Govt's silence on Glebelands Hostel killings deafening - clergy

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Durban – KwaZulu-Natal church leaders voiced their concern on Monday about the spiralling number of deaths at Umlazi’s Glebelands Hostel, and slammed the government for its deafening silence on the matter and for not accepting their offer of help.

The group penned a letter to eThekwini Mayor James Nxumalo and KwaZulu-Natal Premier Senzo Mchunu on November 17, but their concerns, they said, fell on deaf ears.

News24 has reported that 11 people have been killed in hostel violence since the beginning of September, the latest victim being community leader Bongani Mthembu, who was reportedly gunned down in a hit-style killing last month.

The letter, written by Cardinal Wilfrid Napier, Bishop Rubin Phillip and Bishop Mike Vorster on behalf of the KwaZulu-Natal Church Leaders’ Group, said they were concerned about the high levels of violence at the hostel since 2014.

The group works closely with the Ecumenical Council of Umlazi, a forum of clergy who conducted a fact-finding mission at the hostel and worked closely with the community. 

Neither the eThekwini municipality nor the office of the premier were available for comment. 

"The violence has continued virtually unabated and, if anything, has escalated in recent months. Our own investigations indicate that more than 50 people have been assassinated, leaving hundreds traumatised and without breadwinners."

The church leaders said the violence seemed well organised, with killings that appeared to be the work of well-trained hitmen.

"An example is Sipho Ndovela's assassination on the doorstep of the Umlazi Magistrate’s Court on May 18 2015," they said.

"Eyewitness accounts allege attempted hits, police torture, including 'tubing', death threats, intimidation and petrol bombings.

"Countless men, women and children have been forcibly evicted from their rooms."

They noted that most of those killed had received death threats which were reported to the police, but no action seemed to have been taken.

Government 'ignored out letter'

The group said residents in Glebelands were living in fear.

"Others have given up their jobs because they fear [leaving] the hostel... Perhaps what is most frightening is the alleged existence of a 'hit list' of those who question the relationships between local politicians, the police and known criminals."

The leaders called on government to provide adequate housing for the families living in the hostel and to investigate the violence.

"While the hostels are a legacy of colonialism and apartheid, it is an absolute disgrace that, 21 years into democracy, they have not been converted into decent family accommodation.

"We call on you to launch a comprehensive investigation into the violence, using an independent task team, comprising respected members of civil society, as well as religious and community leaders."

Nomabelu Mvambo-Dandala, director of the Diakonia Council of Churches, said government’s lack of response to their concerns was deafening.

"We have not received acknowledgement of the letter, not even a phone call."

Mvambo-Dandala said the church was disappointed at government’s silence.

"The government is always calling for churches to get involved, but when you extend your hand, they don’t respond.

"The fact that they have chosen to ignore the letter does not bode well, because the killings are continuing and the families continue to suffer," she said.

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