Zama Nguse took to the stand as the first witness on Monday morning in the South African Human Rights Commission’s (SAHRC’s) public hearings into the violent unrest the country witnessed in July this year.
The SAHRC is conducting a national investigative hearing from 15 November until 3 December into the devastating riots that swept through parts of KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) and Gauteng.
The hearings will look into the cause of the unrest and the causes of allegedly racially motivated attacks and killings, among other things.
The commission carried out site inspections in both provinces earlier this year, as well as a national imbizo.
The 8-to-19 July riots resulted in more than 330 people losing their lives, and cost R25 billion in damages.
The violence was ostensibly sparked by the imprisonment of former president Jacob Zuma.
Zama, who was stays at Raisethorpe – an informal settlement in Pietermaritzburg – with her two children and boyfriend, gave oral evidence of her own experience of the events that took place during the riots.
The witness also detailed how her 17-year-old nephew, Sbahle Nguse, was killed during unrest.
She said that, on 11 July, it was the first time that she saw any acts of violence taking place in the area.
“On the day in question, I heard a noise then I made a phone call to my friends who live nearby. When I called, one of them didn’t answer and my phone’s battery died so I decided to go out and see what was going on only to find tires burning,” the witness explained in isiZulu.
Zama went on to say that this was the day her nephew was killed.
She explained that she went with her children to her sister’s place, Sbahle’s mother, because there was teargas in her shack.
“When we got there, we closed the door and then heard what sounded like an explosion so we ran out, but Sbahle had not seen where we went when we fled. I was then told by someone that Sbahle was shot,” she said.
Zama told the commission that she was informed by doctors that Sbahle had already died before they arrived at the Northdale Hospital.
The witness added her nephew died from a small gunshot wound, which was on the left side of his chest.
Looting and attacks
The following day, 12 July, Zama continued to explain, she, alongside her two other sisters, went to the house of Sbahle’s father to inform him of the incident.
While on her way back home, she said that’s when she saw that chaos had erupted in the area as some nearby shops were looted.
“After the liquor and motor spares shops had been broken into, a group of Indians gathered. So because we had then ran away, they went into the shacks [in the neighborhood] and assaulted elderly people who didn’t manage to flee.
“They kicked them out and set the shacks on fire with explosives. They were also going after the people that had fled and started shooting at them,” Zama said.
She revealed that she got shot three times when she went back to her shack to get a bag that contained important documents such as IDs and clinic cards.
“I don’t know how to explain it, but what I was shot with was a small thing and when it hits the body the wound closes then whatever poison that it carries spreads throughout the body. This was the same thing that was used when Sbahle was shot,” she added.
The second witness has since taken the stand. The hearing continues.