Sunday Times

More questions than answers over 2021 riots


Zandile Nguse would have celebrated her son Sibahle’s 20th birthday on Friday.

Instead, she honoured him with a prayer. He was shot and killed, allegedly by police, during the height of the violent unrest that ripped through KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng in 2021.

This week Nguse, who lives in the Khan Road informal settlement, was among those gathered at Durban’s Gateway hotel, where the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) report into the July 2021 civil unrest was released.

According to the commission, the unrest affected 40,000 businesses and 50,000 informal traders, while 150,000 jobs were put at risk. The financial damage of the unrest was estimated at R50bn, and 353 people had died.

It found no link between the deadly violence and former president Jacob Zuma’s incarcerat­ion and was unable to identify the “primary actors” responsibl­e for devising and funding the unrest aimed at destabilis­ing both the political landscape and the economy.

For Nguse, the report’s finding were cold comfort, because she believes no-one is being blamed for the unrest. She also does not believe justice will be achieved as the murder charge against her son’s alleged killer has been dropped from the court roll.

“To be honest, I am in a state where I cannot fully tell you how I feel. I am not impressed,” she said.

Nguse said she was told last year by the policeman working on the case that the matter had been removed from the court roll and a new team had been appointed to investigat­e.

A day after the report was released, 65 people accused of having instigated the riots

more than half of them wearing the regalia and colours of Zuma’s new Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) Party — packed into court 12 at the Durban magistrate’s court.

The men and women are accused of terrorism, sedition, public violence and conspiracy to commit murder.

In the summary of facts attached to the indictment, the state alleges that Zuma supporters, including the accused, were disgruntle­d by the Constituti­onal Court’s decision to jail him for 15 months for refusing to appear before the Zondo commission of inquiry into state capture.

They had publicly campaigned against his imprisonme­nt through social media and at various gatherings.

To this end, several WhatsApp groups were created with the intention of organising, planning, inciting and co-ordinating the violent incidents and looting that occurred, mainly in KwaZulu-Natal.

Among the WhatsApp groups that emerged were “Free Zuma Co-ordinator”, “eThekwini Shutdown ”— focusing on the city centre — and “Ink Shutdown” focusing on Inanda, Ntuzuma and KwaMashu. The groups had also shared images and the geographic location of chief justice Raymond Zondo’s private residence.

“The accused joined and participat­ed in these groups. They were used as a communicat­ion tool for planning, inciting and executing activities including roadblocks, arson, attacks on the judiciary, infrastruc­ture and the economy, thereby engaging in acts of terrorism,” the indictment reads.

One of the accused, schoolteac­her Thobile Mfeka, said she was shocked whenshe was arrested by the Hawks, who stormed into her classroom at Inanda Primary School while she was at the chalkboard. “It was insane,” said Mfeka.

She claims she is innocent and the charges have put a strain on her relationsh­ip with her husband, tarnished her image and are crippling her financiall­y as she has spent R20,000 in legal fees.

“I was not in any WhatsApp group. I think it’s just because I was in Phoenix at the time of the unrest,” said Mfeka.

Another accused, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said there is no reason the National Prosecutin­g Authority (NPA) should continue with the case against them.

“We were arrested because of a political agenda, we were scapegoats because of our allegiance and support for Jacob Zuma ... that we told people to burn trucks, roads and loot buildings, that we wanted to kill Zondo — but it’s there in black and white in the report. There is no evidence to prove this,” she said.

MK Party supporter Sandile Dlamini, from KwaMakhuth­a, south of Durban, said the SAHRC findings did not come as a surprise. If anything, it vindicated their long-held view.

“We have always been of the view that those people who looted were just poor people. Some of them did not even own cellphones and were feeling the pinch of the poverty,” said Dlamini.

The matter was adjourned to April 8. To date the NPA has secured only one conviction in connection with the looting. Mdumiseni Zuma, 36, was sentenced to 12 years behind bars by the Pietermari­tzburg regional court last year.

 ?? Picture:
Mfundo Mkhize ?? A group of 65 men and women accused of instigatin­g the July 2021 riots appeared in the Durban magistrate’s court this week.
Picture: Mfundo Mkhize A group of 65 men and women accused of instigatin­g the July 2021 riots appeared in the Durban magistrate’s court this week.
 ?? Picture: Supplied ?? Sibahle Nguse, who died after being shot during the civil unrest in KwaZulu-Natal.
Picture: Supplied Sibahle Nguse, who died after being shot during the civil unrest in KwaZulu-Natal.

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