Umsinga: Drive-by shooters kill three

2009-04-16 00:00

THE murders of four men in separate attacks at Umsinga on Monday and Wednesday have fuelled fears of more violence.

Law enforcement authorities have vowed to descend on the area next week to ensure a peaceful election.

Three men died at the scene on Wednesday and four are in hospital after they survived a hail of heavy-calibre rifle bullets in a drive-by shooting on the R33 main road in the Tugela Ferry business centre. Velaphi Benye (30), Gugu Mvelase (25) and Celokuhle Sokhela — believed to be in his 30s — died on the scene.

On Monday a local businessman, Lulama Sibiya (36), was shot and killed at a local shopping centre.

According to police spokesman, Superintendent Henry Budhram heavy-calibre weapons were used in both shootings. On Wednesday, all the windows of the victims’ blue Toyota Corolla were shattered and there are 50 bullet-holes in the car’s bodywork. “Several expended cartridges of AK47, R1, R4, and R5 were found at the scene.”

According to Budhram, a white Toyota Corolla with no registration plates drove past and the occupants opened fire, hitting people who were sitting in the blue Corolla as well as those who were standing beside it.

Two of the dead in Wednesday night’s shooting were seated inside the car and the third was outside.

Sakhiseni Xaba (39) Siyabonga Gasa (39) Zamane Langa (33) and Salani Sohhela (40) were taken to hospital.

Security measures will be stepped up in the area following the incident. Safety and Liaison MEC Bheki Cele said in a statement Umsinga will be closely monitored.

He added that the peace and security cluster, led by national Safety and Security Minister Nathi Mthethwa, is currently deployed in the province and will converge on the area tomorrow to evaluate the situation. “Umsinga is one of the areas in KZN where we will have stringent security surveillance during the election period.”

Speculation on whether the attacks are related to taxi or political violence have not been confirmed, but concerns are mounting that the shootings will have a negative effect on the elections next week.

“We can’t rule out [either taxi or political violence], but the fact is these attacks will have a destabilising influence leading towards the elections,” said KZN violence monitor Mary de Haas.

She said that historically Umsinga remains a “lawless area [plagued] with high level of violence”.

“Trends evident in post-democracy elections… continue in this 2009 pre-election period.

“Several political party members have been murdered, or attempts have been made on their lives… intimidation and threat is rife in a number of areas”.

De Haas said taxi violence overlaps with political violence. She said taxi owners are affiliated with different political organisations and their wars may therefore be intertwined.

Meanwhile, Cele said the police will leave no stone unturned in apprehending the perpetrators.

“Such irresponsible and barbaric behaviour cannot be tolerated, particularly during this time when we are pushing hard the messages of peace and stability in the province. Police will follow all possible leads… political, crime-related or otherwise. My heartfelt condolences go to the bereaved families,” said Cele.

sandilez@witness.co.za

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