Are we a province at peace?

There is a tendency on the part of politicians and the media alike to dismiss the continued existence of violence driven by political ends in KZN. Certainly there has been a most welcome thawing of relationships between the major political groupings in the province, the IFP and the ANC, especially at a leadership level, and a marked decline in headline-grabbing events such as massacres. However, too many people are still dying (a minimum estimate of 146 during this period) , or living in fear of attack, especially in those many rural areas where only lip service is paid to Constitutionally-entrenched freedom of political association – without which there can be no true peace. Can we really be described as peaceful if to answer a knock at the door in the middle of the night could result in being shot dead – or when criminal thugs with links to political warlords, who should have been prosecuted years ago, terrorise communities?

Political violence has never been simply IFP/ANC conflict: It was aimed primarily at preventing the advent of a truly nonracial society with all that entails, including the transfer of the economic wealth of the country, which is essential if the notion of an African Renaissance is to be more than an ideal. It does not have to manifest as overt conflict between political parties for it to achieve the aim of preventing the growth of true democracy and much needed development. Portraying the violence as ‘tribal’ (a denigratory label) or criminal obscures the fact that, in some of the worst affected areas (e.g. North Coast) it is not inconceivable that there is an underlying economic agenda to obtain or maintain control of key resources such as titanium.

Patterns of violence during this period

Conflict involving people with political party affiliations is by no means absent. Amongst the areas in which incidents of violence with party political overtones were recorded during this period were Pongola, Nongoma and Macambini (near Gingindlovu and Nyoni) in the North, Mapumulo, Inchanga, Dambuza (Pietermartizburg) and Bergville (Inland/Midlands) and Hibberdene and kwaMadlala (South Coast). There are also reports of farmworkers in the Gingindlovu area being threatened by well armed vigilantes because of their association with Cosatu, an ANC-aligned union.

Taxi-linked violence, too, some with party political links, contributed its fair share to the continued wanton destruction of life all over the province, including in Nongoma, Nkandla & Eshowe (north), Durban and Pietermaritzburg, Wartburg, Kranskop and Keats Drift (Inland) and Hibberdene and Port Shepstone (Lower South Coast).
One of the areas worst affected by taxi violence, kwaNdengezi (Durban), is amongst those in which serious allegations are made about police complicity – and nothing constructive has been done to address it.

There is a long-established pattern of destabilisation through criminal gangs, which was particularly conspicuous in areas around Mtunzini, where groups of thugs, openly armed with AK47s, roam, even during the day.
Attacks on farmers, too, continued, with the majority of incidents occurring in northern inland areas such as Weenen, Muden, Vryheid and Utrecht. During February the press reported that 50 farmers had been murdered in this province during the past twelve months.

The Natal Monitor has repeatedly pointed to the frequent links between ‘political’ as opposed to ‘ordinary criminal’ violence, and the ways in which violence spills over from badly-policed townships and shack areas to formerly ‘white’ suburbs. The brutal murder of prominent Durban social worker Elsa Jackson in February is a further illustration of this trend. Her alleged murderer was traced to the KwaMashu hostels which are not far from her Durban North home. During the past decade this complex, like similar ones elsewhere, has been a centre of political mobilisation accompanied by a high murder rate, including execution-style killings, without any real attempt by the police to protect residents and bring perpetrators to book (even those responsible for the well-publicised attacks on members of King Zwelithini’s family in 1996). A culture of violence is a way of life in such ‘Fortresses of Fear’.

Criminal justice system : Brickbats and bouquets

The SAPS members responsible for the arrest of the alleged killer of Mrs Jackson, after one of their colleagues had reportedly released him from custody, are to be commended, as are members of the police and Justice department who secured convictions in, amongst other cases, the 1999 murder of Muden farmer Hermanus Botha, and an August 1998 armed robbery and rape in Margate.

However, serious problems concerning the protection of vulnerable communities, and the arrest and conviction of perpetrators, continue to dominate the work of the Natal Monitor and its Women Against Crime project. For example, despite the fact that people were dying on an almost daily basis in the Manzamnyama and Sihuzu areas near Mtunzini during February/early March, the police claimed that there were insufficient personnel to deploy a full-time patrol in the area – yet there was no shortage of members to raid, without a search warrant, the home of a family which is under constant threat from a local warlord in a nearby area. Certain North Coast station commissioners have allegedly (a) taken no steps to prevent threats and injuries to ANC-aligned people and (b)declared that the areas are ‘IFP’ ones. If it is true that senior police members behave in this manner, it can only obstruct the efforts of members of these parties to achieve peace.

Despite very obvious leads in the November 1999 murder of Prince Cyril Zulu, no one has as yet been arrested – nor is the family being kept abreast of what the police are doing. Similarly, a case of armed robbery at Amanzimtoti in December 1999, in which one person died and another was shot and paralyzed, one of the perpetrators who was injured was allowed to escape from hospital, and members of the family of the injured woman claim that they are being treated with contempt by the investigators. A KwaMashu man whose wife was shot and badly injured was told by the police to clear the scene himself and take the exhibits to the station.

In granting an application in the Pietermaritzburg regional court for the discharge of five men accused of murdering a petrol pump attendant and assaulting her colleague, the magistrate spoke of ‘possible perjury, police negligence and the generally poor quality of evidence….’

