THE RETURN OF APARTHEID POLICING THREATENS LIVES OF WHISTLEBLOWERS

….the Nazis came for the Communists, and I did not speak up, because

   I was not a Communist.  Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak up

   because I was not a Jew.  Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not

   speak up, because I was not a trade unionist.  Then they came for the Catholics,

   and I was Protestant so I did not speak up.  Then they ca me for me….

By that time there was no one to speak up for anyone.’ (Pastor Martin Niemoller)

The threatened suspension of the SAPS National Commissioner, tellingly driven by Minister Cele, provides a useful smokescreen for the sinister and serious abuses of power by the Minister of Police. His unconstitutional interference in operational policing matters, especially his heading of a ministerial team investigating political violence, poses a serious threat to the lives of innocent people, including whistleblowers. 

Events surrounding the recent arrest of whistle-blower Thabiso Zulu illustrate the tactics currently being employed.  At an A NC election-related meeting in Copesville, Pietermaritzburg in September, a popular candidate choice was stabbed, allegedly by supporters of the current incumbent (who is on trial for fraud) and in the presence of police from Mountain Rise SAPS.  Thabiso Zulu, who had stopped briefly to drop refreshments for old folk, was assaulted when he left, and opened a case. Subsequently, a case of assault was opened against Zulu by a supporter of the councilor. Because this station is implicated in police criminal actions in abusing Zulu and a pregnant neighbour in July 2020, the transfer of the dockets was requested . However, instead of their being given to provincial detectives, they were handed to the political killings task team, whose mandate does not include assault cases.

On the afternoon of 10 October, members of the task team arrested Zulu for the assault case opened against him and took him to Loop Street police station in Pietermaritzburg. Being a Sunday afternoon, it took several hours to locate his lawyer. Under threat, including that bail would be denied, Zulu was coerced to retrieve his two cellphones from his home and to activate them.  The police took them away from him without his permission, telling him that they were going to download the contents.  They did not leave their contact details at the police station.  

These investigators report to General Khumalo, who has never been a detective, and was formerly a Brigadier in Operational Response Services, prior to which he was apparently, pre-1994, a member of the KwaZulu Police  He reports directly to the minister, not the national commissioner, which is grossly irregular in terms of the South African Police Services Act.. The arresting officer reputedly has a close relationship with the minister. The illegal removal of the cellphones, which had no bearing on an assault case, was a breach of legislation governing interception and monitoring, which requires judicial authorization and, for the police, written authorization by the national commissioner. When contacted, General Khumalo offered no explanation.  He was advised that his members were operating outside of their mandate, and he was asked to ensure the phones were immediately returned to the police station for safekeeping. The intervention of the KwaZulu-Natal Provincial Commissioner SAPS was also sought (unsuccessfully). Following information give by the arresting officer n to his lawyer, Zulu spent the afternoon after his release on bail on 11th searching for the phones at Loop Street SAPS, the station at which he had been detained, and at another Pietermaritzburg station a distance away from the city centre (Plessislaer) but neither station had them.  They were returned to the Loop Street station only on Wednesday 13 October. One was damaged, apparently beyond repair.  This sinister task team is operating outside of the law, with impunity.

There seems little doubt that Zulu’s arrest, on a Sunday afternoon, was merely a pretext for accessing his cellphones and downloading their contents.  This places anyone who has contacted Zulu, especially those providing information about corruption, including among senior politicians and police members, at great risk.  The procurement of these phones was probably at the request of the Minister of Police, to whom this team reports directly and with whom the arresting officer is alleged to have a close relationship. This direct reporting  is grossly irregular, since his own political colleagues may be among the suspects in cases this team investigates. Unsurprisingly this team has been conspicuously unsuccessful in obtaining convictions in dozens of political killings in recent years; nor has it made any arrests for the attempted murder of Thabiso Zulu two years ago. In the October 2019 case, when Zulu narrowly missed being killed, this team is alleged to have intimidated witnesses, and to have refused to transcribe an incriminating taped recording of the plot to kill Zulu, implicating politicans and police.

This is not the only operational matter in which the minister is directly involved, and line management is by-passed. Recent media reports refer to a leaked intelligence document about Crime Intelligence in KZN running taxpayer-funded political hit squads – as did the apartheid government thirty years ago. These reports referred to the then head of CIS, General Jacobs, giving the intelligence report to the minister – instead of to his line manager, the national commissioner. They alleged that the minister had opposed an investigation into the apartheid era operatives implicated, since it would embarrass the police.

Already accused of failing to act against hit squads, the minister is now accused of allowing – and possibly ordering – the illegal interception of cellphones and the downloading of their contents. Having failed to protect whistleblower Zulu, he now, through his team’s illicit activities, has access to a large amount of material on political and police corruption on Zulu’s phones, endangering the lives of all of those who, trusting Zulu, have passed on incriminating information for him to follow up. The parallels between Cele’s handling of policing and his apartheid predecessors is striking. This illegal interception of Thabiso Zulu’s phone may well be a sign of things to come, further endangering the lives of anyone who wants to do the right thing and report corruption and crime to someone they trust.

That such sinister, illegal, activities continue points to the failure of parliament, and their oversight committees, to hold ministers to account.   They are now being urged to, immediately, summons Minister Cele and his team to account for their irregular and illegal activities. The assistance of the Inspector-General of Intelligence is also being solicited.  If these activities are allowed to continue, no one who wants to do the right thing is safe.

APARTHEID ERA POLITICAL HIT SQUADS IN THE SAPS : CALL THE MINISTER OF POLICE TO ACCOUNT

Brutality, corruption and other problems have been endemic in policing in South Africa since 1994, escalating after 2009.  Crime Intelligence has long been the chief offender in corruption stakes but a recent, leaked, report confirms other allegations of intelligence malfeasance: Like the apartheid state, our police run political hit squads. These operations pose a serious threat to the stability of the country but the report was apparently withheld from the SAPS National Commissioner.  The Minister of Police stands accused of taking no action, despite knowing about it, which he denies. Instead of parliament and the President demanding answers from the minister, media reports suggest that it is the national commissioner who may need to defend his fitness to hold office, purely because of a court judgment that he and other applicants had breached the IPID Act by failing to give the Directorate what police claimed was classified information. It is clear from other evidence, especially that given to the Zondo Commission by Inspector-General of Intelligence Dintwe, that the commissioner was a victim of political machinations, and has been personally absolved of any blame for the irregular procurements which are the focus of the court case.  A careful reading of the judgment suggests that it is a storm in a teacup, especially when compared with the threat posed by the destabilizing activities of CIS, including murder, which could continue because the minister has not taken steps to stop them.  Why is Minister Cele not being held to account?

What the public needs to know about the court case

In November 2017, the month of General Sitole’s appointment as National SAPS Commissioner, the police watchdog body IPID opened a case relating to the grossly irregular procurement of spying software by SAPS CIS in December 2016 (termed I-View1). A further planned irregular procurement in November/December 2017 – the notorious grabber electronic interception device (I-View II) – was also included in the litigation involving IPID and the SAPS. Alleging that the SAPS refused to give it documentation needed for investigation, IPID approached a magistrate’s court to obtain subpoenas to force the hand over. The 2018 High Court case, in which the subpoenas were a bone of contention, seems to have been a response to this move by four Applicants, three of whom, including the national commissioner, were police. The fourth Applicant, Mbindwane, an advisor to (and presumably representative of) then Police Minister Mbalula, was subsequently exposed as being the key player in the sorry saga of the grabber. The Applicants consistently argued that they could not provide the documentation because it was classified, so only the JSCI (Joint Standing Committee on Intelligence) could declassify it. When this 2018 case was finally heard in court in mid-2020, Counsel for the SAPS argued that IPID should formally write to the commissioner, detailing the documents required, and demanding that they be handed over within a specified time period.

In summing up, the judge accepted the commissioner’s argument that the subpoenas should be set aside, as the whole matter was surrounded by confusion, compounded by the absence of a proper court record.  The core issue of the police’s refusal to hand over what it said was classified information remained. Referring to the 2016 procurement the judge commented that ‘ It appears that his [the commissioner’s] involvement might be limited to the classification of the relevant documents’. Why Sitole would have classified 2016 documentation is not interrogated. There was also a major focus on the attempted grabber procurement, but to contextualise that – especially its alleged link to ‘national security’ –   the evidence of the Inspector-General (I-G) of Intelligence to the Zondo Commission is crucial.  This evidence was given in May 2021, several months after the January 2021 judgment in the case which had dragged on for almost three years. At some stage, however, the documentation had been de-classified and handed to IPID.

