Where politicians ‘shop’ for hitmen

2017-07-23 06:04

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When witnesses told the Moerane Commission of Inquiry into political killings in KwaZulu-Natal that Durban’s notorious Glebelands Hostel was a “reservoir of hitmen” for both political killings and the taxi industry, the commission arranged a special inspection of the dilapidated settlement on Friday.

The hostel was described as a place where “politicians shop for hitmen and police officers supply the weapons” by expert witness Vanessa Burger of the Independent Community Activist for Human Rights and Social Justice.

The commission wrapped up its third session of testimony in Durban on Friday after researchers, activists and witnesses delivered a week of dramatic accounts of hitmen, organised raids, police collusion, intraparty power struggles, corrupt councillors, warlords and official funding of murders for political gain. It was established in October 2016 by Premier Willies Mchunu to investigate the underlying causes of the murders of political officials in KwaZulu-Natal. Headed by advocate Marumo Moerane, it held its first hearings in January.

A resident of the hostel, who testified in camera on Friday, confirmed Burger’s allegations, adding that police officers usually authorised the murders. “There have been 89 murders in Glebelands since March 2014, but there have been no arrests or convictions,” he said. “We believe police are involved in these killings. The hitmen are ANC members, and before each hit is carried out, each hostel resident is required to contribute R50 to pay for the guns and bullets. People are afraid to refuse.

“Some blocks are controlled by these hitmen. They are powerful, they collect money from the residents to buy bullets and guns, and they bribe the police to release suspects.”

Members of the land rights movement Abahlali baseMjondolo and Burger told the commission that the recent spate of killings that had plagued the volatile Umzimkhulu region in southern KwaZulu-Natal could be traced to hitmen hired from the hostel.

Burger said the murders of ANC office bearers Khaya Thobela, Khaya Mgcwaba and Mduduzi Tshibase, which occurred within weeks of each other in April and May this year, were hits carried out by gunman from the hostel. They had been funded by involuntary contributions from residents, she said.

Factional battles

The hits were part of ANC factional battles, and even President Jacob Zuma was implicated through his supporters in the province, witnesses claimed.

Burger said the trend started four years ago when a leader at Glebelands allegedly ordered the killing of dissenting block committee leaders at the hostel. A police officer, named in the testimony, was the mastermind behind most of the killings.

Abahlali baseMjondolo leader Sibusiso Zikode gave graphic testimony of the murder of a young activist, Thuli Ndlovu, who had been uncovering the corruption of a local ANC councillor at the time of her death. Two ANC proportional representative councillors and the hitman were arrested and convicted for the murder.

“What concerns us most,” Zikode said, “is that these attacks happen in front of the SAPS [SA Police Service], metro police and other law enforcement officials.

“When we report threats or intimidation, we are told by some police officers that they are unable to investigate their political masters who pay them. We need police to come in from outside the province to investigate cases of corruption and murder.”

As a result of this week’s testimony, the parliamentary portfolio committee for police has urged the SAPS and the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid) to respond to these allegations.

Committee chair Francois Beukman said: “It’s essential that Ipid and the SAPS should present their side of the story to the Moerane Commission. The commission and the public at large must be fully informed of what’s being done to solve this large number of unsolved murders.”

In his testimony, University of KwaZulu-Natal academic Paulus Zulu told the commission that South Africa had become a dysfunctional democracy that put unqualified politicians in power. “Councillors should be made to have some level of qualifications to ensure the adequate management of municipal resources. The intraparty violence is usually a fight for control of resources, such as the awarding of tenders. The fact that councillors don’t need to have a qualification means that anyone can occupy that position, creating a highly competitive environment where bloodshed is the norm.”

A new multidisciplinary police task team is also probing the escalation of political killings in KwaZulu-Natal. This week Police Minister Fikile Mbalula said the team had recorded 33 politically related murders in the province since January 2016. He said the team would also investigate taxi killings, as the two appeared closely linked.

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