Social Disservice Glebelands’ women – faceless victims of the ongoing violence

Thandazile* is twenty-nine, unemployed and has four children including a nine-month-old baby. She was one of the dozens of women violently evicted by heavily armed men at Glebelands Hostel last year. Her partner was a block committee member – the hostel structure formerly responsible for room allocation, most of whose members’ names reportedly appear on a ‘hit list’, seemingly used by thugs and police alike. Twenty-one block committee members or their associates are now dead.

Thandazile was not at home when they came for her partner, but her six-year-old son was. The terrible violence witnessed by this young child has affected his temperament and schooling. Like many other Glebelands children, he is believed to be suffering from post traumatic stress disorder.

After fleeing her home, Thandazile settled at a nearby informal settlement. However, with her partner now in hiding, homeless, now unemployed and unable to support her, she could not afford the R500 monthly shack rental on an income of only R930 – the child grants she received for her children. The area was also extremely unsafe.

When Thandazile returned to Glebelands to plead with the hostel superintendent for help with accommodation, she was turned away. She had lost all her possessions during the eviction and her baby was then two months old. Eventually Thandazile found shelter in a derelict building without electricity, water or sanitation. She cannot look for work because she must protect her children. Her family live in constant fear after a man tried to gain access to her room. Her children’s screams luckily drove him away. This time. The area is frequently used by Glebelands’ killers for target practice.

Thandazile’s children’s birth certificates and school uniforms were stolen from the room last year. The Department of Home Affairs charges R20 per copy, so duplicate birth certificates are a luxury she simply cannot afford. To gain admission to a place of safety, criteria demand that Thandazile must provide a police case number, copies of her children’s birth certificates and be able to prove her situation is likely to improve after a limited stay at a shelter. However she fears reprisals if she lays charges against those who evicted her, and after a female hostel resident was tortured by police last year, Thandazile is now as fearful of the police as she is of those who evicted her.

Sources claim the instigator of the violence is a police informer, formerly of KwaMashu Hostel, criminally connected to Jacobs Hostel, with a fake SAPS identity card, political affiliations and a weakness for truckjacking. He is rumoured to be charging protection money and after each hostel hit, has reportedly splashed out on new furniture or a new car. After the murder of Vusi Ngema – a close associate of the local ward councilor in July last year – it was alleged this individual installed hit squad members from Mandeni – Ngema’s home town – at Block C. These men are suspected of luring Phumlani Ndlovu – an associate of the block committee members – to his death in an ambush early this year for which it seems no arrests have been made. The same individual is witnessed regularly in the company of a Durban Central SAPS officer who, it has been suggested, may have supplied the military issue heavy caliber firearm used frequently during the 2014 violence. The names and addresses of these individuals are well known to residents, community leaders and organizations that have been assisting the hostel dwellers. So too are the names of the Umlazi SAPS officers with whom these men allegedly associate, and who have been implicated in incidents of torture and widely condemned for their reported collusion and utter failure to investigate and take effective action against perpetrators of the violence.

KwaZulu-Natal Premier, Senzo Mchunu, failed to acknowledge the social impact of the ongoing violence, displacements, dispossession, psychological trauma and highly questionable police conduct when he declared unilateral peace at a mass community meeting at Glebelands on 28 September 2014. The SAPS has since blamed its poor arrest- and even worse -conviction rate on residents’ reluctance to “work hand in hand with the police”. After numerous reports of police torture and brutality, collusion and questionable conduct, such statements are simply disingenuous and unhelpful.

At a meeting convened by the Commission for Gender Equality on 14 October last year, a detailed needs analysis was presented regarding the psychological and socioeconomic impact of the Glebelands violence on vulnerable members of the community – particularly the unemployed, women and children. At the time, Department of Social Development provincial representatives undertook to establish a task team comprising of all relevant departmental stakeholders in order to assist vulnerable residents. Since this meeting, other than the provision of a few food parcels to a handful of women, the DSD has been noticeable by its absence throughout the ongoing Glebelands crisis.

At the recent Social Work Indaba held at Durban’s ICC, the DSD minister expressed “the need to regenerate the social work practice to make it relevant to current issues facing South African society.” Where could be more “relevant to current issues” than to begin the “regeneration of the social work practice”, with the women of Glebelands Hostel? But that would be expecting too much of a department that routinely neglects the needs of its staff and the public. Durban’s involvement in ‘stakeholder engagement forums’ such as the Rockefeller Foundation-funded “100 Resilient Cities Programme”, is also deeply ironic when it is residents’ ‘resilience’ that is needed against the onslaught of the state.

Hostel block committee structures must be reinstated to ensure community stability; local and provincial leaders must prioritise human life over political power struggles; the police must perform there duties without fear or favour; and the DSD must enable its staff to undertake meaningful intervention at Glebelands. Nothing less will end the misery for Thandazile, her young family, and Glebelands’ women for whom social justice, gender equality, and human and constitutional rights are parodied in the rhetoric and dishonesty, which has, to date, signified the government’s sole response to ending the hostel violence.

*Thandazile’s real name has been withheld to protect her identity

THIS JOINT STATEMENT WAS ISSUED TO THE PRESS BY KZN MONITOR AND HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDER VANESSA BURGER