2021 STATE OF OUR CITIES
eThekwini metro (Part Three): In Durban, ‘People are being killed like flies… and it is the same crew doing the killings’
Much of what happens in eThekwini after 1 November, particularly around political violence, will depend on whether the ANC can hold on to its majority.
The City of eThekwini spent about R70-million on protection for its councillors over three months of this year, but even that amount doesn’t seem to be making Police Minister Bheki Cele’s job any easier in a province that is described — without embellishment — as the political killing capital of South Africa.
“For the period of July to September, we have spent about R70-million in that quarter alone, so it shows the magnitude of the investment when it comes to safety,” eThekwini Mayor Mxolisi Kaunda said on Monday in response to a question from Daily Maverick during an ANC event.
Kaunda also admitted in response to the same question that the allocation of security to councillors was not based on hard facts, but rather on political killings being rife within the metro.
He said that the “challenge” of protection came about with the South African Police Service (SAPS) not having “the capacity to adequately [conduct security assessments] on councillors”.
“In the whole province, there are only three [SAPS members] designated to conduct threat assessments. So, as a city, we decided to not wait for those assessments.”
The city started providing security for its councillors, said Kaunda, “because no one can deny that in eThekwini, many politicians have been killed…. You can’t just have a city that folds its hands.”
With the ability to spend this kind of money on some councillors, it is easy to see how opposition parties, in particular the IFP, are deeply troubled by the apparent lack of interest of authorities in the unhinged violence in one of the two wards the IFP controls in eThekwini.
In Ward 39, which includes the KwaMashu A Section hostel, the party claims there is violence of an unprecedented level that is yet to receive adequate attention.
Local councillor Sandile Gwala (IFP) is adamant that at least 23 people have either been murdered or been victims of attempted murder since mid-September. Gwala said his pleas to minister Cele to visit the area have gone unanswered.
“From 18 September to [20 October], 23 people have been gunned down in the hostel and there has been no action from the SAPS. The guys doing the killing are well known, even to the SAPS station commander,” Gwala told Daily Maverick.
“I have asked Cele to visit a few times but he never comes. Just last week one lady, an IFP activist, was shot nine times. She was at home and someone came to her home and called her out. She walked outside and was shot.
“On 19 September, three people were gunned down. Since then, there has been a killing every day. People are being killed like flies and it is the same crew doing the killings. The police only come to pick up the bodies,” said Gwala, who claims he has four VIP officers from the eThekwini metro police with him at all times.
“I have challenged the KwaMashu Police Station to seek clarity on these shootings but they tell me they don’t have any evidence against the alleged killers identified by the community.
“The main thing that drives this inability to act is that this is an IFP ward. Affiliation of politics drives officials, including the station commander. From Monday to Sunday the guys doing the shooting walk around with their firearms. At night they bring out their rifles such as AK-47s and shotguns.”
Daily Maverick asked the SAPS to confirm the number of dockets opened at the KwaMashu Police Station relating to the hostel and its surroundings during the time period provided by Gwala.
Provincial spokesperson Captain Nqobile Gwala replied: “The statistics are only released quarterly and placed on the SAPS website. We are in no position to comment or provide crime stats.”
An assessment by Daily Maverick of the last nine quarterly crime statistics for the KwaMashu Police Station, including the first-quarter report for 2021-22 and the quarterly reports for 2020-21 and 2019-2020, shows that on average the station recorded 25.3 murders and 29.1 attempted murders every quarter. The station sits just outside of Ward 39.
What this makes plain is that the area has an extremely high level of violence, but there is no indication that the murders and attempted murders are politically motivated. Only a thorough police investigation will be able to authoritatively determine that.
KwaZulu-Natal Violence Monitor Mary de Haas, who has been researching political violence in the province for decades, told Daily Maverick that hostels had been “the most problematic of all as they house tens of thousands of people, especially given all the shacks around them, and criminals have been taking refuge there for years.
“They are difficult to police and even police members have come under attack there. Cele is no doubt ignoring it because they are largely IFP- and NFP-supporting residents (although, in the past, ANC people too have been attacked and killed, so I am not sure if they are still organising there, or may just be keeping a low profile).
“…The ANC ignores what is going on in that hostel because it has, historically, been IFP-supporting which is, of course, absolutely disgraceful. Presumably, for the same reason, there seems to have been absolutely no attempt to do anything about the shocking state of accommodation there.”
Durban-based human rights activist Vanessa Burger, who has spent years working with hostel dwellers throughout eThekwini and has testified at the trial of the alleged Glebelands Hostel hitmen known as the Glebelands Eight, told Daily Maverick that she could confirm the high number of murders in the KwaMashu hostel area over the years, but “I don’t think the SAPS disinterest stems from politics. From my experience, it’s more a case of black poor lives don’t matter, and hostel dwellers’ lives matter least of all.”
