Loud sobs drowned out dirges sounding from speakers as a flower-covered coffin arrived for a funeral service in a South African township where locals of Indian descent clashed with black counterparts during recent riots.
The coffin carried the remains of Njabulo Dlamini, a 31-year-old father of 11 who was killed in the adjacent town of Phoenix on July 12, allegedly by a group of South African Indian residents manning a roadblock.
Wearing an elegant black dress and sequin-lined hat, his sister Linda Dlamini said the black taxi driver was shot dead in Phoenix by “Indians” standing guard against looters.
Like communities in parts of the country hit by the unrest, residents of the predominantly ethnic Indian town set up their own protection squads in response to pillaging and arson that broke out days after the jailing of ex-president Jacob Zuma on July 8, overwhelming security forces.
Some of these grassroots mobilisations turned violent and, in Phoenix, they led to allegations of racism after at least 20 blacks were reported dead last week.
Dlamini was intercepted by vigilantes while accompanying friends on an errand in Phoenix, his sister said.
At first “they didn’t notice Njabulo because he was sleeping” at the back of the vehicle, 37-year-old Dlamini said, dabbing her eyes.
“He woke up and ran (but) was shot in the head,” she said, choking back tears.
“After that they continued to beat him, beat him, beat him. He’s got so many scars even in the head.”
By the time police intervened, the attackers were preparing to set Dlamini and another severely injured friend on fire.
The pair were rushed to hospital where Dlamini was pronounced dead.
His siblings struggled to recover the body, barred by armed groups patrolling roads into the town.
“They had axes in their hands and told us to go back,” Dlamini said.
“It is a racist thing,” she cried, anger flashing in her reddened eyes.
– ‘Quench the anger’ –
Friends and relatives filed into a small courtyard facing the modest ochre-coloured house, where a white tent was set up for the ceremony.
A young man in a pale green suit wept uncontrollably while Dlamini’s fiance stared vacantly at the ground, a small child cradled in her arms.
Fellow taxi drivers gathered further up the hill, offering words of support, as they awaited the burial.
Inanda’s mainly black residents are still reeling from what they claim has been an unjustified violent backlash from their neighbours in Phoenix, hard hit by looting.
While unrest has largely eased, armed citizens have continued to watch over their property and families late into the night.
But they vehemently deny stoking racial tensions, noting that the majority of self-protection groups have operated peacefully.
A dozen black religious leaders on Wednesday marched to the Phoenix police station, calling for vigilantes to be brought to justice.
They prayed for peace, surrounded by a fleet of security forces armed to the teeth.
Pastor Vusi Dube said that only arrests would “quench the anger of the people”.
“If we don’t stop it now it is going to exacerbate into racism,” he told AFP. “There is no need for us to be fighting.”