Tortured Durban, a city with a gun to its head

Tortured Durban, a city with a gun to its head
A screenshot of Ryan Santos with guns. Photo: Supplied; Single album cover of Pleez Daddy, Jeremy Taylor. Photo: Supplied; Looters in Spine Road behind Pavilion Mall on July 12, 2021 in Durban. Photo: Darren Stewart/Gallo Images; Minister of Police Bheki Cele. Photo: Brenton Geach/Gallo Images

The latest Global Initiative Against Transnational Organised Crime report shows KwaZulu-Natal had the highest number of recorded cases for political assassination in 2022 with 21, which is more than half the country’s total number.

Ag pleez Deddy won’t you take us off to Durban
It’s only eight hours in the Chevro-lay
There’s spans of sea and E. coli
And sharks in the aquarium
And drive-by shootings in the afternoon sun
Tow trucks, heroin, mandrax and methamphetamine
AK47s, Glocks and rifles for fun

Dear DM168 readers,

Forgive me for bastardising Jeremy Taylor’s lyrics from his 1962 hit that sold more than any Elvis single in South Africa, but was banned by the SABC.

I have been working from Durban this week and that song twisted into an earworm in my head as I walked through the vibrant, rich, pulsating, humid, sweltering hot, rough, sewage-seething streets of the eastern seaboard town of my birth and childhood.

A tree grew brazenly off the dome on one of the Edwardian baroque buildings in the decaying City Hall precinct, nature’s flag staking its primordial claim on a monument to a British colonial era.

This city straddles so many pasts in its present, so many strands of culture… Zulu, Zanzibari, Indian, English and the sprinkle of mixed masalas like me. You see all these entanglements of belief and beauty in the Grey Street mosque, the Emmanuel Cathedral, the Hindu temples, the scent of agarbatti mingling with impepho, the muti shops, the markets, the Zulu beadwork, the mural of the dynasty of Zulu Kings, art deco buildings overlooking the yacht basin and the fishermen casting their lines at Blue Lagoon.

Ethekwini has an energy and edge like no other city.  It’s bold, brash, young, verdant and alive with possibility, but all of its promise is being held up at gunpoint by a violent underbelly.

A violence that wrecked lives and homes and destroyed shops through looting during the riots after Jacob Zuma was imprisoned in 2021. A violence that sees the KZN province still bloodied by political killings of politicians, izinduna (Zulu regiments and traditional leaders) and public officials. And Durban, KZN’s main urban heartbeat, a hotbed of hits and drive-by shootings of rival taxi businesses, tow truck businesses and drug dealers.

The latest Global Initiative Against Transnational Organised Crime report shows KZN had the highest number of recorded cases for political assassination in 2022 with 21, which is more than half the country’s total number.

The author of the report, Rumbi Matamba, writes that violence has become a monetisable criminal market in its own right, one that facilitates other criminal markets within the country’s organised crime ecosystem, such as illicit drugs, extortion, organised corruption, organised robbery, illegal mining and others.

Worst of all we have a police minister, Bheki Cele, from Durban who despite the Moerane Commission of Inquiry into political assassinations in KZN and a task team on political killings that he established is unable to stem the proliferation of guns, ammunition and assassinations that continue unabated.

Independent violence monitor and academic, Mary de Haas, told News24 that  the reason murders continue unabated is because killing in KZN had become “so easy”. She cited the  proliferation of hitmen who emerge from the unregulated taxi industry, dysfunctional crime intelligence, which allows hitmen to remain undetected, guns and ammunition which isn’t properly regulated.

To top it all  there are several allegations of police involvement in killings.

In this weekend’s DM168 our Ethekwini  correspondent, Greg Ardé has written an explosive story about an ex-policeman who sought a court interdict against the Durban police, begging them not to kill his son – after he obtained information that the police had a hit on his son – but before the ink had dried on the interdict, his son was dead in a pool of blood in an upmarket apartment in Morningside, mowed down by the police.

The police version is that the son and his companions were wanted criminals who shot at police first, but the father claims a prominent tow truck operator had put a R2.5-million bounty on his son’s head.

This story is a frightening exposé of the dark side of Durban, of drugs, gangsters  and tow truck operator turf wars, brutal murders, brazen brandishing of automatic weapons  and the repeated  allegations of police complicity in all of this.

This violence has a chilling effect on the people of Durban trying to pick themselves up from the wreckage of both the 2021 looting followed by the floods, which ravaged the city even further.

I was at a bank in Dr Pixley ka Seme Street when gunshots pierced the hubbub and the street fell silent. Everyone around me told me to stay away from the door entrances, saying that nowhere is safe.

Rapper AKA was assassinated in Florida Road, and there have been a spate of drive-by shootings of tow truck operators and drivers in what clearly looks like a turf war.

A well-known tow truck operator survived a drive-by shooting at a bakery in Cowie Road.  Another tow truck driver was gunned down in Sandile Thusi Road. Police are doing very little to put an end to this violence. Thugs and murderers own the city. It’s beautiful people are sitting ducks. Collateral damage.

This city under siege by thugs was once Cele’s stomping ground. The public drive-by shootings and assassinations are out of hand. The turf wars serve no one’s interests but a few drug and tow truck barons (and those in their pockets) who benefit from rivals being killed off to secure market dominance.

Minister Cele, you and SAPS Commissioner Fannie Masemola need to get your house in order. Every complicit cop needs to be investigated and charged. Taxi, gun and ammunition regulations need to be tightened and strictly enforced. And those sitting at the top of the food chain of the drug and tow truck wars need to be caught, charged, face court time and sit behind bars.

It’s a long weekend so all the more reason to get a copy of DM168 at your nearest retailer or if you are a Maverick Insider read the e-edition version that is freely available to you. I’m praying that the e.coli levels in the Indian Ocean are safe enough for me to take a dip and cleanse myself of the bloodiness of this week’s lead story. Please send your views on this or some bright idea you might have to fix our broken  country to [email protected]

Yours in defence of truth,

This story first appeared in our weekly DM168 newspaper which is available countrywide for R29.


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Johan Buys says:

    Sorry to say : unless things change radically, KZN is a preview for the rest of SA.

    The thuggery propagates from the corruption and total lack of consequences in the ruling party – as in a dysfunctional system of crime intelligence, investigation and prosecution. There is no honor among thieves.

  • Nic Tsangarakis says:

    Thank you Heather. An insightful and worrying perspective.

  • jcdville stormers says:

    There is zero/zilch chance of renewal in the corrupt Anc,so what will increase,cry SA

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