South Africa


KZN: Umlazi gripped by fear after 11 gunned down in two hits

KZN: Umlazi gripped by fear after 11 gunned down in two hits
Police Minister Bheki Cele at the Umlazi crime scene on 2 September 2021. The visit came after 11 people were killed in two hits in the township south of Durban. (Photo: Gallo Images / Darren Stewart)

Parts of Umlazi are known crime hotspots. Recent events — where 11 people were killed in two hits — have rocked residents of the KZN town. Daily Maverick visited Umlazi and found unease and terror, with people fearful to talk.

Umlazi, south of Durban, is one of the capitals of murder and other violent crimes in South Africa. 

According to quarterly crime statistics released by Police Minister Bheki Cele recently, Umlazi police station was third behind Kraaifontein and Delft (both in Cape Town) for cases of murder. The minister revealed that 74 people in Umlazi were killed between April and July. It was third for rape cases, with 69 reported. It was sixth for kidnapping crimes, with 24 cases, and was 11th for contact crimes, with 905 reported cases.

These trends have been increasing for years, to the extent of numbing community members, who are accustomed to living in fear and who have witnessed or become victims of crime.

cele visit

Police Minister Bheki Cele visits crime hotspots in Umlazi on 2 September 2021. (Photo: Gallo Images / Darren Stewart)

umlazi police

Police in Umlazi on 2 September 2021 during Police Minister Bheki Cele’s visit. (Photo: Gallo Images / Darren Stewart)

On Thursday, 2 September, Cele visited crime hotspots in Umlazi, including the Zamani informal settlement after 11 people were killed in two hits.

The minister admitted that Umlazi police station urgently needed an additional 28 police officers and 21 vehicles to fight rampant crime.

In the wrong place at the wrong time

On the evening of 28 August, a group of armed men entered a home and opened fire — killing four men, a woman and a 14-year-old.

Police believe that the hit was aimed at Lindokuhle Madida and Luyanda Khomo and a third man. They are from Folweni, but rented rooms in Zamani, allegedly to hide from rival gang members. 

Also killed in the attack were Mphathiseni Manyoni (30), who hailed from KwaHlabisa in northern KZN, and his girlfriend Xolisile Mzimela, from KwaMaphumulo. They were shot and killed while cooking supper in their room. The sixth victim was 14-year-old Mnelisi Mbhele.

Cele said: “Most of those killed in both these incidents, including [a] 14-year-old boy, were, sadly, people at the wrong place at the wrong time, but some were unsavoury characters who were linked to criminality taking place in surrounding areas.” 

He said a team of top detectives, including some who had investigated the recent killings in Phoenix, had been assigned to track down the killers.

umlazi shooting

The scene of the 28 August shooting in Umlazi where a group of armed men entered a home and opened fire — killing four men, a woman and a 14-year-old. (Photo: Gallo Images / Darren Stewart)

People too fearful to speak out

A day after Cele’s visit, a Daily Maverick team visited the Zamani informal settlement and found people still fearful and wary.

Community members refused to take the Daily Maverick team around the settlement. A member of the ward committee said he could only point us to the house where the shooting took place, but wouldn’t go there himself, because “people talk”. 

Along the main road we spoke to a woman — who asked not to be named — who said she knew the men who were killed. 

“They came to rent a room here in about June. They didn’t hide the fact that they are hardened criminals. The three were from Folweni township [11km away] and they didn’t hide the fact that there were people hunting them down. They said they were planning to leave this area because there are people who are aware that they are living here.

“Just days before they were killed they had robbed a shop in Umhlanga and they went around selling expensive crockery and pots. Even during looting they said they won’t go for food when they could go for banks, safes, tills and cars. After looting they were driving around with a new bakkie they’d stolen,” she said.

As we went further on in Zamani informal settlement we found a group of men chilling. In front of them was a litre of Smirnoff vodka, a few beers and juice.

‘We were living in peace till three men arrived’

They agreed to talk to us, provided we did not take their names or photograph them. They said since the arrival of the three men there had been constant gunfire, especially at night.

“We had become a peaceful place before they arrived. We last saw mass killing during political violence. Everyone here knew each other and we were living in peace. Most of us are from rural areas, we are living here in Zamani informal settlement to be near our jobs,” said one of the men.

While we were talking we saw a white Toyota Hilux, carrying men and women, driving down the road towards the scene of the shooting. They looked menacing and angry. The men we were chatting to said the bakkie carried family members of the shooting victims. They were carrying a branch from a buffalo thorn tree, which is used to retrieve the spirit of a deceased person from where he or she died. 

We followed and parked next to the Hilux bakkie. One of the men shouted at us, “You are not going to ask questions here; get out of here. You want to go and write lies that our brothers were selling drugs. Is there anyone in this community who came to these rooms to buy drugs? Is there anyone who saw brothers selling drugs?” 