From I-G Dintwe’s evidence, the blame for the grabber procurement lies squarely with ministerial adviser Mbindwane, who pursued the need for the equipment doggedly, arguing that there was threat to national security, and inferring that foreign intelligence agents planned to infiltrate the Nasrec conference and influence the choice of who would be future president of South Africa. Even the Commander-in-chief had been briefed about the threat.  The I-G was aware of the debacle over the classification of the documents and stressed that this process was abused, mentioning that even the regulations about it were classified!  Of great concern is his testimony about the failure of oversight by relevant parliamentary bodies, especially the Joint Standing Committee on Intelligence (JSCI).  He also clarified that, in addition to the IPID criminal investigation, his office was conducting an oversight investigation into these irregular procurements (whether this was an obstacle to police accessing documentation is not clear).   He emphasized that Sithole had consistently insisted that proper procurement processes be followed, and that he had not authorized the acquisition of the grabber by signing documents.  When he heard about it going ahead, he immediately stopped payment.  It also seems that incorrect information disseminated by Minister Cele had added to the confusion.

Enter the leaked counter-intelligence report

In August 2021 details of an alarming SAPS counter-intelligence report were leaked to the media.  This report detailed how undercover CIS members in KZN were implicated in plans to assassinate politicians and sow discord in the ANC (Project Blow Out and Project Wave) Three of those named had been members of the apartheid security police who had been given amnesty by the TRC. Secret service slush funds had been used to acquire the car, and the AK 47, used in the attack on Sindiso Magaqa, who was shot in July 2017 and later died in hospital. An untrustworthy informer was killed, and police are among those standing trial for the Magaqa killing, The media subsequently reported that General Sitole was trying to access the report he apparently had no knowledge of,. and demanding answers about what had been happening under his watch.  According to the KZN CIS head, the report had been passed to then national CIS head General Jacobs who had passed it to the ministerial task team investigating political killings in January 2019. However, no prosecutions followed, allegedly because the minister (Cele) had instructed that no one should be charged as it would embarrass the SAPS. The minister, whose close connections with certain CIS operatives are public knowledge, has denied knowing about the report.

The plight of whistle-blower Thabiso Zulu, his unceasing quest for justice for Magaqa, and the refusal of the minister to provide him with protection despite attempts on his life, is well known. At least one CIS member (name known) is keeping Zulu under surveillance; he is believed to be linked to the police who abused him during a malicious arrest in July 2020.  Rogue CIS members are also alleged to instigate civil unrest, including the burning of trucks.

Is the President in charge?

A media article reports that General Sitole has written to the President ‘to save his job’.  But why should a costly formal inquiry into his fitness to hold office be needed when full information about procurement and classification is accessible, and all documentation has been handed to investigators who will be able to ascertain where the blame lies?  The suggestion is irrational. The court judgment is old hat, but the threat posed by murderous Crime Intelligence operatives is alive and well, so why is nothing being done about it?

Commander-in-chief Ramaphosa assured Thabiso Zulu personally that he would receive protection, but since that did not happen, the Minister of Police, who opposes it, presumably countermanded the presidential order. Being able to exercise this type of influence begs the question of whether it is Cele who is pushing the President to suspend Sitole? Police Ministers already exercise too much power as they also control IPID, which has still not been given the independence from the ministry ordered by Concourt. It is an open secret that Cele wants to run the police himself, and Sitole is the only bulwark against giving him that type of absolute power with its potential to corrupt absolutely.

Minister Cele controls the ministerial task team into political killings in KZN, so there is already a serious conflict of interest since killers may be among his political colleagues.  Is this why this team has been so spectacularly unsuccessful in obtaining convictions in dozens of high-profile killings?  Now it is alleged that he knew about the hit squad report and, willfully, failed to ensure that people accused of murder, and serious crimes against the state, were exposed and charged.  They remain free to carry on destabilizing and, for all we know, may have been implicated in what the President insists was an ‘attempted insurrection’ in July.   What are parliamentary oversight bodies, and the President himself, doing about the fact that, if the leaked report is accurate, it is the Minister of Police who is jeopardizing the safety of South Africa?

THE INTELLIGENCE BLAME GAME : MORE QUESTIONS THAN ANSWERS

In the wake of the diabolical destruction following the arrest of former president Jacob Zuma on 7 July the air was thick with allegations and denials about who was to blame for the lack of intelligence warning about the impending mayhem. Minister of Police Cele blamed then Minister of State Security Dlodlo, who was adamant that NATJOINTS (the intelligence co-ordinating committee) had received her Departmental report, and that the Police Minister would have known about it. The only consensus among those trying to unravel the truth behind this web of denial, based on a report by a expert panel on Intelligence problems chaired by former minister Sydney Mufamadi, and evidence to the Zondo Commission, is that Intelligence services are a long way from recovering from the serious damage they suffered when captured by the Zuma regime to serve party interests.  As a consequence, the type of planning needed to deal timeously and effectively with the events of 8 – 13 July did not happen.   However, even without adequate intelligence, and given the threats and actions immediately after arrest, far more could have been done to prevent some of the serious economic damage which ensued. The real reasons for the failure to act cannot be divorced from the continuing factionism and political interference in operational policing issues by the Minister of Police, and the lack of political will within the governing party itself to deal decisively with the problems arising from a predominantly Zuma-supporting province. The politicisation of intelligence, including in police Crime Intelligence Services, is part of the broader, insidious, politicisation of the police to serve the interest of factions of a party, and the continuing efforts being made to block attempts to build a professional service – especially in KZN.  Even claims that information was given to the SAPS cannot be evaluated unless it is known which faction (Zuma/Cele) or the National and/or Provincial Commissioners, it was given to.

Political capture of the SAPS

It was never going to be easy to build a professional, non-partisan police service from the old apartheid and homelands forces, into which a sprinkling of liberation fighters had been, generally unsuccessfully, integrated.  However, the inherited problems of nepotism, incompetence, and corruption post 94 paled to insignificance after Zuma became president and, following on Selebi, two other non-police members – Bheki Cele and Riah Phiyega – were appointed national commissioners. The nine years which followed 2009, which included the appointment of acting commissioner, Phalane, (now facing criminal charges) were marked with seriously irregular appointments of political cronies, friends, and members of MKVA – including criminals – often into senior positions. Gross procurement irregularities escalated. Nowhere was this more obvious than in Crime Intelligence Services (CIS), headed by the Zuma-appointed, apartheid era security policeman, Richard Mdluli.  As with the State Security Service (a new structure), police crime intelligence became a tool to be used against political enemies, and included new recruits sent for specialist training in BRICS partner countries to support Zuma. The re-militarisation of the police initiated during the Cele tenure – which had been deliberately done away with in 1994 – was to lead to increased brutality, including the massacre at Marikana in 2012. The rapid promotion of selected cadres resulted in a grossly inflated, top-heavy service with a proliferation of completely unnecessary (and often incompetent) generals and brigadiers, at the expense of well trained ‘bobbies on the beat’  

By 2017, investigations by the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) into gross procurement irregularities which had been happening since 2009, were well underway.  Among those implicated were senior officers including the then acting national commissioner, Khomotso Phalane , who was already under suspension for other financial crimes. There was also a focus on irregular procurements by CIS, where the influence of suspended Richard Mdluli, then, finally, on trial for serious charges, for which he was subsequently convicted and imprisoned, was still in evidence. Two matters in which millions had been spent irregularly involved the procurement between December 2016 and March 2017 of software to supposedly monitor the Fees Must Fall protests, linked to then Minister of Police Mbalula, and a December 2017 attempt by the then CIS Acting Head, Ngcobo, to procure, on the basis of some supposed ‘national security threat’ a cellphone jamming ‘Grabber.’   

