BOOK EXTRACT: WAR PARTY
A tragic story that reveals the hidden truths about political violence in KZN
In ‘War Party: How the ANC’s political killings are breaking South Africa’, author Greg Ardé traces the arc of political killings in KwaZulu-Natal and explores how patronage networks and cadre deployment shapes conflicts.
Chapter title: None so brave
The violence which, as we have seen, has infested the political life of the small towns of KZN is of course no stranger to the province’s largest city. The opportunities for graft and corruption in eThekwini municipality are so much greater. This story about Nathi Nkwanyana, a city revenue protection manager, is tragic and reveals many features encountered in this survey of political violence in KZN. It opens but one door of many that tell the story of graft and power in Durban.
When I met Nathi Nkwanyana in a coffee shop in a Durban mall, he was sitting at a table away from the entrance with his back against the wall. He wore a baseball cap pulled down low and he had good reason to be skittish. In November 2017, gunmen arrived at his New Germany home and shot dead his 23-year-old son, Ntuthuko, the apple of his eye.
The hitmen were in fact after Nkwanyana.
After the shooting, he spent almost 18 months in hiding, venturing out mostly to meet with lawyers and trying to get the cops to find his son’s killers, something the police seemed utterly incapable of doing. An electrical engineer and senior eThekwini revenue protection manager, Nkwanyana is a sharp, articulate man in his mid-forties. He worked for the municipality for 25 years and boasted an unblemished record that he was rightly proud of.
He hails from rural Ozwathini, Ndwedwe, north of Durban, and he was the first child in the family to finish school and achieve a tertiary qualification.
Nkwanyana is rational and pragmatic. That element of his personality keeps him sane against the backdrop of his heart-wrenching tragedy.
On the day of his son’s murder, Nathi arrived home and took a call on his cellphone as he entered his suburban home. It was a typical weekday afternoon, and family members milled around doing chores and homework. Nkwanyana, chatting on his cell, motioned a quick hello and walked through the house to the backyard to finish his chat with a friend.
Not long afterwards there was a rattle at the front gate and Nkwanyana, thinking it was Ntuthuko’s friends, briefly called to his eldest to attend to the visitors. He could see the gate through the house but didn’t pay particular attention until he heard the deafening gunshots.
“I heard bah, bah, bah, about six times.”
Nkwanyana’s eyes turned in the direction of the sound. He reeled as he saw the killers and then his son lying on the ground.
He couldn’t talk, and his friend on the other end of the line soon realised there was a crisis. He dropped the call as Nkwanyana raced towards his son.
“I was flabbergasted. Ntuthuko was lying there. After he fell down they fired another two or three shots before speeding off in a car. I saw them. I could identify the shooter.”
Ntuthuko’s last words, as he lay bleeding in his father’s arms, will remain with Nkwanyana forever. Ntuthuko looked up at his father and gasped “Baba, baba,” and then died. In court papers, Nkwanyana said his son’s murder was meant to “silence me forever”. Ntuthuko had “no known enemies, but resembles me in height and build”.
The family’s heartbreak was compounded by the fact that Ntuthuko was murdered the day before he was about to submit his final project for his electrical engineering qualification.
“People say they saw me in Ntuthuko,” Nkwanyana says. “They said he was just like me, but he was going to be ten times better. He was down to earth and generous. He never took anything for granted. He was the type of person who made sure everyone was OK. He was lovely.”
In the days that followed the shooting, Nkwanyana’s tortured mind blackened with thoughts of vengeance, but the torment waned and he realised bloodlust would only consume him and destroy his already shattered family. So he went for counselling, strengthened his resolve, and set out on a long, costly and tortuous quest for justice.
He wants his son’s killers brought to book and, though it might seem as clear as daylight where the police ought to look, they appeared to be looking the other way or not looking at all.
Nkwanyana’s case is also painful because he’s fighting a self-funded, and what often seems a lonely, crusade to force the eThekwini municipality to act against corruption. During the Moerane Commission, the chairman bemoaned the fact that the eThekwini municipality, which is mired in financial irregularity, failed to testify before the commission. There wasn’t a politician or official brave enough to step up to the plate.
None were as brave as Nkwanyana has been. In 2012, municipal officials, including Nkwanyana, took issue with a company that provided electrical services to the city. Daily Double Trading, trading as Pholobas Projects, had contracts with the municipality to disconnect illegal electricity connections. Nkwanyana said Pholobas was billing for staff who weren’t actually working. His report was endorsed by various council superiors and the company’s contracts were suspended in October 2013.
