‘It was like a game to them’ — Survivor of Phoenix violence relives the day he was shot multiple times
A resident of Ntuzama, a township in eThekwini that borders Phoenix, Inanda and KwaMashu, told the South African Human Rights Commission on Wednesday that he had been shot multiple times and ended up in a coma for three weeks because of the violent actions of a group of Phoenix residents during the riots that engulfed large parts of KwaZulu-Natal in July.
Ntethelelo Mkhize, a 36-year-old lecturer at a Tvet college in Durban, told commissioners that when he eventually woke from his coma at Addington Hospital, he was told by his wife and mother that three of the nine friends and acquaintances that were travelling with him in his Nissan Hardbody when they were attacked, had died of their injuries. Mkhize’s vehicle was also torched.
Commissioners Andre Gaum, Chris Nissen and Philile Ntuli are in KwaZulu-Natal to hear testimony from some of those who were affected by the riots. Mkhize’s testimony was day three of the hearings on Wednesday. Commissioners will next move on to Gauteng, where rioting and looting took place on a smaller scale, and continue their inquisitorial hearings there.
Evidence leader Smanga Sethene led Mkhize. He detailed the alleged horror that he and those travelling with him had to endure on 12 July, well into the eight days of violence and looting that shook the province, and started in the wake of the jailing of former president Jacob Zuma on 8 July for contempt of court.
“On 12 July I was at home with a friend, Nzuza. I got a call from Robert Jiyane of KwaMashu. He wanted me to fetch him, so I went and fetched him around 7am and we had breakfast as normal.
“Nzuza said we should go visit friends at KwaMashu, that’s where we met Zandile Magwaza, Dlamini and some other men. In total there were nine of us. Magwaza got a call from a guy from eShowe who said he had some game meat and invited us to Cornubia to share it.”
Cornubia borders Phoenix and was among the myriad areas in eThekwini that was targeted by thousands of looters who stripped malls, businesses, industries, and warehouses. It is in Cornubia where the UPL chemical plant was torched, which led to the release of toxic chemicals into the sea and subsequently the closure of all beaches in the north of the city for months.
Mkhize said that he and his friends decided to take a shortcut through Phoenix when leaving Cornubia for KwaMashu. Some of the men were in the cab of the bakkie with Mkhize, while others were seated in the bin.
“The road was blocked, there were burning tyres and Indian people in groups, males. As we approached, I spoke to the people [in my car] and asked why the Indians were striking. Was it for water? This was around 3pm.
It is unclear if Mkhize knew about the riots and looting that were taking place in Phoenix, Inanda, KwaMashu, Cornubia and in most of the other places in the province, and why he was not at work, as evidence leaders had not yet broached these questions at the time of publication.
“A first group of [Indian men] stopped us, they wanted to check what was in the vehicle. It irritated me; I didn’t understand why they wanted to check my vehicle.”
By Monday 12, impromptu community patrol groups were quickly established alongside formal neighbourhood watches and Community Police Forums as there was very little, if any, response from police to the looters — many of whom were armed and drunk.
Hundreds of these community groups had barricaded their neighbourhoods to stop looters from entering or using the neighbourhood roads as thoroughfares for cars loaded with stolen goods. Most of these cars had their number plates removed.
Private security companies were also patrolling, with previous witnesses testifying on Monday and Tuesday at the hearings that some of the security companies appeared to have gone rogue — or were rogue to start with.
Continued Mkhize: “The way they requested to search [my vehicle] was laced with insults and anger, that’s how I viewed it. There were comments like ‘Zuma’s people’, ‘monkeys’. They checked the vehicle, didn’t find anything, and told us to proceed.”
There were about 20 men in the group that asked to search the car, said Mkhize, with ages ranging from teenagers to old men.
“As I was moving [the car to leave], one of the younger men hit the back panel of the vehicle with an axe. That angered me and the occupants of car, who wanted to fight with the men. I calmed them down and said these people were looking for us to fight back….”