In November 2017, and for the first time in eighteen years, a well trained professional police member, General Kehla Sitole, was handed the poisoned chalice of permanent appointment to the post of National Commissioner SAPS, and stepped straight into the hornets’ nest of investigations into the corrupt procurement of equipment for CIS, which had nothing to do with national security and everything to do with ANC factions.  After a tip off about the illegality of the ‘grabber’ acquisition, the newly appointed commissioner immediately stopped the payment. However, he found himself, together with two other senior SAPS members, and (tellingly) an advisor to former Minister Mbablula, Mbindwane, embroiled in drawn-out court proceedings about a criminal case opened in November 2017. The main focus of the court application was the failure of SAPS management to hand over to IPID apparently classified procurement documentation relating to the 2016/early 2017 acquisition, with Judge Davies, in his 2021 judgment noting that Sitole’s involvement might be limited to classifying the documents.  The question of why a commissioner appointed a year after the acquisition would want to classify such documents is not answered. According to a parliamentarian closely monitoring policing in 2016/2017,  NATJOINTS appeared then to be classifying documents for its own reasons without proper protocols being followed.  It emerged that only Intelligence Inspector-General Dintwe had the power to declassify documents; that duly happened, and they were handed to IPID.  In his evidence to the Zondo Commission in May 2021, Setlomanamaru Dintwe specifically implicated Mbindwane , in the irregular procurement of ‘signal grabbers’ ahead of the ANC’s Nasrec conference (at grossly irregular prices), and said that the procurement had been halted by IPID.  In 2019 Minister Cele, appointed in 2018, refused to renew the contract of IPDI head McBride, who had driven the investigations, creating the perception that since they went back to 2009, they might be getting ‘too close for comfort’ for the minister.

Cleaning out the Augean stables

General Sitole inherited a police service riven with factions and infiltrated by criminal networks.  It was staffed by too many, senior and incompetent members, but his attempts to ‘demote’ the over-supply of generals were found to constitute unfair labour practice.  He also set to work trying to curtail irregular expenditure (R968 million rand in 2017/18 financial years) and, by October 2020,  42 people, including police members, were facing corruption-related criminal charges, and internal investigations into 564 ;officers, including generals and brigadiers, were underway. 

One would have expected that a Minister of Police would have welcomed attempts to clean up his portfolio, but by April 2019 a weekend newspaper reported that Cele was looking for any excuse to get rid of Sitole, and motivate for his own person to replace him.  These allegations were made when Cele apparently took exception to the suspension of Sitole’s deputy, Lt Gen Christine Mgwenya, who had been fast-tracked to be Cele’s chief of staff between 2009 and 2011.    She has since been criminally charged, together with other senior officers, for a R191 million SAPS tender fraud, including corrupt procurement and money laundering.

Particularly serious problems, and a major impediment to cleaning up the police, arise from Cele’s constant and untoward interference in operational matters, with potentially very serious consequences for justice.  As minister he had no right to appoint his own team to investigate the murder of soccer star Meyiwa, or to personally meet with Cape Town policeman Charl Kinnear shortly before his 2020 assassination.  Most outrageous of all – and completely unacceptable – is his ‘hands on’ involvement in investigations into political killings in KZN – killings in which his own comrades may be implicated. Why is this being permitted by the President and Parliament?

Cele has many allies in the police service (as does Zuma), almost certainly including political deployees during the Zuma regime, and members of the ANC-aligned Police and Civil Rights Union (POPCRU) which played a valuable role in policing post 1994 but, more recently, has become embroiled in its own corruption scandals.  Similarly, his long-standing closeness to MK members such as Peter Jacobs mitigates against loyalty to a commissioner Cele wants to get rid of.

 In 2018, Sitole appointed Jacobs to head CIS, while warning that the appointment would be a case of ‘shape up or ship out’.  He presumably did not perform, as he has been ‘shipped out’ to another position in the SAPS, amidst a great deal of public acrimony.   Jacobs certainly did nothing to heal the factional divides, and promote professionalism, in CIS in KZN, nor to deal with its criminal activities.  An intelligence report recently leaked to the media states, among other things, that KZN CIS officers were involved in the 2017 murder of corruption whistle-blower Sindiso Magaqa, and that a minister was implicated. The killing was said to be part of a project authorised to assassinate politicians in KZN financed by CIS, and the hit man was a registered informer.    

It is alleged this report was handed to both Jacobs and Cele, but Cele has denied receiving it.  It is well known that Thabiso Zulu who has pursued justice for Magaqa, has narrowly missed assassination, and remains under threat of death and that the man whose job it is to prevent crime refuses to provide him with the protection recommended by state security agencies – and the very same man tasked with having oversight into political killings.

Lies spies and audiotapes

Around three weeks before Security Cluster ministers accused each other of lying about the availability of intelligence, press reports in a KZN newspaper referred to the inappropriate friendship between Cele and a convicted drug dealer, and fraud charges having been opened against Cele.   When convicted of dealing in drugs in 1992 Panganathan ‘Timmy’ Marimuthu would have been among the apartheid police (including security and narcotics) responsible for disseminating drugs, including mandrax, especially to ‘Indian’ and ‘Coloured’ communities, as part of the apartheid state chemical warfare programme.   In 2002, the Jali Commission established to expose the rot in SA’s prisons, heard claims that top prison officials and politicians had been implicated in the irregular release of Marimuthu, described as a millionaire trucking businessman.  The Commission’s investigators described a climate of fear in which they risked their lives.  Cele’s friendship with Marimuthu has been known for years, and by early 2012 media reports accused him, family members, and associates of ‘looting’ the secret service fund while providing ‘consultancy’ services for Cele while he was commissioner.

The print media articles were accompanied by the posting of a YouTube recording of a conversation in 2019 between Cele and, presumably, Marimuthu. This recording (probably doctored) could have been about personal/business matters, but reference to known CIS operatives, and to Sitole wanting to give some documentation to IPID, suggests that Marimuthu, apparently still employed by CIS, was by-passing line management and reporting directly to the minister.  Parliamentary committees have been requested to investigate.

The arrest of Zuma and its aftermath

Claims by then minister Dlodlo that information about threats had been given to the police appear verified by the good organisation, directed by the national office of the SAPS, which ensured that well trained police members from around the country were assembled at the Nkandla homestead to deal with any eventuality.  Fortunately, as the midnight Concourt deadline approached, Zuma and his entourage left the homestead for, had that not happened, there could have been a bloodbath, since threats had been made by members of the Zuma family that police arresting him would be killed.  Like other questions, that asking why members of the Zuma family have not been arrested for sedition, has not been answered.

Other unanswered questions include why no action was taken following the arrest, and why no roadblocks were set up, when – even without further intelligence – it was abundantly clear, from posts on social media, and the burning trucks and blockages on national freeways, that the threats were not idle.  Why were soldiers, who had been deployed near Nkandla for Zuma’s arrest, not immediately sent to unblock the roads and guard infrastructure.  It was the Minister of Police, with his experience of violence in the province, who should have immediately sought presidential authorisation.  He is, of course, also deeply embedded in the politics of the province himself, posing a serious conflict of interest with his duties as a minister.

There are also questions about whether provincially generated Crime Intelligence was utilised by the KZN Executive and police management, since the historical close involvement of MECs in policing issues is well known. General Sitole is on record as telling parliament in August 2018 that directives had been issued that all provincial premiers should be given briefings by SAPS Crime Intelligence about the state of their provinces, especially if there were any threat to the stability of the country.

Apparently, the Provincial Commissioner, a well-trained, experienced, operational member was away on paternity leave during the worst of the violence.  The Deputy PC who was acting, having been promoted to that position despite a dismal record as a District Commissioner, was obviously not up to dealing with such a crisis. Why was Public Order Policing not immediately deployed to areas such as Phoenix, with water cannons, and back up by Metro Police?   It seems that water cannons, and three of the four Casspirs controversially acquired by eThekwini Metro Police, supposedly to back up the SAPS in restoring public order, are not even operational.  Surely some heads must roll for such serious negligence, and for the violence such elementary precautionary procedures could have prevented?   

Apparently well-founded reports over the weekend of 10/11 July suggested that, nationally, the ANC had resolved to implement stringent sanctions against Zuma and supporters.  It would seem that any such decisions, if indeed taken, had been set aside after all hell broke loose immediately afterwards.

While Provincial SAPS management and Executive must be interrogated about their lack of preparedness and action following the arrest of Zuma, as must the Minister of Police, the real imponderables lie within the belly of the ANC beast.  Does it really have the will to deal with the criminal enemy within for, if it doesn’t, it will have to shoulder the blame if similar episodes of wanton, violent destruction and looting happen again. It cannot claim that it does not know, and that it was not warned.

