Vanessa Burger testifying at the Moerane Commission about political killings at Glebelands Hostel in Durban. Picture: Bongani Mbatha/ANA Pictures

Durban - Political leaders and taxi bosses in KwaZulu-Natal are allegedly hiring hit men based at the Glebelands hostel to assassinate opponents throughout the province.

This was the testimony of expert witness Vanessa Burger, who appeared before the Moerane Commission of Inquiry on Monday.

“There are 89 killings in the province that can be traced back to hit men based at Glebelands. Anyone who wants someone taken out goes there. Glebelands has become a reservoir of hit men,” she said.

Testifying under oath, Burger said a hit man based at the Glebelands hostel had been behind the recent killings at Umzimkhulu where three ANC councillors have been killed since April.

“I have it in good authority that the large amounts of money were recently collected in order to pay a hit man to carry out killings in Umzimkhulu. The weapon used was a state-issued firearm. The hit man was paid and he is still in Umzimkhulu,” Burger said.

She claimed the hit man was also involved in the attack on three ANC councillors, including former ANC Youth League secretary-general Sindiso Magaqa, in Umzimkhulu last week.

The commission, chaired by advocate Marumo Moerane, was set up by Premier Willies Mchunu to investigate political killings reported in the province since 2011.

Burger said what began as a project to assassinate political opponents at Glebelands hostel spilled over to other parts of the province.

Burger, an independent researcher and human rights activist, traced the trend back to four years ago when a local leader at Glebelands allegedly orchestrated the killing of dissenting block committee leaders at the hostel. She said the violence was also related to factional fighting within the ANC.

Burger said money extorted from residents, sometimes at gunpoint, was used to fund the hit men.

Glebelands Hostel. Picture ANA

“People pay R50 per person or a minimum of R200 per room per month. (This) amounts to about R220 000 per month,” she said.

A former peace committee member who left the hostel after he was alerted of a planned hit on his life told the commission that a policeman, also mentioned in Burger’s testimony, was the mastermind behind some of the killings at Glebelands.

“No murder occurs in the hostel without the policeman knowing because he is the one who authorises these hits,” said the witness, who cannot be named to protect his identity.

“Some blocks are controlled by these hit men. They are powerful, they collect money to buy bullets, guns and bribe the police to release suspects,” he said.

Both witnesses told the commission that police watchdog the Independent Police Investigative Directorate failed to arrest corrupt officials involved in the political killings.

“Glebelands is a national shame. Government and civil society has failed Glebelands. There should be a class action suite like in Marikana,” said Burger.

Ipid spokesperson Moses Dlamini said the police watchdog would have to first study the allegations made by Burger before commenting on them.

Police spokesperson Lieutenant-Colonel Thulani Zwane said the SAPS would not comment on the work of the commission while the hearings were continuing, only “once we get the commission report”.

KZN Department of Community and Liaison spokesperson Kwanele Ncalane would not comment directly on the allegations made by Burger at the commission.

However, he said normal policing work was continuing at the hostel and that this included random search operations which have yielded positive results as they have led to arrests and the recovery of firearms.

Lizette Lancaster, a researcher at the Institute for Security Studies, said hostels were a breeding ground for violence and crime because of their history. She said illicit gun trade had flourished in some hostels in the past and this continued at some level.

Lancaster said that in addressing violence at hostels, the structural and root causes would have to be dealt with.

She said it was always the case that in the run-up to political processes like the upcoming ANC elective conference, people tended to resort to violence.

“We see violence in the traditional hotspots of violence, and when there are political processes and when a lot is at stake, people tend to resort to violence, something that has always been there.”

The Mercury