The bad old days of political violence are over? Not in KwaMashu, writes Bheki Mbanjwa.
Durban - In the 1990s, the hostels in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng were considered hotbeds of violence.
The hostels were inhabited mainly by economic migrants from the rural parts of KwaZulu-Natal, especially Zululand.
They were largely pro-IFP dwellings located at the centre of what were becoming increasingly pro-ANC townships – such as KwaMashu and Umlazi in Durban.
As the Truth and Reconciliation Commission record reveals, the hostels were either used to launch attacks on ANC members in adjacent townships or had themselves became the target of attacks by ANC members.
Faction fights were also often imported to the hostels from the rural areas, further leading to the hostels’ isolation from their neighbours.
Fast forward to 2011, and political violence had subsided in almost every part of the province except a few hotspots such as KwaMashu hostel and Umlazi’s T-section.
But this time it was not the ANC and IFP at war.
A new political player, the National Freedom Party had entered the scene, led by Zanele kaMagwaza-Msibi, until then the national chairwoman of the IFP.
Disgruntled IFP youths who wanted change had started, as early as 2009, coalescing around Magwaza-Msibi who they saw as a natural choice to replace Mangosuthu Buthelezi as IFP president.
But the IFP leadership refused to hold a conference in 2010, and at one stage argued that it was not safe to do so.
Guns had already been transported to Ulundi and holding a conference would be dangerous, argued the IFP leaders. IFP meetings were being disrupted and the killings started as tensions between the two factions reached fever pitch.
Eventually kaMagwaza-Msibi went her separate way and formed the NFP.
In all the IFP strongholds, she commanded strong support, especially in Zululand where she had been IFP mayor.
As with everything, the split in the IFP was exported to the hostels. And so the political killings started again as comrade turned against former comrade.
A string of murders and what are believed to be revenge murders have been recorded since then as the two parties battled it out for control of the turf. Even councillors in the area have been implicated in some of the murders.
Last year the IFP fired its ward councillor Sakhi Ngcamu, after he was arrested for murder and the possession of an illegal firearm. Ngcamu had replaced Themba Xulu, a former ward councillor abducted by unknown men in October 2012.
Xulu’s body was found dumped in a sugarcane field two days later. The killing was believed to be political, prompting members of the IFP to protest outside NFP PR councillor Bhungu Gwala’s house.
An IFP supporter was shot dead during the protest by a security guard assigned to Gwala.
The NFP councillor, his two sons and the security guard were arrested. But Gwala and his two sons were acquitted while the bodyguard was convicted of the murder this year.
Ngcamu’s axing from the IFP meant that a by-election had to be called.
So high are the stakes for the control of the ward that the by-election had to be postponed last year after allegations surfaced that people had been bused in from adjacent wards to register as voters in Ward 39.
The violence flared up again as campaigning by political parties heats up ahead of the March 26 by-election.
Since January at least three people have been killed in what is believed to be politically-motivated killings. In January two IFP members were killed at the hostel.
On Saturday this week members of the IFP and the NFP allegedly clashed at the hostel, resulting in two women NFP members being shot and wounded.
Another NFP activist, Ntombi Mzila, 48, was killed two days later at a hostel on her way to visit one of the two victims of Saturday’s incident.
Some have speculated that the killing could have been carried out to silence and scare the potential witnesses to Saturday’s shooting.
Nomonde Mtolo, 30, was to accompany Mzila on Monday. “I had just gone to check on the pots and was to join her later and I then heard gunshots. When I phoned her she did not answer and I rushed to the scene and there she was, lying dead.”
Mtolo said she and Mzila had survived another attack on Sunday when buses ferried NFP members to their manifesto launch at Curries Fountain.
Visiting Mzila’s family on Wednesday, kaMagwaza-Msibi struggled to contain her tears. She urged members not to retaliate, saying this would only result in more violence.
The NFP leader said she had already phoned provincial police commissioner Mmamonnye Ngobeni to plead for more police deployment in the area.
On Saturday, during a visit to KwaMashu, IFP leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi had also expressed concerns about the safety of IFP members.
“Our people in KwaMashu are still daily in danger of being mowed down with the assassin’s bullet. There seems to be no end to it,” Buthelezi said.
“And lately some of the people we trusted have chickened out and joined other parties in fear of being victims of these assassinations.” While the perpetrators are not known, it is believed the killing is linked to the shooting on Saturday.
Violence monitor Mary de Haas believes the hostel, like many others, was never properly disarmed.
Police seem to be battling to maintain order at the hostel.
Because of the shacks that had mushroomed there over the years the terrain was even harder for police to patrol, one policeman said. He pointed out that the proliferation of illegal firearms was a problem.
“The terrain and the fact that the hostel has always been a closed and isolated community is why it has become a haven for criminals. There are many acts of violence and pure criminal activity planned and executed from this hostel.
“And, frankly, it is just hard to patrol.” Proper and effective crime intelligence would be needed to root out guns at the hostel, De Haas argues.
But with the Crime Intelligence unit in a shambles this does not seem possible. The second option is therefore to try and engage the various political parties.
KwaZulu-Natal MEC for Community Safety and Liaison, Willies Mchunu, expressed concern that violence was flaring up in the run-up to the elections. The province could not afford incidents of violence ahead of the elections.
“I call upon the leaders of all political parties at KwaMashu Hostel to exercise restraint and give police an opportunity to investigate this matter.
“We owe it to the people of KwaZulu-Natal to exercise leadership, work towards stability and peaceful co-existence with our political colleagues.”
Mchunu’s department was on Tuesday expected to convene a special meeting of the political parties
Sipho Khumalo, the spokesman for the Department of Community Safety and Liaison, pointed out that there had been some progress in stabilising once-volatile areas like Nongoma.
This was visible when highly contested by-elections were held in Nongoma last year without any reported incident of violence.
The department is embarking on a number of peace initiatives which include political debates involving the main parties in areas such as uMtshezi.
There, tensions are expected to be even higher as the May 7 election draws near.
The NFP and the IFP will be fighting for the position of official opposition in KwaZulu-Natal.
VIOLENCE IN KWAMASHU
August 10 2011: NFP branch leader Mfaniseni Mtshali, 45, is found dead at KwaMashu Hostel
September 19 2012: Sphamandla Gwala – an NFP activist and son of Bhungu Gwala, a PR councillor for the NFP, is shot dead at his home
October 5 2012: Themba Xulu, an IFP councillor is abducted from his home by men purporting to be police. This is seen as retaliation for Gwala’s murder.
October 6 2012: IFP supporter Cebisile Shezi is shot dead near the Thembalihle railway station. Skhumbuzo Nxumalo, a security guard assigned to protect NFP leader Bhungu Gwala, was this month found guilty of killing Shezi.
October 15 2012: NFP councillor Mzonjani Zulu is arrested at the Ntuzuma Magistrate’s Court for allegedly shooting an IFP member outside the court. He was later acquitted of the charges.
November 20 2012: The bullet riddled body of IFP member Sihle Menzi Biyela, 37, is found at the KwaMashu Hostel.
November 25 2012: Clashes break out between NFP and IFP supporters, resulting in a number of cars being stoned and a news reporter’s car being set alight.
December 5 2012: A peaceful by-election is held in ward 39 and the IFP’s Sakhi Ngcamu emerges as the winner with 70.2 percent of the vote.
February 26 2013: Ngcamu survives what he says is a hit but his friend is killed.
March 2013: Ngcamu is arrested for attempted murder and the possession of an unlicensed firearm. The IFP later fires Ngcamu, leading to a by-election being called. The next month he was forced to resign from the IFP.