Opinionista Vanessa Burger 29 June 2017

Glebelands: ‘Friday is judgment day’

In an ominous progression from earlier developments (Daily Maverick 28 June 2017 – Glebelands Hostel: Where ultra-violence is the new normal) sources at Glebelands Hostel reported on Wednesday that widespread “collections” had been taking place at most of the old blocks. R50 per bed and R200 per room have allegedly been extorted from residents over the past few days. If everyone who was squeezed coughed up, this latest “collection” may have netted around R100,000 – enough to pay bail for the recently arrested Glebelands multiple murder suspect; bribe a magistrate; or pay for a hit on a community leader.

Thugs have reportedly announced that Friday is judgement day,” and rumours are circulating that an attack on Block R is imminent.

As a result of recent widespread police operations at Glebelands, focusing on hitmen hangouts at the old blocks; thugs reportedly rounded up residents and forced them to march to the Umlazi Magistrate’s court, both in support of the recently arrested suspect, and to demand the removal of police from outside the precinct so that they may be policed only by “friendly forces” – the Umlazi SAPS.

The marchers, on both Monday and Tuesday, were reportedly escorted by a senior Umlazi SAPS, who, former evictees complained, had during 2014/15 regularly accompanied the late hostel warlord to violently evict those who had raised service delivery and corruption concerns and who were perceived to be unhappy with the ward 76 councillor, Robert Mzobe.

These evictions and simultaneous killings focused initially on the hostel block committees – grass roots community structures common to all hostels since the apartheid government first devised this unnatural housing scheme, and who are responsible for maintaining basic order, settling community disputes, liaising with authorities, assisting hostel administration with room allocation, and political mobilisation.

At a 2014 mass community meeting, former KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) Premier, Senzo Mchunu, erroneously blamed these structures for the violence and unilaterally disbanded them. He claimed they were “selling beds” – a practice that has been around since the advent of hostels, low-grade corruption that could, and should, have been easily stamped out by a functional police service and effective, inclusive administration. But in all the decades of its existence, “bed selling” never led to murder, particularly on the grand scale we have seen at Glebelands over the past three years, and not all block committee members sell beds.

Since then of course, left unchecked – even encouraged – Glebelands hired killers have diversified and now carry out political hits up and down the KZN south coast, Eastern Cape, involving themselves in taxi violence, hijacking syndicates, the suspected slaying of anti-mining activists – in fact anything their masters needed handled extrajudicially. Awash with industrial quantities of illegal guns – many apparently provided by police – Glebelands has, in essence, become home of the KZN hitman – a useful resource in the bitter ANC feeding frenzy over tenders and the biggest bites from the bloated R41.7-billion eThekwini Municipality budget.

But back to the “thug marches” during which one man was shot (not fatally) and another stabbed on Tuesday. The police did nothing to stop the protesters’ open provocation of residents, threats and incitement to violence, nor safeguard the rights and safety of those who did not want to take part in such a questionable protest. In fact many residents reported that the police “led” the march of thugs.

Meanwhile, two community leaders who had met SAPS provincial representatives recently to discuss long-standing concerns regarding police conduct have since been fingered for yesterday’s shooting incident. Neither were at Glebelands at the time of the incident.

Local police, it seems, are trying to reignite the “warring factions” myth sold to the public by the municipality, police and politicians in 2014/15 as a smokescreen to protect the “useful” killers and criminals and justify the roll out of yet more lucrative contracts for politically connected security firms in the name of restoring “peace” at Glebelands.

On Wednesday evening, Peace Committee members, Block R community leaders and concerned residents took their fears back to Brig Bongi Ntuli, the Umlazi SAPS Station Commissioner, for as experience has shown, each collection ends in tears over a fresh grave.

Ntuli, clearly out of her depth, reportedly claimed to be at a loss as to how to deal with the not-so-slow-motion train wreck that will probably leave a heap more corpses on her doorstep, because she claimed “witnesses won’t come forward”. Tell us, dear Brigadier, would you “come forward” after seeing Sipho Ndovela’s lifeless body spread-eagled at the entrance to court with his brains blown out? Good intelligence and detective work would be a start. Plus it always helps if the community can actually trust the police. 

She did, however, call a meeting with representatives from the Department of Transport, Community Safety and Liaison – the MEC for which, like the former Peace Facilitator, Sibusiso Xulu, has dutifully ignored the Peace Committee’s many pleas for help as the violence escalated over past months.

The thugs will apparently march to court again on Thursday to support their colleague. For reasons unknown, the Umlazi Magistrate’s Court appears to be treating this bail application with unprecedented urgency. Previously, Glebelands’ accused – many on clearly fabricated charges, or at best, flimsy evidence – have sat for weeks in prison while their bail applications are remanded and remanded and remanded again. So what gives with this case?

The accused allegedly injured the son of ward 79 councillor, Sthenjwa Nyawose and killed his friend during a shooting incident at Block O on 3 June. Four bus loads of the Nyawose family’s supporters attended court to show their opposition to the accused’s bail application. In total he is charged with two counts of attempted murder, one of murder, theft of a motor vehicle, and was found in possession of an unlicensed firearm and 44 rounds of ammunition. However, according to Ntuli, he will probably get bail as the investigating officer’s opposition does not appear sufficiently strong.

No surprises there. With Umlazi SAPS officers as first to respond to most Glebelands incidents, and having so notoriously and repeatedly been found wanting in the ethics, integrity and independence stakes, it is no small wonder that unfortunate Provincial Task Team detectives to whom the dockets are ultimately handed, are often stymied by fabricated or missing evidence, poorly completed documentation or statements that have very obviously been tampered with.

The ongoing violence at Glebelands is also believed to have presented comrades with interests in the security industry with a wide range of lucrative business opportunities. The vast sums of money that the municipality has to date pumped into utterly ineffectual “security measures,” can only be sustained by a constant flow of blood from the hostel –a perfect self-sustaining industry where everyone can eat. Hostel dwellers’ lives are clearly as expendable to the ANC as they were to the Nationalist Party. 

But of course, none of this could have any bearing on the Umlazi Magistrate’s Court’s uncharacteristic haste in processing the latest murder accused’s bail application, or the police’s morbid reluctance to take action against those who continue to kill, rape, hijack, evict, threaten and extort with impunity, could it? We do after all live in a constitutional democracy governed by the rule of law, don’t we? Don’t we?  DM

Vanessa Burger is an Independent Community Activist for Human Rights and Social Justice

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