South Africa

JULY RIOTS

‘It was like a game to them’ — Survivor of Phoenix violence relives the day he was shot multiple times

Ntethelelo Mkhize, one of the witnesses of the July riots at the Human Rights Commission hearings in uMhlanga, South of Durban. Mkhize testified at the commission, which is aiming to uncover the truth behind many of the violent incidents that transpired during the July unrest. (Photo: Mandla Langa)
By Des Erasmus
17 Nov 2021 24

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. 

Ntethelelo Mkhize, one of the witnesses at the Human Rights Commission in uMhlanga, South of Durban testifies and presents the injuries he sustained during the violent July riots. (Photo: Mandla Langa)

“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.”

Ntethelelo Mkhize, one of the witnesses at the Human Rights Commission in uMhlanga, South of Durban testifies and presents the injuries he sustained during the violent July riots. (Photo: Mandla Langa)

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

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All Comments 24

  • I feel very sorry for this victim and particularly his friends. It was a crazy time. But these were not violent actions but violent reactions. There was anarchy as a result of the ANC factional insurrection. Government failed these people and the people of Phoenix. They failed to the tune of over 50 billion rand. That this is dressed up as a race issue, is a scapegoat tactic that the ANC is so good at. It is not a race issue but a criminal one. The thousands of looters were criminal, and unfortunately, ordinary citizens stepping into the breach left by the factional politics of the ANC and the insurrection/coup attempt that the President spoke about, used lethal force to protect their life’s work and their livelihoods. But we cannot accept the scapegoating.

    • This is pure criminality and no excuses should be made for this behaviour. Yes, government has responsibility for where we are, but individuals need to be held accountable. I am horrified by the article and your comment.

    • Spot on. When governments are deliberately asleep on the job, turning a blind eye; when police and all the forces whose jobs it is to protect the public, are wilfully told to stat away, then civil society has no choice if it wants to protect itself. The real issue here is, as Paul so lucidly put it, why all the public order forces stepped aside, allowed the RET/Zuma forces to run, loot, steal, threaten, burn, destroy the country’s assets?

      That it was insurrection is plain and clear for all to see – even President Ramaphosa, in a rare presidential moment, called it such, so again the question must be asked, why was not the full might and force of the law not brought heavily to bear, and why has it not been done subsequently?

      Have we, as a country, been so cowed by State Capture and lawlessness that President Ramaphosa is now too fearful to act? If so, what on earth, as a country, have we become?

  • Feel sorry for you, but who caused all this **** in the first place…certainly not the residents trying to protect themselves. So what were you doing there in the 1st place, knowing there were major riots happening.
    Come-on, this whole bloody HRC commission is a bloody joke, and like so many other cases, their investigations are pathetic to the extreme.
    Blame your darn government for this, not the residents in the area.

    • This insurrection was caused by people of the same race, and colour, of supporters of the same governing party, but different factions, as they call it. Not us, they! They kill each other on a daily basis for pleasure, f..k the bend-the-knee crap. This is hunting for pleasure. Now people of a different race group, trying to protect themselves from those dishing it out against their own race and colour, has suddenly became the focal point. Zimbabwe all over again, kill the Whites (and other minority races), then when there is no more, lets kill each other! After all, it is a great sport! Soccer has become boring!

      • I am not an expert, but this witness is lying! Bottomline, he is turning this into a racial issue, Indians vs Blacks. And this darn HRC will swallow it like pigs trying to find the last piece of rotten veg. What I do now though, if something like this happened to me if I was living in that community, I would have taken my high-powered air revolver and shoot at those mad rioters/murderers until there were no more gas left in this air gun’s magazine

        • There’s not much doubt they were assaulted and some killed but I cant help feeling somethings missing. It all seems to have escalated so fast. You have a bakkie with no stolen loot in it and you have the address of the friend you want to see who’s invited you for food on the other side of Phoenix. Let them check your car? I know its an imposition but now people are dead now when a brief ‘chat’ may have been able to sort it out. Too much machismo/booze maybe? I’d like to see the doctors reports too.

          • Your spewing of vile and racist statements devoid of any factual basis does not add to the factual understanding of the July 2021 violence.

    • Yes, and in fact the local neighborhood watches and community men were the only boundary against complete destruction of Phoenix.

      You call them racists, but imagine hoards of whities coming into your neighborhood, looting and burning your shops and coming into your homes.