Notes about Marimuthu, apartheid police, and the Biochemical Warfare Programme

Media articles cited regarding the Jali Commission and the alleged Marimuthu/CIS/Cele links include the Mercury (2000, which named former deputy Durban mayor the late Sipho Ngwenya as implicated in keeping Marimuthu out of prison)), Sunday Times and City Press (2012) and Daily News (2021

After 1990 drugs, especially mandrax, spread rapidly to black African townships and rural area.  In 1994, shortly before the elections, a Mercedes stuffed full of mandrax destined for a local shebeen was stopped at a roadblock at Ulundi.  The driver was a former security policemen turned KwaZulu-policeman, a notorious killer and serial rapist (Mvuyane)who was shot dead before he was finally to go on trial for a litany of crimes.  However, because the matter was reported to Judge Goldstone, there was an investigation and a KwaMashu woman and her son were found guilty and paid a very large fine in cash

The Biochemical Warfare hearings of the TRC were embargoed and, following their briefly being declassified in the early 2000s, they – and other related material – were immediately reclassified, seemingly at the insistence of ‘the generals’

ZULU ROYAL FAMILY CONTESTATIONS : THEIR NATURE AND CONSEQUENCES

Family disputes about inheritance often happen when the estate is a sizeable one. When access to wealth and power is combined with polygyny, they are almost inevitable. The practice generates tensions among wives, fuelled by relatives hoping to benefit by supporting a particular house.  The current contestations within the extended Zulu royal family are occurring in a context in which traditional leadership provides access to considerable power and economic resources, including business interests. Changing circumstances shaping the late King Goodwill’s reign illustrate the way in which political and economic factors impact on this leadership, and will continue to do so for his successor.  Taxpayers fund several kings and thousands of others in traditional leadership positions, so far greater fiduciary controls, and transparency, and fiduciary controls are long overdue. Without greater public oversight governing parties will continue to dispense patronage without financial constraints, hoping for the political support and influence of these leaders.

The young Goodwill Zwelithini became king during the implementation of the divisive homeland policy and soon became embroiled in competing family interests inextricably entwined with the KwaZulu government. Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi, its Chief Minister, is the son of Princess Magogo, sister of the king’s grandfather. He also claimed the title of ‘chief induna’ (privy chancellor) of the king on hereditary entitlement. His own father had served his maternal uncle King Solomon, in that position. However, the young king was believed to be far too close to other princes who were accused of exercising a negative influence over him. He initially ignored summonses to appear before the KwaZulu legislature, and when he did finally do so, in July 1979, he was so humiliated that he fled the legislature.

That same year the KwaZulu government appointed a Select committee of five members, three of whom were chiefs, chaired by its Minister of Justice, C J Mthethwa) to investigate who was creating friction between the King and the government’ (Resolution No 26).  Chief Minister Buthelezi had refused to take homeland independence and it was feared that the apartheid government would exert influence on the young king to follow the same independence course as had neighbouring Transkei. In its report the committee detailed the matters investigated :(1)The exclusion of the Chief Minister from the programme of the King’s installation ceremony (2)The purpose of empowering His Majesty to appoint the Chief Minister (3)The King’s visit to Pretoria (4)the formation of various political parties, including iNala, Mkhonto and the Zulu National Party.

The Committee conceded that it experienced difficulty in obtaining ‘satisfactory evidence’, especially in urban areas like Umlazi.  It reported that ‘people feared it so much that some of the witnesses went to the extent of bidding farewell to their children when they left their homes because they suspected that they might be imprisoned and not come back’  Nevertheless, it found that virtually all interviewees  named the king’s uncle, Prince Clement, as ‘arch instigator’ against Buthelezi, who believed that the position of Master of Ceremonies at the installation  was his by birth.  Clement argued that the MC should be chosen, and he had suggested Prince Herbert for the role.  Prince Clement was said to have been the king’s choice as KwaZulu’s Chief Minister, as the position called for someone of royal birth. It should be noted that although Buthelezi was a prince through his mother’s royalty, in the patrilineal Zulu society he was not a member of the royal lineage, since descent passes from father to son.  Clement was alleged to have been among those who plotted against Buthelezi at secret meetings, and to have had dealings with other pro-independence parties, as they favoured an eSwatini system of royal governance (KwaZulu was hardly a democracy as most legislature members were government approved chiefs, and very few ‘citizens’ voted in elections). Various other people in the region, and in Johannesburg, were named as exercising a bad influence on the king. Singled out for special attention was the king’s second wife, Queen Buhle kaMathe.. She was accused of exerting too much influence over him, and of having also challenged Inkatha being headed by ‘ordinary man’ and not the king.

Predictably, some members of the legislature thought it was ‘high time’ that the KwaZulu government took ‘drastic steps against people who create much friction’, especially Clement. The king had to be warned about Queen Buhle, and it would ‘be good if all her talking ceases’. In insulting Buthelezi she showed contempt for the whole nation. Men were appointed to screen issues affecting the king, his communications were monitored, his movements were restricted and loyal staff were dismissed.

Years of silence from the king followed. At Shaka Day celebrations in the 1980s it was Buthelezi who made provocative speeches in volatile Durban townships, warning of the threats to the Zulu nation from ‘evil maggots’ in their midst [the UDF].   With the unbanning of the ANC the king himself appeared on public platforms, making inflammatory speeches he would not have penned. People close to royals claimed he was a virtual prisoner, while Buthelezi forced political concessions from negotiating parties, and ensured that KwaZulu land was retained in the private Ingonyama Trust.  Credible reports told of the king being desperate to publicly assert his independence, but the northern areas were particularly dangerous for those supporting liberation, even royals. Prince Petrus Zulu had been murdered, a crime for which a man trained by the apartheid military in the Caprivi received amnesty from the TRC.

In the months following April 1994 the king, supported by close relatives, including senior uncle Prince Mcwayezeni,  prepared to publicly assert his independence.  In September, the announcement came, through his newly appointed spokesperson, Prince Sifiso Zulu, that he would henceforth place himself above party politics and work for peace and development in the province. Serious threats to his safety and that of those close to him started immediately, emanating from by groups of armed men opposing his move,  claiming threats to the Zulu nation because the king had denigrated his minister (Buthelezi)  The relatives targeted included Princes Clement and Zeblon, and his sister Princess Nonhlanhla; the induna at the king’s Babanango farm was also threatened. At the urging of the king, constant pressure was exerted on the SAPS and SANDF to increase protection for the king and his family. In April 1996 Queen Buhle and her daughter were seriously injured, and another relative was killed, at a house in KwaMashu. The attackers came from the nearby A Section hostels and no real effort was made to apprehend them. Threats to Clement continued until his death in the late 1990s.  Tensions between the parties continued until 1999, but there was a gradual improvement in the relationship between the king and Buthlezi.

During these tense years the king, supported by his Royal Council, and his lawyer and brother-in-law, Sdumo Mathe, formed the King’s Peace and Development Trust to support the Reconstruction and Development work of government.  However, many people approached him with an eye to their own business interests, including a foreigner seeking ‘concessions’.  Having trustworthy relatives, and his lawyer, around him offered some protection from shady business people.  Mathe also managed the Ingonyama Trust on behalf of the king

In 1999 the king’s main support pillars crumbled.  Following the death of Clement, Prince Mcwayizeni died that September,  and Prince Cyril Zulu, who was extending the development work in Durban hostels, was assassinated. Then, in December 1999, Sdumo Mathe was killed when his car went over a cliff near Nongoma.  There is compelling evidence that it was not an accident.   With these losses, the vulnerability of the king to unsavoury influences increased. Twenty years later the noble aims of the Peace and Development Foundation Trust had evaporated.   

After Mathe’s death a Board was established to administer the Inonyama Trust, and the exploitation of poor rural residents started.  A lease was given for the Mabaso tradition leader (Mbazwane) to operate a private game lodge.  Residents of Mabaso and neighbouring Mbila areas found that their properties had been fenced off without any consultation. They fought back through the courts and eventually won but the exploitative agenda of the Trust was clear. However, a court case to have it declared unconstitutional was opposed by the then Minister of Land Affairs Didiza.

In 2005 the ANC provincial government replaced the IFP as a dispenser of constantly increasing amounts of patronage. Sycophants, including politicians and business people, appealed for the king’s support for projects of dubious value while telling the king what they thought would win him over (e.g. it would bring development) while lining their own pockets. For example,  eMpembeni (adjacent to Richards Bay) residents were told they would have to move from their land ‘for oil’, and a lease was given by the Trust without their knowing about the deal. it was alleged that the king had supported this ‘development’ and that at least one family member had business interests in it.        

