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Tough electoral choices for Phoenix residents who feel neglected and forgotten

Tough electoral choices for Phoenix residents who feel neglected and forgotten
A beggar at an intersection in Phoenix on 6 May 2024. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

Residents of the predominantly Indian community of Phoenix in Durban are frustrated with their living conditions and believe they have been forgotten by the government.

Residents of Phoenix, which falls under the eThekwini Metro, are frustrated by poor service delivery, coupled with rampant unemployment and the challenges faced by small business owners. 

Community leaders believe the living conditions in the area reflect how they have been neglected by all three spheres of government.

Voice of Phoenix leader Vassie Govender met Daily Maverick at his office in the heart of the township.

“The Indian and coloured communities are no longer regarded as blacks, but in the apartheid era we fought the Struggle as a collective. I do not think it is good for South Africa, it is the best country… We need a government which cares about people and is competent,” Govender said. 

Coloured, Indian and black South Africans were all victims of the oppressive apartheid system and banded together to fight against the regime.

A poster of TR Moodley outside the Phoenix Mall on 6 May 2024. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)


A recycler walks past an ANC poster in Phoenix on 6 May 2024. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

Phoenix, like many parts of Durban, has been beset by water issues and residents were without consistent running water for at least 190 consecutive days, when it was only available for short periods, mostly in the evening, when people could fill up containers and store them. The water problems have affected business operations and disrupted teaching at schools.

“There is no service delivery, our sewers are overflowing. The bigger problem is with the billing system in an area where people barely have money to sustain themselves, and that is affecting the communities,” Govender said.

“There is no water in your taps but we are still billed, and we do not have power, but I assure you that my bill will still be the same. I know it’s a local issue, but it’s becoming unbearable.” 

He said very few jobs were reserved for the community, lamenting that opportunities were shared with residents of neighbouring townships. He complained that foreign-owned spaza shops were hampering small businesses owned by locals.

“You can get a guy who comes from Pakistan to take what has been ours, small businesses such as the Indian community, the black community as well. You let someone coming from another country open a salon and we end up working for them. 

“No one wants to be in a position where what your forefathers fought for, that foreigners take what you are supposed to be starting and then say you are lazy when there is no opportunity. I think it’s unfair,” he said.


Vassie Govender of the Voice of Phoenix on 6 May 2024. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)


Giving Hope Foundation’s Roy Sukhdev believes that Phoenix residents have lost hope. 

“The biggest weakness we have in Phoenix is the apathy we have from people because they are helpless and desperate with poverty and crime. 

“We understand that the DA is not in power, we understand they cannot fix the infrastructure, but what we do not understand is that our community is struggling with water for months. What the DA could do is transport water to those who cannot do so; sadly, they have been missing. When you go to an elite area, they get excellent services. 

“We are going to encourage our community to choose wisely and that is what we will be advising the community,” he said. 


Roy Sukhdev of the Giving Hope. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

The service delivery woes have been exacerbated by the floods which have hit KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) twice in the space of two years. In April 2022, 459 people died in the floods while thousands were displaced, with the eThekwini Metro area being the hardest hit. The KZN coastal zone, including the greater Durban area and South Coast, received more than 300mm of rain in 24 hours. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: 2024 elections

A study by researchers from Wits University and the University of Brighton, UK, published in the South African Geographical Journal, found that the floods that hit Durban were the most catastrophic natural disaster yet recorded in KZN — in terms of lives lost, homes and infrastructure damaged or destroyed and economic impact. Earlier this year, the area was again hit by floods, with more than 200mm of rainfall in 24 hours.

Residents weigh in

At just 24, Sabelo Ntshangase is disillusioned about the state of affairs in South Africa. Ntshangase was outside the Phoenix Plaza, chatting to a friend when Daily Maverick approached him.

“As far as I know, we have a water issue. I did not register to vote, I feel like voters have not helped me with anything. Maybe next time I will, I was dealing with a number of things, so registering was the last thing on my mind. 

“If I was registered, I would vote for the ANC. They brought freedom and democracy to us. I feel they can do much more,’’ he said. 

The Phoenix Plaza is in the area’s CBD and attracts shoppers from neighbouring townships like Inanda, which means it is always buzzing. 

