Are assassinations, manipulation of the criminal justice system and intimidation used regularly to protect greedy officials plundering the KwaZulu-Natal public purse? It would seem so when reviewing incidents of violence relating to housing and tender allocations over the last six years in poor communities across Durban.
A startlingly similar pattern has revealed communities who are struggling for self-determination and participation in local development; tyranny by allegedly corrupt ward councilors; collusion, shoddy workmanship and price fixing amongst private companies allegedly complicit in tender rigging; a police force that is often accused of acting on political instruction; the repeated appearance of certain high ranking ANC officials; and the insatiable greed of many elected to public office.
We have seen the same modus operandi at the Kennedy Road informal settlement in 2008/9 when supporters and members of shack dwellers’ movement Abahlali baseMjondolo (AbM) were assassinated, threatened, harassed and illegally arrested. We have seen it in 2010 in uMlazi when local police hunted Zakheleni Settlement community leader, Bheki Buthelezi - allegedly on the orders of the local ward councilor - while others were shot and intimidated. We have seen it in 2011 when the eThekwini Municipality’s Head of Housing, Nigel Gumede allegedly intimidated AbM leader, S’bu Zikode. We saw it again in 2013 when Cato Crest housing activist, Nkhululekho Gwala, who was threatened by Health MEC, Sibongiseni Dhlomo, at a community meeting convened by eThekwini Mayor, James Nxumalo, was later killed the same night. In August this year we again saw assassination used to silence three top National Union of Metalworkers South Africa (NUMSA) shop stewards at Isithebe. The latest mortality, KwaNdengezi AbM Chairperson, Thuli Ndlovu, lost her life on 29 September 2014 shortly after local ward councilor, Mduduzi Ngcobo’s vehicle was reportedly seen in the vicinity of her house. Since February this year sixteen Glebelands Hostel block chairmen, committee and family members have reportedly died in hits allegedly carried out by men linked to local ward councilor, Robert Mzobe. There have been many other similar incidents in KwaMashu, Mariannridge and other settlements in and around Durban. No one is ever convicted for these crimes and ward councilors allegedly involved in corruption remain entrenched in their positions, often at a cost of over R320 000 per month to ratepayers to protect them from their own constituents.
We have seen the names of prominent municipal employees and ANC officials linked repeatedly in the press to questionable housing and tender allocations and other shady dealings. Together with certain private contractors - some linked to top ANC businessmen and whose corporate signage features prolifically throughout uMlazi - some of the same individuals’ names also appeared in the now infamous Manase Report. None, it would appear, have ever been brought to book. And in the absence of killers’ convictions, the finger pointing continues.
The latest victims of the powerful elite that seem to have KwaZulu-Natal in a political chokehold, are Thulani Kati and Tsepo Jali, residents of Glebelands Hostel, who, after their names appeared on a so-called hit-list, were reportedly tortured by police and brutally assaulted after midnight on 2 October 2014. ‘Tubing’ was regularly used by the apartheid regime to extract information. Not much has changed it would appear, as our post-freedom police make liberal use of this torture technique.
Bongani Mthembu, Glebelands uBunye Bamahostel leader, who was shot in the leg by unknown gunmen wielding an R4 or similar state issue firearm on 19 August this year, can apparently be thankful that this injury saved him from a similar fate. He reported that the 'new' police – a Public Order Policing Unit - deployed recently by KZN Premier, Senzo Mchunu, arrived at his room shortly before midnight and instructed him to bring his jacket and identity book after which he was escorted to the sports ground in the centre of the hostel complex. On his arrival, Mthembu claimed he heard one officer enquire, in reference to himself, ‘Where is the prisoner?’ Mthembu asked why he was a prisoner when he had recently been shot. He indicated his leg injury and stated he was on medication. After lengthy questioning, the police released him.
Mthembu believes his medication prevented him too from being tortured as he presented a significant health risk and could possibly have died if he had been tubed. This would have resulted in unwanted complications for the police had he died in custody.
Mthembu reported that during the hour he was questioned at the sports ground, he witnessed the police’s continuous assault of Jali, who, he claimed, was repeatedly kicked and punched in his private parts and stomach. Mthembu also reported that although he could not see Kati, he heard him crying out continuously for help.
That this Public Order Policing unit, deployed after last Sunday’s Mass Community Meeting specifically to keep the peace at Glebelands Hostel, has been the first to break the law and fragile peace agreement and contravene human and constitutional rights, brings into question the real purpose of their deployment.
