Glebelands is an African National Congress stronghold. But the cost of the ruling party’s dogged determination to entrench one man’s position in the face of years of community struggle for his redeployment has been incalculable and utterly iniquitous.
The Easter weekend brought more tragedy to Glebelands Hostel in uMlazi, Durban, South Africa. Fikile Jumbile was shot at pointblank range at around 19h45 on Thursday 2 April when returning from Umlazi MegaCity with two friends. The bullet at the base of his skull ensured Fikile’s name could be ticked off the infamous hit list, reputedly used by both police and hit-men to identify hostel block committee members and their associates. That the unknown gunman bypassed Fikile’s two friends to target him bears the unmistakable mark of an assassination.
Like so many who have lost their lives during the past 13 months of violence, Fikile was not involved in crime and was well liked by his community. Fikile lost all his possessions when violently evicted during the purge of committee members from Block 57 in April last year. Unlike dozens of others – many women and children – Fikile had eventually managed to find shelter in another block. However, despite his vastly reduced circumstances, Fikile’s continued friendship with block committee members was apparently too great a threat to allow his continued existence. His visit to the local shopping mall took him through the hostel’s notorious ‘no-go zones’ and into ‘enemy territory’ – MegaCity is reputedly a regular hangout for Glebelands’ killers. Speculation suggests he was probably spotted and an ambush opportunistically arranged. But establishing the truth is unlikely as police have, to date, failed to secure the conviction of even one hostel killer. Fikile is victim 22 in the sinister block committee eradication programme.
The indefensible situation at Glebelands has for too long been characterised by official obfuscation and government departments’ assiduous disregard for the socioeconomic suffering and trauma of the illegally displaced victims of violence.
During KwaZulu Natal Premier Senzo Mchunu’s unilateral peace declaration of 28 September 2014, block committee structures were dissolved, their members accused of corruption - selling beds – and violence. If this were indeed the root cause of the problem, why would block committee members themselves have pleaded for thorough investigations? How credible is this allegation, when the overwhelming majority of those killed, beaten, evicted and tortured by police, have been former block chairmen, committee members, their associates, friends and family members? And why has the local ward councilor, against whom many of the now deceased previously mobilized with accusations of tender irregularities and cronyism, shown nothing but contempt for the widows, orphans and homeless resulting from the chaos he has so far ignored?
At that same September meeting, the Premier also banned community gatherings. Despite this unofficial ‘State of Emergency’, a certain Block 52 resident apparently continues to mobilize the community against block committee members. This individual enjoys what appears to be an unhealthy alliance with a member of the Durban Central SAPS, resident of Block T. This member in turn, is allegedly associated with some of the very same Umlazi SAPS officers implicated in the torture and harassment of block committee members during 2014. This Block 52 resident, suspected owner of the R5 or similar calibre official issue firearm used in much of the Glebelands violence, is rumoured to hold fake police identity documents, and is believed to be involved in hijacking. The police need to explain their failure to investigate an individual allegedly so blatantly engaged in serious crime and who has also been implicated in many of the Glebelands hits.
The Premier also deployed special police units to quell the hostel violence, which, while apparently working from the very same notorious hit list, immediately set about torturing beleaguered block committee members. According to police sources, timing suggests that these special units – a Public Order Policing Unit – acted with impunity until they overzealously tortured the individual from Block 52. Within days it seems, POP was pulled from Glebelands, adding credence to claims this individual indeed enjoys senior political ‘protection’.
To establish the motive for so many assassinations it may be instructive to examine events since 2006 when the eThekwini Municipality announced a 100 percent hostel rent increase to counter an accumulated water wastage debt of millions of rand. Hostel dwellers resisted the increase with an immediate rent boycott. They had for years lobbied local government to empower them to effect minor repairs, thus avoiding lengthy service delays and the use of expensive ‘preferred’ contractors while simultaneously providing employment and skills training. However, at great cost to ratepayers, the municipality stuck to its guns, and an associate of the late ANC strongman, John Mchunu, was slated as the new ward 76 councilor, apparently to quell the hostel rebellion.