It seems patently clear from what followed that in spite of a litany of misdemeanours, Pholobas, owned by businessman Joseph Ngcobo, had the support of politicians and municipal officials. Officials told me that Ngcobo was “connected”. Moves against his company caused a stir. An official wrote a report saying that Nkwanyana had a vendetta against Ngcobo, but senior officials later rejected that as nonsense.
When Pholobas was fingered by Nkwanyana for overcharging the municipality by R102,000, the company’s mea culpa was to refund eThekwini for that amount. Nkwanyana was called to the office of the municipal manager, Sbu Sithole, (not to be confused with his namesake, the municipal manager of Richmond), who said he was under political pressure relating to the issue. Nkwanyana pointed out he was simply doing his job.
Sithole then met the mayor, James Nxumalo, and the head of electricity, Sandile Maphumulo. The case against Pholobas seemed irrefutable. Directing further work to the company would be both unethical and illegal. The suspension of Pholobas meant that the company couldn’t tender for municipal work for five years. But the issue bubbled away in the background.
In 2014, Pholobas launched a failed action in the Durban High Court in a bid to reverse the termination. Even before this, it had lost an internal appeal against the cancellation of its contracts. The appeal was presided over by Advocate BJ Buthelezi, who upheld the moves against the company. He said the decision to terminate the company’s contract was well grounded.
His judgment went further: “In fact, the decision to terminate should have been taken a lot earlier before a lot of damage was caused.” He also supported a decision by the city’s Bid Adjudication Committee in 2013 to refer Pholobas to the blacklisting committee.
In 2015, a report by the City Integrity and Investigations Unit (CIIU) recommended disciplinary action against Nkwanyana. But in response to the report, the deputy head of eThekwini’s customer and retail services, Sew Harilal, dismissed the allegations against Nkwanyana and heaped praise on him for defending the public purse. He said Nkwanyana had discovered suspected fraud and asked the CIIU three times to investigate his concerns, including suspicions of collusion between Pholobas and municipal officials. But Harilal said the CIIU didn’t do anything. So, to protect the city, Nkwanyana had suspended Pholobas’s contracts.
Harilal wrote that many city projects were not administered optimally. It was therefore “heartwarming” to have an official like Nkwanyana who was “firm” and “strict” in exercising control over public spending. Harilal said other officials ought to follow Nkwanyana’s lead. The CIIU’s action against Nkwanyana seems to have hung in abeyance until Zandile Gumede replaced Nxumalo as mayor.
On 20 September 2017, Nkwanyana was suspended for violating the council’s staff code of conduct and the Municipal Finance Management Act for unlawfully terminating Pholobas’s contracts. Two months earlier, Pholobas apparently received the CIIU report that had recommended disciplinary action against Nkwanyana and used it in a fresh application in the Durban High Court, launching a claim against the city for R44-million in damages relating to lost work. Behind the scenes the city quietly began to negotiate a settlement with Joseph Ngcobo’s company for R30-million.
On 20 November 2017, Nkwanyana’s son Ntuthuko was gunned down. Nkwanyana moved his family and went into hiding but all the while kept tabs on Pholobas’s latest court application. In its damages claim, the company said it had been unfairly targeted by Nkwanyana, who was allegedly driven by a vendetta.
The municipality’s attempt to hustle a settlement with Pholobas might have gone through had two things not happened to thwart it.
When the damages case came onto the roll, lawyers acting for the city and Pholobas tried to persuade High Court judge Johan Ploos van Amstel in chambers to make the city’s proposed R30-million settlement an order of the court. The judge refused. He directed the city’s private attorney and the city manager to file affidavits disclosing who had authorised the deal and whether it had been approved by the council.
When the two replied, the judge was not impressed and suggested the matter be referred to the national director of public prosecutions. The company quickly withdrew the bid.
Having got wind of what Pholobas was up to, Nkwanyana applied to intervene in the case and his lawyers submitted an affidavit from him. It said Joseph Ngcobo was known to have “political affiliations”. He also stated: “My suspension was a means to remove me from the system, to prevent the truth of the matter coming out by means of an affidavit which I would have deposed to, derailing the settlement agreement. “I might not survive this matter … I have given instructions that evidence in my possession be taken under commission, so at the very least the truth will prevail in the event of my untimely and unnatural demise.” DM
War Party by Greg Ardé is published by Tafelberg.
Book review: War Party: A fearless account of KZN ANC predatory elite’s use of violence and assassinations.