Un­solved KZN hits spread fear

Sus­pi­cion in eThekwini is rife and the po­lice ap­pear to be no closer to ap­pre­hend­ing those re­spon­si­ble for the deaths

Mail & Guardian - - News - Paddy Harper

It has been two weeks since the mur­der of Dur­ban ANC coun­cil­lor S’bu Ma­phu­mulo in what Po­lice Min­is­ter Bheki Cele has de­scribed as a “well-or­ches­trated hit” and the po­lice ap­pear no closer to ar­rest­ing his killers. Also ap­par­ently un­rav­el­ling fast is the nar­ra­tive put for­ward by the ANC lead­er­ship in the city and the prov­ince that the Um­lazi coun­cil­lor’s death may have been re­lated to a march to his of­fice ear­lier in the day.

Ac­tivists from civic move­ment Abahlali baseMjon­dolo in the ward, who were in­volved in that protest march, were de­tained and ques­tioned by the po­lice in the days fol­low­ing.

They have since been re­leased, but they claim they were beaten dur­ing in­ter­ro­ga­tion and one of the march or­gan­is­ers has him­self al­legedly been the tar­get of an as­sas­si­na­tion at­tempt since his re­lease from de­ten­tion.

Ma­phu­mulo, elected in 2016 as coun­cil­lor for Ward 88, which in­cludes two in­for­mal set­tle­ments and a sec­tion of RDP houses, was gunned down on Oc­to­ber 18 in Um­lazi’s V Sec­tion.

The 32-year-old for­mer eThekwini re­gional ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee mem­ber of the ANC Youth League had been at­tend­ing a meet­ing. Soon af­ter it fin­ished he was shot by two men who pulled up along­side his car, in which he was sit­ting.

Ma­phu­mulo was hit sev­eral times in the head and died at the scene.

At the time of his mur­der, ANC eThekwini re­gional sec­re­tary Bheki Ntuli said they were “dis­turbed to learn that, be­fore his death, some peo­ple had threat­ened to burn down his house”.

The party’s pro­vin­cial spokesper­son, No­magugu Sime­lane-Zulu, also took a sim­i­lar tack, say­ing Ma­phu­mulo had re­ceived death threats from marchers who had been ex­cluded from a hous­ing project in the ward.

Ma­phu­mulo had a his­tory of con­flict with Abahlali, whose lead­ers last year de­scribed him as a “gang­ster” and ac­cused him of at­tempt­ing to dis­rupt their ac­tiv­i­ties us­ing hit­men and mem­bers of the po­lice.

Af­ter a con­fronta­tion last July, Ma­phu­mulo was ar­rested for pos­ses­sion of an un­li­censed firearm af­ter al­legedly storm­ing a meet­ing con­vened by Abahlali at Sil­ver City, which falls within the ward, and fir­ing sev­eral shots in the air. He was re­leased from cus­tody by the po­lice at Um­lazi the next day. It is not clear at this time what be­came of the case.

Speak­ing at Ma­phu­mulo’s fu­neral, Cele said the killing ap­peared to be the work of pro­fes­sional hit­men. He said se­cu­rity cam­eras out­side Ma­phu­mulo’s home had been moved to en­sure that the killers were not cap­tured on film.

The killing has gen­er­ated a great deal of sus­pi­cion in ANC cir­cles in the city. A mem­ber of the re­gional ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee, who asked not to be named, said: “Peo­ple are scared. There are all kinds of ru­mours go­ing around about why S’bu was killed and who was be­hind it, where he stood po­lit­i­cally and so on. This is a very dan­ger­ous sit­u­a­tion.”

Vanessa Burger, who has long been in­volved in at­tempts to bring po­lit­i­cal killers at Gle­be­lands Hos­tel, in the nearby Ward 76, to book, has writ­ten to the po­lice’s pro­vin­cial com­mis­sioner, Lieu­tenant Gen­eral Nh­lanhla Mkhwanazi, ask­ing for an end to the po­lice ha­rass­ment of three march or­gan­is­ers, Bheki Buthelezi, Sizwe Shibe and Sithem­bile Don­cabe, who had been de­tained and re­leased by po­lice.

She also asked that an al­leged as­sas­si­na­tion at­tempt on Shibe, on his re­turn home from be­ing in­ter­ro­gated at the Dur­ban Cen­tral po­lice sta­tion, be in­ves­ti­gated.

In the let­ter, Burger said the Abahlali march had been peace­ful, with res­i­dents of two in­for­mal set­tle­ments in the ward seek­ing an ex­pla­na­tion from Ma­phu­mulo about the fate of more than R290-mil­lion al­lo­cated for low-cost hous­ing in the area.

In­stead, she pointed to Ma­phu­mulo’s al­leged links with the con­tro­ver­sial De­lan­gokubona Busi­ness Fo­rum, which had backed mayor Zandile Gumede in her bid as ANC re­gional chair­per­son and which had re­cently been in­volved in sev­eral vi­o­lent dis­putes with the mu­nic­i­pal­ity about refuse re­moval and other con­tracts in the south of the city.

She asked Mkhwanazi to ap­point an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the hous­ing project in the ward and into claims that po­lice of­fi­cers from Um­lazi had been in­volved in po­lit­i­cal con­flict in the area.

KwaZulu-Natal po­lice spokesper­son Brigadier Jay Naicker said they were un­able to com­ment as the case was be­ing in­ves­ti­gated by the in­ter-min­is­te­rial task team ap­pointed by Cele. The min­is­ter’s spokesper­son Reneilwe Serero did not re­spond to ques­tions.

In Septem­ber, an­other ANC eThekwini ward coun­cil­lor, Thu­lani Nx­u­malo, was also gunned down at his home at KwaN­dengezi. At the time of writ­ing, no ar­rests had been made in con­nec­tion with his mur­der ei­ther.

Threats: Abahlali baseMjon­dolo ac­tivists were de­tained af­ter a march to coun­cil­lor S’bu Ma­phu­mulo’s of­fice. He was mur­dered later that day. Photo: Made­lene Cronje/New Frame

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