According to people present at the meeting, the KZN Premier, Senzo Mchunu is alleged to have told those present that, ‘You must not look at these police, don’t even look at them in the eye, because they will attack you. You must dress nicely, don’t wear big jackets (a reference to concealed weapons) or they will attack you.’ Some peace.
The irony was not lost on residents who also noted the state’s lavish expenditure on food and entertainment during the event and fresh tender opportunities presented by the R10 million budget allocated for access control, surveillance cameras, palisade fencing and floodlights, ostensibly to beef up hostel security, while the over 100 eviction victims still languish without shelter, having lost everything, some even their jobs, as a result of sustained the violence which, for over seven months, provincial authorities merely ignored.
This security budget plus the continued cost of Mzobe’s bodyguards does seem obscenely disproportionate to the paltry R600 per month worth of food vouchers dispensed finally this week to two women by social workers from the Department of Social Development – two long and hungry months after their initial violent eviction. One of these women, due to the trauma of the incident, has had to take a month’s unpaid sick leave and flee the area. Both women have been referred to Life Line for counseling, but with no income and unable to afford transport, it is unlikely they will receive the help they need. They remain without anywhere to stay.
Furthermore, the victims were informed by the local social worker that obtaining admission to a shelter would be difficult and time consuming as the authorisation of the ward councilor would be required. As both women are associated with former block chairmen and their committee members, who since February, have reportedly been targeted by Mzobe and his alleged thugs in retaliation for their application mid last year to provincial ANC structures for his removal and replacement, the women believe they are unlikely to gain admission to places of safety.
No other state social support has been provided to the almost 2 500 residents of the nine blocks which have been affected to varying degrees by the ongoing violence.
The provincial government’s lightning fast deployment of political heavyweights to curb community meetings and dissolve hostel block committee structures - apparently by the very same individuals previously deployed to quell community discontent in Cato Crest, KwaNdengezi and other settlements where housing corruption has been alleged – also contrasts sharply with the snail’s pace dispensation of social support and suggests political (or financial) interests are a far greater priority to the ruling local elite than the immediate survival of those most in need.
And in light of the recent alleged torture incident, questions are now being raised as to whether these new security measures are really to reduce crime, or will instead be used to suppress community members who are perceived to be at odds with the ward councilor. It also lends sinister overtones to Mchunu’s reported statement that the eThekwini municipality would ‘educate tenants about their rights, responsibilities and obligations.’
According to Mchunu at last Sunday’s meeting, ‘We have deployed an undisclosed number of police from other provinces to do random searches, man roadblocks and other special operations to root out crime in the hostel… to make residents feel safer.’
This new unit has clearly not been reading from the same script as Mchunu, as residents now fear their new tormentors even more than their old ones. Or perhaps the police are indeed using the same script, the old one - the infamous hit list reportedly used by uMlazi SAPS members to harass and intimidate Mzobe's detractors. It would seem so as one of the alleged torture victims claimed his police attacker consulted an A4 foolscap list of names to verify his identity before commencing the assault. This suggests the hit list has now been passed on to the new unit for ‘action.’
Both victims were former block chairman and Thulani Kati is the brother of Doris Odwa Kati, arrested for attempted murder on 22 August during a raid on Block P in the early hours of the morning. He has repeatedly been denied bail and his case has been remanded many times, with seemingly little real evidence on which to base the charges. This is just one of many cases that seem to have been fabricated to harrass and intimidate former block chairmen and their associates. Just as has been reported in the other communities mentioned earlier.
The police had arrived at Block P at around midnight after collecting Jali. As Kati returned to his room after hearing a disturbance downstairs, he was accosted by an officer who, after consulting a list of names, reportedly demanded, ‘Are you Commander?’
Kati apparently acknowledged that he had, prior to Mchunu dissolving all community elected structures, formerly been a block chairman. He was allegedly immediately hit in the stomach with the R5 rifle the officer was armed with. Kati stated he was then kicked in the solar plexus by another officer and pushed into his room where he was cable-tied and then tortured. Kati stated around fifteen officers were involved in the operation and they repeatedly demanded to know where he had hidden ‘The Big Gun’, the state issue firearm repeatedly linked to violence allegedly perpetrated by Bongani Hlope and his crew of politically aligned thugs.
