Nearly one year after the deadly 2021 July unrest, commentators say there has been an absence of accountability.
“No one has been brought to book with regard to the perpetrators who initiated this insurrection in the first place – [Jacob] Zuma, his daughter, his son and all the other role players,” said Mohsin Suliman, who recently penned a piece on the incident.
Widespread anarchy unfolded in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal in mid-July 2021 in the wake of former-President Jacob Zuma’s incarceration for contempt of court. The violence left at least 350 people dead, hundreds of businesses looted and a trail of damage to infrastructure.
Zuma’s daughter Dudu Zuma-Sambudla is alleged to have stoked the violence through her Twitter account. She actively tweeted what has been widely interpreted as encouragement during the riots.
Meanwhile, the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) wrapped up public hearings into the unrest last Tuesday (21 June). The hearings began in November 2021 in Durban, which was the epicentre of the unrest, before moving to Gauteng in February 2022.
The Commission’s Andre Guam, Philile Ntuli and Chris Nissen heard evidence from civilians, businesspeople, the police and politicians. The hearings portrayed an image of an unprepared police force, racism and poverty.
Speaking on the Commission’s work, Suliman believes there was a concerted effort to build an anti-Indian narrative. He said, “If you listen to it, you’ll find that they actually had a narrative and tried to create an agenda of anti-Indian sentiment.”
He lamented the fact that even the Commission’s hearings have not prompted authorities to pursue accountability.
The suburb of Phoenix, north of Durban, was under the spotlight in the aftermath of the unrest due to apparently racially-motivated attacks on Black Africans in the predominantly Indian area. This was soon dubbed the Phoenix Massacre, a label Suliman strongly disapproves of.
“These kinds of matters are very nuanced and to oversimplify these things, especially in these times when the country’s at a knife’s edge, when there’s so much difficulty and there are instances of violence or arson in relation to xenophobic sentiment,” he said.
“To promote this kind of ideas and thoughts in these times is so very dangerous. I urge the Human Rights Commission to exercise extreme caution and balance how they carry out this particular commission.”