Former ANC stalwarts have claimed that Glebelands’ majority support for the ruling party, stifled critical vigilance against tender and other financial irregularities, thus providing an ideal conduit for ill-gotten gains to be siphoned off to party coffers. Is it pure coincidence that at least two large hostel contractors have leading light ANC board members or directors? The community also began to ask uncomfortable questions regarding newcomers who they claimed were allocated newly constructed hostel units by the councilor, in preference to those who had been waiting years for beds.
The community continued to rail against their councilor and further allegations regarding the sale of RDP housing to party faithful in other areas of the ward emerged. In mid-2013, thousands of Glebelands’ SACP members added their voices to recall the councilor and his office was incinerated as frustration boiled over into protest. The community remained adamantly pro-ANC, merely insisting on the redeployment of that particular councilor.
Finally the authorities acted. The provincial ANC executive convened stakeholder talks and the eThekwini Municipality allocated R220 000 per month to protect the councilor – the most expensive muscle in the country. The rent boycott continued together with the expenditure wasted on the hire of preferred service providers to perform menial hostel repairs, and the costs to ratepayers were augmented by the enormous burden of the councilor’s bodyguards.
When talks were suspended during the run up to the May 2014 elections the killings and violent evictions began - and have not stopped – a means infinitely more effective and permanent than discussion to suppress community dissent. The outbreak of violence was interestingly preempted by the arrival of the previously mentioned individual to Block 52 at Glebelands, whose friends reportedly boasted of close connections with political and former police heavyweights while attacking those who had previously called for the councilor’s redeployment.
In addition, the councilor allegedly attempted to coerce residents to support former regional treasurer, Zandile Gumede, in the ongoing fiercely contested battle against City Mayor, James Nxumalo, for control of the powerful eThekwini region and its fat public purse. It has been reported that the renegade of Block 52 has been aggressively targeting formerly ‘neutral’ blocks in an attempt to consolidate criminal and political power and further isolate dissenters. It is of course easier to entrench political support and cynically extort ‘donations’ for residents’ protection when any opposition is used for target practice and the police appear to remain willfully oblivious to the perpetrators violence.
Amid allegations of torture and collusion, the police, like the Premier, also seem to be blaming the victims – citing lack of community ‘cooperation’ for their abysmal failure to put Glebelands’ killers behind bars. Such facile excuses undermine the impartiality of the entire criminal justice system. For how long will officers – some, ironically, recently awarded for police service excellence by the Department for Community Safety – be seemingly willing to remain the puppets of politically connected hitmen and hijackers?
Ahead of the 2016 local government elections and subsequent ANC provincial conference, is the resurgence in violence and assassinations of those perceived by local power mongers as a threat to political ambitions, a bid to entrench Glebelands as a local factional powerbase? And does this factional powerbase serve the dual purpose as a conduit for illicit party funding as has been suggested by some now in national government? It is disingenuous for the ANC to insist that the election of the ward councilor represents the democratic will of the people when the insidious slate system removes personal preference from community and even alliance members’ political options. The socioeconomic impact of the ANC’s dogged determination to entrench one man’s position in the face of years of community struggle for his redeployment has been incalculable and utterly iniquitous. After exhibiting such callous disregard for human suffering will the ANC be prepared to gamble more of its Glebelands supporters’ lives to retain one man’s position?
How much blood must be spilt to secure political interests? Or is Glebelands just part of the broader scheme to dismantle the nation to service factional greed? Irrespective of the regime, when will black lives matter in South Africa?
* Vanessa Burger is a South African Community Activist.
* THE VIEWS OF THE ABOVE ARTICLE ARE THOSE OF THE AUTHOR/S AND DO NOT NECESSARILY REFLECT THE VIEWS OF THE PAMBAZUKA NEWS EDITORIAL TEAM
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