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Politics becomes a deadly game in KZN

One fateful evening three weeks ago, Wandile “Manqasha” Ngubeni was shot dead at point-blank range as he was drinking with friends. The 28-year-old had a bright political future ahead of him.

Already deputy regional chairperson for the ANC Youth League at the time, one branch member in Madadeni in Newcastle, KwaZulu-Natal, said Ngubeni would easily have risen up through the ranks. But according to sources in the branch, it seems that the young politician had stood in the way of other comrades who were also seeking political stature.

On the day Ngubeni died, a friend had fetched him and they had headed off to meet the rest of their clique at their usual spot, the Ekasi Restaurant and Lounge in Section 1 of Madadeni.

WATCH: ‘The political killings fields of KZN

The restaurant has cameras but the one closest to the party was not facing them, but was focused outside, according to a restaurant patron, who did not want to be named.

“You could probably see the people who came in but what happened inside is difficult to prove. Those boys were sitting just by the door. The two gunmen headed straight for Wandile, leaving him with over a dozen holes all over his body,” the patron said.

An ANC member of the Madadeni branch believes that it is Ngubeni’s closest allies who should be investigated.

“How did the two gunmen know that the group would be there at that time? No one is going to tell you anything because it is too close to home. Those positions for many are like gold. Once you are in there [leadership positions], you are going all the way,” he said.

He added that Ngubeni was well liked. “He was young, smart and likable. He was fearless and stood up against those who tried to bring the party into disrepute through corrupt dealings.

“He was not afraid to call a spade a spade. He was not into corruption and those things. He was a real comrade who worked very closely with the councillor to make sure that the demands of the community were met. 

“But those closest to him blindsided him for his position,” the branch member said. In Ngubeni’s home, tears streamed down his mother’s face as she spoke about her son.  “He knew very well that we didn’t think he should be in politics,” Evelyn Ngubeni said. “It hurts. It’s very raw. I still can’t believe it.

“With the remote in hand, he would watch TV and forget to do anything else in the house. I would scold him about not folding the washing and he would simply say he forgot, but then he would get up and sort it out. He was my baby,” she said, pointing to the green couch facing the TV that Ngubeni usually occupied.

Just 200km away, and a week later, Bhekithemba “Thami” Nyembe was killed near Nongoma, while driving to town with his wife. “As he was about to turn on to the road leading to the tar road to town, two men shot at his car. The number of bullets I believe was nine or 10. This was meant to kill him,” his brother, Sihle Nyembe, said.

Nyembe can’t fathom why his brother was killed. “My brother was a churchman, a pastor to a congregation. His community loved him and there is no one I can think who would want to do that to him.”

Nyembe served as an Inkatha Freedom Party councillor for 10 years until he became an ANC member in 2013. He also ran a taxi business, but had wound down the operation and was more interested in politics and his church.

A comrade of his, Nhlanhla Mthembu, said the father of 14 — his youngest child is just learning to walk — was well loved by everyone in the community. “There wasn’t even a whiff of dissatisfaction in either politics or the taxi business, which he wasn’t even active in anymore. That’s why we are so confused about why this happened,” Mthembu said.

According to his nephew, Mxolisi Nene, Nyembe had no ambition to hold on to his position and was already grooming someone for it. Even so, the community didn’t want to see their trusted councillor leaving his position.

“No one could have done the work he has done for this community, and what I liked the most about him was that he didn’t care which political party or ward you were from. He would help no matter who you were. No one had any reason to do this to him,” said Nene.

Meanwhile, the family of Zodwa Sibiya, a councillor, who was shot dead at the Glebelands Hostel more than a month ago, said it simply wants to move on. The councillor was known for her tough stance on corruption and patronage. 

Her sister, Ntokozo Sibiya, said she could not comment on the killer’s possible motives. “My sister is gone and we don’t know why. The politics of it, I don’t know. We didn’t live with her and she didn’t talk about her work there,” she said.

But, like her other ANC comrades, she was brutally killed, her lifeless body riddled with bullets. And the killer or killers are still at large.

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Athandiwe Saba
Athandiwe Saba

Athandiwe Saba is a multi award-winning journalist who is passionate about data, human interest issues, governance and everything that isn’t on social media. She is an author, an avid reader and trying to find the answer to the perfect balance between investigative journalism, online audiences and the decline in newspaper sales. It’s a rough world and a rewarding profession.

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