eMpembeni killings spike after cops leave

KwaZulu-Natal police spokesperson Colonel Thembeka Mbhele says the Ncube family was attacked by unknown people. Picture: Supplied/SAPS
KwaZulu-Natal police spokesperson Colonel Thembeka Mbhele says the Ncube family was attacked by unknown people. Picture: Supplied/SAPS

Soon after KwaZulu-Natal police withdrew visible policing from the province’s volatile eMpembeni area, alleged hitmen wiped out three family members, including a two-year-old child.

This ambush on May 10 brings the number of people who died brutally in this rural area near Richard’s Bay to 10 since July last year.

KwaZulu-Natal police spokesperson Colonel Thembeka Mbhele said the Ncube family was attacked by unknown people who fired shots at them and then set their house ablaze. Mbhele said that Lungani Biyela (25), Bheki Ntuli (30) and two-year-old Angel Ncube died on the spot.

The Ncube family’s assailants then went a short distance and opened fire on Sanele Mthiyane (19), who also died.

Police are yet to establish a motive for the horror murders in eMpembeni.

However, speculation doing the rounds in the community is that all the killings have to do with rivalry and greed over tender opportunities afforded by mining projects.

A well-known story is that the trigger was first pulled last July after mining big shots – who no one has been able to identify by name or the company they represented – met the community and traditional leadership to introduce a planned oil project in 2017.

By then the community had already been divided over tenders in previous projects and forced removals that had lowered their standard of living in the new settlements. Protest groups wary of relocations were digging in their heels.

One by one, protest leaders had been shot dead. Some went into hiding in other areas but the hitmen hunted them down and killed them.

Speculation is that the Ncube family attack is to do with the tenders and resistance against relocations.

Mary de Haas – a violence monitor and analyst from the University of KwaZulu-Natal – told City Press this week that public order policing was withdrawn from the area. She believed the recent killing was a result of this.

In a letter De Haas wrote to the Empangeni police cluster a day after the Ncube family killing, she said: “I have repeatedly called on your office and provincial management for patrols to be redeployed in eMpembeni because I feared that there would be more killings if they were not.

“It gives me no satisfaction to say that I was right. Four more people have died because they did not receive the protection which is their constitutional right from the police.”

Mbhele did not answer City Press’ written questions asking why public order police were withdrawn from eMpembeni.

“Police are aware of the murder cases taking place in the area and investigations are still carrying on. Two suspects have been arrested for three cases of murder,” she said.

The police said they had made a breakthrough when they arrested tender kingpin Justice Ngwane (36) on February 24 in connection with Vusi Gundane Dube’s murder. Dube was shot and killed in a hail of bullets on February 3.

Ngwane was the second suspect to be arrested after Tholithemba Makhaya (32) handed himself over to the police and apparently spilt the beans.

Mbhele said that Ngwane was charged for the murder of Ntuthuko Dladla and Wiseman Hadebe. Ngwane had been granted bail of R30 000 for Dladla’s killing and R5 000 for Hadebe’s killing.

Mbhele said Mishack Ngwane – who is Ngwane’s uncle – was also arrested and released on R10 000 bail for Dladla’s murder.

A community member, who cannot be named because he fears for his safety, told City Press that those individuals who were taking part in the protests against Ngwane’s bail application were now the targets. “They’re shooting those people who have been marching against bail being granted to the Ngwanes,” he said.

“They had public order police who were doing a good job until early March,” said De Haas, “and now we don’t know why they were withdrawn when people are dying.”

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