South Africa

Op-Ed: The Glebelands killing fields: Dead – 100, Convicted – 1. And no end in sight for hostel violence

By Vanessa Burger 8 December 2017

Since the killing began in March 2014, 100 people have died in Glebelands Hostel-related violence in Umlazi, Durban – either violently from the bullets of hit men, or more slowly, from stress-induced illnesses caused by the fear of living daily in the shadow of death. With a death toll now reaching almost four times the number of people killed at Marikana – which evoked worldwide outrage, political humiliation, commissions of inquiry and support groups – it is instructive to reflect on the state’s and society’s response to Glebelands’ ongoing slaughter. By VANESSA BURGER.

This article was first published by ELITSHA

The first person to die was Zinakile Fica, killed by Umlazi police on 13 March 2014. A former block chairperson, Fica, together with two other block committee members and his roommate, was rounded up by Umlazi police officers and taken to the detective’s offices at Isipingo SAPS. Fica, who had been dragged naked from his bed, was not permitted to get dressed. The men were verbally and physically abused and accused of being in possession of AK-47 assault rifles. The only person with a gun was Fica. The licence Fica showed the police was for the official weapon he had been issued when employed in the security industry. It made no difference.

Fica was taken first to a nearby room, because he “was cheeky” according to one of the officers. Another member withdrew four SAPS evidence bags from the drawer of a desk in the room where the other men were held.

You boys had better start talking the truth because you’re going to shit yourselves,” he said, before taking the bags to the next room.

The men heard Fica cry out once, then silence.

According to the independent autopsy report, Fica, who had an underlying heart condition he was unaware of, had suffered a massive heart attack when the police had shut off his oxygen with an evidence bag over his head. “Tubing,” a torture technique popular with the apartheid regime to extract information or confessions, has been enthusiastically embraced by law enforcers of our democratic order.

Since Fica’s murder, at least 13 more hostel residents were tortured by police, including a young woman. Some reported their abuse to the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID); but most were too scared. Although many officers were identified in victims’ statements, vehicle registration plates, medical reports and other evidence provided that could have been useful to IPID investigators, 44 months have passed and not one officer has been charged, arrested or even suspended. The IPID claims it is not dysfunctional.

Exactly a month after Fica’s death, a group of thugs led by the late hostel warlord and ululating members of the ANC Women’s League marched on Block 57. They hauled the block committee chairperson before residents forced into an impromptu meeting and falsely accused him of “selling beds” (the corrupt practice of selling space in hostel rooms). He was beaten, publicly humiliated and his room and all his belongings later petrol-bombed. The thugs had advised residents they had nothing to fear because “the ward councillor knows, the superintendent knows, the police know, even Nathi Mthethwa knows”.

Although the hapless block chairman opened a case at the Umlazi Police Station, his attackers were the first in a depressingly long line of suspects who have, over nearly four years, passed seamlessly through the local criminal justice system, only to return to Glebelands after a limited spell in jail, to pick up their guns and continue where they had left off.

The block committees, later joined by Glebelands SACP and residents from nearby informal settlements, had in previous years demanded better service delivery, accountability and transparency, and ultimately passed a vote of no confidence in Umlazi’s ward 76 councillor, Robert Mzobe, as well as the ANC’s branch executive committee. Their passage through the correct channels had, however, led to a political cul-de-sac where they were reportedly threatened by the former ANC regional secretary, Bheki Ntshangase, that they must “stop bringing the party into disrepute” or they would be “dealt with”.

As can be seen from the freshly dug graves spreading across our country’s killing province, to be “dealt with” can mean only one thing. It may be cold outside the ANC, but if one raises one’s voice against dominant factions from within the organisation, one will likely experience the eternal freeze of the nearest mortuary.

