KZN top cop Mkhwanazi evasive on police action in Phoenix during July unrest

General Nhlanhla Mkhwanazi said no one could present evidence that officers watched on as Phoenix residents took the law into their own hands because the police were not there when the crimes including assaults and murders were committed.

FILE: Community members hold weapons as they stand at a road block in Phoenix Township, North Durban, on 15 July 2021 to prevent looters from reaching the community. Picture: GUILLEM SARTORIO/AFP

JOHANNESBURG - Barricades that were erected in Phoenix in KwaZulu-Natal were the focus of provincial Police Commissioner General Nhlanhla Mkhwanazi’s testimony on Wednesday at the inquiry into the July unrest.

The hearings, which are looking into the violence that surged in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng, are being conducted by the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC).

More than thirty people lost their lives in Phoenix alone, and it wasn’t long before claims of racial profiling in the Durban town surfaced.

Mkhwanazi was quizzed about details relating to these events.

"What did the police do in that police station to prevent that barricade? It's a simple question," asked the inquiry's evidence leader.

"They did nothing sir," responded Mkhwanazi.

The provincial police commissioner said that no one could present evidence that officers watched on as Phoenix residents took the law into their own hands because the police were not there when the crimes, including assaults and murders, were committed.

"There's no evidence brought to me that says that when this barricade was erected, there was this patrol van that was standing and watching," Mkhwanazi said.

It’s been claimed that in a bid to protect their properties some Phoenix residents unlawfully erected barricades, some on the doorstep of the local police station, to keep people out of their neighbourhoods.

Mkhwanazi, who became evasive when asked targeted questions, instead argued that more should be done to investigate what motivated people to loot and get involved in crime.

He said that the police alone would not be able to address social ills plaguing communities, echoing the sentiments of Social Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu.

She, too, told the inquiry that poverty and inequality were some factors that contributed to the unrest and that this needed to be addressed.