How can a dead per­son tes­tify?

CityPress - - News -

The morn­ing af­ter a 30-year-old woman was gunned down at Gle­be­lands hos­tel, an eerie si­lence shrouds the “hit­men’s den”.

Po­lice race into the hos­tel, es­cort­ing mem­bers of Par­lia­ment’s po­lice portfolio com­mit­tee who are here for an over­sight visit. Res­i­dents peer out of holes in the dirty brick walls, where once there were win­dows. Some had cov­ered the gaps with black plas­tic bags, but the frames are mostly empty and the small beds, which take up al­most all the space in the tiny rooms, can be seen from the road. Res­i­dents con­tinue to watch the cir­cus, but don’t make eye con­tact with their vis­i­tors.

Guns at the ready, the of­fi­cers stand watch over the well-dressed crowd.

A lieu­tenant guides the com­mit­tee to where, just hours ear­lier, the 30-year-old woman was shot. The cor­ri­dors are dark and damp with foul-smelling grime.

She was the fourth per­son to be as­sas­si­nated here in the past two weeks, bring­ing the Gle­be­lands body count to 92 in two years. The no­to­ri­ous hos­tel in Um­lazi is said to house hit­men, known in KwaZulu-Na­tal as “izink­abi”.

When the po­lice con­voy rushes out of the hos­tel, a girl in a pink dress races back to her block, as if aware that she is no longer safe. She car­ries a vetkoek al­most twice the size of her hand and does not look back un­til she reaches her des­ti­na­tion.

On a Wed­nes­day morn­ing two weeks af­ter Mtshali’s killing, there are four po­lice ve­hi­cles at the hos­tel.

A young boy shouts: “Look, that car is pass­ing here for the sec­ond time.” Chil­dren, like their el­ders, are on high alert. “The po­lice tell the me­dia that Gle­be­lands is un­der po­lice watch, but you have been here for two hours now. Do you see any­thing?” asks a res­i­dent who is part of a group meet­ing City Press for an in­ter­view.

“Po­lice ar­rive an hour af­ter some­one has been killed and they will tell you that they were out to lunch. We call po­lice to say we hear gun­shots and they tell us, ‘no, it is a car back­fir­ing’,” an­other laments.

The group of about 10 hosts the meet­ing in a makeshift struc­ture of cor­ru­gated iron sheets. A num­ber of holes al­low beams of sun­light through.

“Those are not holes from nails. There was a shoot-out with ri­fles here a few months ago,” says one.

“We ran for our lives,” an­other says. A num­ber of the men in the group are armed, their guns strate­gi­cally cov­ered by their cloth­ing. They eye passers-by with sus­pi­cion.

“Anonymity is im­por­tant to us. The peo­ple who die here are wit­nesses or know some­thing, so don’t use our names,” says the leader of the pack.

“It is a lie that solv­ing this problem is im­pos­si­ble be­cause peo­ple of Gle­be­lands don’t want to as­sist law en­force­ment. Wit­nesses go to po­lice and the next time we see them is in a cof­fin at their fu­ner­als. They leave with the po­lice and die some­where. How can a dead per­son tes­tify?”

Gle­be­lands has been the sub­ject of a Pub­lic Pro­tec­tor re­port, in which the lack of lead­er­ship from the mu­nic­i­pal­ity came un­der scru­tiny.

In re­cent weeks, the Mo­er­ane Com­mis­sion of In­quiry into po­lit­i­cal killings in the prov­ince heard that more than 90 peo­ple had been killed at the hos­tel in two years. There have been no con­vic­tions.

The men ad­mit that sell­ing beds is one rea­son peo­ple get killed at the hos­tel.

“They chase you out and sell the beds to raise funds to hire izink­abi. This thing has es­ca­lated and got­ten into the taxi in­dus­try and into fam­ily dis­putes. It is the worst-kept se­cret that, if you want to kill some­one, you come and find your hit­man here. If you want to take out a coun­cil­lor in Hard­ing or Izin­gol­weni, you will come to Gle­be­lands to get your hit­man,” one res­i­dent says.

An­other ad­mits that, in ear­lier times, the hos­tel was a hot­bed for tribal wars be­tween the Zu­lus and Xhosas. The group in­sists this has been re­solved. The per­sis­tent problem is ANC fac­tion­al­ism, they say.

“If po­lit­i­cal lead­ers had the will to end this vi­o­lence, we would not be sit­ting here to­day. But be­cause it as­sists cer­tain camps in the ANC and serves cer­tain in­ter­ests, it goes on.”

They ques­tion the rea­son for hav­ing pri­vate se­cu­rity guards sta­tioned at Gle­be­lands.

The group blames sup­port­ers of ousted eThek­wini mayor James Nx­u­malo and the in­cum­bent, Zandile Gumede, for fu­elling the re­cent vi­o­lence.

A few me­tres from us is a cam­era, sim­i­lar to oth­ers mounted around Gle­be­lands. The men say no­body knows where the footage is be­ing mon­i­tored from or what pur­pose it serves. Peo­ple have been killed in full view of the cam­eras, but no ar­rests are made.

A fence, which al­legedly cost a few mil­lion rands to build, was placed around the hos­tel as an ad­di­tional se­cu­rity fea­ture.

“They say the fence is there so that peo­ple can­not es­cape once they have mur­dered some­one, but no one is run­ning out of Gle­be­lands.

“The killers live here. We know who they are. We see when the ve­hi­cles loaded with guns ar­rive. A per­son kills you and sim­ply walks back to their block. It is not a great mys­tery.”

PHOTO: TUMI PAKKIES

TOO LIT­TLE, TOO LATE In this file photo taken last year, po­lice ar­rest an al­leged Gle­be­lands hos­tel hit­man who had been on the run for sev­eral months

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