Maverick Citizen

EASTERN CAPE CRIME CENTRE

30 shopkeepers killed as Mthatha’s murders and robberies spiral out of control

30 shopkeepers killed as Mthatha’s murders and robberies spiral out of control
Police minister Bheki Cele (left) during a rendition of the South African national anthem during a police passing out parade in Mthatha for 195 recruits. (Photo: Hoseya Jubase)

Shootouts, beatings and murders have become part of everyday life in Mthatha in the Eastern Cape, especially for foreign shopkeepers in the town and surrounding villages who are paying a brutal price for running businesses.

Thirty foreign shopkeepers have been gunned down since January. Eight people were shot dead in one day.

A 62-year-old traffic cop was shot and fatally wounded for writing a ticket. 

Municipal official Namhla Mtwa was shot several times outside her home. Later, the investigator in the case was removed after receiving death threats.

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A shop in Marambeni, Mthatha (centre), where two foreign shopowners were allegedly shot and killed earlier this year in Mthatha, Eastern Cape. (Photo: Hoseya Jubase).

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A Mthatha resident is served at a foreigner-run spaza shop. (Photo: Hoseya Jubase)

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Popular Mthatha businessmen and club owner Zwelinzima ‘PK’ Dweba’s casket during his funeral at Mthatha Stadium on 27 August 2022. Dweba was shot and killed by unknown people. (Photo: Hoseya Jubase)

A popular businessman, club owner and DJ, Zwelinzima PK Dweba, was gunned down. 

The bodies of two men were found near Zimbane Village. They had been beaten to death.

Three people were shot dead in a tavern in Mqhekezweni. 

Police returned from a special operation with arms full of dangerous weapons — so many it took three officers to carry them. 

“Almost everybody has been shouting at me and talking about the murders here,” Police Minister Bheki Cele said in September during a speech in Mthatha to new police recruits.

“We are in the town in the Eastern Cape that is most criminal… there is no town in the Eastern Cape that has crime like Mthatha. That is why we are called by everybody to come and camp here to flush out all those criminals,” he said.

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Police minister Bheki Cele (left) during a rendition of the South African national anthem during a police passing out parade in Mthatha for 195 recruits. (Photo: Hoseya Jubase)

Once internationally known for its close links to Nelson Mandela, Mthatha — with three museums dedicated to the life of the Struggle icon — now mostly makes headlines for its brutal murders.

Cele urged the police to go toe-to-toe with criminals.

Democratic Alliance spokesperson for safety and security, Bobby Stevenson, said the Eastern Cape as a whole was the most dangerous place in South Africa.

Crime central

“From the hijacking of vehicles to the hijacking of buildings; the shooting of a traffic officer to taxi violence and cash-in-transit heists, a strong culture of lawlessness prevails in Mthatha,” he said.

According to statistics, Mthatha police stations are where most murders were registered in the Eastern Cape. In the province itself, 1,200 murders were recorded between April and June 2022, up from 1,020 reported for the same period last year (a 17% increase).

In Mthatha alone, 30 murders were committed between April and June this year. Stevenson said the Eastern Cape once again has the highest per capita murder rate in the country, at 18 per 100,000.

Robberies and hijackings are all on the increase.

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Hundreds of people call for the end of robberies and the killing of women at a march in Mthatha, Eastern Cape. (Photo: Hoseya Jubase)

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The Mthatha West area including Mandela Park, Marambeni Administrative area, Slovo Park and Chris Hani Park where foreign nationals fear for their lives. They believe they are targeted by criminals. (Photo: Hoseya Jubase)

However, the province’s MEC for Community Safety, Xolile Nqatha, said that describing the province as the most dangerous in South Africa was “baseless, grossly unfair and a malicious attempt” at undermining the work of the provincial government to improve the safety of residents and businesses.

Nevertheless, in Mthatha — the province’s murder capital — people live in fear.

Foreign nationals who run spaza shops and hardware stores in and around Mthatha said they feel like they are being targeted by criminals — many have been robbed and some killed. 

Pakistan Association South Africa claimed that more than 30 foreign nationals have been killed this year in Mthatha and surrounding areas. 

Foreign shopkeepers were murdered in Waterfall Park, Payne Locality,  Zimbane Locality, Ngangelizwe Location and Slovo Park, and in towns like Ngcobo, Elliotdale, Mqanduli, Coffee Bay, Libode and Ngqeleni.

