Agence France-Presse, July 16, 2021
Armed residents kept warm by the fire while guarding a roadblock outside a township that has become a flashpoint between black South Africans and counterparts of Indian origin.
Since looting erupted in South Africa on July 9, many neighbourhoods have mobilised to defend homes, businesses and infrastructure against looters.
But in Phoenix, a suburb of the city of Durban in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) province, the unrest has spiralled into confrontation among two ethnic groups in the so-called Rainbow Nation.
Twenty people there have died, Police Minister Bheki Cele said on Thursday, in some of the worst violence since the end of white-minority rule in 1994.
Young men of South Asian heritage brandished handguns and machetes at their checkpoint, where they said they deterred troublemakers.
But the group has been accused of racism and mistreatment — of wrongly barring individuals from the area simply for being black — and others have been criticised for vigilante justice.
“We are not racist,” insisted Karim Loven, the head of a local policing forum.
“If you see the media they’re saying that it was a racial thing, whoever is saying this is racial, they are talking nonsense,” he said.
“We stood out here to protect our families.”
South African police were rapidly overwhelmed when riots and looting erupted in KZN, sparked by the jailing of former president Jacob Zuma, and then spread to Johannesburg.
In the vacuum, communities like Phoenix have taken matters into their own hands.
At the Phoenix roadblock, one masked community member manning the improvised checkpoint said bluntly: “If you’re looting, we’re shooting, because we’ve got nothing to eat”.
South Africans of Indian origin make up just 2.6 percent of the country’s 59 million people, according to official statistics, with a high concentration in and around Durban.
Indians make up 85 percent of the population in Phoenix.