In 2012, current presidential wannabe Nkosasana Dlamini Zuma had included Glebelands in her audit report on irregularly constituted provincial branches. After Jacob Zuma’s rise to power, community leaders’ dissatisfaction with the manner in which former president Thabo Mbeki had been recalled led to the formation of a COPE breakaway faction in 2009. Most of the dissidents were block committee members originating from the Eastern Cape. Residents claimed at the time that Mzobe had fomented ethnic and political intolerance to divide the community against COPE members. Although many later returned to the ANC fold, it is telling that most of those targeted during the 2009 violence were killed from 2014 onwards. The deep-seated animosity was exacerbated after Mzobe subsequently took ward 76 by default – not popular vote – and to this day, this branch of the ANC remains improperly constituted. Fast-forward to 2014 and the picture became clearer – Mzobe was there to stay.

Five-a-side meetings convened by block committee representatives at the Umlazi Police Station to try to resolve the attacks on their members were shot down when the warlord declared, “We cannot stop this project until the councillor tells us.”

The police stood by and said nothing, later referring many of the women who were subsequently violently evicted by the warlord’s thugs because of a real or perceived association with block committee members, to the councillor. According to a former Umlazi SAPS station commissioner, “the police cannot get involved in housing allocation issues”, conveniently sidestepping their mandate to “serve and protect” “without fear or favour”.

The office of the MEC for Transport, Community Safety and Liaison was approached to intervene, but the five-a-side talks were suspended ahead of the 2014 national elections. The ANC had other things on its mind and it seems Mzobe, allegedly a Zuma clan member, had an important role to play in securing factional loyalty from his vast constituency as well as protecting politically connected business interests. Dissident hostel dwellers who made too much noise about construction contracts, jobs for friends and room allocation could simply not be tolerated. They must be silenced – permanently if necessary.

So the police also stood by when thugs handed a memorandum to city officials and ANC representatives in July 2014, attached to which was a list of names of those deemed “unwanted at Glebelands”. Most were block committee members who were ordered to leave Glebelands within seven days or face consequences. To anyone but the police it seems the “consequences” could not have been clearer. In a few short months, nine people had already been killed and dozens more violently and illegally evicted by thugs, reportedly escorted at times by local police officers.

On 28 September 2014, the former KZN Premier, Senzo Mchunu, weighed into the fray, declaring at a mass community meeting of several thousand residents, provincial hostel representatives, faith-based agencies, government officials and the media, that the block committees were the cause of the violence – in effect blaming the victims. Mchunu’s unilateral decision to ban these grassroots structures robbed the community of any form of self-representation, organisational capacity and leadership and effectively silenced hostel voices.

By that time the death toll had risen to 20.

During the month that followed Mchunu’s announcement that external units would now augment local patrols, a Public Order Policing Unit from the Eastern Cape brutally tortured two men, while Umlazi SAPS detectives assaulted and tortured a young woman. All three were somehow perceived to be associated with the block committees.

Having the previous year drawn a blank with the Department of Social Development, the Commission for Gender Equality (CGE), appalled by the impact of the violence on women and children, escalated concerns to the SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) and Office of the Public Protector (OPP).

The complaint, dated 8 April 2015 and addressed to provincial and national SAHRC commissioners and KZN head of the OPP, began: “The CGE wishes to refer for urgent investigation… a series of human rights abuses and administrative justice failures emanating from recent violence and evictions at Glebelands Hostel, Umlazi, eThekwini.” Concerns were outlined in a detailed attachment.

To its shame the SAHRC has, to date, remained officially mute on Glebelands’ slaughter. It took a further eight months and the personal intervention of the UKZN’s acting director of the Centre for Socio-Legal Studies and president of the Commonwealth Legal Education Association, Prof David Mcquoid-Mason, before the former Public Protector, Thuli Madonsela, launched her investigation, “Stop the Carnage.” By then 56 people were dead and hundreds displaced.

Local civil society and religious groups, which seemed equally reluctant to become embroiled in what increasingly seemed to be becoming a struggle to the death with the ruling party, generally procrastinated and professed ignorance to the root causes of the ongoing violence.