Such are the forces impacting on the lives of traditional leaders, and hence the need for strict financial controls, with set budgets, and audits by the Auditor General, for all these leaders. Before colonialism transformed traditional leadership, chiefs needed popular support (or, with state formation, armies) to retain their positions if they wished to avoid deposition or even death. Ideally, tribute to leaders was reciprocated to subjects in need. Tribute (taxes, sundry gifts) continues, without reciprocity. Perhaps salaries for these leaders should be contingent on all of them supporting charitable work to uplift their largely impoverished subjects.

NOTE:This report draws on a large body of data, including a copy of the report of the Select Committee of the KwaZulu government legislature referred to, press clippings, correspondence between KZN Monitor and security forces and interviews and interactions with members of the royal family and the late king’s lawyer Sdumo Mathe

HUMAN RIGHTS DAY 2021 : THE ONSLAUGHT ON RIGHTS CONTINUES

In theory, South Africa is a democracy with an admirable Constitution. The reality is different, for the Bill of Rights  is violated with impunity.  Our abnormally high rate of violent crime is the most obvious symptom of this disjuncture between the ideal and the real. So, too, is the onslaught on health and land rights through malnutrition, lack of access to clean water, polluted environments, and removals from ancestral land. Most people lack the money for lawyers, so even that avenue to redress when the state regularly fails them, is not an option.  At the heart of the failure of the state to uphold rights lies dysfunctional governance. Gross corruption and financial profligacy is accompanied by a growing culture of secrecy, lack of access to information, and a weak parliament and opposition. The authoritarian hand is revealed by the establishment of an apartheid-reminiscent State Security Council in February 2020.

Authoritarian tendencies were given full rein with the outbreak of Covid-19. The proclaimed State of Disaster was accompanied by militaristic rhetoric and rights infringements having little bearing on necessary protective measures.  One of the new powers the government gave itself has not received enough public scrutiny: Its ability to conduct mass surveillance through access to cell phone-related data.  The stated rationale was to trace networks of people who developed Covid-19, but there is no public information about its usage for that purpose.  The lonely, agonising death at home of 74-year old Sizani Ngubane, after being tested Covid-19 positive, and despite pleas for assistance from her hospitalised son, shows that there was no follow up. What, then, is this information being used for?

We need full information about what is happening with our data, for in recent years the locations of people who are murdered by hit men may be tracked remotely. Hit men have even boasted about it to potential victims.  Location tracking can be done in various ways through documents and devices with minute chips, but cell phones are probably the easiest option if criminals have access to private information held by unethical dealers. Now the legal access to what should be confidential information has also facilitated snooping by the state. Unfortunately, even people in government may have unsavoury connections, as evidenced in political hits.  Enemies of the state may include the very people who are trying to clean it up – anti-corruption campaigners such as Thabiso Zulu who, despite attempts on his life, has been denied protection by the very minister whose job it is to prevent crime. That too many people with information about corruption in government dare not speak out for fear of being killed is understandable, especially given the ease with which they are tracked and executed with impunity. In Italy even investigative journalists may have police protection.

Dealing with this type of crime is the job of state security agencies which are themselves in a serious disarray.  Take, for example, the crucial police crime intelligence component, which has been subject to years of political interference resulting in destructive factionalism, and incompetence and worse, which can neutralise the efforts of members striving to do their jobs professionally.  There were enough policing problems before the political impact of Polokwane, but they paled to insignificance with the appointment of yet another politician, Bheki Cele, as national commissioner.  His tenure, and that of his successor Riah Phiyega, saw an escalation in political interference, incompetence, and corruption.  The present national commissioner, an experienced police member, set in motion a slow, but perceptible, return to professional policing but, once again, the hand of political interference is blatant and destructive. Surely there is a clear conflict of interest if the minister who wants the national commissioner removed is the very person responsible for some of the serious problems the commissioner has tackled?  If the current, overt, attempts to regain complete political control of policing succeed there will be no protection against the untrammelled snooping powers of the government, and the potential consequences for political enemies. 

That it is not only through violent crime that many South Africans risk dying is highlighted by the Covid-19 pandemic.  How can people who hardly have clean water to drink maintain the cleanliness standards to protect them against infection, let alone buy sanitiser if they do not have enough money for food? Instead of ensuring that people had sufficient food and water, and that school feeding schemes continued, too many government departments allowed avaricious officials to steal food parcels and siphon off huge Covid relief funds.  The escalation of malnutrition linked to job losses will leave a marked impact on the health of many, especially children.  Unacceptably high levels of TB and other preventable diseases are linked to the government’s failure, in 25 years, to provide decent housing, sanitation and food security – the very steps which virtually wiped TB off the face of Europe. Sophisticated research facilities may be image-boosting (and career boosting), but prevention is far better than cure, not only for people but for the fiscus.

It is not only poor people whose health rights may be threatened. The government’s autocratic hand is revealed in its roll out of 5G networks without proper consultation.  This technology is extremely controversial; it is subject to vigorous public debate elsewhere. Over 230 scientists from more than forty countries have warned of potentially serious effects of this technology, especially cancer, and have urged that far more, independent, research be carried out before it is introduced.

Threats to the environment, and to people’s land rights, may be interlinked. Since 2019 various pieces of legislation and policy documents relating to mineral resource exploration and mining, and the new Khoisan and Traditional Leaders Act, all reduce transparency about business deals done. When the Expropriation Bill before parliament is linked to this minerals-related policy, it seems likely that the biggest losers will be poor, rural people. The land which sustains them could be expropriated for mining or infrastructure development, rationalised as ‘public interest’ – the interests, of course, being those of multinational companies or local elites.   Already, people living in coal mining areas such as Somkhele, Nongoma and Dannhauser, are suffering a serious onslaught on their rights. The water they and their cattle drink is polluted, including with coal dust, there are high levels of respiratory diseases, and some are in hiding because they risk being killed like anti-mining activist Fikile Ntshangase, if they oppose moving from their land.

With the justice system beset by problems, redress when rights are violated is increasingly difficult, as it needs money to access lawyers and courts.  Mr P,  who was badly abused by the police and hospitalised, has never had the results of his scans and tests, and  a PAIA application for his medical record is being ignored. Unlike the deaths of Life Esidimeni victims, the needless deaths of many hundreds of cancer patients due to gross, well documented, corruption in the KZN Department of Health have been swept under the carpet, with the senior politicians responsible for these deaths continuing to occupy prominent positions in government.   As with so many other land claims, that of the M family was settled irregularly, giving land the family had been associated with since the mid nineteen century to unknown people, and leaving elderly, disabled Mr M broken-hearted. Referral to the Land Claims Court must be done by the Commission, which, having been unable to provide documentation about the settlement, will not do so. Despite damning evidence, and the settlement of two civil claims, there have been no prosecutions for the killings of over thirty people by apartheid-era members of KZN’s Organised Crime unit. Despite the rhetoric, black lives, it seems, still do not matter.

SOUTH AFRICA 2020 : COVID-19, HUNGER, LAWLESSNESS, AND THE EROSION OF DEMOCRACY

While the Covid-19 pandemic occupied centre-stage in 2020, a video clip circulating at Christmastide pointed to more deep-seated problems which will persist when the threat of the Coronavirus fades.  This clip, showing a pantechnicon gridlocked on a national road being looted of its cargo of baked beans by hordes of residents of nearby areas, is emblematic of the potent destabilising forces of hunger and lawlessness gripping our country. While the National Coronavirus Command Council increased government controls, its increasingly authoritarian inclinations are evident in 2020 legislation increasing powers of state organs and decreasing consultation and transparency. In March, a National Security Council – sounding ominously like apartheid’s State Security Council – was gazetted into existence, despite the government having managed quite well without one for twenty-five years.  The cherry on its authoritarian top was the signing into law of the Khoisan and Traditional Leaders Act, and the passing of the Traditional Courts Bill, which go even further than apartheid in reinforcing the feudal status of rural black people.

