Hell’s here already, minister
● Police minister Bheki Cele wants to turn Plessislaer in KwaZulu-Natal— a township outside Pietermaritzburg and one of SA’s crime capitals — into “hell on earth” for criminals.
But in the narrow streets of Imbali, within Plessislaer policing district, residents say they are already in hell thanks to rampant violence and ineffective law enforcement
Visiting the area this week, Cele said 50 extra officers are being sent to the area in response to 70 murders in the first three months of this year.
He urged police to “take no prisoners” and attributed the high crime rate to the number of alcohol outlets. “People don’t drink here, they swim in alcohol,” he said.
“Churches, schools, even spaza shops and butcheries put together are less than shebeens and bottle stores. There are 125 shebeens plus 10 bottle stores — 135 outlets of alcohol here.”
Cele’s claim that utshwala was to blame for crime brought a withering response from Zazi Nxele, spokesperson for Msunduzi municipality’s ANC mayor Mzi Thebolla, who called the minister a “mampara”.
“Bheki Cele came to Pietermaritzburg for the Covid-19 lockdown compliance assessment last year … he talks about booze,” he said on social media. “[He] comes [here] again amid a spate of killings at Imbali … he talks about utshwala. Does this mampara have a clue what his work is?”
But Nxele told the Sunday Times that his statement was merely a joke, that he had retracted it and did not want to be seen as making light of a serious situation.
Residents, however, are not joking when they express their scepticism that police can make a difference in a vast region with 19 semi-rural and urban wards.
Xolani Sibisi said the scant regard for life by guns for hire is a familiar story. His brother is the owner of Skapura Tavern in Imbali where traffic cop Sibonelo Ngubeni was gunned down in full view of patrons on February 27.
The death of the Umkhonto weSizwe member, who was shot six times, marked the beginning of a spate of murders. Six days later Linda Zuke and his neighbour Sandile Zondi were shot outside Zuke’s home.
Less than an hour later University of KwaZulu-Natal students Ngcebo Mkhize and Sphamandla Memela were killed by two gunmen outside Mkhize’s home.
Mkhize’s father, Maringo Mbatha, said police had not yet been in touch with him about his son’s murder.
“He was my eldest son, meant to graduate this year in social sciences, geography and environmental studies. He had a good future shaping up for him,” he said.
“I wasn’t at home when they were shot. When I arrived, police were here collecting the bullets. They asked me if that’s my son. I told them it is and they left. They never came back or contacted me.”
The Plessislaer police station recorded the seventh-highest number of murders in SA in October and November last year, with 57 killings — 25 more than in the same period in 2019. Only Umlazi (74) and Inanda (66) recorded more murders in KwaZulu-Natal.