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

WHY TARGET COLONIAL SYMBOLS WHEN THE STRUCTURES OF COLONIALISM LIVE ON?

There is a certain irony to the preoccupation with symbols of the past – especially the statue of arch imperialist Cecil John Rhodes – when colonial-cum-apartheid policies remain in place. The land dispossession with which Rhodes is associated was initiated b
ecause of the demand for vast amounts of cheap labour for the mines; it also served the purpose of destroying the black peasantry which competed successfully with expanding white commercial farming. Together with labour migrancy and the accompanying controls over black movement went single sex hostels and the virtual destruction of black family life. Despite the current land reform rhetoric the land rights of poor rural residents are under serious threat – and despite some cosmetic changes the colonial system of indirect rule through chiefs remains in place and retards the development of democracy. The type of gross abuse of power associated with the apartheid police, including the use of torture, flourishes. Where are the priorities of the ‘Rhodes must fall’ brigade? Are lifeless statues more important than the sufferings of the living?
Land rights an government double-speak
The public focus is on government rhetoric about redressing land imbalances and recent legislation has re-opened the land claims process. However, many of the claims s lodged in the 1990s have not yet been settled, and serious allegations of gross incompetence and corruption in the Department responsible for land reform have not been addressed. At the same time, there are very real threats to rural people’s indigenous land rights, especially by the Ingonyama Trust in KZN. This Trust, which was established days before the April 1994 elections, transferred former KwaZulu Bantustan land, and other land earmarked for black occupation, to Zulu king Zwelithini, and a Board administers it on his behalf. It was this Trust which in 2000 awarded a lease to the traditional leader near Mbazwana (northern KZN) to operate a private game lodge – and which failed to intervene when a large area was fenced, denying people access to their homes, to water, and to their subsistence activities. The residential rights of people living in traditional communities are guaranteed by the Protection of Informal Land Rights Act but, according to the Trust, it is now issuing leases for residential rights on this type of land, potentially endangering the rights of existing residents (and earning more income for the Trust, which enjoys a surplus of millions of rand). Leaders claim that most revenues siphoned off from traditional areas do not flow back to benefit communities..
The conduct of chiefs varies considerably, with some ensuring wide community consultation and others abusing their power – including by driving people of their land (with no constructive action taken by government departments). More usually, residents are obliged to pay all sorts of monies to the leadership on various pretexts, and women complain that they are expected to provide sexual favours for some leaders (some of whom have allegedly been implicated in the ukuthwala practice of forced abduction of young women). Babanango residents are up in arms about King Zwelethini’s plans to build a new palace on what they claim is their ancestral land. There are also outstanding land claims in the area, and many who lodged claims in the 1990s are concerned that they may lose out to new claimants. (and rumours abound of Land Reform staff and politicians using the new claim period to take over land to which they are not entitled -such is the mistrust of the land claims process (see land report).
A number of communities in KZN face the threat of removal and/or the degradation of their environment through mining – especially the extension of titanium mining to areas around Mthunzini, the threat of coal mining in the Mfolosi Wilderness area, and the planned open cast iron ore mining around Melmoth, where the Ingonyama Trust Board has reportedly given its permission for the mining. As under apartheid, rural areas remain underdeveloped labour reservoirs, and the mining companies involved in these latest initiatives are multinational conglomerates in partnership with shadowy ‘empowerment’ companies. The exploitation of colonialism continues, augmented by the ‘empowerment’ of selected black partners, many of whom are alleged to be politically well connected.
Hostels and police brutality
While some family accommodation has been built in single sex hostel complexes huge numbers of men, women and children continue to live in overcrowded and often run down single sex hostels. Like the abuses in rural areas, the problems stemming from these colonial structures are compounded by political struggles and corruption. In Glebelands (Umlazi) the abuse of residents is carried out not by the notorious apartheid ‘blackjacks’ but by democracy’s police. At least 21 people have reportedly died in this complex in the past year and countless numbers of residents have been forcibly evicted from their rooms. Democratically elected block structure members and their women folk and children are the primary target of these evictions allegedly carried out by a known thug from KwaMashu hostels and his associates, who then oversee the allocation of beds to others, probably for a fee. This well armed thug is said to enjoy a close relationship with the local, highly unpopular councillor. The blame for this state of affairs lies with the police who should be preventing crime and arresting perpetrators but are instead abusing those targeted for eviction, including by the use of the notorious ‘tubing ‘ torture beloved of the apartheid police (one of the victims was a woman) At the heart of this anarchy lies the complete lack of transparency in bed allocation policy by the municipality with allegations – as in housing allocation – of interference by councillors dispensing political patronage..
Debates about colonial symbols are pertinent, but not if they are hijacked by thuggish behaviour – which, ironically, is replete with the racist rhetoric rooted in the colonialism of which they complain. Surely it is up to universities to insist that debates be properly informed and contextualised. The Roman empire, for example, was a brutal coloniser but do we not continue to enjoy the benefits of its legacy? If the universities simply give in to anarchy, rather than take a stand for orderly and reasoned debate, they may well end up producing a flock of sheep rather than the critical thinkers democracy needs to survive, let alone to thrive.