Some of the shopkeepers said it seemed as if foreigners running businesses around Mthatha were being deliberately targeted.

One shopkeeper, who asked to remain anonymous, said he had three hardware stores in Mthatha West, but planned to close one because of the unrelenting robberies.

“We are so scared because of these criminal activities… in a year you got robbed three or four times, and I have many cases that I reported at the police station, but still today there is no response… 

“It’s too bad to work in this area… if you want safety you must hire the security companies because there is no patrolling.”

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The man said that in one horrific incident in March, two Ethiopians were shot and killed in their spaza shop in the Marambeni administrative area, and no one was held accountable.

The shopkeeper said he was robbed in April and May, losing cellphones and about R3,000 in cash.

“We are taxpayers here but we are not assisted… it’s true that we are targeted. We are creating jobs — in my two shops I employed six people and they are local… I didn’t get anyone from outside to work here,” he added.

“If things carry on like this, people are going to close their businesses and local people are going to lose their jobs,” he said.

Another foreigner said their suppliers no longer wanted to come to his area in Mthatha for fear of being robbed.

“We decided to meet them somewhere else… This thing is very hard… When you are at work but your mind is not at peace, how can you work? We fear that somebody will come and attack and rob us.”

The province’s acting police commissioner, Major-General Thandiswa Kupiso, said the police did not view the murder of a foreigner differently to that of a South African citizen.

“A murder to us is a murder… We are expected by the Constitution of this country to deliver services to South Africans and all those who reside within the South African borders.”

mthatha raid

Police Constable Lindiswa Mashwa (left) and Captain Simbongile Ndlela (far right) carry confiscated firearms after a raid conducted across the OR Tambo District in the Eastern Cape on 25 October 2022. (Photo: Hoseya Jubase)

mthatha raid

SAPS member Captain Simbongile Ndlela carries weapons seized during a raid in the OR Tambo district, including Mthatha, on 25 October 2022. (Photo: Hoseya Jubase)

Earlier this week, Eastern Cape police confiscated dangerous weapons that had been used in murders and other serious crimes. Operation Sikhona resulted in 44 illegal firearms being confiscated and several suspects arrested.

Kupiso said the operation encompassed Mthatha and neighbouring towns that formed part of OR Tambo District. She said all suspects in possession of illegal firearms were arrested. 

“The firearms will be taken to the police’s ballistics lab to verify how many crimes can be linked to these weapons.

Kupiso said OR Tambo District, Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality and Buffalo City Municipality were the top three municipalities with high crime figures, adding that drugs were also a serious concern.

Nyaniso Nelani, mayor of the King Sabata Dalindyebo municipality, described Mthatha as a “war zone” that needed serious attention. The municipality includes Mthatha and Mqanduli.

Traditional leaders

The Eastern Cape chairperson of the South African Congress of Traditional Leaders, Nkosi Mwelo Nonkonyana, said they condemned the brutal murders in Mthatha.

“This is a matter that needs all peace-loving South Africans to come together… there have been several marches and prayers held for this, but there is no change,” he said.

“Mthatha falls under the king of the abaThembu… we will discuss this with him, how to deal with this menace, because we are about to lose many people who are now exposed to these criminals.”

Nonkonyana said people had a responsibility to cooperate with the police.

Earlier this year, the SA National Civic Organisation said that uMkhonto we Sizwe veterans must be called in to help fight criminals on the streets of Mthatha. However, Nonkonyana said it was a job for the SAPS and metro police because they were trained “for peace”.

“Otherwise it’s going to be the survival of the fittest. For now, the police must be the only people who are armed,” said Nonkonyana.

He said they still wanted a traditional police force, for traditional areas, to be recognised by the government.

Meanwhile, Mthatha was the scene of an arrest made by the Hawks’ kidnapping task team last weekend.

On 19 May at about 7.30pm, a 45-year-old woman was abducted by three men from her home in Mankosi Location in Ngqeleni. It’s believed that she had recently received a Road Accident Fund payout.

The men forced her to withdraw money and purchased liquor, a car battery and aluminium window frames using the victim’s bank card.

The victim was allegedly held hostage at a B&B in Mthatha for almost a week. She was rescued by a staff member. DM/MC

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