Assassins target Moerane witnesses

Concerns about the safety of witnesses testifying at the Moerane commission into political killings in KwaZulu-Natal are escalating, following an allegation of a plan to assassinate a whistle-blower.

Commission officials said they are doing all they can to have state agencies protect Thabiso Zulu, the former ANC Youth League Harry Gwala regional official who gave evidence about the murder of uMzimkhulu municipality councillor Sindiso Magaqa.

But both Zulu and violence monitor Mary de Haas, who alerted authorities about the plan to kill him — using hitmen from Glebelands Hostel in Durban — fear this will not be enough.

It is not yet clear whether the state’s apparent inability to protect witnesses was behind the failure of the commission to sit this week. It had been scheduled to resume on Wednesday but, on Tuesday, secretary Solo Mdledle told the media the hearings were off.

“We were trying our best to persuade witnesses to come this week. Unfortunately, we have been unsuccessful,” he said.

Mdledle said the hearings would resume next month and declined to respond to questions about who the witnesses were and why they backed out.

Last week, De Haas wrote to police management and the commission to tip them off about the plan to assassinate Zulu and his colleague, uMzimkhulu ANC activist Les Stuta.

In her letter, she said she had shared her concerns with the commission about the potential danger to witnesses and the fact that fear of reprisal was likely to prevent people with relevant information about political killings from coming forward. Despite this, a number of “vulnerable people”, Zulu in particular, had come forward and “bravely” given evidence.

“No one appears to be providing any assistance to Mr Zulu insofar as his safety is concerned,” De Haas wrote. “I am reliably informed that his life is in great danger,” she said, adding that Stuta was under threat from the same team of killers.

Zulu said on Wednesday night that he had received no further communication from the commission.

He said he did not “regret” giving evidence at the commission, which was appointed by Premier Willies Mchunu last year in response to the wave of political murders since the run-up to August 2016’s municipal poll. But he did have concerns about encouraging others to do so.

“I don’t have any regrets about giving evidence. I do have regrets that I approached Mandla Ngcobo [a former ANC uMzimkhulu councillor] to give evidence as I don’t think it [the commission] has any real way to protect people who come forward,” Zulu said.

“I have been approached by people from Richmond and other areas who had information which they wanted to bring before the commission. I suggested to them that they don’t as I don’t think they have a way of protecting people who go there and say what they should really say,” he said.

“If I had to do it again I would, but this time I would force them to publicly declare if they would protect me or not,” he said.

Zulu said he had received a tip-off last Thursday that he would be attacked at a wedding he was due to attend. “I remained indoors at home all weekend,” he said.

De Haas said on Wednesday it was clear that whistle-blowers who risked their lives were not going to get the necessary support from the security services.

Mdledle said Zulu and all other witness had the option to testify in camera or be provided with witness protection. They were also notified that the media and the public would attend hearings.

“Mr Thabiso Zulu was accordingly advised of all of the above. He chose to testify openly,’’ Mdledle said.

He said the police had been asked to assist Zulu with protection, but they had declined, saying they would not protect private individuals. Zulu’s request for protection was passed on to the State Security Agency last week.

Mdledle said the commission had been able to assist two witnesses, uMzimkhulu councillors Jabulile Msiya and Nontsikelelo Mafa, to secure protection after they testified. The two were shot and wounded in the ambush along with Magaqa last July. He died from his wounds the following month.

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Paddy Harper
Paddy Harper

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