It has been two weeks since the murder of Durban ANC councillor S’bu Maphumulo in what Police Minister Bheki Cele has described as a “well-orchestrated hit” and the police appear no closer to arresting his killers.
Also apparently unravelling fast is the narrative put forward by the ANC leadership in the city and the province that the Umlazi councillor’s death may have been related to a march to his office earlier in the day.
Activists from civic movement Abahlali baseMjondolo in the ward, who were involved in that protest march, were detained and questioned by the police in the days following.
They have since been released, but they claim they were beaten during interrogation and one of the march organisers has himself allegedly been the target of an assassination attempt since his release from detention.
Maphumulo, elected in 2016 as councillor for Ward 88, which includes two informal settlements and a section of RDP houses, was gunned down on October 18 in Umlazi’s V Section.
The 32-year-old former eThekwini regional executive committee member of the ANC Youth League had been attending a meeting. Soon after it finished he was shot by two men who pulled up alongside his car, in which he was sitting.
Maphumulo was hit several times in the head and died at the scene.
At the time of his murder, ANC eThekwini regional secretary Bheki Ntuli said they were “disturbed to learn that, before his death, some people had threatened to burn down his house”.
The party’s provincial spokesperson, Nomagugu Simelane-Zulu, also took a similar tack, saying Maphumulo had received death threats from marchers who had been excluded from a housing project in the ward.
Maphumulo had a history of conflict with Abahlali, whose leaders last year described him as a “gangster” and accused him of attempting to disrupt their activities using hitmen and members of the police.
After a confrontation last July, Maphumulo was arrested for possession of an unlicensed firearm after allegedly storming a meeting convened by Abahlali at Silver City, which falls within the ward, and firing several shots in the air. He was released from custody by the police at Umlazi the next day. It is not clear at this time what became of the case.
Speaking at Maphumulo’s funeral, Cele said the killing appeared to be the work of professional hitmen. He said security cameras outside Maphumulo’s home had been moved to ensure that the killers were not captured on film.
The killing has generated a great deal of suspicion in ANC circles in the city. A member of the regional executive committee, who asked not to be named, said: “People are scared. There are all kinds of rumours going around about why S’bu was killed and who was behind it, where he stood politically and so on. This is a very dangerous situation.”
Vanessa Burger, who has long been involved in attempts to bring political killers at Glebelands Hostel, in the nearby Ward 76, to book, has written to the police’s provincial commissioner, Lieutenant General Nhlanhla Mkhwanazi, asking for an end to the police harassment of three march organisers, Bheki Buthelezi, Sizwe Shibe and Sithembile Doncabe, who had been detained and released by police.
She also asked that an alleged assassination attempt on Shibe, on his return home from being interrogated at the Durban Central police station, be investigated.
In the letter, Burger said the Abahlali march had been peaceful, with residents of two informal settlements in the ward seeking an explanation from Maphumulo about the fate of more than R290-million allocated for low-cost housing in the area.
Instead, she pointed to Maphumulo’s alleged links with the controversial Delangokubona Business Forum, which had backed mayor Zandile Gumede in her bid as ANC regional chairperson and which had recently been involved in several violent disputes with the municipality about refuse removal and other contracts in the south of the city.
She asked Mkhwanazi to appoint an investigation into the housing project in the ward and into claims that police officers from Umlazi had been involved in political conflict in the area.
KwaZulu-Natal police spokesperson Brigadier Jay Naicker said they were unable to comment as the case was being investigated by the inter-ministerial task team appointed by Cele. The minister’s spokesperson Reneilwe Serero did not respond to questions.
In September, another ANC eThekwini ward councillor, Thulani Nxumalo, was also gunned down at his home at KwaNdengezi. At the time of writing, no arrests had been made in connection with his murder either.