LISTEN | The July riots, a year later, but no justice for the 237 people murdered

08 July 2022 - 06:00 By THANDUXOLO JIKA and ORRIN SINGH
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Among those arrested during the July riots was Mvelo Majola. He was jailed for six years for stealing a truck during the unrest.
NAILED Among those arrested during the July riots was Mvelo Majola. He was jailed for six years for stealing a truck during the unrest.
Image: Alon Skuy

A year ago, KwaZulu-Natal was plunged into chaos by riots that spread to Gauteng, leaving about 354 people dead - a shocking 237 of them murdered during the unprecedented post-apartheid unrest.

Image: Nolo Moima

KwaZulu-Natal accounted for 199 of those murders, with 38 reported in Gauteng. The protests followed the imprisonment of former president Jacob Zuma for 15 months for contempt of court after he defied an order by the Constitutional Court to appear before the Zondo commission of inquiry into state capture.

The deaths of the people during the unrest paints a horrific picture of bodies piling up in government mortuaries as many were violently killed during those dark eight days of looting and protests, with police often nowhere to be found.

The death entries in the South African Police Services’ data set, seen by TimesLIVE, makes for grim reading: “Gunshot to the head whilst protesting and looting”. “The deceased was part of a protest march when he was allegedly shot in the head by members of security companies at the N2 bridge, at Shakashead”. “The deceased was found next to Spar with a gunshot wound”. “A dead body at Ghandi’s Hospital [Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Hospital], deceased had gunshot wound to his back and buttocks”.

The data also reveals that the biggest number of murders were recorded in Phoenix and Umlaz,i with Phoenix recording 32 violent killings and Umlazi 23.

They  were followed by Pinetown, where 13 murders were recorded, then Verulam with 12, Inanda 11, Sydenham 10, Chatsworth nine, Pietermaritzburg nine and Greenwood Park with eight.

In Gauteng the highest number of killings took place in Ekurhuleni and Johannesburg with 18 and 15 people dead respectively and  five in Sedibeng.    

According to both KZN and Gauteng death reports, there were 304 deaths registered in that period. This contradicts the number of 354 reported. Between the two provinces, 61 inquest cases have been opened to establish the causes of the deaths of 30 people in KZN and 31 in Gauteng. 

There are also six cases of culpable homicide being investigated in KZN. A year on, families who lost their loved ones have found no justice.

In May, police minister Bheki Cele told parliament that 36 people had been arrested for their alleged roles in the murder of 35 people and that 31 people had been arrested for attempted murder in Phoenix.

“The July 2021 unrest that engulfed SA posed a serious security threat to the country’s economy and highlighted some security gaps in intelligence-driven collaboration between the private security industry and other government law enforcement agencies,” said Cele.

He said police had dealt with the July unrest decisively. This was despite an expert panel into the unrest appointed by President Cyril Ramaphosa finding that police had failed to stop the riots and looting.

“Overall, we have come to the conclusion that there was a failure by the intelligence structures to anticipate and respond adequately to the violence … The methods employed took the police by surprise and they were unable to adapt their tactics to the situation facing them. The police were inadequately equipped and they ran out of crowd control equipment,” the panel found in its report last November.

A timeline of the July looting Graphic Nolo Moima
ST-July-Looting-Timeline A timeline of the July looting Graphic Nolo Moima
Image: Nolo Moima

“Police were overwhelmed by the number of looters. There may be incidents in future where numbers are big. There must be a way for the POP [public order police] to control large crowds.”

The panel also said the government should attend seriously the socio-economic challenges facing the country to avoid future riots and that einternal squabbles in the ANC were negatively affecting governance matters.

In March Cele named 19 instigators of the July unrest who had been arrested across KwaZulu-Natal, Gauteng and the Free State. He named them as: Orifile Oratile Sedika (FS), Crispin Bethwell Sibongiseni Sikhakhane (GP), Themba Mnisi (GP), Motsamai Phenias Letsoalo (FS), Bonginkosi Khanyile (KZN), Mdumiseni Zuma (KZN), Zamaswazi Zinhile Majozi (GP), Joe Bernington Mabaso (GP), Mboneni Clarance Tabane (GP), Brian Ngizwe Mchunu (GP), Bruce Nimmerhoudt (GP), Sibusiso Mavuso (GP), Sabelo Msomi, Ike Thamsanga Khumalo, Solani Silawule, SD Nhlapo, DS Weyi, CS Zondo, M Mahlangu.

He later told parliament the Hawks had made eight arrests while the police’s division for detective and forensic services had arrested 11. 

Five of the 19 alleged instigators will have their matters proceed to trial this year, while cases against at least four have been either provisionally withdrawn or struck off the court roll. 

Hawks spokesperson Brig Thandi Mbambo identified Sedika, Sikhakhane, Mnisi, Letsoalo, Khanyile, Zuma, Majozi and Mabaso as the individuals arrested by their teams. 

She told the Sunday Times that cases against Sedika and Majozi were struck off the roll during their separate appearances in March while charges against Letsoalo and Mabaso were provisionally withdrawn for further investigation and whistle blower statements. 

Cases against Sikhakhane, Khanyile, Zuma, Mchunu and Nimmerhoudt are expected to proceed to trial between July and October. 

Charges against each accused vary from inciting public violence to contravention of the Terrorism Act.

Police spokesperson Col Athlenda Mathe would not provide any information regarding which individuals had been arrested by police. 

She said: “Three alleged instigators are under investigation. Some of the cases are being dealt with by the Hawks.” 

The National Prosecuting Authority did not respond to requests for information on each case but said it had finalised at least two cases pertaining to the looting. 

In March the Durban regional court sentenced Mvelo Majola to six years imprisonment after he pleaded guilty to the theft of a motor vehicle during the unrest.

The vehicle was one of nine stolen from Pharmed Pharmaceuticals in Riverhorse Valley on Nandi Drive. 

In June taxi driver Lungelo Nthenga, 24, was sentenced to an effective five years imprisonment after he pleaded guilty to three counts of theft during the unrest. 

Nthenga told the court that during the unrest he had used his vehicle to transport people to the Mobeni business industrial area in South Coast Road to loot.

Tinned fish, rice, as well as items from the surrounding warehouses that were looted were found loaded in his taxi. 

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