The fragile calm in Glebelands has again been shattered by the killing of two residents on the eve of the court appearance of eight alleged hitmen accused of terrorising the South Durban hostel complex for several years.
It is unclear at this stage whether the deadly attack on Lucky Xolo (29) and Siniko Mbuthuma (41) — residents of Block 50 and Block 52 respectively — is linked to the appearance in court of former South African Police Service (SAPS) detective Bhekukwazi Mdweshu and his co-accused on nine murder charges.
According to SAPS, at around 9pm, Xolo and Mbuthuma were attacked in the old section of the hostel. The section is also the site where 117 people have been murdered since 2014. Both men were fatally shot in the head and body.
In August last year, four people were killed in two separate attacks in the hostel, days ahead of the court appearance of Mdweshu and his co-accused, Wonderboy Hlophe, Ncomekile Ntshangase, Khayelihle Mbuthuma, Vukani Mcobothi, Mbuyiselwa Mkhize, Mondli Mthethwa, and Bongani Mbhele.
On Monday, the trial of the eight on 22 charges including nine murders, extortion and racketeering, had been set to go ahead in the Pietermaritzburg High Court.
However, proceedings were stood down until Wednesday to allow Mdweshu and his brother, Mcobothi, to find new counsel after their lawyer, Andile Dakane, asked to withdraw as he had not been paid for his services.
Community activist Vanessa Burger who gave evidence about the hostel violence to the Moerane Commission into political killings in KwaZulu-Natal said that while Glebelands had been “much calmer” since the arrest of Mdweshu in December 2017, Sunday’s attack may be linked to the court appearance.
“It could be linked to the case. Before each time these guys appear, there is some kind of a spike in the violence in the hostel. Last year there were collections before the court appearances in August and people were killed,” she explained.
Burger said that after the arrest of Mdweshu, viewed as one of the kingpins in violence in the hostel, the killings had slowed down dramatically.
“Last year was a lot better than the previous years. After Mdweshu was arrested a lot of the hit men fled to the rural areas because he had been seen as being untouchable. It appears some have come back again,” Burger added.
“There have been reports of collections taking place and of residents of Block 52 refusing to continue supporting Mdweshu’s grouping in recent weeks. There has also been some mobilisation around the new political parties,” she said.
Residents of the area were unwilling to talk to Mail & Guardian.
On Wednesday, Judge Jerome Mnguni adjourned the case until March 29 to allow the Mdweshu and Mcobothi to find the money to pay their new counsel, Martin Krog, and for Mbuthuma, who is serving life for another murder in the hostel, to find a lawyer.
The other accused will be represented by Legal Aid.
Mnguni told Mdweshu and Mcobothi that this was the last adjournment he would allow them and that the case would go ahead at a trial date to be set in March.
According to the indictment, the eight — who are all residents of Block 52 at the hostel — ran an extortion racket in the hostel. The group would allegedly collect monthly “tax” from residents, with Mdweshu running the gang after the death of Bongani Hlophe, its initial leader, in 2015.
Mdweshu allegedly supplied his co-accused with SAPS issue weapons to use in hits on their rivals in the hostel and on residents or business people who refused to pay.
They allegedly murdered nine men — Siniko Ncayiyana, Thulani Kati, Sipho Ndovela, Themba Pina, Nkosinathi Ndovela, William Mthembu, Thokozani Machi, Mzwandile Gawuza and Lucky Mtwa — in the hostel or in other parts of Durban during a two-year reign of terror.
Sipho Ndovela, who had been a witness in a murder case against one of the gang members, was shot dead on the premises of the Umlazi magistrates court.
The delay will put additional pressure on witnesses in the case which will take at least three months to complete. Some of them have been in witness protection since 2017. The state is expected to call around 80 SAPS members and 20 civilian witnesses when the trial begins.
A source in the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) said some of whom had been away from their families and under protection since 2017.
“This is not ideal. Some of our witnesses have been under protection for more than a year. The longer the delay in giving evidence, the more difficult it is for the witnesses,” the official, who is not authorised to speak to the media, said.
Burger said that six witnesses in other Glebelands murder cases — including Sipho Ndovela — had been killed after making statements to the SAPS.
“There is a history of witnesses being murdered as far back as 2015,” she said.
NPA spokesperson Natasha Kara did not respond to queries from the M&G at the time of writing.