Where politi­cians ‘shop’ for hit­men

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When wit­nesses told the Mo­er­ane Com­mis­sion of In­quiry into po­lit­i­cal killings in KwaZulu-Na­tal that Dur­ban’s no­to­ri­ous Gle­be­lands Hos­tel was a “reser­voir of hit­men” for both po­lit­i­cal killings and the taxi in­dus­try, the com­mis­sion ar­ranged a spe­cial in­spec­tion of the di­lap­i­dated set­tle­ment on Fri­day.

The hos­tel was de­scribed as a place where “politi­cians shop for hit­men and po­lice of­fi­cers sup­ply the weapons” by ex­pert wit­ness Vanessa Burger of the In­de­pen­dent Com­mu­nity Ac­tivist for Hu­man Rights and So­cial Jus­tice.

The com­mis­sion wrapped up its third ses­sion of testimony in Dur­ban on Fri­day af­ter re­searchers, ac­tivists and wit­nesses de­liv­ered a week of dramatic ac­counts of hit­men, or­gan­ised raids, po­lice col­lu­sion, in­tra­party power strug­gles, cor­rupt coun­cil­lors, war­lords and of­fi­cial fund­ing of mur­ders for po­lit­i­cal gain. It was es­tab­lished in Oc­to­ber 2016 by Pre­mier Wil­lies Mchunu to in­ves­ti­gate the un­der­ly­ing causes of the mur­ders of po­lit­i­cal of­fi­cials in KwaZulu-Na­tal. Headed by ad­vo­cate Marumo Mo­er­ane, it held its first hear­ings in Jan­uary.

A res­i­dent of the hos­tel, who tes­ti­fied in cam­era on Fri­day, con­firmed Burger’s al­le­ga­tions, adding that po­lice of­fi­cers usu­ally au­tho­rised the mur­ders. “There have been 89 mur­ders in Gle­be­lands since March 2014, but there have been no ar­rests or con­vic­tions,” he said. “We be­lieve po­lice are in­volved in these killings. The hit­men are ANC mem­bers, and be­fore each hit is car­ried out, each hos­tel res­i­dent is re­quired to con­trib­ute R50 to pay for the guns and bul­lets. Peo­ple are afraid to refuse.

“Some blocks are con­trolled by these hit­men. They are pow­er­ful, they col­lect money from the res­i­dents to buy

TALK TO US Do you think hav­ing min­i­mum qual­i­fi­ca­tions for coun­cil­lors will block out bad el­e­ments?

SMS us on 35697 us­ing the key­word HOS­TEL and tell us what you think. Please in­clude your name and prov­ince. SMSes cost R1.50 bul­lets and guns, and they bribe the po­lice to re­lease sus­pects.”

Mem­bers of the land rights move­ment Abahlali baseMjon­dolo and Burger told the com­mis­sion that the re­cent spate of killings that had plagued the volatile Umz­imkhulu re­gion in south­ern KwaZulu-Na­tal could be traced to hit­men hired from the hos­tel.

Burger said the mur­ders of ANC of­fice bear­ers Khaya Tho­bela, Khaya Mgcwaba and Mduduzi Tshibase, which oc­curred within weeks of each other in April and May this year, were hits car­ried out by gun­man from the hos­tel. They had been funded by in­vol­un­tary con­tri­bu­tions from res­i­dents, she said.

The hits were part of ANC fac­tional bat­tles, and even Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma was im­pli­cated through his sup­port­ers in the prov­ince, wit­nesses claimed.

Burger said the trend started four years ago when a leader at Gle­be­lands al­legedly or­dered the killing of dis­sent­ing block com­mit­tee lead­ers at the hos­tel. A po­lice of­fi­cer, named in the testimony, was the mas­ter­mind be­hind most of the killings.

Abahlali baseMjon­dolo leader Sibu­siso Zikode gave graphic testimony of the mur­der of a young ac­tivist, Thuli Ndlovu, who had been un­cov­er­ing the cor­rup­tion of a lo­cal ANC coun­cil­lor at the time of her death. Two ANC pro­por­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tive coun­cil­lors and the hit­man were ar­rested and con­victed for the mur­der.

“What con­cerns us most,” Zikode said, “is that these at­tacks hap­pen in front of the SAPS [SA Po­lice Ser­vice], metro po­lice and other law en­force­ment of­fi­cials.

“When we re­port threats or in­tim­i­da­tion, we are told by some po­lice of­fi­cers that they are un­able to in­ves­ti­gate their po­lit­i­cal masters who pay them. We need po­lice to come in from out­side the prov­ince to in­ves­ti­gate cases of cor­rup­tion and mur­der.”

As a re­sult of this week’s testimony, the par­lia­men­tary port­fo­lio com­mit­tee for po­lice has urged the SAPS and the In­de­pen­dent Po­lice In­ves­tiga­tive Direc­torate (Ipid) to re­spond to these al­le­ga­tions.

Com­mit­tee chair Fran­cois Beuk­man said: “It’s es­sen­tial that Ipid and the SAPS should present their side of the story to the Mo­er­ane Com­mis­sion. The com­mis­sion and the pub­lic at large must be fully in­formed of what’s be­ing done to solve this large num­ber of un­solved mur­ders.”

In his testimony, Uni­ver­sity of KwaZulu-Na­tal aca­demic Paulus Zulu told the com­mis­sion that South Africa had be­come a dys­func­tional democ­racy that put un­qual­i­fied politi­cians in power. “Coun­cil­lors should be made to have some level of qual­i­fi­ca­tions to en­sure the ad­e­quate man­age­ment of mu­nic­i­pal re­sources. The in­tra­party vi­o­lence is usu­ally a fight for con­trol of re­sources, such as the award­ing of ten­ders. The fact that coun­cil­lors don’t need to have a qual­i­fi­ca­tion means that any­one can oc­cupy that po­si­tion, cre­at­ing a highly com­pet­i­tive en­vi­ron­ment where blood­shed is the norm.”

A new mul­ti­dis­ci­plinary po­lice task team is also prob­ing the es­ca­la­tion of po­lit­i­cal killings in KwaZu­luNatal. This week Po­lice Min­is­ter Fik­ile Mbalula said the team had recorded 33 po­lit­i­cally re­lated mur­ders in the prov­ince since Jan­uary 2016. He said the team would also in­ves­ti­gate taxi killings, as the two ap­peared closely linked.

PHOTO: SIYANDA MAYEZA

The Mo­er­ane Com­mis­sion of In­quiry vis­ited Gle­be­lands Hos­tel in Um­lazi to as­sess and gather ev­i­dence on po­lit­i­cal killings in KwaZu­luNatal

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