A few minutes later we heard shots being fired, echoing throughout the informal settlement as the bakkie drove up the road with its occupants. And then there was an uneasy lull.

Three women were talking in hushed tones in one of the shacks. We greeted them and they allowed us to come in. One of them said that during the mass shooting, “We heard shots, screams and people running away.”  

At the house where the shooting occurred the landlord was speaking to three men — family members of Mphathiseni Manyoni (the 30-year-old man who was shot in the room with his girlfriend).

They, too, were carrying a branch of a buffalo tree and they were coming to fetch the spirit of Manyoni before going to the funeral parlour in Durban where his body had been stored. He was going to be buried the following day at his homestead in KwaHlabisa, about 275km north of Umlazi.

Sifanele Manyoni said his brother was a contract worker at eThekwini Municipality and, as far as he knew, had nothing to do with crime.

“We were surprised to hear that the men who were shot here were criminals or drug dealers. When I received the phone call I couldn’t believe that my brother was gone. When I arrived here to find out what was going on I was told that my brother, his girlfriend and four other people were shot and killed. So, as a family we’re still confused and still looking for answers. 

“We think my brother was killed because he was living here, not because he had anything to do with crime or criminal elements,” he said. His brother left behind two children, one eight and the other five years old.

There was another shooting in the township on Tuesday, 31 August when three men entered a house where people were drinking and celebrating. Community members said the celebration was a welcome party for one of the men, who had been released from prison. Three men entered the house, ordered women to hide in one room and opened fire, killing five men. Three other people were injured.

In this attack, Bongani Thabethe, described by locals as the ringleader of a gang that was terrorising the community, died, with Minennhle Mhlengi Shinga, an ex-convict, Mkhulu Boy Terrence Ngcobo, and two others known as Melokuhle and Brazil.

Jay Naicker, KZN police spokesman, said: “Thirteen people were in a house in W Section in Umlazi when they were attacked by three unknown individuals. The suspects opened fire on the people that were in the house and five men aged between 33 and 40 were shot in the head.

“Three other victims aged between 27 and 29 were taken to a local hospital for medical attention. We also believe that there were five other females that were in the house. They were able to lock themselves in one of the rooms and were able to escape unharmed. The motive for the latest attack in Umlazi area is unknown at this stage.”

Whoonga drug turf war

People of Umlazi said there had been several whoonga turf-related shootings in the township in recent weeks.

They say selling the drug is so lucrative that many young people are attracted to it to make a quick buck. But it is a dangerous trade.

whoonga pipe

A homeless man smokes whoonga with a pipe at one of the temporary structures in Durban on 18 May 2021. (Photo: Mlungisi Mbele)


A homeless girl shows syringes they use to inject themselves with whoonga. (Photo: Mlungisi Mbele)


A homeless man injects himself with a whoonga on 18 May 2021. (Photo: Mlungisi Mbele)


Some people use a small glass tube in which to heat the drug before smoking it. (Photo: Mlungisi Mbele)


An addict gets ready to smoke whoonga in a pipe. In this case it is prepared on a broken tile. (Photo: Mlungisi Mbele)

On Sunday, 5 September, there was a funeral of two brothers, Gcina Dlamini (41) and Handsome Dlamini (27), in Uganda informal settlement, about 2km from Zamani. A family member said they had been killed two weeks before because they were harbouring a whoonga dealer in their home. The alleged dealer was also killed in the incident.

Releasing annual crime statistics last year, Cele raised concerns about the growing number of violent crimes in Umlazi.

“Umlazi is a township, but it has a lot of informal structures and it has been proven that we do have a problem with the environmental design of these areas.

“We have taken the decision to say we need the focus as we did in the Western Cape, to go and try stabilise the province. Also, Glebelands is part of Umlazi, hostels give us a lot of problems,” said Cele.

Proliferation of guns

KwaZulu-Natal Community Safety MEC Peggy Nkonyeni said the proliferation of illegal firearms in Umlazi and surrounding townships was fuelling violent crime in the area.

Nkonyeni’s spokesperson, Kwanele Ncalane, said a campaign to seize these weapons must be launched urgently.

“At the centre of this is the proliferation of illegal firearms that are in the hands of our civilians. We call on the police to embark on a relentless campaign to ensure that all these firearms are seized and are taken away from the hands of the civilians and criminals,” he said.

Mbangeni Mjadi, a Ward 89 councillor, said: “We are still shocked. Ordinarily, I would be calling a mass meeting where the community of this ward will meet so that we can find out what is really happening and what interventions we can mobilise. But due to Covid-19 restrictions we cannot. I’ve spoken to a number of people and some say it’s because of drugs, others are saying it’s other crime.

“We hope that the police will investigate and arrest the perpetrators. We are all worried about these events.” DM


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