DYING FOR TRANSPARENCY? : TAXI HITS, THE DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORT AND THE CULTURE OF SECRECY

On the night of Sunday 15 March prominent taxi operator Azarius Dalisu Sangweni was shot dead outside his KwaDabeka home. His assassination followed that of his colleague Charles Khuzwayo, who was shot dead outside of his Pinetown home a month earlier. Both of the deceased were leading members of the Durban West Interim Committee attempting to engage with eThewini municipality to procure documents it had signed with SANTACO (the government funded Taxi Council) about the implementation of the Integrated Rapid Public Transport Network (IRPTN), known locally as GoDurban. Sangweni had also put his name to a working document titled ‘Alleged maladministration, wasteful and fruitless expenditure’ which, he hoped, would ultimately lead for an investigation into both the Department of Transport and SANTACO by the Public Protector. Among the millions wasted was expenditure on hiring an aeroplane, and associated costs, to advertise the supposed launch of Santaco Airlines – which never materialised. The hits on Sangweni and Khuzwayo followed the same pattern, including insofar as they occurred after they had attended meetings at nearby Kranskloof hostel. There are now serious concerns for the safety of associates of the deceased who were working to demand transparency and accountability from government departments, including members of the Durban West Interim Committee , and the Taxi Alliance, whose names are known to KZN Monitor but are being withheld at their request.

The much publicised GoTransport system involving new bus and train networks is forging ahead, with reports of infrastructural development such as new depots for Rea Vaya buse, including at Pinetown and Inanda. This new transport system is financed by the National Treasury, and involves collaboration between different levels of government (national, provincial and local). This new system is clearly going to have a major impact on taxi services in urban areas, with reports that fewer people are using this mode of transport at Inanda since the introduction of new rail and bus links. Despite the Thekwini municipality claiming that there has been full stakeholder engagement, and that the taxi leadership has signed a Memorandum of Agreement with city leaders about participation, most taxi operators do not know what the terms of the agreement are. What they suspect is happening is that taxi operations will be confined to areas outside of wherever this national transport policy is being implemented, and that they will simply drop off passengers at designated urban points.

Not all taxi associations and operators are affiliated with SANTACO and, within that government structure, communication between leadership and those who vote their representatives into office is said to be poor. Despite the huge expenditure, even members were not told about the Santaco Airline fiasco, and nor did the Department provide information; it was left to a KZN newspaper to uncover the truth of what had happened. The government will apparently only deal with SANTACO, and will not provide information to other taxi bodies except through their lawyers.. Where is democracy, transparency and accountability to the taxpayers, including the late Sangweni and Khuzwayo, who pay the salaries of the Department of Transport, and finance SANTACO ?

When a promised presentation by SANTACO did not materialise, Sangweni was among those whose signatures were on letters to the municipality requesting permission to march and hand over a memorandum about their demands during latter 2014, and the request to the eThekwini Transport Authority for a copy of the memorandum it had signed with SANTACO. Initially he and his associates were told that they could collect a copy but, on their return, they were allegedly told that SANTACO had threatened to sue if they released the memorandum because there were ‘secrecy clauses’

This conduct by the Department of Transport and its extension, SANTACO, and the eThekwini municipality is yet another manifestation of a growing culture of authoritarianism and secrecy, which is the antithesis of the spirit of the Constitution. It must not be allowed to continue. The public, including taxi operators, must have access to whatever documentation has been signed between the municipality and SANTACO.

It seems that the quest for their constitutional right to transparency may have killed Sangweni and Khuzwayo. According to a former associate, he had withdrawn from the process of demanding accountability after he received a tip off that his life was in danger if he ‘fought with the government’ about its policy. These chilling words have serious implications for the safety of those working with Sangweni. His funeral is on Human Rights Day -the day celebrating the rights for which he died.