Burger said that from what Gwala was describing, it was possible that a hit squad was operating in the area, and that officers who were experienced in working with hostel communities would be best suited to investigate the killings.
Muzi Ntuli, who is the secretary of Ubunye bamaHostela, which works with hostel dwellers in eThekwini, said he had not heard of the 23 murders Gwala spoke of. But, he told Daily Maverick, “I am surprised the number isn’t higher. People are killed there day and night. It is a very violent area.
“Residents are always complaining that the police are doing nothing about killings,” he said, but added that he did not want to speculate whether this was because of political affiliations. He said he believed the violence was criminal in nature and not political.
Councillor Gwala’s request for Cele to visit the troublesome area would not have drastically changed the minister’s travel plans in recent weeks.
While many of his colleagues had donned the green, gold and black to campaign for the ANC ahead of Monday’s local government election, the minister was consoling families.
KZN has experienced at least eight killings in the past two months — possibly politically motivated — six of which were ANC members.
The confirmed cases of political killings and the alleged violence described by Gwala all have one thing in common — they occurred after the election date was confirmed.
On 9 September, Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, for the second time, gazetted the local government elections, setting the date for 1 November, in line with a Constitutional Court judgment.
On 11 September three women, all ANC supporters, were killed in a drive-by shooting in eThekwini’s Inanda township during a political gathering, with five other people reportedly wounded. On 14 September Cele, along with the then deputy minister of state security, Zizi Kodwa, visited the area and the families of the victims
Thereafter followed a short hiatus in publicised acts of violence, possibly because candidate lists had to be submitted to the Independent Electoral Commission by 22 September. But if the IFP is to be believed, the killings didn’t stop. They were just happening to a party that was not privy to the attention of the minister or police.
On 15 October, Siyabonga Mkhize, an ANC ward candidate for the Cato Crest area, and his friend Mzukisi Nyanga were gunned down, apparently while conducting a door-to-door campaign in Ward 101. According to the ANC’s eThekwini Region, “two other Comrades were harmed but survived” the shooting.
Ward 101 includes the University of KwaZulu-Natal and is considered a relatively safe ANC seat. In 2016, the governing party won the ward with 66% of the vote.
Cele visited the families of Mkhize and Nyanga two days later.
That evening, 77km along the N3 westbound, the Economic Freedom Fighters’ ward candidate Thulani Shangase was killed outside a tavern in Plessislaer, near Pietermaritzburg.
Shangase had reportedly been at an EFF campaign meeting earlier.
Briefing the media at Shangase’s home, Cele said there had also been two attempted murders of ANC ward candidates in KwaDukuza, and that a candidate in Durban’s “Ward 36, that is KwaMashu hostel”, was not staying at the hostel because “his life is under threat”.
Cele probably meant Ward 39, the IFP ward. Ward 36 is a DA-held seat in upmarket Umhlanga.
Daily Maverick unsuccessfully tried to seek clarity on Cele’s KwaMashu candidate claim from the ministry. But Sibongile Khathi, the ANC’s eThekwini coordinator, said the party was “not aware of such information” as the ANC candidate in the IFP-controlled Ward 39, Sipho Mkhize, “is in good spirits, busy with campaign trail encouraging people to vote for the ANC”.
However, Cele’s mention of the KwaMashu Hostel confirms Gwala’s assertion that there are incidents of political violence in the area.
Soon after Cele left KwaZulu-Natal on 21 October, Zibuse Mlaba — a stalwart of the party’s KZN Midlands region, former Member of the Provincial Legislature and well-known traditional leader — “died in a hail of bullets… in full view of the public” while he was opening his office in Cato Ridge on Durban’s western border. This was according to the ANC KZN office.
And in the latest incident, on Monday, NFP councillor candidate Dumisani Qwabe was allegedly ambushed and shot dead while travelling between Pongola and Nongoma.
According to police, a badly burnt body was found inside the vehicle. The police did not release Qwabe’s name, stating they were awaiting further confirmation of the victim’s identity. The ANC, however, released Qwabe’s name in its own statement, in which it sent condolences to the NFP and Qwabe’s family.
IFP eThekwini caucus leader Mduduzi Nkosi has warned that unless the ANC manages to get its house in order, the spectre of political violence will spill into other parties.
“Those involved in the violence within the ANC could very likely target those in other parties, or worse, individuals in other parties might try to copy the ANC and start attacking their own party members,” Nkosi told Daily Maverick.
He said the ANC’s internal battles had the ability to affect “everyone”, as the July riots had shown.