      When society breaks down like this you protect yourselves.

      Don’t be a silly hypocrite Pagani. You weren’t there.

  • You cannot go join a looting spree or a riot, with a complete absence of meaningful policing, and expect no consequences, especially when many of the looters were armed and dangerous.

    If you were prepared to join the mass hysteria and run rampage, you cannot start claiming ‘it was a game’.

    Get real. The people of Phoenix were dead scared and the looters running amok gave them every reason to be scared and to protect their community with guns.

    The Phoenix people’ response was proportionate and rational.

  • Have any people who lost all their savings and life’s work due to the looting been interviewed to get perspective of the reality of the situation. This is a symptom of the actual crime…looting.

  • While I have every sympathy for the victim and little understanding of how the attackers could do what they did to anyone, I do ask myself where the Human Rights Commission was when we weren’t protected by our police force and we had to protect ourselves and where is the Human Rights enquiry into Zuma and his poisonous offspring? Where are the comments from the world at large when black shopowners say on TV “I don’t know why they did this to me, I’m a black owned business”. Okay to destroy the the lives of other races then? It’s okay to say that? Where is the Human Rights Commission when farmers and their families get murdered in the most horrific way? In my opinion the Human Rights Commission is biased, two faced and hypocritical and therefore meaningless to me.

  • Not very plausible that he was unaware at that date of looting tensions vigilantes etc. A bakkie full of men at that time in that place was bound to alert suspicion. Their violent treatment was terrible but what were they thinking?!

    • Indeed. This event was well into the rioting, not at the beginning. To claim they knew nothing of the riots beggars belief. “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.”
      Come off it Des Erasmus – you know exactly what the position was. When the cry went up to invade the Indians and teach them a lesson, this guy [possibly the only one among his friends with a bakkie] cobbled a bunch of mates together to go and sort out the Indians.
      Nine guys in a Nissan bakkie, and he doesn’t know who all of them were, going across Phoenix at the height of the rioting to eat “game meat”? Pathetic.
      So what happened is unacceptably violent – but in a volatile situation, one needs at first to consider how to lower the temperature, not fan the flames. Some of the responsibility for this conflagration rests with the team in the bakkie. And a lot of it rests with the people who shot them.

      • Hi Macleod, for once I endorse everything you said, and well spoken. One thing you did not mention, the witness only found out 6 weeks later that 3 people with him in the bakkie died. Now how the hell in the world is that believable as a credible witness. To me the HRC is simply useless past. Since there are no witnesses to support his testimony, I can only conclude that 3/4 of his testomy were blatant lies

        • Yeah, Coen, for once I agree with you. Most likely is this was a lift club to “free goods” that went horribly bad.

          It’s pure BS.

  • I’m going to call BS.

    Man in a bakkie driving through an area that had been devastated by looting and destruction for no less than 8 days before he decided it was a good short-cut?

    BS.

    What, he has no TV at home? Spoke to nobody in the previous 8 days?

    This is a show trial in the Great tradition of Soviet Show Trials.

    It is not the ANC or government at fault. It is those racist Indians.

    Beware you wannabe goods. If you weren’t there you just do not understand.

  • In Empangeni in N KZN, all the main shopping area was destroyed including burning the Biyela shopping centre. Two small suburban shopping complexes around two Spar shops were saved initially by mainly white vigilantes who were later joined by more black volunteers.

    I had run out of groceries and thus discovered the saved shops while looking for groceries. The shops were all closed at these centres but not destroyed.

    I felt very uncomfortable at the time. It felt like the old SA with armed white men. A few had fire arms. Many only had wooden clubs. Later in the crisis, they were joined by local Black volunteers too. They kept 24 hour vigils.

    The streets were full of looters; young and old, Male and female. Some were heading to the destroyed CBD with empty trolleys, suitcases, cars and bakkies. Others were leaving with overloaded trolleys, bags, cars and bakkies. There was a festive mood amongst them, chatting and laughing. There were a few police about 2 km from the CBD who had stopped a few overloaded vehicles leaving the CBD.

    The vigilantes had performed a few citizen arrests of looters and were waiting for the police. Tension was very high amongst those arrested and those doing the arresting. The situation felt explosive. I recognised one of the vigilantes who is usually a peaceful guy. He said they were being careful to strictly follow the law despite all the tension. Mostly untrained people trying to do police work. This should never have been forced on them.