Sabelo Ntshangase outside the Phoenix Plaza on 6 May 2024. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

Opposite the plaza are street vendors selling cigarettes, sweets and vegetables. 

Street vendor Parmaseelan Govender said, “There are countless issues in our country. I have stayed in Phoenix for plus-minus 35 years — and 30 years after democracy, change is very rare. At one time I was sure who I would vote for, but now I do not know. Promises are coming because elections are coming up,” he said. 

Next to Govender’s stall was Lorraine Rumsumair, another vendor, who said that more must be done to uplift the community. A resident of Phoenix for 24 years, she believes that very little has changed for the community since the advent of democracy in SA.

She listed problems as, “Service delivery throughout Phoenix, sanitation, refuse collection, vagrants. A lot should be done to uplift the community. There should be more jobs created, there should be councillors available for the people, not just get elected, then they are not proactive. 

Lorraine Ramsumair, a vendor, outside the Phoenix Plaza on 6 May 2024. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

“Come election time, the parties make the right noises but once you make the X, you become the ex. I am for the EFF, but they have been proactive, I am a DA supporter and I have seen them in the community sorting out our needs.”

She complained about foreign-owned businesses in the area: “They do not pay taxes, what we are paying as an informal business is a lot. What we are selling for R10 they will sell for R8. I feel they are damaging the economy in that way, but I have nothing against foreigners.”

Politics in Phoenix

In July 2021, riots broke out in KZN and Gauteng after the incarceration of former president Jacob Zuma for being in contempt of court.

Phoenix was one of the areas affected, with rioters attempting to move in and loot. However, the community took matters into their own hands and formed informal security groups to control access to the neighbourhood.

Clashes occurred between the Phoenix community and residents from the nearby predominantly black community of Inanda which led to at least 20 deaths.

While many heavily criticised the community and reprimanded their actions, the DA during its local government election campaign in the same year put up posters with the slogan: “The ANC called you racists [but] The DA calls you heroes”. 

The DA was forced to take down the posters after a public outcry, but the party’s support increased in the community. Phoenix is a DA stronghold, but the eThekwini Metro is governed by a coalition between the ANC and the EFF. 

The Voice of Phoenix has been meeting with various parties including Build One SA, the IFP and the Patriotic Alliance, but hoped that the ANC would evolve and become a viable option yet again, said Vassie Govender.

Phoenix street vendor Parmaseelan Govender. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

“The ANC maybe has to have a change of guard, change the people who are there and put in people with respect, dignity and morals. The ANC is an organisation that has the best policy — thieves will come and go, but the document will stay there. Our community has to put pressure on the AN

Thandazile Mbotho carries a bag of second-hand clothes that she bought to resell in Inanda on 6 May 2024. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

C because they have done us wrong. We want to remain with the principles, morals, and respect that you have given us but there needs to be a change of guard. 

“As much as we say that we are apolitical, we have got to direct our people to make a calculated decision on who will serve us the best. We met with Build One SA [Bosa], we met with the IFP, PA and informally with the MK party.

“Bosa speaks the language our community needs, Rise Msanzi speaks our language to a large extent as well as the PA. We have political parties which are promising certain things, but we do not trust them,” he said. 

He accused the DA of “distancing” itself from the people of Phoenix despite having a strong support base in the area.

“If you take a picture of a wolf and put it on the DA poster, they will still vote for them. People are saying that they still want to vote for the DA because of the ingrained mindset. 

“The DA has not allowed a seat for Indian people who will be able to champion the needs of Indian people. The DA has five wards and they are on an ongoing story, saying that they do not have a majority but can we be stupid enough to vote for the DA? If the ANC is actually in charge, then why should I continue voting for the DA?”

Giving Hope Foundation’s Sukhdev said it would be tough to choose a party to vote for on 29 May. He said that while the ANC had good policies, the character of some of its leaders was questionable.

“The people are battling to find the right political party to vote for because all of them seem to be good, but now we have to decide and educate the community on what you need to look out for before making that X,” he said. 

Phoenix has about 170,000 residents and falls under the eThekwini Metro which has the largest number of registered voters in KZN – 1,986,147 according to the IEC. DM

Daily Maverick’s Election 2024 coverage is supported, in part, with funding from the Friedrich Naumann Foundation and vehicles supplied by Ford.


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