Deep-seated racism and mistrust sparked July 2021 unrest – CRL report

'Phoenix and surrounding communities find it difficult to co-exist'

Burnt-out cars in Phoenix following violence that engulfed the community on July 15 in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal.
Burnt-out cars in Phoenix following violence that engulfed the community on July 15 in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal.
Image: Darren Stewart

Years of racial tensions between blacks and Indians in Phoenix, KZN, were fertile grounds for the July 2021 unrests.

This is according to the Cultural, Religious and Linguistic (CRL) Rights Commission findings in its report of the July 2021 unrest, which started in KZN and spread to Gauteng, leaving more than 300 people dead and properties damaged while businesses were looted. 

According to the report, there had been deep-seated tensions between blacks and Indians, which went as far back as the 1949 Durban riots where the two groups clashed. The SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC), which also released its own report on the unrest yesterday, also suggested that racism contributed to the violence. 

“The mistrust and suspicions of the Africans by Indians, allegedly led to the killings of Africans by Indians, as cited by some community members may have its historical origin in 1949...This mistrust and suspicion makes it difficult for the Phoenix and surrounding areas communities to co-exist and foster the values of friendship, peace, humanity, tolerance based on equality, non- discrimination and free association," read the CRL report. 

“As a result, the 2021 unrest found a ready fertile ground to spread mistrust and suspicion between the communities."

The assessment was based on submissions made by residents before the commission when it held hearings. The SAHRC also held similar hearings with communities and government officials in the justice and security cluster. 

The CRL recommended that there should be cultural and sports programmes for both Indians and blacks in Phoenix to strengthen social cohesion and encourage interaction between these communities. The commission also said racists should be held accountable and convicted.

The SAHRC said the racism had spread to schools in Phoenix and that black teachers in mostly Indians schools were seen as inferior individuals who could only teach in Zulu. 

The SAHRC further said the Mountain Rise police station was Indian-controlled and prejudiced blacks when they reported crimes. 

A collaborative effort should be initiated between the commission, government departments, sociologists and psychologists to devise and test proposals that tackle systemic racism and cultivate a unified national identity. This identity should aim to explore innovative approaches to address racism and prevent future racial violence as a response to the tragic killings of black individuals that occurred during the unrest," said the SAHRC. 

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