Mpembeni lives in fear of assassins

Two activists have been murdered at Mpembeni near Richards Bay on the KwaZulu-Natal North Coast in a spate of apparent assassinations, which residents say are linked to tensions over their land.

Geshege Nkwanyana and Ntuthuko Dladla were shot dead while returning to the area — about 4km from eSikhawini township — from work on Tuesday and Friday last week.

Nkwanyana, the chairperson of the local youth structure, and Dladla, a firefighter who was involved in the local small business forum, had been active in a campaign last year to prevent residents being moved to make way for a prospecting operation.

Residents are not sure whether the killings are related to this failed attempt to move them.

READ MORE: Deadly chieftainship feud is bleeding KwaMbonambi as over R30m remains in limbo

Another possibility is that the killings are linked to the ongoing clashes at Richards Bay Minerals (RBM), whose mine is close to Mpembeni, also known as KwaDube.


Nkwanyana, an electrical subcontractor for RBM, was singled out by the killers from a group of colleagues he was travelling with and shot dead. Dladla, who worked for the uMhlathuze municipality, was shot in his car while driving home in the early hours of Thursday morning.

“We are scared for our lives,” a local tribal council member said on Tuesday night. “Right now every house in this area is dark, closed. People are scared to open their doors. Some of us are in hiding. I have had to leave my house and rent a flat in town because I am not safe. There are people who are moving around here with guns. They are looking for me and other people up and down. Somebody is paying them for this.”

The council member, who asked not to be named, said Dladla and Nkwanyana had participated in meetings held last year to discuss plans by a mining company to move residents off their land. They had also been active in local anticrime initiatives and other issues. “They were the kind of people who were helping the community, protecting the rights of people who were being abused by others.”

He said the mining company had approached the tribal authority saying it wanted to prospect for oil and minerals on the land.

“Those people came here and said they wanted permission to drill and that we would be moved to Richards Bay. The inkosi consulted the community. The community was against what those people were saying and directed the inkosi and indunas to call those people because we wanted to tell them ourselves that we are not going to move. We haven’t heard from them since that day,” he said.

“We are farming here. We have plenty of sugar cane, madumbis, bananas and other fruits growing here. We have businesses, fishing. We have cattle. If they start drilling here, the water table is going to be polluted and our cattle will die.’’

The council member said that residents were worried that should drilling start, crime would continue to escalate. “Since mining came to this area people have been killing each other because of money. We are worried that this could be linked to the violence at RBM,” he said.

Violence monitor Mary de Haas said she had contacted South African Police Service (SAPS) management and Parliament’s mineral resources portfolio committee about the killings.

Other than hearing about the meeting between the inkosi and a mining company, she was unable to find evidence of any application for a mining or drilling license.

De Haas said SAPS at eSikhawini had agreed to step up patrols in the area but she said this would not help “because of the nature of the killing”.

“It seems that trained hitmen, who keep people under surveillance and know their movements, have been brought into the area.”

Economic Freedom Fighters MP Phillip Mhlongo has also written to SAPS management requesting intervention at Mpembeni. He also wrote to Parliament alleging that the violence was associated with removals because of “oil drilling interests”.

Thami Ngidi, spokesperson for KwaZulu-Natal Premier Willies Mchunu, said they did not believe the killings were linked to RBM. “We have not received any reports in that direction.”

He did not respond to later requests for comment about the possible link between the eviction rumours and the killings.

The RBM plant, which has been affected by a wildcat strike by sub-contracted workers, was closed last week after a security official, Vusi Mhlenyane (34), was murdered last Monday.

At the weekend Mchunu, economic development MEC Sihle Zikalala and acting provincial SAPS commissioner General Nhlanhla Mkhwanazi announced a security plan to assist in re-opening the plant.

The mine’s owner, Rio Tinto, had threatened to close the mine permanently should the violence continue.

READ MORE: Political killings in KZN continue

In 2016, two people from KwaMbuyazi, one of the tribal authorities where RBM is mining, were assassinated. An RMB manager, Ronnie Nzimande, was gunned down at his Richards Bay home during the same period. Earlier this year the local ANC branch secretary, Sifiso Mlambo, was shot dead by assassins.

No arrests have been reported for any of the killings.

Ngidi said Mchunu was happy with progress since last week.

“The premier is pleased that the situation is now returning to normal following swift intervention by provincial government and swift action by the police since last week,” Ngidi said.

But workers from two engineering companies contracted by RBM said they had been pulled out of the area last week and were still waiting to return to work.

“The big bosses decided to keep us off site until the situation calms down. We’re sitting at home,” said one worker, who asked not to be named.

SAPS management had not responded to queries from the Mail & Guardian at the time of writing.

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Paddy Harper
Paddy Harper
Storyteller.

Related stories

KwaZulu-Natal is emerging as a new Covid-19 epicentre

Large groups attending funerals and people delaying being tested and treated because they fear dying in hospital has contributed to a spike in coronavirus infections in KZN

Pay our Ters, with immediate effect

The president moved pretty fast to shut down the boozers, but he’s dragging his heels when it comes to sorting out the UIF

Lockdown, day 105: When the chips are really down

Coronavirus statistics are now people we know. The pandemic affects us all and it’s hard to see light at the end of the tunnel

Cabinet reshuffle rumours: Unlikely to happen any time soon, but…

Persistent rumours of a cabinet reshuffle may be jumping the gun, but they do reflect the political realignment taking place within the ANC

Parliament deals blow to Ingonyama Trust Board

Portfolio committee members want the land reform minister to freeze state funding to the trust, which administers nearly three million hectares of land

Going back to school is a Catch-22

Some learners have taken the decision to drop out because they fear catching the coronavirus and have no faith that they will do well in their studies
Advertising

Subscribers only

SAA bailout raises more questions

As the government continues to grapple with the troubles facing the airline, it would do well to keep on eye on the impending Denel implosion

ANC’s rogue deployees revealed

Despite 6 300 ANC cadres working in government, the party’s integrity committee has done little to deal with its accused members

More top stories

Fake trafficking news targets migrants

Exaggerated reports on social media of human trafficking syndicates snatching people in broad daylight legitimate xenophobia while deflecting from the real problems in society

It’s not a ‘second wave’: Covid resurges because safety measures...

A simple model shows how complacency in South Africa will cause the number of infections to go on an upward trend again

How US foreign policy under Donald Trump has affected Africa

Lesotho has been used as a microcosm in this article to reflect how the foreign policy has affected Africa

Trouble brewing for Kenya’s coffee growers

Kenyan farmers say theft of their crop is endemic – and they suspect collusion
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday