from NJABULO BUTHELEZI in Durban
DURBAN (CAJ News) – LARGELY unfamiliar only a few months ago, to being an epicentre of the deadly July unrest, the town of Phoenix is now a battleground ahead of the local government elections in South Africa.
At a time the dust was settling in this KwaZulu-Natal town where 36 people died during the anarchy, it has been a focal point as rival political parties lay siege.
This comes two months after the shooting of 30 people while some were burnt to death and others stabbed in the wake of ethnic tensions during the unrest in KZN.
Over 50 suspects were arrested.
Less than three weeks before the November 1 poll, the race for votes in the town 25km north of Durban is intense. The war of words has been escalating.
Election posters that the official opposition, the Democratic Alliance (DA) put up in the city have stirred up a hornet’s nest.
“The ANC (African National Congress) calls you racists. The DA calls you heroes,” the posters read.
With the wounds still open among some victims of the July skirmishes, the party came under immense criticism for alleged insensitivity.
Initially, DA leader John Steenhuisen, was defiant, and insisted the communities in Phoenix were “heroes” for defending their homes amid lack of capacity by law enforcers, which was exposed during the unrest that also hit the country’s economic hub – Gauteng province.
However, DA has backtracked.
Dean Macpherson, provincial chairman of the party, issued an apology. The posters have been taken down.
However, the backpedalling and apology might be too little too late.
Analysts believe this would cost the DA much-needed votes in this town whose population of about 177 000 (2011 census).
Political commentator, Sifiso Mkhize, alleged racism was innate in the party.
Critics believe the party is not committed to the interests of the majority, which has seen it lose black leaders in recent years.
“Black people were killed in Phoenix allegedly by Indians,” Mkhize said.
“Indeed, we will be in deep trouble if the DA wins elections. Apartheid still runs in their blood,” he said.
Phoenix is predominantly Indian, comprising 85 percent of the population.
The ruling African National Congress (ANC) also descended in Phoenix as the preparations for poll reach the final stretch.
Jessie Duarte, the ANC acting secretary-general, who led a campaign delegation, lambasted the DA.
“It is disappointing for the ANC to see this poster that has caused quite a lot of debate in the country,” Duarte said.
ANC in KZN, which has the largest branch in the country, denounced the DA’s initial poster stance as “shameful” and “fascist.”
Phoenix falls under Ethekwini, which ANC retained control in the last election in 2016.
– CAJ News