Deaths cast shadow over ‘peace plan’

Divided: Glebelands hostel in Umlazi looks peaceful but 21 residents have been murdered in the past 13 months and the violence is apparently about control over rooms and beds. Photo: Rogan Ward

Divided: Glebelands hostel in Umlazi looks peaceful but 21 residents have been murdered in the past 13 months and the violence is apparently about control over rooms and beds. Photo: Rogan Ward

Four months after KwaZulu-Natal Premier Senzo Mchunu’s high-profile announcement of a peace deal and R10-million security plan at the violence-torn Glebelands hostel in Umlazi, Durban, two more hostel residents have been murdered.

Sources say the hostel is still divided between two camps centred on the newly built Block R and an established area known as “the Madala stairs”, and that the conflict continues to revolve around control of the rooms and beds.

Phumlani Ndlovu and Fikile Siyephu were gunned down at the hostel on January?16 and February?15 respectively, bringing the number of violent deaths at Glebelands in the past 13 months to 21.

No one has been arrested in connection with Ndlovu’s death.

According to the KwaZulu-Natal police, four suspects – Thembiso Mbanjwa (37), Mandla Mncaka (35), Mongezi Mtolo (21) and Luvuyo Ntulo (37) – have been arrested in connection with Siyephu’s murder.

They appeared in the Umlazi magistrate’s court on murder and attempted murder charges on March?5 and were remanded in custody. All are said to be hostel residents.

Bongani Mthembu, chairperson of the hostel movement Ubunye bama Hostela Nezakhiwo Zawo, said these were the only arrests to date in connection with the ongoing violence.

An Ubunye statement claimed that a few days before Siyephu was killed, he was seen in an argument with a police officer who threatened him.

The statement also claimed that police deployed to bring peace in the hostel were torturing residents.

Members of Ubunye later added that residents “are still tortured by gangs and there are still house-breakings and killings, so they want to know where is the peace that the premier declared”.

A “highly prioritised” case
Provincial police spokesperson Major Thulani Zwane defended the conduct of the police involved in the cases and strongly denied that the officers took sides in the violence.

“It is important to mention that Glebelands community members are reluctant to work hand in hand with the police to resolve these criminal investigations,” Zwane said.

He added that detectives assigned to the Glebelands murders were directly under the Umlazi station commander and “as result, these cases are highly prioritised”.

Zwane was asked about alleged police torture, but he did not specifically respond to the allegation.

On September 28 last year Mchunu made a personal appearance at a mass meeting held on a football field near Glebelands to announce details of a government-driven peace plan.

A statement by the eThekwini metro council said that he had “brokered a peace deal between warring factions among residents”.

The plan included the installation of perimeter fencing, CCTV cameras, high-mast lighting and control gates at a cost of R10-million. Metro police would maintain a visible 24-hour presence at the hostel.

eThekwini mayor James Nxumalo applauded the more than 2?000 residents who had registered on a new database “and the municipality has seen the bullying of other residents abate”.

“It’s not working”
Controversially, the plan also involved the scrapping of block committees, accused of fomenting conflict by selling hostel beds.

Residents complained that the committees had been the only forum for the voicing of their views and complaints.

Hostel resident Sibusiso Hluthwa confirmed that cameras had been installed, but said it was unclear whether they were working. Hluthwa said he did not recall seeing police patrol the area.

Mthembu said no fencing had been erected. High-mast lights were in place but did not always work, Mthembu said.

An Economic Freedom Fighters representative in the KwaZulu-Natal legislature, Vusi Khoza, said the peace initiative had not worked “because the premier did not address the root cause of the problem, which is corruption.

“There’s a group of hooligans who want to take hostel administration into their own hands. If the premier was genuine, the perpetrators would have been arrested.”

Asked about the continuing violence, Mchunu’s office said the peace effort was ongoing but that the community safety and liaison department monitored progress.

A senior manager in the department, Khaladi Mbongwe, insisted Glebelands was now safer than before. Mbongwe promised to send a detailed email about the department’s assessment of the peace process, but failed to do so.

Bed allocation
There is consensus that control over the allocation of rooms and beds lies at the root of the conflict, but divergent views about who is trying to exercise it.

KwaZulu-Natal violence monitor Mary de Haas pointed a finger at local ward councillor Robert Mzobe, saying it was alleged that he “interferes in the bed and room allocation at the hostel”, which should be controlled by the hostel manager in collaboration with elected structures.

“The link between beds and the councillor and his associates seems clear. Council elections are coming up next year, and he may be trying to [move] his supporters into the hostel. So his removal of the block chairperson would weaken those who do not support them,” De Haas said.

Asked to comment, Mzobe said he would not bother with lies. “I’m not going to defend myself about something that is not true,” he said.

The violence was a police issue, “and the police should do their job to deal with crime”.

“Yes, I am the councillor, but that doesn’t mean I know everything that is happening at the hostel. Glebelands is big.

“So many people die in KwaZulu-Natal every day. Glebelands isn’t the only place that experiences death.”

“No relationship”
A hostel resident seen as Mzobe’s associate, Sibusiso Ntlophe, denied any relationship with the councillor and said the hostel was safer than previously.

In a long telephone interview, Ntlophe said the violence had stopped after Mchunu had called for block committee chairpersons to step down.

He pointed a finger at the former chairpersons, accusing them of continuing to sell beds.

Asserting that the municipality and police “are doing good work at the hostel”, Ntlophe said that those who accused him of committing crimes should provide evidence and lay charges against him.

“I went to all 21 funerals of the deceased and yet those accusing me were not there. Countless times the police came to search my house for weapons and they did not find any.”

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The M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism (amaBhungane) produced this story. All views are ours. See for our stories, activities and funding sources.



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