HOSTEL OF HORROR
‘It’s a vicious circle of violence’ – Glebelands residents live in fear again after mass shooting
After eight people were murdered at the notorious Glebelands residence recently, sparking off a spate of killings, residents fear being caught in the crossfire.
Life was proceeding as normal on the sunny Sunday morning of 11 June at Glebelands, the notorious hostel in Umlazi township, south of Durban.
Congregants were filing into churches and singing loudly once inside. Men were milling around and joking outside the blocks of flats, some sipping beer.
But just a week earlier, at 2am on Saturday, 3 June, eight people were shot and killed while they were drinking beer in a room in Block 57 at the hostel. A ninth victim died in hospital.
A total of 11 men were killed in the area between Saturday, 3 June and Wednesday, 7 June. So far, no one has been arrested for the killings.
Some residents say the murders at Block 57 were revenge for the fatal shooting of a man, an hour earlier, at an illegal shebeen in Tehuis Hostel, just across the road from Glebelands.
Then, on the morning of 7 June, a 30-year-old man was shot and killed execution-style as he was leaving the hostel for work in what the police believe was linked to the weekend’s mass killing.
Most of the dead were buried in rural areas of KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape at the weekend.
Residents said the killings were committed by members of rival groups and that hardly anyone outside those groups had been targeted or killed.
A history of violence
In the past five years, more than 100 people have been killed at the Glebelands Hostel in what started as a war over the allocation of beds and fighting between rival protection rackets.
The hostel was one of the main focal points of the Moerane Commission of Inquiry into political killings in KZN, which began its work in 2016 and tabled its 423-page report in September 2018 to the then-premier, Willies Mchunu.
The commission raised concerns about the existence of hitmen and hit squads operating within the hostel.
Residents breathed a sigh of relief in February this year when eight people, including a feared police officer, were found guilty of multiple murders, attempted murders, unlawful possession of firearms and ammunition and other serious charges, and sentenced to life and other long sentences.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Three years on, court finally sentences ruthless Glebelands hostel killers to jail
‘We pray peace will prevail’
“The killing of people has become normalised here in the hostel,” said a 37-year-old man, who asked not to be named for fear of retribution.
“But the people who are killing each other know who their targets are and they seldom shoot anyone by mistake. So, other residents, who are not involved, are free to live their lives.”
Pastor Bonginkosi Nkonde of the Rehoboth Church, which holds its services in a makeshift building near the western entrance of Glebelands, said residents were always praying for peace.
“We come here to the hostel every Sunday and hope that we will make it out alive. But, so far, the Lord has been able to save us all and we pray that peace will prevail forever here in this hostel,” he said.
In a nearby community hall, members of the Ward 74 ANC Women’s League (ANCWL) branch were meeting ahead of the league’s national conference set for this weekend. Leaders were reluctant to speak to the media.
A 43-year-old member of the ANCWL, who lives in the formerly men-only hostel, which is now open to women and children, said they lived side by side with violence. She asked not to be named.
“It is better now; there was a time when people were dying like flies and we could hardly sleep because there was the sound of gunfire almost every night. Now, we are starting to hear the sound of gunfire at night again. We have nowhere else to go because most of us cannot live anywhere else in Durban and be able to travel to work. It is a vicious circle in which we found ourselves watching helplessly,” she said.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Why is murder once again stalking Glebelands Hostel?
Mthembiseni Thusi, the spokesperson for the organisation Abahlali basemaHostela, said the recent outbreak of violence at the hostel was worrying.
“Before, we had tit-for-tat killings that started off as a dispute over beds. This has since subsided and we thought that peace has dawned. But now we are seeing these killings, which has surprised even us.”
He said hostels hadbecome known as “reservoirs of hitmen” and attacks such as those at the beginning of June perpetuated this narrative.
“The latest killings have nothing to do with bed allocation. But these killings too have increased the number of widows and orphans, unnecessarily so. It seems like there is a new battle around illegal shebeens. Our view is that crime and violence take place everywhere in South Africa, including the hostels.
“Our view is that government and the police must take action against those who are carrying illegal firearms, and that those who are killing people must be given long sentences to deter others from doing the same,” Thusi said.
Xolani Dube, an independent political analyst, said behind the violence at Glebelands were the “godfathers” who controlled sections of the hostel and were constantly fighting turf wars.
“Glebelands Hostel is a nest for hitmen in KZN. This is where all sorts of hits are planned and that is where cash heists are planned. People come to Durban and live in the hostels in order to search for work. When they don’t find it, they are recruited into becoming hitmen who are hired to carry out hits and plan cash heists.
“In most hostels, like Glebelands, sections are controlled by godfathers who enlist the services of hitmen to enforce their ‘law’ and punish those who break this law,” said Dube.
“Unless these gangs are broken down, violence in Glebelands Hostel will never end and the residents of these places will always feel vulnerable and there is nothing that the government can do about it. Police have tried in the past to search for weapons in the hostel, but those who possess these weapons were alerted so that they were able to hide or spirit them away.
“So the circle of violence goes on and on … stopping for a time only to start all over again. What is happening in Glebelands is what is starting to happen throughout South Africa, especially in townships and areas dominated by black people … where ringleaders are taking charge of areas and start to impose their laws and demand protection fees from businesses and residents.”
Vanessa Burger, an activist who has closely followed events at Glebelands, told TimesLIVE the killings were happening because of policing failures.
“What we are seeing with the Glebelands massacre and all the dozens of other lives that have been lost at the hostel over the past few years – and that no one has shown any interest in – is the result of a total lack of SAPS commitment to dealing with organised crime and making communities safer, and an utter lack of political will to ensure hostel communities’ most basic rights are protected, that is right to life, dignity, safe environment and so on,” she said.
KZN police claimed that although no one had been arrested for the latest murders, they were closing in on the killers.
“Detectives from the provincial task team have been instructed to probe the incident. Anyone who has information that can assist in the investigation is requested to contact Crime Stop on 08600-10111 or use the MySAPS app,” the SAPS said. DM