In September 2015, by which time starvation stalked an increasing number of the displaced and dispossessed, local church leaders came bearing empty promises. Two years and as many visits later, when met with increasing community cynicism, a local church leader was said to have declared darkly, “No one is innocent at Glebelands!” before flouncing off, apparently never to return, or at least, probably not for another year.

Those, such as Gift of the Givers, that in October 2015 did try to ease the humanitarian suffering by distributing much-needed food parcels; were later branded as “opportunists” by provincial ANC leaders.

A well-known human rights legal outfit, after initially undertaking in late 2015 to engage with the eThekwini Municipality to provide alternate housing for illegal evictees, suddenly seemed to get cold feet after the appointment of a new regional director. In a staggering statement, made some three months later, the legal outfit claimed: “The violence and evictions at Glebelands stem from politics… We cannot be seen to be supporting any political parties. Once the PP’s report is released that will provide insight into exactly what the issues are at the hostel, so her report will be an excellent starting point on the way forward.”

By definition, the contravention of hostel dwellers’ rights to life, not to be tortured or illegally evicted could not be opposed if carried out for political reasons. And while the community waited for a starting point, another 33 people died.

It had by then become clear to community leaders that they needed to reach for help beyond South Africa’s borders. A bogus nomination process for the 2016 local government elections had propelled the ward councillor towards a third term and despondency was running high.

We cannot sit with arms folded while our people are dying like flies,” declared one hostel leader.

After much consultation, the affected community resolved to appeal to the United Nations Human Rights Council. Their decision was announced at a press conference on 17 April 2016.

State pushback was immediate, multipronged and from all directions. In a “good cop, bad cop” strategy, calls were received from a former struggle-veteran-cum-peace-activist (who turned out to be the ANC spokesperson for the KZN south coast and current member of the ANC’s regional executive committee) as well as a powerful KZN man of the cloth. While the approach of the “peace activist” (who names former State Security Minister, Siyabonga Cwele, and MEC for Human Settlements and Public Works, Ravi Pillay, as role models) was clearly intended to disarm; the religious leader cut straight to the chase, demanding the community “consider the feelings of the police.” Again, by definition, the feelings of the – by then – 13 hostel dwellers reportedly tortured by police were unworthy of consideration. However, the underlying message from both parties was the same: call off the press conference!

While journalists attending the press conference had expressly been requested to protect the identities of the speakers due to very valid security concerns (ANC PR councillor Zodwa Sibiya had been gunned down the night before the event), ANN7 managed to air footage of the entire group several times on prime time news and retained the coverage on their website for days after their oversight was pointed out to them.

This landed ANN7 before the Broadcasting Complaints Commission of South Africa (BCCSA) and in September 2016 the acting chairperson ordered the broadcaster to screen a public apology and admit to gross negligence by endangering community members’ lives.

Although the UN appeal went full circle back to be stonewalled again by the SAHRC, with the Public Protector’s investigation under way, local government elections around the corner and 62 dead, the ANC rapidly switched to Plan B. The former MEC for Transport, Community Safety and Liaison, Willies Mchunu, deployed his security adviser, Sibusiso Xulu, to facilitate a new peace process.

Once again the community was courted with promises of shiny new development. Those elected to the peace committee were given T-shirts and allegedly promised a 34% share in certain “peace projects” that were to be brought to Glebelands. The propaganda machine was cranked into action, the old “bed selling” motive dusted off and this time supplemented with “old grudges” and “fights over women” as just cause for the untenable violence.

Despite the spin, the process was instrumental in bringing together those who really did believe peace was possible. The unfortunate by-product of this, however, was a greater appreciation of circumstances and events that had previously been manipulated to divide and cultivate hostility. This in turn forged a more unified disgust with degraded hostel living conditions, failing service delivery and political arrogance. With elections only weeks away the ANC had to up the ante.

