Glebelands Hostel in Umlazi. Picture: Doctor Ngcobo
Sipho Ndovela died from a bullet to the back of the head, as he stood metres from the entrance to the uMlazi Magistrates' Court while under police protection.

Another bullet struck him in the heart, in an act that made sure he would never take the stand as a key witness in the murder of his friend Fikile Siyephu who died in March 2015.

Ndovela is one of the many Glebelands hostel residents who are believed to have been assassinated over the last couple of years in uMlazi.

Activists working in the area believe as many as 89 people have died in the Glebelands area since March 2014 and there hasn't been a single arrest.

This week the Moerane Commission revealed the extent of murder for hire that happens almost on a daily basis in the former male hostel. It painted a picture of residents collecting money to pay hitmen. Of police who turned a blind eye or were so ineffectual the residents didn't report crimes anymore.

Glebelands is seen as a reservoir of hitmen who ply their trade elsewhere in KwaZulu-Natal.

One resident, who wished to remain anonymous, testified that the killings were motived by politics, power, finances and the failure of the police and municipality to do anything.

Incredibly, he added, a policeman who stayed in the hostel was the mastermind behind some of the killings.

But murder for hire goes far beyond the boundaries of the Glebelands. Hitmen are increasingly being used as tools by corrupt politicians, gangsters and taxi bosses.

The political murders in KwaZulu-Natal have spilt over into other provinces.

On Monday, Thozama Njobe, an ANC councillor for the Raymond Mhlaba Municipality, died of gunshot wounds after being gunned down in Fort Beaufort in the Eastern Cape. She was shot after attending a gathering.

Earlier in the month, someone in Njobe’s office was told that there was a plot to have her killed.

University of Cape Town criminologist Mark Shaw has written a book about the use of hitmen in South Africa called Hitmen for Hire, exposing South Africa's underworld.

He believes the number of assassinations has increased, particularly over the last year.

“It is not new, but I think it is evolving,” said Shaw.

“Our most recent data suggests that the increase is because of greater political tensions.”

Bloodshed

The bulk of assassinations in the country are still, according to Shaw, a result of taxi violence. But increasingly taxi hitmen were being used in political killings.

He suspects that South Africa's hitman culture has grown out of society's high levels of violence and the commercialisation of this bloodshed.

Shaw with researcher Kim Thomas runs a website that records the number of suspected hits that have occurred in the country since 2000. Currently they are sitting at 1200 murders that fall into categories that include taxi, personal, political and organised crime hits.

They gathered these statistics through monitoring news outlets.

The Moerane Commission this week reopened with news of another attempted political assassination in KwaZulu-Natal. Three ANC councillors were injured while they were at a local shop in Ibisi village in Umzimkhulu.

Human rights activist Vanessa Burger while giving testimony in the Moerane Commission said she had heard that the hitman in the shooting had come from the Glebelands hostel. The Hawks on Wednesday released an identikit of two men they believed were involved in the shooting. A task team is investigating.

While this is a high profile case, violence monitor Mary de Haas, who has worked extensively with the residents of Glebelands, points out that in the past police had done little to investigate possible assassinations. In fact evidence, she said, pointed to police involvement.

An example of this was in the shooting of Sipho Ndovela.

“Ndovela went to court to make a statement that afternoon. I negotiated this with the police. Only the police knew he was going to be there,” says De Haas.

The 43-year-old father of six had survived two previous attempts on his life.

She added that police often didn't investigate these murders properly, even when the killers were caught on CCTV footage.

Shaw has interviewed suspected hitmen and he says that as with any profession, it comes down to you pay for what you get. The price for murder can range from R5000 he said up to R200000 depending on how difficult the hit is.

The high end hits are more professional and Shaw believes more difficult to identify as they can be disguised as accidents or the by-product of crime.

However what did surprise Shaw were the hitmen themselves. “It is not like the Hollywood image of someone tough and professional. In reality most of them are vulnerable”.

Run of the mill hitmen do it for money, but most don't live long. “They know a lot and are seen as a threat,” Shaw says.

To sort out the problem, Shaw believes two issues need to be addressed. The first is the police need to improve their investigations.

“They need to send a message this will not be tolerated. Also it needs to be tackled at a socio economic level,” he says.

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