Glebelands Hostel - the scene of many murders

Glebelands Hostel. (Siyanda Mayeza, Gallo Images, City Press, file)
Glebelands Hostel. (Siyanda Mayeza, Gallo Images, City Press, file)

Durban – Dangerous, overcrowded and dirty, the Glebelands Hostel has been the scene of scores of violent deaths in KwaZulu-Natal.

These deaths, mainly through murder, are commonplace in and around the infamous hostel in Durban's uMlazi, since before the 2016 local government elections.

The death toll at the hostel, after the shooting of two men at the weekend, is now believed to be 106, according to Vanessa Burger‚ who testified at the Moerane Commission last year. The commission investigated political killings in the province.

According to police spokesperson Colonel Thembeka Mbhele, police are investigating a murder after the body of a 40-year-old man, believed to be a Glebelands resident, was found on Sunday. The body had a bullet wound to the head.

READ: 2 killed in as many days at notorious Glebelands hostel

In a separate incident on Saturday night, a 27-year-old man was killed inside a tavern operating within the hostel, after he was shot in the upper body. Mbhele said no arrests have been made.

In the past, however, even though arrests were made, there were zero convictions.

The recent appearance of top-tier police officials before the commission did little to dispel the perception that police have been less than perturbed by the killings.

READ: Police struggle to answer questions at Moerane Commission

Acting provincial police commissioner Bheki Langa appeared before the commission once but failed to testify because he had to leave early.

On another occasion, the top cop stayed away, leaving high-ranking brigadiers to take over instead.

Factions within the hostel

In February 2018, a full panel of witnesses, comprising high-ranking officers, accompanied by police and led by Major General Dumezweni Chiliza – a former Umlazi cluster commander, denied that the killings were political.

Instead, they outlined that the source of the ongoing violence was factional fighting, for control over the leasing of beds in hostel rooms.

According to Chiliza, there are two groups - the Mthembus and the Hlophes - which have been attacking each other constantly in recent years.

He said Mthembu, whose full name was not divulged during the testimony, was the former chairperson of Block R at the hostel and led one group.

READ: Renting of beds the main cause of violence at Glebelands Hostel – police

Hlophe, whose full name was also withheld, formed an opposing group.

Chiliza added that, in 2014, the sides disagreed on "councillorship", leading to government intervention.

He added that unregulated structures caused the high level of crime.

"In our analysis, the trend of violent crimes, especially in murders and attempted murders, was subsiding even though there was a prevalence of fighting regarding councillorship and ward committees."

Where is eThekwini Metro?

This has, however, been strongly contested and most witnesses at the commission blame the eThekwini Metro Municipality and police for inaction in the area. eThekwini representatives have not appeared before the commission, despite many calls for them to testify.

During their closing arguments, evidence leaders at the commission laid most of the blame at the doorstep of the municipality, saying that more intervention was needed.

Evidence leader, advocate Bheki Manyathi, spoke at length about the hostel and said that while the commission was not investigating the hostel itself, it featured strongly because politics was the primary cause of violence there.

Manyathi added that there were many underlying causes to the violence at the hostel, but that the alleged failure of the eThekwini Metro to manage it was a leading cause.

"The Public Protector's report cites the failure of the municipality as one of the causes of the problems there. We have several unchallenged [pieces of] evidence indicating that the failure of the municipality led to maintaining criminal elements."

READ: Moerane Commission: Police testify that Glebelands murders were not political

Manyathi submitted that the "chaos" in the area helped foster corruption. He said the commission also heard compelling evidence that political leadership in the hostel caused further problems.

"We heard evidence that there were several demonstrations to have the councillor removed. The perception was that he was [the] instigator of violence. The plea from residents was ignored by the ANC locally and provincially."

Manyathi said a peace committee was established at the hostel, but that this was also sidelined even though it yielded positive results.

He said eThekwini Metro and provincial officials were "deliberately turning a blind eye to Glebelands because they are benefiting from the chaos".

Manyathi added that evidence showed that the less leadership there was, the greater the chance of "bad elements" running rampant.

Suspicious killings

A senior police official struggled to explain how a hostel resident was killed outside court after he was assigned a police escort.

At the commission in February, questions from commissioner Marumo Moerane about the death of Sipho Ndovela left Major General Dumezweni Chiliza tongue-tied.

Ndovela was killed outside the Umlazi Magistrate's Court on May 18, 2015, after he was shot by Mxoleleni Bhani.

Ndovela was meant to have a police escort with him all day, but two detectives dropped him at court and left him alone.

"Only after he was shot and killed outside the court did I come to know what truly transpired," Chiliza said.

Chiliza has stuck to the narrative that Ndovela was rightfully assigned a security detail that was only tasked to transport him to and from court.

There have also been reports that police weapons were used to kill many of the victims at the hostel.

A police officer, who has been accused of gun-running for the hostel is currently in court accused of murder.

Sergeant Bhekukwazi Mdweshu, 37, is alleged to be the supplier of weapons and is accused of murder.

He was arrested at Durban Central police station in December 2017 and appeared in court, together with Vukani Mcombothi, 25, Khayelihle Mbuthuma, 32, Wonderboy Hlophe, 37, and Matlala Ndweshu Ntshangase, 35, who are alleged to be hitmen behind many of the murders in the area.

They all face charges of murder and attempted murder.

The men also appeared separately for different murders, which took place at and outside the hostel over the years. The number of murder counts have not been finalised because police are still investigating.

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