Cops kill man ‘resisting arrest’ — or just opening a door?
Bullet holes, bodies and unsolved murders — parts of life, and death, in the KwaZulu-Natal north coast community of eMpembeni, where 12 people were killed by hitmen in 2018 and 2019.
The list of killings grew by one on April 5 when police arrived at the home of Bruce Ndlovu and shot him in front of his girlfriend while their 10-month-old baby cried hysterically.
Police said Ndlovu was wanted for attempted murder and possession of an unlicensed firearm. His brother said the family knew of no charges against him.
His girlfriend, Thobile Tembe, 30, said police began firing at their front door at 2am.
“Bruce got frightened and walked towards the door to switch on the lights. That is when he got shot ... because they kept firing,” she said.
“As he lay there by the door, the baby started crying and then I pleaded with them to let me unlock the door. They swore at me and demanded that I open. They forced entry through the door, even moving his body.”
Tembe was locked in another room with Ndlovu’s mother. When they were let out at 6am the body and bullet casings had gone.
“We saw them picking up the shells,” said Ndlovu’s brother Sifiso. “Now we ask ourselves, what kind of police officers are these who arrive at a man’s home and open fire?”
Sifiso Ndlovu called the Esikhawini police station commander but no officer has since come to the home.
“My brother has never been arrested, he was not someone you found in pubs or taverns,” he said.
“He wasn’t even involved in community politics, businesses or anything like that.”
KwaZulu-Natal police spokesperson Thembeka Mbele referred questions to the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid). An Ipid spokesperson, Ndileka Cola, said police received information about a suspect wanted for attempted murder and possession of an unlicensed firearm. Ndlovu was shot while resisting arrest, police said.
After the 2018/2019 killings, a national police team arrested alleged hitmen and a local businessman for three murders. Bail was denied but months later, the office of the KwaZulu-Natal director of public prosecutions declined to prosecute.
Violence monitor Mary de Haas said the Ndlovu family lived in the Gebetuko area where people had been told they would have to move for “oil”.
“Although it is known that there are plans for this area, no government department will provide any details,” she said.
“It is almost certain that, given its proximity to the Richards Bay harbour, these plans relate to proposed gas or oil storage and pipelines. As with the titanium mining in KwaDube [of which eMpembeni is part], local tender beneficiaries will be hopeful of further lucrative income opportunities.”
In 2018 eMpembeni was earmarked as a possible site for an oil refinery.
A year later, the department of energy said it had ordered the Central Energy Fund (CEF) to work with Saudi Aramco, the world’s biggest oil company and a partner in the refinery deal, to investigate suitable sites.
The department said that the CEF and Saudi Aramco had concluded a pre-feasibility study but “due to the collapse in oil prices due to Covid-19 in 2020, Saudi Aramco elected not to proceed immediately”.