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“The July unrest destroyed the unity that had been built over the years in just ten days,” says Sham Maharaj of the Phoenix Peace Committee. Maharaj was speaking in Bhambayi, north of Durban, after a peace walk which was led by the KwaZulu-Natal premier, Sihle Zakalala, and some members of the executive council from the Rydalvale grounds in Phoenix.

Held under the theme “One nation”, the walk is the first peace and reconciliation initiative organised by the provincial government almost two months after the Phoenix violence that left 36 people dead and sparked racial tensions between the town’s Indian community and the nearby African townships of KwaMashu, Inanda, Ntuzuma and the informal settlement of Bhambayi.

Maharaj said as the Peace Committee they have intervened in 12 schools in the area where many parents were scared to return their children after the unrest and succeeded in getting children to go back to school and restoring a sense of normality. “So far, the social cohesion programme is going very well. We are trying our best to rebuild the communities that were most affected by the unrest,” Maharaj said.

Blessing Nyuswa, who is a member of the Bhambayi Peace Committee, said that in order for there to be peace in communities, people need to have peace within themselves. “We need to work extremely hard to restore peace in our communities. We support all peace initiatives but it is not going to be easy; we all have to work hard to achieve it,” Nyuswa said.

The march was joined by representatives of community organisations and religious groups, and community members. The government of KwaZulu-Natal has adopted a 365-day social cohesion and moral regeneration programme as part of building a united and a peaceful province.

Speaking in Bhambayi, Premier Zikalala said, “If we agree that peace is the way to peace itself and development, we equally affirm that peace and justice should be seen as reinforcing each another, not as mutually exclusive. Peace, whatever its cost, must remain our foundation, virtue, and ideal if we are to speed up social transformation and bring justice to all.”

Zikalala said that only through sustained peace, not through repression, violence, or the barrel of the gun can the promise of a free, united, non-racial, non-sexist, equal and prosperous society be manifested. “We have come to Phoenix today as a statement of our commitment to peace and social cohesion. We have come to Phoenix to reach out to each other across the historically imposed barriers of race and ethnicity. We do not come out of blindness or obliviousness.

“During the tragic events of July, where 300 people lost their lives in the looting and violence across KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng, much attention was focused on Phoenix. Law abiding citizens correctly came forward to protect their stores and amenities. Criminal elements also exploited the situation to kill and maim. That criminal intent had a racial bent and we must say with one voice – African and Indian, young and old, Christian, Muslim and Hindu – that we condemn that without any reservation,” Zikalala said.

He further emphasised that those persons charged with the killings must be dealt with appropriately and sternly by the criminal justice system. “Wounds will never heal until and unless there is demonstrable justice in all its facets. We walk these streets today in the belief that peace and justice is possible. That peace and justice will not come about simply because we proclaim it.

“Our history both in the struggle against apartheid and in the 27 years of democracy is that peace, reconciliation and unity is the product of daily hard work on the ground. In this regard, we must acknowledge the peace-loving people of Phoenix, Bhambayi, Inanda, Zwelisha, Amouti and surrounding areas for coming together in forums, dialogues, prayer meetings and sporting events,” he said.

Zikalala was caught on camera assaulting a young person for allegedly looting.

Bhambayi does not have a clinic, library or sports grounds, residents have to go to Phoenix to access public services. Photo by Mzi Velapi

Bishop Rubin Phillip, who serves as deputy chairperson on the KwaZulu-Natal Social Cohesion Council, said the racial divisions in Phoenix were not a true reflection of the entire community and that the “mischief makers” needed to be handed over to the police.

 ANC chief whip in eThekwini Municipality, Sibongiseni Mkhize, said the city is working hard to rebuild communities after the unrest. “The violence brought by the unrest reminded us how much work needs to be done. We applaud the government for starting the process of ensuring that there is peace among the communities,” said Mkhize.

Caroline Govender, co-founder of the Phoenix Survival Centre, a home for abused and abandoned women and children, said she joined the march because she felt it is important for communities to come together after a terrible tragedy that divided communities. “We all need to live in peace and harmony and not allow what happened during the unrest to divide us. This can only be done through forgiveness and by restoring peace among communities,” Govender said.

Zimbabwen-born mechanic, Joee Vheremu, who works in Phoenix, said things have gone back to normal even though some people are still angry but they are now able to move around. “During the unrest we were not allowed to walk the streets or even work in the Phoenix area but now I come to work every day and I work for an Indian man. There hasn’t been any animosity between us or the people who come here to service their cars whether Black or Indian. We just need to be united to work through all this racial tension,” said Vheremu.

A tuck shop worker along the road to Bhambayi said the unrest brought about a lot of problems. “People lost their jobs; business has been slow but I am hoping that in time things will go back to the way it was,” she said.

Last month, the police minister, Bheki Cele, told parliament that the police are investigating 52 cases of attempted murder, 9 cases of common assault and 16 cases of assault to cause grievous bodily harm.

On Wednesday, three suspects appeared in Verulam Magistrate’s Court for murder. Brothers Dylan and Ned Govender and Jeetendra Jaikisson said that they would like to continue with their bail application that they previously abandoned due to what their legal representative cited as ‘ethical reasons’. The bail application will be heard on Friday.