Covid-19 has exposed our social fault lines.  The pandemic targets rich and poor alike, but it is the millions of immune-compromised, malnourished people, many without clean water, who are most vulnerable. We are rightly concerned about the mounting Covid death toll (currently a minimum of 27 568 );  that TB claimed 63 000 lives in 2018 barely raises an eyebrow. Why have we not made strides in eradicating it by providing decent housing, water, sanitation, and nutrition?  Why is the Department of Health not leading a government drive to prevent TB?   Adequate nutrition should be integral to primary health care, but lockdown has seen already high levels of malnutrition soar. Why were school feeding schemes not operating during lockdown? What type of employment will youths stunted physically and mentally by malnutrition find? Poverty does not necessarily lead to crime, but it provides a large pool of people desperate for jobs in a crime-ridden society.

Crime, including Cash-in-Transit, taxi and farm murders, gender-based violence, and opportunistic theft, has continued unabated.  Like some taxi industry players who provide career openings for hit men, organised crime networks – largely untouched, and empowered by tobacco and liquor bans – offer get-rich-quick jobs to poor, vulnerable youths.  We have long been a leader in protest action, especially around the lack of service delivery, 2020 has seen a spate of apparently well organised, extremely violent protest – mobs burning cars and trucks, for example – some of it linked to sinister ‘business forums’ , Recently an angry mob attacked an ambulance sent to collect a patient in the KZN Midlands, and paramedics fortunately escaped with their lives.  Like damage to infrastructure, including allegedly by ‘sabotage’, this lawlessness is harming people, and causing economic damage our debt-ridden country cannot afford.

Its roots lie in extremely bad governance which, instead of empowering the historically disadvantaged, has, with impunity, looted money destined for services, and uses them as voting fodder with promises of patronage that usually do not materialise.  The acute sense of deprivation all too often erupts in protest – but the disempowered may also be used in protest orchestrated by others for their own selfish gains.  In this, the most unequal society in the world, we ignore this growing lawlessness, and its root causes, at our own peril.

Amidst the diversion of Covid-19 the government has introduced a raft of questionable legislation and policy documents. It started with policy about amending the Constitution to allow expropriation of land without compensation, ending the year by inviting comment on the bill about it ( increasingly, comment is not even acknowledged). The public should not be fooled by rhetoric about redress for the disadvantaged as it is state departments which continue to deprive poor people of land, through the corruption-riddled Land Claims Commission, and complicity with the Ingonyama Trust, traditional leaders, and mining companies. Their arrogance includes ignoring court orders and even Concourt judgments.

Two related documents, Amendments to Mineral and Petroleum Resources Regulations, and the Draft Upstream Petroleum Resources Development Bill leave no doubt about the government’s explicit, climate-unfriendly focus on petroleum-related mining. From these documents transparency and consultation will be minimal and communities most affected may not even know about what is proposed. The interests of the Applicants for mining rights appear paramount.  Conveniently, the recently gazetted Khoisan and Traditional Leaders Act will allow traditional leaders to enter into agreements with businesses, including mining, whether or not their ‘subjects’ want it.  What has been happening in the Somkhele (Mtubatuba) and Zululand Anthracite Colliery (Nongoma) mining areas makes the government’s plans clear : It will have no compunction in allowing the removal of people from their ancestral homes, and bases of subsistence, with all the attendant consequences for increased hunger.

The government is pushing ahead with 5G rollout without any meaningful consultation, despite over 230 scientists from more than forty countries having lobbied the European Union to halt any roll out pending further comprehensive research, and warning about its carcinogenic potential.  The draft policy document stipulates that property owners do not have the right to refuse entry to people sent to install neighbourhood infrastructure. Then there is the Victims Support Services Bill which, despite some praiseworthy aims, gives a Department not known for efficiency – Social Development – increased powers over NPOs (although the wording is so bad some of its basic provisions are obscure).  Lastly, The Police Services Amendment Bill, needs a complete revamp to deal with myriad problems, including the increased power it gives to the Minister. For twenty-five years the President has had the power to order the deployment of the Public Order Police, but this bill gives that power to the Minister. This legislation is incapable of dealing with SAPS corruption, which is primarily the job of The Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID). It is the legislation relating to IPID needs urgent change, since currently the Directorate is remotely controlled by the same Minister who is responsible for policing, so it cannot function independently, as international norms demand.

The legislation giving ministers too many powers in appointing people to bodies, including Boards of SOEs, needs amending. The Minister of Health, for example, has vast powers to appoint to important bodies which should have complete independence, such as the Health Ombudsman and the Registrar of the Health Professions Council. For a democracy to function properly, power should be far more diffuse, and not concentrated in relatively few hands whose decisions are motivated by party politics. This problem is exacerbated by the virtual demise of professionalism, which has been tainted, or even captured, by politics, including through trade union alliances.     Parliament is increasingly appearing a mere rubber stamp, with insufficient informed debate about legislation, and relatively few opposition party members making constructive contributions.

In conclusion, this culture of increasing lawlessness and its myriad of causal factors must be addressed urgently, if it is not to spiral further out of control. Related to it is the appalling state of governance and the erosion of democracy. We all need to wake up and do something about it. Civil society forums can play an important role, but we must also focus on politicians of all parties who are elected to office.  Close monitoring of parliament, legislative assemblies, and local government councils is essential, as is unremitting pressure on representatives of all parties to do the work they are now failing to do to earn their taxpayer funded salaries and perks. Our struggle for accountability and transparency in governance must be escalated since we are still a long way from being a truly democratic state.

TOWARDS TRUE DEVELOPMENT FOR SOMKHELE AND OTHER MINING AREAS IN KZN

A forty-year old report on soils and land usage in the neighbouring Mpukunyoni and Nhlana Traditional Authority areas in northern KwaZulu-Natal extols their suitability for agriculture. However, in these areas, adjacent to the  Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Parks and oldest proclaimed Wilderness area in Africa, such development did not materialise, for 2007 Petmin’s Tendele Coal (Pty) Ltd started its open cast mining operations in Somkhele, Mpukunyoni.  Since 2014 the threat of coal mining has also been hanging over the heads of Nhlana’s Fuleni residents.  Since the Somkhele operations started, mining has moved to new villages, displacing over a hundred families from land they have occupied for generations. The current expansion drive to displace yet more families from Ophondweni – which led to the recent assassination of community leader Mam Fikile Ntshangase – is but one manifestation of the social and environmental degradation caused by this mining.  As long as profit for relatively few is put before the quality of life of thousands of people and their environment, the mine will carry on moving to, and ruining, new areas. By fiddling with coal while the planet burns, the government shows utter contempt for the most basic of human rights to water, food security, safety, health, and a clean environment.  Mining does not alleviate poverty, but it entrenches inequality.  What these areas need is true, community-driven development, utilising all the environmental, agricultural and tourism potential of the area it is part of.

Mining activities bring conflict, for only a select few benefit from what are generally low -grade jobs, the security of which relies on the vagaries of international markets. Even coal truck operators are reportedly not locals. In 2017, as the full impact of the mining operations, including broken promises about employment and training, were felt, opposition to the mining increased.  It was countered by the tactics of an informal coalition in which mine management, traditional leadership and provincial government played different roles.  The traditional leadership, which contributes to the prevailing climate of intense fear, claims, erroneously, that it owns the land. Legal rights to live on the land are vested in residents through the Interim Protection of Informal Land Rights legislation, and the Ingonyama Trust merely holds such areas in trust.

The criminal tactics used against community leaders and families refusing to relocate range from threat (including anonymous phone calls), overt intimidation, malicious damage to property/arson attacks, and, in collusion with local police, malicious arrests (over 70 in 2017) Disinformation has also been used against Applicants in two high court cases, the Mfolozi Community Environmental Justice Organisation (MCEJOI) and the Global Environmental Trust (GET), who are challenging the mine’s expansion.  They are accused of causing unemployment if the mine is forced to close because it cannot expand – an obvious recipe for intra-community strife. This campaign has been stepped up since 2019 when planned expansion to Ophondweni and surrounds was thwarted by some families refusing to move. 2020 saw increased death threats (including to fourteen women), shooting around homes at night, and attempted murder. In May, in a particularly devious move, elderly people in a remote area were served with hundreds of pages of documents (in English) by the mine’s lawyers, ordering them to appear in court in Pietermaritzburg in June. Stress levels among these elderly folks soared (locals claimed stress was a factor in two earlier deaths). After their lawyer intervened, the planned action was withdrawn.

