mayhem.
“I would like to pause here and take a moment to show appreciation to the communities that have, within the ambit of the law, assisted police in maintaining the rule of law, amid the violence and chaos.
“These brave men and women worked together and in some cases assisted police together with the private security industry to safe guard infrastructure and keep their neighbourhoods safe.
“I have personally visited areas around Gauteng and in KwaZulu-Natal, where malls and other retail shopping centers were barely touched because of this collaborative work.
“It is at these areas and many more, in some sections in other provinces, where police and the SA National Defence Force maintained a strong presence around retail centers and other infrastructure. These initiatives also saw some community members and private security serve as force multipliers.”