Slashing the proposed year-long initiative to seven weeks, “peace” was hastily declared at a Glebelands mega-bash on 24 July 2016. However, amid the festivities officials breathed not a word about a new hit list in which peace committee members had recently been identified as targets. The officials and other parties invited to lend legitimacy to this fatally flawed and dubiously motivated process also looked the other way when a group of hostel thugs and hit men, by then in control of all 14 of Glebelands’ old blocks, swathed in ANC flags emblazoned with the late warlord’s face, marched outside the venue, swearing to avenge him.

Ten days later, Mzobe was entrenched as ward councillor for a third five-year term. Some residents, who had bothered to vote, claimed they did so only to write “poes” next to the incumbent’s name.

Predictably, immediately after the elections, the peace process faded into the sound of gunfire. The first to be targeted were the peace representatives from the old blocks. Deemed “traitors” by their hit-men neighbours, and now armed with fresh hardware allegedly introduced by Glebelands’ rogue cop, one member was shot in the face and another forced to flee through the window of his room when killers axed down his door. On 7 November 2016, Block 52 peace committee leader Nkosinathi Shezi was gunned down after leaving the Umlazi Magistrate’s Court in what many maintain was a hit ordered by Glebelands’ rogue cop. Shezi had reportedly provided a statement implicating police in crime and corruption. It was well known that the last thing Glebelands’ rogue cop wanted was peace.

Hitmen previously recruited to eliminate the block committees and undertake a few taxi hits had now also found a new market for their trade and ANC councillors were killed in increasing numbers throughout KZN. During the peace process, regime change had come to KZN, replacing what has now become the Cyril Ramaphosa camp with the pro-Zupta, Nkosasana Dlamini Zuma camp. But at Glebelands, the more things change the more they stay the same, and one hand in the cookie jar looks pretty much like any other.

By the time the Public Protector’s report was finalised in June 2017 (a mere cut-and-paste job of the previous year’s interim report), 89 people had lost their lives. Despite official claims to the contrary, none of the recommendations listed in the report has been implemented, no one has been held accountable, service delivery remains invisible and the continued roll-out of a steady stream of lucrative contracts for “security measures” has done nothing but anger the community.

After Cllr Sibiya’s murder in 2016, a shocked police officer had remarked: “Glebelands will only be free when God takes Mzobe.”

But the problem is far greater than that. With a juicy municipal budget of well over R40-billion, the ruling party’s elective conference in a week’s time and a national election in 2019, the network of patronage the only thing left holding together government departments and State-owned Entities, a crippled economy, most of civil society and the media preoccupied with State Capture, and a governing mindset mostly unchanged since the apartheid era; the prognosis does not look good for Glebelands.

On 7 November 2017, exactly a year after the murder of Shezi, two more residents were killed at Block 52. A total of 100 people are now dead. There has been only one conviction. The poison that was cultivated at Glebelands and since spread across the province has not only become a threat to national security – it is a national shame which we continue to ignore it at our peril.

Below are the deceased, may they rest in peace. DM

No. Date. Name. Incident. Location. Cause of Death.

2014

1 13 March Zinakile Fica Isipingo SAPS offices Tortured (suffocated) by police

2 April – exact date unknown Bheki Khumalo MegaCity, Umlazi V-Section Shot

3 1 May Unknown hostel resident Glebelands Shot

4 1 May Unknown hostel resident Glebelands Shot

5 2 May Unknown hostel resident Glebelands Shot

6 3 May Unknown hostel resident Block 50, Glebelands Shot

7 May – exact date unknown Venge Zoleka Block 46, Glebelands Shot

8 May – exact date unknown Unknown resident Road below Block S, Glebelands Shot

9 May – exact date unknown Unknown resident Glebelands Shot

10 23 June Sandile Mtheshane Near Glebelands Shot

11 June – exact date unknown Zamokafikhe Nzimande Glebelands Shot

12 June – exact date unknown Xolisile Nkosiyabo Block 56, Glebelands Shot

13 June – exact date unknown Unknown resident Glebelands Shot

14 20 July Vusi Ngema Near Glebelands tennis courts Shot

15 July – exact date unknown Unknown resident Glebelands Shot

16 July – exact date unknown Rasta Shinga Griffiths Mxenge Highway, below Block B Shot

17 25 or 26 or 27 August Sifiso Mngadi Griffiths Mxenge Highway, near Glebelands Shot

