Seven years in jail for five Durban men at the heart of xenophobic attacks
Five men‚ who were part of a 800-strong mob who burned tyres‚ looted shops and pelted the police with stones and rocks during a violent xenophobic attack in KwaMashu in 2015‚ have each been sentenced to serve seven years behind bars.
This is believed to be one of the toughest sentences for public violence.
Bongani Luthuli‚ 36‚ Siyabonga Thusi‚ 33‚ Sikhumbuzo Sibiya‚ 24‚ Sakhile Mzobe‚ 35‚ and Sanele Nkwanyana‚ 47‚ all pleaded not guilty to the charge in the Ntuzuma Regional court. They claimed they were just “walking by” when they were arrested by police.
But Magistrate Anand Maharaj said this could not possibly be true.
He said evidence was that when police arrived on the scene they had fired teargas and used a water cannon to disperse the mob after they were stoned.
“During the unrest‚ the police marked certain people who stoned them and then they arrested them‚” he said.
All the arresting officers testified in court.
“It is highly improbable that in a crowd of 800 - evidence that was unchallenged - which was violent and volatile‚ the police only arrested seven people who weren’t doing anything‚” he said.
One of the accused has absconded since his arrest - and a warrant is out for his arrest - and another was acquitted last week‚ leaving just the five in the dock today‚ Tuesday.
Passing sentence‚ Maharaj said public violence had now reached a stage of being sabotage‚ including destruction‚ damage to property and vandalism.
“Everyone has the right to peacefully demonstrate but it seems to me this right is violated every day when these demonstrations are anything but peaceful.
“The majority of demonstrations result in wanton disregard for others’ rights. It also causes great inconvenience to those who want to use public roads. This can’t be acceptable. There are peaceful ways to resolve issues.”
He said had the five men pleaded guilty and accepted responsibility‚ “perhaps sentencing would be different”.
“The time has come for the courts to say if you demonstrate in a way that harms other people‚ a message must be sent that this kind of behaviour is no longer going to be tolerated. One way is to hand down exemplary sentences.
“This court has the jurisdiction to impose a maximum sentence of up to 15 years for public violence‚ but you are all first offenders.
“People must understand if demonstrations become violent‚ they’re going to lose their liberty and hopefully this will change their mindsets.”
He refused to grant leave to appeal against the sentences.