Weeks before Mrs Ntshangase was killed, some members of MCEJO had been seduced by financial inducements to sign a supposed agreement that the court case about the mine’s expansion, set down for 2021, would be withdrawn.  They had no power to do so on behalf of MCEJO, their membership was suspended, and they joined in the violent campaign against their erstwhile colleagues.  After Mrs Ntshangase stood firm against them and refused to be part of their dirty deals she was brutally gunned down.  Already traumatised people are terrified when darkness descends, On 22 November the Ntshangase dog died of suspected poisoning.

Mining affects the whole community.  Houses near the operations are cracked and there is no compensation.  Pollution, including from coal dust, is a violation of human rights. In Somkhele it is linked to an explosion of respiratory illnesses and deaths (the threat of Covid-19 pales to insignificance).  Fearing for their children’s health, some families send them to school elsewhere.  Heritage laws regarding ancestral graves are ignored. Large areas of precious cultivated farmland have been lost, and nutritional levels have suffered.  Worst of all is the community’s loss of water. Coal needs huge quantities of water for washing, and access to the Mfolosi river has been fenced off.  The streams people formerly relied on have dried up, and the mine reportedly uses precious groundwater.  Rainwater storage tanks are polluted with coal dust so water for drinking must be boiled, and electricity is expensive.  Women, especially, suffer, since they must find ways to procure water, even if it means walking for hours and risking sexual assault. WoMin,  a proactive women’s group, did its own research and its report ‘ ‘No Longer a Life Worth Living’ sums up their hardships. Taps are dry and whole areas are without water, even from tankers, despite ongoing appeals to the local and district municipalities.  In July, 29 women protesting with their buckets were arrested and spent nine days in prison.

The plight of people living near the Zululand Anthracite Colliery in Nongoma is the same as that of Somkhele area residents. It is utterly iniquitous that thousands of people, and the environment, should suffer grievously so that relatively few can make a profit from a fossil fuel that is the biggest driver of global warming, that other countries are phasing out and disinvesting from. Even with covid-19, carbon dioxide emissions have risen in 2020, and South Africa contributes more than its fair share.  The government seems impervious to scientific warnings that the planet has a decade to reduce emissions. It continues, and intends expanding, coal extraction, using it for 85% of its electricity generation, and exporting it. By rationalising its policy as providing employment, it ignores the fact that renewables do a far better job. Europe’s biggest economy, Germany, while reducing its reliance on coal, created four hundred thousand jobs in renewables in a decade. They now provide 46% of its energy needs. South Africa, with its huge solar and wind potential, manages a measly six percent.

Somkhele areas and nearby Fuleni would be ideal places to start phasing out coal mining, and replacing it with sustainable job creation.  Instead of expanding, Tendele would need to rehabilitate all the damaged areas. Intensive work on restoring soil fertility would allow the return of agriculture – including fruit for export – and its situation near game reserves renders it perfect for creating jobs in tourism and environmental work (clean water, anti-poaching activities, game and Wilderness guides). It is also an area of huge historical significance, a site of struggles which shaped the historic Zulu kingdom, and affordable local accommodation would assist tourism, including local. Its location renders it ideal for healing through the Wilderness experience – a crucial factor in mental health – and educational youth camps. It could be a venue for those gathering to document their clan histories, and recording indigenous knowledge among elderly people, while promoting the considerable local musical, artistic, and performance talent.

This should be the goal to lobby for and work towards, but the first step is phasing out mining and restoring land and water rights. Global warming is likely to make South Africa – already running out of water – hotter and drier.  There is no time to lose.

XOLOBENI IN KWAZULU NATAL : ASSASSINATION IN SOMKHELE

‘Xolobeni has come to KwaZulu-Natal’.  These were the words of a community leader in mining affected Mtubatuba areas when he called to advise that grandmother Fikile Ntshangase had been gunned down in her home at Ophondweni.  Mrs Ntshangase was Vice Chairperson of one of seven sub-committees of the Mfolosi Community Environmental Justice Organisation (MCEJO) for Ophondweni and neighbouring areas, and a powerful voice in opposing the expansion of mining by the Tendele Coal mine, which will displace rural farmers from their homes.  The MCEJO, which represents thousands of subsistence farmers in the broader area affected by the mine, are Applicants in two court cases challenging the expansion of the mine. This assassination followed on a stepped up campaign by the mining company and the KwaZulu-Natal government since February 2020 to persuade applicants to withdraw the court challenge and for those most affected by the expansion – including in the Ophondweni area – to accept the compensation the mine is offering.

During these past few months several MCEJO members have been offered R300 000 by the mine to withdraw the cases. Some have been seduced by this offer and their membership of MCEJO  as been suspended.  All those refusing to sign their properties over to Tendele Mining have received death threats, some linked to local traditional leadership, one survived a drive-by shooting in her home, and one applicant was attacked in his home.  The threat was ever-present, with suspicious vehicles seen in the area at night, and although the local police station deployed patrols the nature of the deep rural area rendered comprehensive protection of residents difficult.  Locals have also devised their own community watch strategies.

With the Supreme Court of Appeal case due to have a virtual hearing on 3 November, the pro-mining campaign has been stepped up during the past week. On 15 October, former MCEJO members who are now colluding with the mine were among those who disrupted a meeting the organisation’s representatives were having with their legal team and one prominent leader was assaulted.  A case is being opened.  This leader, who works in another area, has been warned that his life will be in danger if he visits his family home.

On Monday 19 October, Mrs Ntshangase, who was widowed early this year, and was staying in Ophondweni with her toddler grandson, reported that her dogs were barking in her yard, suggesting that there were intruders in the vicinity.  She is described as being a very strong, powerful voice against capitulating to the demands of the mining company. One of her close associates in this struggle describes her as a leader in the Somkhele/Mpukunyoni committee, working tirelessly for the community, who ‘ exemplified honesty, integrity and the courage to speak her mind……she did not care about being liked, but cared about what she believed was right ‘.  These qualities probably cost her her life.

The strategies used by the mining company in this area are typical of those found in all areas in which these companies operate, which involve dangling incentives to impoverished residents with the inevitable consequences of stirring deep community divisions, invariably leading  to violence and deaths.  In rural areas which are difficult to police it takes great determination and courage to counter these strategies, and Mrs Ntshangase exemplified the type of leadership which promotes community solidarity and resistance.  There are other leaders of this calibre in the NCEJO and, if anything, the assassination of Mama Ntshangase has renewed their determination to step up the fight against exploitation by the mine.

What is truly disgraceful is that the mine is being supported by the KwaZulu government. In June/July the Department of Community Safety and Liaison sent a staff member – apparently from its Civilian Secretariat arm (which is conspicuous in its absence whenever the threat of violence looms) to persuade community members to negotiate with the mine.  Since then, after MCEJO members thought it only proper to approach the office of the Ingonyama (King Zwelithini) about their struggle they have come under even further government pressure via the office of the Premier and CoGTA (Co-operative Governance and Traditional Leadership department).  This is the self-same government that claims that it needs to expropriate land without compensation to redress the land imbalance – while wilfully pushing to displace rural farmers from their family land from which they subsist, and risk their lives in the process..  Perhaps these hypocrites should ask themselves whether, with the assassination of Mrs Ntshangase, they have blood on their hands.

HERITAGE MONTH 2020: COLONIALISM STILL DISTORTS THE LAND LEGACY OF AFRICAN WOMEN

With breath-taking arrogance, the Chairperson of the Ingonyama Trust Board declared – in Women’s Month – that a bill aimed at giving women access to land should not apply in land it controlled.  He was supported by the KwaZulu-Natal House of Traditional Leaders, which agreed that giving land to women undermined ‘African traditions’.  Such arrogance, like many other pronouncements about supposedly ‘African’ ways,  ignores the huge diversity of societies on the continent, and the way in which that heterogeneity has historically shaped access to land. It also obscures the way in which colonialism has shaped current land norms and practices. Ironically, the Trust itself, like the contemporary office of traditional leadership, is a product of colonialism.  In celebrating Heritage month, it is appropriate to consider the disastrous implications of these invented traditions on the status of women and their access to land.