18 4 September Thothenhle Shinga Griffiths Mxenge Highway, near Glebelands Shot

19 6 September Thandiwe Ntombela Shot near Block S, Glebelands, died in hospital Shot

20 21 September Gcina Mchunu JPS Primary School, Umlazi V Section Shot

21 Sept – exact date unknown Unknown resident Block N, Glebelands Shot

2015

22 16 January Phumlani Ndlovu Near Block 40, Glebelands Shot

23 15 February Fikile Siyephu Block 49, Glebelands Shot

24 25 March Simeko Nhlela Shot in Glebelands, died later in hospital Shot

25 27 March Siniko Ncayiyana Block 40, Glebelands Shot

26 2 April Fikile Jumbile Glebelands entrance below blocks B and D Shot

27 10 April Thulani Kathi MegaCity taxi rank, Umlazi V Section Shot

28 18 May Sipho Ndovela Umlazi Magistrate’s Court entrance Shot

29 20 May Sphamandla Hlongwane Block C, Glebelands Shot

30 22 May Bongani Khathi Block D, Glebelands Shot

31 25 May Unknown resident Madala Stairs area, Glebelands Shot

32 27 May Tutu Albert ‘Dlamini’ Vilibani Wanda Cele Road, below Block 49, Glebelands Stabbed

33 29 May Ke Nikwe ‘Bhakabhaka’ Outside Jeena’s Supermarket Shot

34 5 June Themba Pina Chester Butchery, Umbilo Shot

35 11 June Vele Ndebele Outside Lamontville Community Hall, Gwala St Shot

36 14 July Nkosinathi Ndovela Bus stop below Madala Stairs, Glebelands Shot

37 19 July Thandayiphe ‘Chaka’ Cwele Ezimbuzeni entrance, Glebelands Shot

38 27 July Ntlo Sigweba Between Block 48 and 49, Glebelands Shot

39 3 August Mzwakhe Gwala Block 48, Glebelands Shot

40 15 August Cyprian Mzokhona Ngwekazi Track leading to Block R Shot

41 12 September William Mthembu Montclair Shopping Centre Shot

42 12 September Thokozani Machi Montclair Shopping Centre Shot

43 3 October Bongani Hlophe Room 24, Block 52, Glebelands Shot

44 3 October Bandile Cele / Ngcobo Room 24, Block 52, Glebelands Shot

45 11 October Unknown resident (child) Petrol bomb attack at Block Y Burned / smoke inhalation

46 11 October Unknown resident (father of child) Died in hospital after Block Y petrol bomb attack Smoke inhalation

47 25 October ‘Ngo’ Yongama Attacked near Block 53, died later in hospital Shot

48 27 October Unknown male Near Block R Shot

49 2 November Unknown resident Between Block 45 and Reunion Entrance, Glebelands Shot

50 6 November Richard Mbona Near Ezimbuzeni entrance, Glebelands Shot

51 7 November Frank Khuzwayo Shot at Block S, Glebelands, died next day in hospital Shot

52 12 November Bongani Mthembu Near Block R garage Shot

53 14 November Mthintheni Mhlongo Entrance to Block K, Glebelands Shot

54 1 December Mlinyelwa ‘Majola’ Gobidolo Outside Chief’s Tavern, Reunion entrance, Glebelands Shot

55 11 December Makhosi Zide Near informal settlement next to MegaCity Shot

2016

56 25 February Ntozakhe (surname) Reunion taxi rank, Reunion entrance, Glebelands Shot