From cases dealt with by the Monitor, people are still regularly, it seems, arrested on charges without any substance whatsoever, only to have the charges withdrawn months later, thus worsening the overcrowding in prisons (especially if the victims cannot afford bail), and clogging up the courts.

However, not all the blame lies with the police. Prosecution may be extremely poor due to, amongst other things, incompetence and/or lack of preparation on the part of prosecutors. Court officials may waste valuable court time by arriving late. Contributing also to a crisis in the administration of justice is the failure of the cash-strapped Legal Aid Board to pay defence lawyers.

Creating accountability in policing : Chatsworth and other stations

There are long-standing complaints that corruption is rife at Chatsworth station in Durban. It did not, therefore, come as a surprise when two members serving at the station at the time were amongst those convicted in February of the R7,4 million SBV heist in 1997. Presiding judge, Ms Justice Vivienne Niles-Duner expressed shock at the obvious ignorance of the Minister of Safety and Security of the extent of corruption at this station. Serious allegations include a failure to perform basic policing tasks (e.g. record keeping), nepotism, abuse of resources (vehicles and telephones for private ends), and illegal fundraising activities. The tragedy of 24 March, in which thirteen youngsters died at the Throb night club/disco (not far from the station) raised questions about police culpability, either through acts of omission (failure to act despite the club’s reportedly not having a licence, and their permissive stance in regard to the availability of drugs at the venue) or commission, especially concerning the supply of the police-issue teargas which has precipitated the stampede which led to the large number of deaths and injuries.

The situation at Chatsworth station is, of course, a serious indictment of both Area and Provincial management. However, after the recent disaster police management acted with commendable swiftness in addressing community outrage, transferring senior members away from the station, and bringing in officers from elsewhere. However, this action in itself does not go nearly far enough, especially if it is true that those transferred have simply moved to another comfortable position of their own choice. If the veracity of the claims about criminal behaviour at Chatsworth station is to be established, and wrongdoers exposed and punished, all the allegations – including against the erstwhile commissioner – will need to be investigated thoroughly, and, if warranted, appropriate punishments imposed.

Insofar as the Throb nighclub matter is concerned, questions regarding the role of the police – in supplying the fateful teargas canister, in allowing – or even participating in – the supply of drugs to the patrons of the club, and in acting as bouncers in such clubs, should be the subject of an independent investigation. If consideration can be given to a judge of the Constitutional court presiding over an enquiry into match-fixing in cricket, why can a similar enquiry not be held when thirteen children have died in so horiffic a manner – in which the possible culpability of the police is of crucial importance.

Another obvious question arising from the swift action taken in Chatsworth relates to the failure of provincial police management to take similar steps to remedy the situation in KwaMashu and Nongoma. In both of these areas, violence which is directly linked to the police has been endemic for several years. Many have died, representations have been made to the police for years – yet still no fundamantal remedial action has been taken.

Do the police need more powers

Statements by the Minister of Safety and Security, castigating human rights activists, and calling for more powers for the police – including the power to detain suspects for more than 48 hours without recourse to a lawyer – are ominous. Amongst South Africans there is insufficient appreciation of the protection they receive from the Constitution with its Bill of Rights, and its Constitutional Court – especially given the darkness of the recent past. There are already far to many abuses by the security forces (e.g. more people seemingly dying in police custody than during apartheid) : Their failure to deal with crime has nothing to do with lack of powers, and everything to do with corruption, cover-up and collusion on the part of some of those in positions of power. Nor is it inconceivable that any extension of the powers of the police might be used against members of the government themselves.

Priorities in the coming months

With new national and provincial Commissioners at the helm of the SAPS it is to be hoped that issues of corruption, cover-up and racism in the Service will be addressed as a matter of extreme urgency – starting with the creation of a culture of accountability in which station commissioners pay a price for lack of service delivery (especially when there are high levels of violence in their areas of jurisdiction and the perpetrators are not caught) and management structures are replaced if they are incompetent. The same principle should be applied to Justice department officials. The continued flow of arms into this province, the operations of paramilitary units, and violence on the scale seen in Richmond in the recent past – should be laid at the door of the State’s Intelligence Agencies, including – and perhaps especially – the National Intelligence Agency. The time is long overdue for a radical restructuring of this particular body. It is also time for a review of the operations of the Scorpions in this province (which operate from NIA offices), by an independent body. After almost eighteen months, despite being generously resourced (especially relative to other policing units), it has achieved nothing of any note apart from arrests in the Sifiso Nkabinde and Ndabazitha massacre cases (both of which are mired in controversy), whilst the murderers of over one hundred Richmond residents are still at large. It has certainly made no impact whatsoever on organised crime in this province, which continues to flourish. There is a strong case for the dismantlement of this unit, and a re-think about the viability of this type of project. Would it not be better to re-deploy the talents of key Scorpions members within the police service coterminous with a drastic shake-up of detective services?

Tensions around the forthcoming municipal elections are likely to rise during the next few months, especially in view of the dissatisfaction in certain quarters over the demarcation issue, and the role of traditional leaders. The situation in the Northern, including coastal, areas is particularly worrying: The failure of the police to deal adquately with current levels of violence, and their alleged continuing political partisanship, bodes ill for a situation of intensified political activity and for free and fair local government elections. A close monitoring of the situation by, amongst others, national police management, is essential.