Firearms suspected of being used in the Phoenix killings seized for investigation

Police minister Bheki Cele.
Police minister Bheki Cele.
Image: Freddy Mavunda

About 152 firearms belonging to four private security companies operating in Phoenix, KwaZulu-Natal, have been seized for investigation following last month’s vigilante attacks that resulted in the death of 36 people.

In a press briefing held in KwaZulu-Natal on Tuesday morning, police minister Bheki Cele said of the 36 murders, 30 of the victims were shot, two burned to death, one run over by a car, one stabbed and two died as the result of their injuries. Three of the deceased are of Indian decent while the rest are black Africans. The violence, which resulted in the death of 342 people, was sparked by the looting that began in KwaZulu-Natal and spread to Gauteng soon after the arrest of former president Jacob Zuma.  

Cele said residents of Phoenix, a largely Indian community, started setting road blocks in the neighbourhood and stopped several cars to search if they were not transporting looted goods. However, he said these illegal roadblocks turned into racial fracas when the people who manned them started racially profiling the motorists. “This amounted to unlawful discrimination and restriction of movement for mainly [black people],”said Cele.

He said the main incident that sparked the attacks was when occupants of a bakkie that was being stopped exchanged fire with the residents resulting in one of the occupants dying at the scene. Their vehicle was set alight.

The incident quickly escalated as many motorists were stopped, assaulted, robbed and had their cars ransacked before being set alight. The vigilantes allegedly used baseball balls, bricks, sticks and bush knives to assault their victims.

A team of 31 detectives from around the country have been deployed to investigate these crimes and 22 suspects (18 Indians and four black Africans) have already been arrested.

“In total, police are investigating 52 cases of attempted murder, nine of common assault and 16 of assault GBH. Detectives are investigating the role of private security firms in the violence. The response of the local SAPS to these events will also be looked at,” said Cele.

“Working with the Private Security Industry Regulatory Authority (PSIRA), the investigators have seized 152 firearms from four private security companies working in the area,” added Cele.   

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