A body lies in a road in Phoenix, Durban, after violent protests in the area. Dozens of people are reported to have died. Picture: SANDILE NDLOVU
A body lies in a road in Phoenix, Durban, after violent protests in the area. Dozens of people are reported to have died. Picture: SANDILE NDLOVU

Twenty-three people are said to have died in Phoenix, Durban, during the recent unrest. Phoenix is an Indian area, one of its founders being Mohandas Gandhi, and it is now surrounded by African townships.

There was violent conflict between Africans and Indians in  January 1949 in central Durban, and more recently in August 1985 at Inanda, next to Phoenix. During the unrest and looting, armed Indian vigilante groups were formed to protect the area in the complete absence of effective policing, and I have little doubt that there were incidents of Africans attempting to enter Phoenix and being manhandled or worse.

This situation reminds me of the early “Troubles” in Northern Ireland, when Catholics were ejected from predominantly Protestant areas, and vice versa. Many of the paramilitary groupings there were  formed to protect their residential areas. The arrival of self-selected “community leaders” in SA is worrying, as in Northern Ireland they tended to be populist and intent on stirring up religious hatred, which then turned to violent behaviour.  

Neither side in Phoenix has respect for the police or even SA National Defence Force (SANDF) soldiers, let alone the ANC leaders who have been publicising their recent visits to the area. As guns and offensive weapons are hardly in short supply, the potential for increased  social unrest is alarming.

If there was in fact intent behind the appalling orgy of looting and destruction, I would not be surprised if the same clique doesn’t have Phoenix as phase two of  its scorched earth agenda. I know why police minister Bheki Cele has tried to downplay the ethnic dimension; I just hope that in private the potential for such violence has been seriously discussed and that a competent police commander is in place with a viable plan of action should it occur.   

James Cunningham
Camps Bay

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