Kati claimed the police restrained his legs and forced a clear plastic bag over his head, forcing out all oxygen. The plastic bag was secured at his throat while they continued assaulting him. He described the panic of suffocation as the soft plastic of the bag entered his mouth with each inhalation. Kati eventually collapsed, was beaten again, tubed, collapsed and beaten while his room was searched. After the cableties broke during his assault, he said he was handcuffed. None of the members were wearing nametags, no search warrant was produced and no firearm was found.
After about half an hour Kati claimed he was taken to the sports field where he noticed other members were already beating Jali. He claimed he was again tubed and instructed to scrape his right foot three times on the ground if he ‘remembered where the gun was.’ Kati stated the unit consisted of black, white and coloured officers and that one of his interrogators was female.
When he could no longer endure the torture, Kati claimed he scraped his foot in desperation and told the police he had a .38 which he had ‘thrown away’ near Block P.
Kati was then escorted to recover the alleged firearm. He stated when they reached the area he had indicated, he admitted that he had fabricated the story merely to get them to stop torturing him. Kati claimed he would have told them anything they wanted at that stage, just to get them to stop. He reported that he was then returned to the sports field where six officers resumed beating and tubing him. He claimed he collapsed many times and became completely disorientated.
The incident lasted almost three hours. During this time Kati was clad in only sleeping shorts, it was raining heavily and very cold. Eventually his restraints were removed and he was allowed to return to his room.
The police reportedly warned Kati, that they would be back soon to resume the search for his alleged firearm. Kati maintains he has never owned a firearm.
Another resident who was shot in the finger and stomach on 9 August and who, despite opening a case at the time at uMlazi SAPS with Detective W/O HJ Ngidi, has yet to receive a case number, claimed that he had received a tipoff that it was the intention of the Premier’s newly deployed police unit, to torture all those whose names appeared on the list.
Kati had described the list in question as a ruled A4 foolscap page filled from top to bottom with handwritten names – a lot of work for the police and even more work for the Independent Police Investigative Directorate and media. In the meantime, the community lives in terror of the police deployed by the Premier ‘to make them feel safer’.
‘It’s not about politics’, was the statement allegedly made by a former ANC party strongman during a 2008/9 meeting at which councilors from various political parties whose wards contained hostels were reportedly instructed to submit their ‘company profiles’ in the week ahead of that year's annual hostel upgrade budget allocation, ‘It’s all about the money’.
This raises the extremely serious question about whether there is more to what is happening than the enrichment of greedy officials. A former insider claims that this lucrative method of party funding and the ‘handling fees’ derived by complicit, well-placed officials and private contractors, had been systematically employed for a considerable time across many eThekwini wards. Is there indeed more at stake that the selling of beds at this uMlazi hostel? Are eThekwini ratepayers indirectly contributing to a party slush fund that cynically feeds off the suffering of the poor and further disadvantages the weak?
Cases have been opened with Major Mtshengu at the uMlazi SAPS, J88 forms have been completed and the incidents will be reported to the IPID for full investigation.
For more information and interviews contact:
Vusi Zweni: uBunye Bamahostel Provincial Chairman – 0832270485
Bongani Mthembu: uBunye Bamahostel Glebelands Hostel Committee Chairman – 0732320030
Mthembiseni Thusi: uBunye Bamahostel Provincial Deputy Chair/Spokesman – 0810218608 / 0738894385
Thulani Kati: Glebelands Hostel former Block Chairman – 0724046674
Sibusiso Hluthwa: Glebelands Hostel former Block Chairman – 0835241297
Pina Themba: uBunye Bamahostel Glebelands Hostel Committee Member – 0760552227
(Chairman) Vusi Zweni – 0832270485; (Deputy Chair/Spokesman) Mthembiseni Thusi – 0810218608 / 0738894385
(Provincial Organiser: Joanne Adams) – 0834981583 / [email][email protected]
KZN Violence Monitor:
(Mary de Haas) – 0832270485 / [email][email protected]
South Durban Community Environmental Alliance:
(Coordinator - Desmond D’Sa) – 0839826939 / [email][email protected]
Democratic Left Front KZN:
(Provincial Chairman - China Ngubane) – 0726519790 / [email][email protected]
Community Justice Movement:
(Chairperson - Bandile Mdlalose) – 0735014200 / [email][email protected]
Centre for Civil Society:
(Director – Patrick Bond) – [email][email protected]
CCS Dennis Brutus Community Scholar Programme:
(Community Activist – Vanessa Burger) – 0828477766 / [email][email protected]