What exactly is this ‘African way’ that the Trust and others refer to, given this tremendous historical, political, ecological and economic diversity, which have impacted in so many different ways on forms of social organisation.  While ancestral veneration, in which either maternal or paternal ancestors might dominate, plays a significant role in most societies  so too did the spread, hundreds of years ago,  of Christianity and Islam  Political organisation ranged from societies having no centralised authorities to feudal kingdoms. All of these factors impacted on the status of women, and how they accessed the land on which most of them farmed. Land was valued for subsistence and, with the rise of states, a means of territorial control. It also had religious significance, especially given its association with family- including female – ancestors.  However, it was the advent of colonialism, especially the rampant capitalism of the nineteenth century, that led to land – including rights to mine on it – as a commercial commodity.   The nature of gender relationships, too, was transformed, since the roles of men and women had been complementary rather than hierarchical. The nineteenth century hierarchy of gender relationships – termed by Marx and Engels ‘ the world historic defeat of the female sex’ – was imposed on colonial subjects  Although, in centralised states, men generally occupied positions of authority, women also exercised power in different ways , especially as they grew older. (White women in South Africa only gained voting rights in 1930). In what is now the Northern Province the Lovedu queen – whose reputation inspired Rider Haggard to write the novel ‘She’ – controlled the realm’s forests herself.

The way in which these colonial powers administered what is now KwaZulu-Natal played a crucial role in shaping South African society, including apartheid. It was in this colony that the ‘indirect rule’ policy (the ‘Shepstone system’) took root. The essence of this policy was that indigenous people were confined to designated areas (Reserves), access to ‘white’ towns was restricted, and those living in reserves were governed through their chiefs, who were responsible to magistrates and the provincial governor. Instead of being ‘chiefs by their people’ (who might previously have deposed or killed them if they were unpopular), chiefs became employees of the colonial government. If they failed to obey instructions, promptly, they were removed and even imprisoned, as Langalibabele of the Hlubi found to his cost. In areas in which people lived contentedly without chiefs, Administrator Shepstone created new ones. After Union in 1910 this indirect rule system, and the exclusionary practices that went with it, became the norm country-wide, and was further refined by apartheid.

In a unique move, the colonial government codified what it defined as customary law (the Natal Code) and dealt a mortal blow to the status of women.  Historians have noted the existence of ‘gender co-operation as opposed to gender contestation’ as Professor Sifiso Ndlovu puts it. Male regiments, for example, had female counterparts. They also participated in networks of authority structures, the pivotal role of Regent Queen Mnqabayi (King Shaka’s aunt) being a prime example.  The codified not-very-customary-law* decreed that women would remain life-long minors, always under the control of a man (father, brother, husband or son). Only under exceptional circumstances could they become ‘emancipated’.  By the time the legislation was amended in the 1980s, the normative damage had been done. Ethnic identity is a learned phenomenon and an article by the late anthropologist David Webster, published posthumously, noted that Thonga men in northernmost KZN were adopting a Zulu identity as it was a preferred category for employment on the mines.  In contrast, women rejected an identity change as they considered they enjoyed more power than their Zulu sisters.

In insulting the women of Africa, the Ingonyama Trust apparently does not realise that it, too, has its roots in colonialism, as do the positions of some of the chiefs. Most of the land held by the Trust is nineteenth century Reserve land, some of which had never been part of the historic Zulu kingdom. This land formed the basis of the KwaZulu homeland, and included land ceded to it by then President de Klerk in the early 1990s.   Like the colonial masters, the Trust and some of the chiefs collude to deprive poor farmers of their land, especially for mining-related purposes. It also insists that men are lease holders to land acquired by women.  Truly, colonialism is alive and well in KwaZulu-Natal and the supposedly democratic government lets it live on.

*This term was used by Harvard Professor Emerita Sally Falk Moore,a lawyer and an anthropologist, to describe the departure from customary law of that she saw operating in traditional courts in Tanzania decades ago.

LOCKDOWN : MAXIMUM ENFORCEMENT ON URBAN STREETS BUT MINIMUM ENFORCEMENT TO PREVENT MURDER IN OPHONDWENI, MTUBATUBA

As in some other rural areas there is apparently no enforcement of Lockdown Regulations in Ophondweni, Mtubatuba.  On the night of 17 April the home of Sabelo Dladla was broken into and he was injured and robbed by the assailants.  This incident is perceived as sending a warning message to Dladla, who is the Second Applicant, representing the 4000 strong Mfolosi community Environmental Justice Organisation (MCEJO) , in a High Court case in which Respondents include government ministers and municipalities, the Ingonyama Trust Board, and Tendele Coal Mining (Pty) Ltd.  The First Applicant in this case (82865/18 North Gauteng High court) is the Global Environmental Trust.  The outcome of this matter,  which is currently set down for Appeal in the  Bloemfontein  Supreme Court of Appeal, has crucial implications for both environmental rights, and the rights of people living on rural land targeted by mining companies.  Fortunately Dladla and his family have gone into hiding as shots were fired outside his house on 29 April.

‘The day before the incident at Dladla’s home local police stations had been alerted by email to tensions, and had been asked to patrol the area, following threats to people who had not agreed to move from their homes for the coal mine to expand its operations.  Whenever mining is planned in rural areas expectations are created that it will bring jobs, which fuel tensions in communities with high unemployment rates.  In the current case, people refusing to sign papers agreeing to move are accused of depriving people of employment, or of leading to retrenchments if the mine is unable to expand.  Those who have not signed these papers are long-standing residents, whose rights to remain on the land are protected in law, and who claim that the compensation offered is not nearly enough to make up for the loss of land which allows them to subsist through farming or keeping livestock. Another important factor is the existence of family graves on the land.   

Among those allegedly making the threats are a former municipal councillor and members of the local Traditional Authority, through which documents had been distributed by the mine for people to sign. Among those receiving threats are members of the M, D, and R families.  From affidavits deposed to, it seems that some of those making the threats have been driving freely in the area in breach of lockdown regulations. On the night of 24 April a vehicle without headlights was able to move around the homes of M and D, with its occupants firing many shots at homes whose residents include elderly people and children.  From descriptions by family members, and the impact marks on the walls, a rifle or rifles were used.

Despite the emailed request for patrols on 16 April, which had been followed up with a further email two days later giving specific directions about the part of Ophondweni under threat, there had been no patrols prior to the attack of 24 April. Nor were any patrols dispatched after a further email sent on 25 April, which had been copied to the Deputy Provincial Commissioner.  Following a telephone call to the local KwaMsane station, a patrol was eventually dispatched that night and the following night.  Since then, despite further follow ups with provincial management, only one patrol has been seen in the area.

The families who have been attacked and/or threatened with attack, are understandably terrified, and threats continue. On 6 May Mr D received an anonymous message on his phone  saying that although ‘they’ did not want to kill anyone ‘they’ wanted D and others to be relocated as ‘they’ had been retrenched from the mine and ‘they’ could return to work if people moved; if they refused to relocate the breadwinners would be shot as it was known where they worked.   Mr D has opened a case of intimidation..

Despite it being known that the traditional authorities themselves have made veiled threats against people who have refused to sign documents from the mine, and despite the presence of well-armed people moving around the area with impunity during lockdown, there are still no regular patrols in the affected area, and no arrests have been made.  Understandably, traumatised residents have no confidence in the local police.  Years of experience shows that local police are generally loth to take action against traditional leadership.  Through the provincial detective head, a request has been made for the Dladla, M and D dockets to be transferred to a task team from another SAPS Cluster. 

While police and army are deployed to stop people brewing beer or drinking in their own homes, and to maliciously arrest people for minor transgressions, the SAPS, which is constitutionally bound to prevent crime, as well as bring perpetrators to justice, is failing completely in its duty to protect vulnerable communities from being attacked and killed while practising ‘maximum enforcement’ against people on the urban streets.

However, government culpability for what is happening in Ophondweni goes beyond the conduct of the police, and extends to environmental and minerals ministries.  Residents in the Mtubatuba areas in which coal mining is taking place attribute high levels of serious respiratory illnesses, and deaths, to the pollution of coal dust, and even send their children out of the area to school elsewhere because of fears for their health. Why, given Global Warming, and the phasing out of coal as an energy source, should the government allow coal mines to expand?  A rush of mining-related legislation by the Department of Minerals and Petroleum Resources provide no real protection for the land rights of rural communities. The passing by parliament of the Khoisan and Traditional Leaders Act, too, shows contempt for the rights of rural communities since it provides traditional leaders, who fit snugly into the pockets of mining companies, with even more powers than they previously had, to enter into business agreements.  If passed, the second of the Bantustan bills – the Traditional courts Bill – will effectively give them even greater social control over their hapless subjects.  Do all these legislative actions by a government that claims to be democratic suggest that it has any real  concern for the basic rights of all South Africans to health, a clean environment, food security and safety – or any commitment to preserving these rights?