The Moerane Commission investigating political killings in KwaZulu-Natal heard on Monday that Durban South’s notorious Glebelands Hostel was a haven for hitmen who operated throughout the province.
Testifying upon resumption of the commission after a month’s recess, human rights activist Vanessa Burger said that according to her research, hitmen based at the hostel were used throughout KwaZulu-Natal as killers for hire.
“There are 89 killings in the province that can be traced back to hitmen based at Glebelands hostel,” from 2014 to date, she said. “Anyone who wants someone taken out, Glebelands is the place to go,” she said.
Burger, a graphic designer by trade, is a well-known figure at KwaZulu-Natal hostels, where she has been an activist for justice for years. She also has several friends within the hostel communities.
Her testimony included a map she had designed that plotted murders in the province thought to have been connected to Glebeland’s hitmen, murders that were “probably as a result of Glebelands hitmen” and those socio-economically affected as a result of the killings.
Evidence leader for the commission, advocate Bheki Manyathi, was questioning Burger. He said that four witnesses that had testified before the commission at its first sitting agreed that hitmen based at Glebelands were used throughout the province.
Manyathi said that those witnesses testified that the killings in the province and Glebelands were a result of “politics, power, financial enrichment, criminality (warlords/hitmen) and failures on the parts of the municipality, SAPS and Durban metro police”.
Burger agreed, and then traced a harrowing picture of a patronage network that allegedly included politicians, prosecutors, and police.
Glebelands Hostel is a sprawling complex in uMlazi that consists of 71 blocks and about 22,000 residents. Burger said that while the newer blocks were family units, the medium and older blocks housed up to 10 people per room, “at least”. The rooms are designed to accommodate four people.
Besides hitmen, the hostel is known to be a haven for criminals who extort money from residents and taxi owners. Burger says that money obtained during these “collections” enabled them to buy weapons, including police rifles, which were used in politically linked violence and other criminal acts.
“There are collections going on in the older blocks where residents are forced at gunpoint and threatened with eviction if they don’t give various amounts of money,” she said.
The going rate was R50 per person or a minimum of R200 per room per month. It was estimated that about R220,000 per month had been collected this way, Burger said.
“Mothers with children are being extorted. The money is used to buy guns, pay for hitmen, bribe prosecutors, investigative officers, and magistrates,” she told the commission.
Burger said that according to her research, “thugs” controlled as many as 14 of Glebelands’ 71 blocks, but the number could be higher.
Burger said she interviewed 25 residents that indicated the average income per resident was R1 500 per month. Only 6% received social grants. The average length each respondent had lived at the hostel was 16.5 years.
“Out of the 25 people that I interviewed, 21 had family members that were completely reliant on them. Seven of the respondents said police assaulted them and 12 out of the 25 said they had been victims of attempted murder. Where cases were laid, all had been acquitted or provisionally withdrawn,” she said.
The commission runs from 17 to 21 July, with some testimonies expected to take place in camera. In a statement released on Sunday night, Premier Willies Mchunu said that an option that was “being explored” was the commission visiting and sitting at places that had recently experienced killings of councillors, “These include uMzimkhulu and Richmond to name but two,” said Mchunu.
Mchunu established the commission, chaired by advocate Marumo Moerane (SC), in October last year to investigate political killings in the province since 2011.
The hearings continue.