Once the car had been struck with an axe, others in the group started to pelt it with stones, alleged Mkhize.
Mkhize’s friend Mgwaza had left the car to confront the group of men about the racial slurs, and was hit on the forehead with a rock, presumably thrown from one of the men in the “Indian group”.
“The other Indian guys were carrying bush knives, golf sticks, bats and some guns. Magwaza was behind the car, that’s when I saw them assault him [and] they shot at Nzuza. One man was pointing the firearm at [Nzuza] and pointed the firearm in his mouth. Nzuza was shot in the upper body, Magwaza was assaulted.
“Nsele got out of the car to assist Nzuza. Then a dark, fat Indian guy shot at Nsele. I tried to flee with the car, the guys in the back of the bakkie had tried to run to the bushes, some of them were assaulted. I tried to flee with the two people left in the car. That’s when shots were fired at the vehicle, so I couldn’t drive properly. They were shooting with big guns. All of this happened in a short space/distance.
“There was another group approaching me as I was fleeing the [first group of assaulters]. Then the man who shot at Nsele, shot at me, two bullets. They entered [the left-hand side of my back. One exited from my front.
“I stopped the vehicle; I couldn’t proceed as the road was blocked. It was like a game, some of [the attackers] were laughing and shouting at us. They were taking photos and videos as this was happening.
“There was a time where they told me to run to the river. As I tried to run, I fell, and another person shot me in the back next to the spinal cord. A dark Indian guy, while I was lying on the ground, he had a gold tooth, took my cellphone, removed my jacket, and took my flip flops. While this was all happening, discriminatory words were still going on.
“[They were saying] poes, monkey, Zuma’s guys, what are you fucking doing here in Phoenix? We are going to kill you all, we don’t want you here.
“There was no time to respond, they were assaulting me. I just screamed, asking for help. I was bleeding. After they took the cellphone and other stuff they told me to run again, this very same guy shot at me again, it was like a game to them, they were laughing.”
Mkhize said he was shot by two men. One was the “fat” man who shot Nsele, and the other was an Indian man who was “fair in complexion”.
“I tried to run until I landed at someone’s gate and screamed for help. That’s when [the same group that had been following me and shot me] asked me questions about where I am from, why am I here and where do I work. After that I collapsed.”
When he regained consciousness, said Mkhize, he was at a clinic in Phoenix, although he had no idea how he got there.
“It was about 8pm when I regained consciousness, the nurses told me the time. My stomach had inflated because of poison [from the gunshots] and the colour of my skin had changed.”
Mkhize said his stomach was still inflamed. He lifted his shirt to show commissioners the bandages swaddling his abdomen and back. When he sat down, a deep frown had settled over the bridge of his nose.
At the clinic, Mkhize said he saw people lying on the floor, “some of them bleeding and some had been hacked and assaulted. I am not sure if any of them were shot, but I could see the hack wounds and scars”.
The ambulance that Mkhize needed only arrived at the clinic on 13 July — ambulances were torched and attacked during the July violence.
“The ambulance took me to Addington Hospital. On the road to the hospital, the ambulance would have to avoid blocked roads and go onto the pavement. Sometimes it would be stopped and Indians asked who [was being transported]. The ambulance driver had to plead with them to let us leave Phoenix.
“When I got to the hospital, I lost consciousness again and was taken to theatre. I then had a first surgery that was unsuccessful. The second surgery was also unsuccessful as they had to mend my intestines. After the third surgery, they left the wound open like that. I was told I was in hospital for three weeks and some days. I can show you the open wound as I have photos on my phone.”
Mkhize said he wanted the photos to be seen by the commission and the media.
“I was discharged on 24 August and went to my home in eShowe. That’s when I was told that Nzuza, Nsele and Jiyani, who had been in my company [at the time of the attack] had died.”
Mkhize said he was later informed by police investigating the many killings in Phoenix that were thought to be racially motivated that he had initially been listed as deceased.
Mkhize’s testimony continues. DM
Daily Maverick © All rights reserved