DURBAN - The third week of the South African Human Rights Commission’s (SAHRC) hearing into the July unrest will commence on Monday in Umhlanga, Durban, with the panel set to hear testimonies from academics, journalists and the president of the South African shack dwellers' movement, also known as Abahlali baseMjondolo.
Long-standing president of Abahlali baseMjondolo, S'bu Zikode, who hails from the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands area, and Durban based journalist and author of Eight days in July, Kaveel Singh, will testify before the inquiry.
Over the course of the last two weeks, the commission heard testimonies from victims, business chamber CEOs, state officials and also conducted an inspection in loco at two unrest sites that were said to be a hotspot for violent attack: Pietermaritzburg and Phoenix.
The civil unrest that broke out after the jailing of former South African and ANC President Jacob Zuma claimed over 350 lives in its wake and put a crater in the province’s and country’s GDP due to the mass scaled looting and arson attacks, which were orchestrated according to witnesses.
The police in KZN have been thrown into the spotlight many times throughout the commission’s hearing, with victims, business professionals and some state officials questioning their role in July’s chaos.
Former minister of defence and the current Speaker of the National Assembly, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, said that there was a lack of cooperation from the KwaZulu-Natal police commissioner Lieutenant-General Nhlanhla Mkhwanazi during the unrest.
She said Mkhwanazi’s “immaturity” and “ego” led to the army being deprived of information during the July unrest.
A lack of police resources contributed to the unrest, suspended national police commissioner Khehla Sitole told the commission in his testimony, which was echoed by KZN premier Sihle Zikalala.
Zikalala, who is also the chair of the ANC in the province, told the commission last week that police in KZN need better resource allocation management and that legislation at a national level sometimes hinders that.
He said the provincial government had little information about the outbreak of the unrest and initially was under the impression that it would occur only at the Nkandla area, Zuma’s homestead.
“Myself, in my capacity as the chairperson of the ANC and the secretary, we did meet the former president. I think it was the Saturday of the week of his incarceration. We went to his homestead in Nkandla, and we engaged with him on this issue. Our take was that whatever happened, as leaders, try to ensure that there was no bloodbath,” Zikalala said.
But a bloodbath it was, as the events that took place in Phoenix would come to be known as the ‘Phoenix massacre’, after residents were left to fend for themselves and their businesses, resulting in a clash between protesters and community members.