/ 11 June 2012

Hostel at the heart of the trouble

The savage armed invasion of Vaal township Boipatong – which left more than 40 people dead – has focused renewed attention on Iscor and its kwaMadala hostel, the alleged springboard of the attack.  The timing of the massacre, on Wednesday night, also hints at a deliberate attempt to stoke violence and derail the African National Congress’s mass action campaign, which got off to a remarkably peaceful start on Soweto Day this week. 

Despite Boipatong residents’ insistence that kwaMadala inmates were responsible, Law and Order spokesman Craig Kotze linked the massacre to the ANC campaign, stating that it had “created a climate in which violence could easily happen”. kwaMadala, a disused Iscor hostel occupied in 1990 by Inkatha-supporting workers, is widely seen as an Inkatha military base at the centre of the Vaal’s ongoing political violence.

Iscor, which admits many of its inmates are no longer employees, has resisted repeated calls for it to be shut down. “We are not going back to work until this is sorted out,” a Boipatong worker told us. “We expect our companies to tell Iscor to remove these people from kwaMadala. These people being housed there are the problem for the community. This kind of thing has happened before.”

In a statement yesterday, the South African Council of Churches said its Vaal affiliate had submitted evidence to the Goldstone Commission to the effect that most of the violence in the Vaal emanated from kwaMadala hostel. The Vaal Civic Association has called for a stayaway today and plans are afoot to launch a consumer boycott to protest against the killings. There have been numerous claims of security force backing for kwaMadala.

Last year the SADF sparked a furore by recruiting some of its inmates as commandos” A police warrant officer, Thys Nolte, is also alleged to have taken part in the planning of anti-ANC attacks at the hostel. Residents interviewed by the Weekly Mail say police failed to respond to pleas for help when the attack started. Others claim police Casspirs appeared mainly concerned with dispersing “comrades” mobilising against the attackers. As far as could be determined, all of the dead most of them women and children, were township residents. By midday yesterday the death toll was 43 – including a nine-month pregnant woman and a nine-month-old baby, both of whom had been speared to death – but police were still removing corpses.

ANC general-secretary Cyril Ramaphosa and South African Communist Party chairman Joe Slovo were scheduled to address a mass meeting later in the day, after a briefing with Vaal activists. Residents say the massacre was a revenge attack sparked by the killing of an Inkatha supporter and Boipatong resident David Mbele, last weekend. A mob of about 200 men wearing white headbands, tackies and gloves and bearing weapons rampaged through the township and the adjoining Slovo Park squatter camp from about 9pm on Wednesday night indiscriminately hacking people, breaking windows and looting. In one street as many as 12 houses had been vandalised and looted.

Yesterday, angry comrades who had set up barricades at every street corner thronged the streets itching for revenge amidst a heavy presence of police and soldiers from 21 Battalion. By midday rampaging comrades had set alight the houses of a policeman and Inkatha member. Late yesterday police were still removing bodies from houses and shacks around the township. Women wailed as they saw corpses being taken off to the government mortuary. One resident of a house where two men were slain said a white man wearing a black balaclava, was among a group of “five Zulus” who came to attack the dwelling. Stunned residents were still washing the blood off their floors and boarding up broken windows. Outside one house lay a blood-soaked mat on which three people had been killed.

One woman, huddled with others around the body of her mother, Belina Lerobane, 58, told how a mob of men broke windows and stormed the house at about 10pm. “My mother woke up, I followed her. We were afraid. After that I hid under the bed. I heard the men say they want ANC members. The grieving woman said her mother had been undressed by the men and stabbed to death. The TV set and hi-fi had been smashed and the telephone destroyed. In one house, where three adult siblings were hacked to death, a stunned Jake Letsoko told how his two brothers had been killed in their beds. His sister Anna had jumped out of the window to avoid the attackers but was followed and butchered outside. Letsoko pointed to a gruesome heap of bloodstained clothes, among which lay two white rubber gloves which relatives said had been worn by one of the marauding men.

Shackdweller Elizabeth Kolatswewu told how her sister-in-law Elisa Mbatha had knocked on the door. “I could hear her children crying from the shack next door. I opened the door and she fell on the floor. She was stabbed and chopped on her neck. She died there on the floor.” Kolatswewu said Mbatha fell with her baby still strapped to her back – the child had been hacked on the arm, but survived. Many residents said police had arrived hours after being phoned for help. “I told the police what was happening and they asked where the comrades were, because they were supposed to be patrolling the township,” said Charles Neluheni, whose grandmother was stabbed to death.

The fence surrounding Neluheni’s house had been mowed down by a police Casspir, he claimed. Weekly Mail reporters witnessed deep track marks on the grass. Sebokeng hospital superintendent Dr Coenie Momberg told Weekly Mail 17 people, mostly with stab and hack wounds, had so far been admitted. Seven of them are children ranging from four to 10 years and two children aged about five are in intensive care.

Police commissioner General Johan van der Merwe said he was “most concerned at the tragic and senseless murder of a number of people in Boipatong township”. Van der Merwe said intensive steps had been taken to investigate the killings and that Major-General Hannes Gloy, commander of the Special Investigation Unit set up by the National Peace Accord, would head the investigation.

This article originally appeared in the Weekly Mail newspaper