South Africa

OP-ED

Glebelands: A tale of two convictions – justice, and the law of inequality

A patrolling police vehicle was seen at the Glebelands Hostel in Mlazi outside Durban on November 20, 2015. ( Photo by Gallo Images / Daily Dispatch / Sino Majangaza)

On Tuesday 12 February the Pietermaritzburg High Court sentenced Glebelands hostel hitman Sanele Thusi to a total of 59 years – 20 years for a 2014 KwaDabeka murder plus seven for possession of an unlicensed firearm and ammunition in relation to the same case; a further seven years for the attempted murder of a Glebelands resident in February 2017, and a life sentence for another Glebelands murder committed in January 2018.

The 2017 attempted murder case had been previously dismissed under highly suspicious circumstances by an Umlazi Court magistrate in November later that year. At the time there were four other pending cases against Thusi – two for 2014 murders at Matimatolo and KwaDabeka and two attempted murders at Harding in 2016. There was also an existing warrant for Thusi’s arrest in connection with the KwaDabeka murder, one of the charges for which he would ultimately be convicted. However, after a botched identity parade, the magistrate had inexplicably refused further remands and threw the case out of court.

Shortly after his release, Thusi returned to Glebelands, where, on the night of 14 January 2018, he shot Musawenkosi Msomi. Msomi, a Block M resident, was attacked about 30 minutes after the murder of another hostel resident, Zanoxolo Qutha, who was shot dead in his vehicle near Block R. Msomi died of his injuries a few weeks later. During this time, frantic attempts had been made to get charges against Thusi reinstated and the magistrate in question investigated (large amounts of money had been extorted from hostel residents in a series of collections shortly before Thusi’s release – collections that police patrolling Glebelands at the time seemed remarkably unable to stop).

Some months later Thusi was rearrested, the former charges were reinstated and the case eventually moved to Pietermaritzburg High Court. A year later, justice finally took its course.

Thusi, a close friend of Glebelands hitman, Mawethu Maquthu, who was himself recently sentenced to 31 years in prison, was allegedly recruited for taxi-related hits by Durban Central SAPS detective Bhekukwazi Mdweshu, currently one of the “Glebelands 8” charged with 22 counts of murder, attempted murder, extortion, possession of unlicensed firearm and ammunition and racketeering.

It is unknown what, if any, sanction has been taken against the magistrate.

Glebelands’ investigating officers are commended for their persistence, determination, and commitment to justice.

On Monday, another Glebelands man, Doris Odwa Kati, was sentenced to a total of 17 years for attempted murder and robbery with aggravating circumstances. Kati was arrested in December 2017 around the same time as Mdweshu and his co-accused. Kati was charged with robbing and shooting a hostel woman in 2016.

Although he had been charged previously for a variety of crimes, Kati was not a hitman. He never killed – or tried to kill – for money. His was actually a sad case like so many other young hostel men with no hope and much less future.

Kati apparently had a reputation as a troublemaker but he was more or less kept in line by his older brother Thulani – “Commander” – as his fellow block committee chairmen at Glebelands knew him.

One night in October 2014 a Public Order Police Unit came for Commander, seemingly acting on false information or politically motivated orders against Glebelands block committees. Commander was accused of having an unlicensed firearm and claimed he was tortured – beaten and repeatedly suffocated with a plastic bag – for several hours. This did not stop Commander from seeing his name near the top of a list of names on a sheet of paper the police appeared to be working from. He said he recognised the names as those residents previously deemed “unwanted” at Glebelands – block committee members – who had in 2014 been given seven days to leave by an associate of the Glebelands 8 or be killed. The same associate who allegedly claimed, during a community meeting convened with police in an attempt to defuse the situation, to have been acting on the ward councillor’s orders. No gun was ever found.

Commander’s torture was reported to the IPID, but seven months later, before the investigation was concluded, he was gunned down at the MegaCity taxi rank one evening when returning from work.

These events, combined with continual death threats, seemed to have somewhat unhinged the younger Kati, who, fellow residents later reported, became increasingly aggressive, fearful and uncontrollable.

One community leader described him as “…like a boy lost in the mist”.

There can be little doubt that conditions at Glebelands contributed to Kati’s slide into crime. And while poverty cannot be an excuse for violence; inhumane and degrading living conditions, abandonment by the state, exclusion from socio-economic upliftment opportunities, historic marginalisation and a violent society where life has virtually no value, all contribute towards the production of broken young men like Kati with rage in their hearts and guns in their hands.

Most prisons offer little in the way of rehabilitation. If Kati survives incarceration and serves his full sentence he will be in his mid-forties when released and will enjoy even fewer prospects of leading a crime-free life than before his conviction.

Kati’s elderly mother, Marawutini Sinali, has lost both her sons – one to natural death, one to the criminal justice system. Yet while Sinali struggles in rural poverty to raise her son’s eight children on a state pension, South Africa’s treasonous political high rollers – whose savage greed has laid waste to the future of millions like Kati, his mother, his children, even Thusi and all his victims – continue to enjoy their freedom, laughing, singing, dancing, immune to justice, immune to the nation’s suffering. DM

Vanessa Burger is a Community Activist for Human Rights & Social Justice. The author has worked closely with the community since March 2014 to try and assist Glebelands violence victims after having been requested by hostel dwellers association, uBunye bamaHostela, to help the family of a man tortured and killed in police custody on 13 March 2014.

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