There were 36 murders in the Phoenix area of Durban in South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province during last month’s unrest and the police are closing in on the alleged masterminds, Police Minister Bheki Cele said on Tuesday.Addressing journalists on the law enforcement and social cohesion interventions in Phoenix following the chaotic looting scenes of two weeks ago in KwaZulu Natal province, Cele said the police had made significant progress “in dissecting the causes and effects of the recent wanton destruction of infrastructure and business lootings” in the region.
He said the police made strides in bringing to book those who instigated the events that resulted in the death of 342 people in KZN and Gauteng provinces.
The calamity in Phoenix was precipitated by “racist vigilantism as communities sought to protect themselves and their properties from looters,” he said.
“We want to assure the nation that the crimes committed in Phoenix or anywhere else in the country will not go unpunished,” the minister said, noting that 22 suspects were already in custody.
During the unrest, Cele said Phoenix and surrounding areas “became the epicentre of heinous criminal and racist incidents, which resulted in brutal killings and injuries, horrendous damage to property and untold pain and trauma.”
Out of the 36 people who died, 30 of them succumbed to gunshot wounds, he said, adding that 31 detectives were assigned to arrest and prosecute those behind the murders.
Two of the victims were burnt to death, one was stabbed and another run over by a car, and two others died from the brutal injuries they sustained after being assaulted in “criminal acts of the worst kind, which also took a racial turn” by targeting mainly Africans, he said.