57 15 March Mduduzi ‘Gumede’ Nkosinathi Qwabe Reunion entrance, Glebelands Shot

58 24 March Sphamandla Cele Between Blocks 50 and 51, Glebelands Shot

59 26 March LL Mtwa Block 51, Glebelands Shot

60 28 March Unknown resident Died in hospital after injuries sustained on 24 or 26 March Shot

61 13 April Nkosiyezwe Dumakude Block I, Glebelands Shot

62 16 April Zodwa Sibiya Block L, Glebelands Shot

63 16 April Mngcobothi (surname) Harding Stress-induced illness

64 19 June Vumile Luthuli Near Block 56, Glebelands Stabbed

65 18 July Bongani Sikhosana Harding Shot

66 7 November Nkosinathi Shezi Prince Mcwayizeni Rd, near Glebelands entrance Shot

67 27 November ‘Dlamini’ Kheshwa Pietermaritzburg Hospital Stress-induced illness

68 1 December Alwyn ‘Ace’ Houston Harding Shot

69 11 December Zibusele ‘Tshabalala’ Armstrong Khuzwayo Block 49, Glebelands Hanging (suspicious ‘suicide’)

70 22 December Unknown resident Block E, Glebelands Shot

2017

71 26 January Mthandeni Sigwaza Wema Hostel taxi rank, Umlazi Shot

72 28 January Akhona Ngxokana Next to Block 50, Glebelands Shot

73 3 February Mlungisi Cele MegaCity robots, near Glebelands, Umlazi V Section Shot

74 9 February Sthembiso Nonganga Block R, Glebelands Shot

75 15 February Ndobeko Sukude Block S, Glebelands Shot

76 15 February Unborn child of Andiswa Ncayiyana Ncayiyana was shot in stomach during same incident Abortion of injured foetus

77 27 February Thobani Ngcobo Between Blocks 43 and 49, Glebelands Shot

78 10 March Unknown female Rural areas outside Harding Shot

79 10 March Unknown community member Rural areas outside Harding killed in same incident Shot

80 10 March Unknown community member Rural areas outside Harding killed in same incident Shot

81 11 March Ncayiyana (surname) Between Blocks M1 and M2, Glebelands Shot

82 1 or 2 April Unknown community member Zwelimbomvu Shot

83 1 or 2 April Unknown community member Zwelimbomvu, killed in same incident Shot

84 1 or 2 April Unknown community member Zwelimbomvu, killed in same incident Shot

85 1 or 2 April Unknown community member Zwelimbomvu, killed in same incident Shot

86 6 April Nkosinathi Richie Qeda Bizana Stress-induced illness

87 18 May Unknown former resident Smith Street, Durban city centre Shot

88 3 June Taxi driver for Cllr Sithenjwa Nyawose’s son Next to Block O, Glebelands Shot

89 13 June Sthembiso (first name) Block S, Glebelands Shot

90 26 July Mluleki ‘Boni’ Mdletshe Block P, Glebelands Shot

91 26 July Sibongile Ma Mtshali Block 46, Glebelands Shot

92 3 August Unknown woman Block 48, Glebelands Shot

93 8 August Xolani (first name) Near Glebelands tennis courts Shot

94 22 August Ngobe Mbatha Block 50, Glebelands Shot

95 20 October Bongani Mntaka Block K, Glebelands Shot

96 25 – 29 Sept – exact date unknown Unknown Block 42, Glebelands Stabbed

97 5 November Gingqi Ntsalabaka Bizana Stress-induced illness

98 5 November Mntaka (surname – relative of victim 95) Near Glebelands tennis courts Shot

99 7 November Musa Ndimande Block 52, Glebelands Shot

100 7 November Mbatha Ntaka Block 52, Glebelands, killed during same incident Shot

Photo: Ahmed Rizkhaan/(Unsplash)

Gallery

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