A community in an Eastern Cape village is living in fear for their lives after a family feud, believed to have started at the mines in Rustenburg, spilt over into Mazikhanye and led to senseless killings, writes Lubabalo Ngcukana
As night falls, community members abandon their homes and hurriedly seek shelter in the bushes. They would rather face the elements than risk the certain death that awaits them in their village.
Mazikhanye village, which is near Mvezo in the Eastern Cape, has seen at least 24 people being killed over the past three years due to a mysterious feud that allegedly started at the mines in Rustenburg in North West.
All those who have died, including mine workers, former mine workers and their relatives, were executed either at their homes or at the mine hostels, where the feud is said to have originated about three years ago.
Some were killed in front of their children and grandchildren. In some cases, husbands and wives were both killed.
Those who survived have either left their homes and relocated or hide in the bushes at night.
Grade 12 pupils at the Nelson Mandela School of Science and Technology, who used to rent rooms in some of the homes in the village, are now accommodated in their school’s classrooms as they fear for their lives.
The R100 million school was built a few kilometres from Mvezo Great Place, the birthplace of former president Nelson Mandela.
“At night, we become anxious because we don’t know if we will wake up the next day. When we wake up, we hear that someone has died. The problem is that no one knows the source of the dispute,” said a 63-year-old woman from the village.
The woman’s brother was one of the first people to be killed at the mines.
“We hear that this war started at the mines in Rustenburg. My brother was shot and killed at the mines in this war. We don’t know why. He left his wife and three young daughters.
“In one homestead, they first killed the father, then his eldest son, his young son and his wife. That was in June. Then in July, a couple was killed in the same village and the last person to be killed, also in July, was an elderly woman,” said the pensioner who did not want to be named as she fears for her life.
She said the situation was so volatile that villagers were more afraid of murder than the Covid-19 coronavirus.
“We know that there is a virus that is killing people out there, but here in this village we are more likely to be killed by a bullet than the virus. We are scared. Some people have left the village because they are living in fear,” she said.
She added that no one knew the source of the dispute or why people were killing each other.
The village falls under Nkosi Mandla Mandela’s purview. He said he was aware of the situation, adding that the killings were related to one family.
“This is a family matter. We are not entirely sure how to resolve a family dispute like this one. We have reported the matter to the police and called the family. As iKomkhulu [the Great Place], the only thing we can say on this is that the matter is being attended to by the police because these are criminal murder cases.
“There is nothing else that we can do as this is a police matter,” said Mandela.
He confirmed that Mazikhanye was under his jurisdiction and that, to his knowledge, 24 people had been killed.
Mandela, however, did not want to comment further on the matter, citing its sensitivity.
Another villager claimed that those who were behind the killings were three brothers who were in a bitter rivalry that originated at the mines and spilt into the village.
“The situation is bad because after one member of the family is killed, even before that person is buried, another group within the family would have avenged the killing by murdering someone from the group they suspect to have been behind the killing.
“It’s a vicious cycle. These killings are senseless and barbaric. Almost every night, you hear gunshots and you wonder who is being killed. Then the next day, you hear that so-and-so was shot dead the previous night,” said the villager, who also did not want to be named.
He said half of the people who had been shot and killed were murdered at the mines, then other people were killed in the village.
Another villager alleged that most of those who had died were killed at night by hitmen who were hired from outside the village.
“Last month, when they killed an elderly woman, she was with her grandchild and her daughter-in-law, who is a widow. She died on the spot,” said the villager.
When asked about how the Nelson Mandela School of Science and Technology was doing under the circumstances, a teacher who asked to not be named for fear of being killed said: “The situation is bad. It is affecting everybody. We are all anxious – teachers, pupils and non-teaching staff. Everyone is scared for their lives. I don’t want to speak too much in case I also get shot.”
Meanwhile, crime statistics released by Police Minister Bheki Cele last Friday for the period between April and June showed that reported murder cases had increased at Bityi Police Station, which services the communities of Mvezo and Mazikhanye.
Of the 30 police stations with the highest murder count in the country, Bityi was thirteenth. It is the only rural police station on the list.
Bityi has seen a 62.5% increase in murder cases from 2016/17 to 2019/20. The number increased from five in 2016/17 to 26 in 2019/20.
Provincial police spokesperson Brigadier Tembinkosi Kinana confirmed that there was a dispute allegedly involving two families in the village.
He said the dispute had existed for some time.
“Cases have been registered for investigation by the police and the investigations are ongoing. A number of people have died, allegedly as a result of the feud.
“A task team was established to focus exclusively on the cases. So far, a number of firearms have been confiscated in that area and suspects have been arrested.
“There are continuing police operations in the affected area to ensure sustained stability. The district commissioner is expected to convene an urgent meeting as part of the measures to bring about a lasting solution to the problem,” Kinana said.