Johannesburg, Jul 18 (PTI) South African Minister of Police, General Bheki Cele has warned vigilante groups in the sprawling Indian township of Phoenix that racial profiling at illegal roadblocks and other violence will not be tolerated, as racial tensions simmered across the country after a week of riots sparked by the imprisonment of former President Jacob Zuma.
'Residents have the right to defend themselves within the law, but if we hear that people are being racially profiled at roadblocks set up in the area; where people trying to access Phoenix, including police, are being intimidated, and in extreme cases people are being beaten up and their cars searched and torched; (this) is simply criminal and won't be tolerated,' Cele told local media after visiting the communities in Phoenix, 25 km from Durban, on Saturday.
Over the last weekend, armed vigilante groups have been blockading entrances to Phoenix, which was demarcated a township in the apartheid-era's 'separate development' policy to forcibly resettle tens of thousands of Indian citizens from across the city.
Residents of three Black townships surrounding Phoenix have complained they are being de-barred from entering the Indian-majority town, even for work purpose.
The incidents have caused huge tensions between Indian and Black South Africans, despite many Indian organisations across the country rallying to the aid of South Africans of all races who have been left destitute after a week-long orgy of looting, arson and violence in which hundreds of businesses, warehouses and shopping centres were completely destroyed by rioting mobs.
The racial tensions were aggravated by highly inciting social media messages -- most of it fake news -- on either side of the divide.
The violence erupted on July 7 when former President Zuma began serving a 15-month jail sentence for contempt of court after he repeatedly refused to testify at the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture, where several witnesses have implicated him in corruption.
While the riots have claimed over 200 lives across the country, 20 Black citizens have died in Phoenix alone.
President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Friday that the 'destruction' was well-orchestrated but that it was a failed insurrection by the people who were now being investigated for instigating it. While residents of Phoenix have been claiming that they are safeguarding their families and assets from marauding mobs, Cele has urged them not to allow criminal elements to highjack their efforts of trying to protect themselves.
Cele's interaction with community members laid bare claims of racial tensions, vigilante acts, and the alleged role of some private security companies as well as policing shortcomings as being some of the elements fuelling the instability in Phoenix.
'Police will not negotiate with criminals. Those who commit these criminal acts will be found and dealt with, regardless of who they are and where they come from,' Cele added.
The Minister said a team of 10 detectives has been assembled to investigate the deaths of 20 people who were allegedly killed in Phoenix, with the community claiming that a number of other Black residents are missing.
The team of investigators will also focus on the alleged involvement of local South African Police Service members and private security companies in the violence in the area.
Cele said an additional 80 public order police officers have been deployed to Phoenix to assist local police and work together with members of the South African National Defence Force to keep all residents and property safe.
Cele has also called for residents of Phoenix and the neighbouring Black areas of Bhambayi, Umaoti and Zwelisha to form a community grouping, working with the SAPS to rebuild the broken community relations and bring about peace and social cohesion.
The District Commissioner of the area has been tasked to assemble a 'Peace Committee' made up of community representatives who will work towards addressing racial tensions and crime challenges in Phoenix and neighbouring settlements. PTI FH IND