It is understood that since the establishment of the political killings task team in 2018, 284 suspects have been arrested, nine of whom are facing life sentences, while 10 are facing sentences of between 10 and 15 years.
When Cele spoke to the media outside Shangase’s home, he said that police resources would be deployed to key political violence hotspots that fell within eThekwini, and uMgungundlovu and King Cetshwayo district municipalities. The three municipalities cover an area of about 20,300km², making up 22% of the province.
Cele made specific reference to mid-Illovo, which includes the area of Camperdown, not far from where Mhlaba was murdered. He also mentioned KwaDukuza (Stanger) which has witnessed its share of intra-ANC battles, and Nongoma.
“We will beef up the police force in all the identified hotspot areas, and we have started to do that.
“Almost 23,000 voting stations in the country have been profiled, and amongst them there are 19,000 of those that are at the low-risk level,” said Cele.
“There are about 3,000 of those at medium risk and more than 300 of those that are high risk. Unfortunately, most of those that are at high risk are from KZN and Gauteng,” Cele told The Witness newspaper.
While the recommendations of the KwaZulu-Natal government-funded Moerane Commission of Inquiry into political violence used a broad brush by calling on “political parties” to take responsibility, the reality is that most of the violence involves factional battles within the ANC, of which the commission also heard ample testimony.
A “political economy analysis” report published by the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime (GI-Toc) earlier this month found that “cases related to political motives and organised crime show a slight but steady increase over time”, with KwaZulu-Natal having the highest number of reported incidents.
The study was conducted by Kim Thomas, a GI-Toc analyst who works on the Assassinations Witness project, which records criminal hits and their impact.
“Similar to trends shown by earlier data, political assassinations were concentrated in KwaZulu-Natal during the current data period (2015-2020). Of the total number of political hits in this period, 103 (56%) occurred in KwaZulu-Natal. This was followed by 22 cases (12%) in Gauteng, 20 cases (11%) in the Eastern Cape and 15 cases (8%) in the Western Cape. Although political hits were also recorded in other provinces, they were more isolated and not of the same magnitude and effect as those in KwaZulu-Natal.”
The report said there was probably an under-reporting of political violence with the media only picking up “60-70%” of the cases.
The report noted a decline in politically related killings in 2020, but said that this was “likely a temporary pause in violence rather than the start of a long-term declining trend” and linked the decline to Covid-19 restrictions.
The report states that the trend now seems to be that violence results from intra-party conflict, particularly within the ANC, “fuelled by power struggles and competition for lucrative government tenders”.
The rush for tenders, and who has preferential access to them, is what fundamentally divides the ANC in eThekwini into two distinct camps — those aligned to criminally charged former mayor Zandile Gumede and mayoral candidate, although not officially named, Thabane Nyawose.
Gumede is a self-styled “Radical Economic Transformation” crusader and Jacob Zuma acolyte, which translated into, as alleged by the State in her criminal matter, handing out lucrative contracts to her supporters by corrupting the city’s supply chain management process.
Nyawose is closely aligned to President Cyril Ramaphosa’s camp, with its own supporters and backers waiting in the wings.
It is this division, and the agitation of being shut out of the tender trough, that many believe led to the ANC’s internal factional battles spilling into the streets in the July riots, which cost the city an estimated R20-billion.
It is unclear how the rent-seeking networks of the ANC will operate if the party loses the upcoming election in eThekwini, but early indications have shown increased hostility to opposition parties on the campaign trail.
Much of what happens in eThekwini after 1 November, particularly around political violence, will depend on whether the ANC can hold on to its majority.
It obtained a 56% majority in 2016 and, using the voting data from that year, the party would need to shed about 44,300 ward votes, with the proportional representation ballot mirroring the decrease, to drop below 50% and with those votes going to other parties.
However, in a recent News24 poll, the media publication put the ANC in a slight majority of up to 53%.
Even if the ANC does hold on to the city, there is a bigger, unresolved problem looming. Its eThekwini Region has not been able to hold an elective conference due to factional disputes.
Covid-19 has provided a useful cover to postpone this event, but the reality is that Gumede is expected, if not in person then via proxy, to again run for the position of chairperson. Depending on which faction wins, the city’s upper leadership could face disruption.
The divisions in the party have been evident for months with the council’s inability to elect a new deputy mayor. Belinda Scott resigned from the post in March. The ANC put forward Diana Hoorzuk as its preferred candidate but has failed to obtain a quorum in the council, in which it holds a majority, in order to elect Hoorzuk.
This inability of Mayor Kaunda to control his caucus has led to the municipality referring to Hoorzuk as Deputy Mayor Elect Councillor, which is a mouthful of nothing title that comes with no more authority than an ordinary councillor, except perhaps an extra bodyguard or two. DM