2008 : Yet Another Year Of The Gun in KZN

That statistics released by the SAPS during 2008 suggested a downward trend in murder was cold comfort for South Africans.  Their fears are understandable for crime seems to have become more violent during the past twenty years, probably because of the proliferation of guns. Easy access to firearms drives crimes such as hijackings, taxi violence and cash-in-transit robberies(CIT), the use of guns is usual in farm attacks and political assassinations.  The sound of shooting accompanied many of the mid year xenophobic attacks.  Why, when the police in KZN have destroyed almost 12 000 guns during 2008 are there still so many around? The answer lies in the failure of the post-1994 State, through its police and army, to pursue those linked with apartheid era weapons, and to stem the flow of guns from neighbouring war-ravaged countries.

Guns in KZN

According to research at Gale Street mortuary by Prof Steve Naidoo and Shelley Rawsthome, gunshot wounds accounted for 16,3% of homicides in Durban in 1988. By 2003, the proportion of gunshot deaths had jumped to 52.3%.  The latest 2007 figures for the eThekwini metro area, based on data from its three mortuaries, show a continuing high rate of 44%.  While there is no comparative data for other urban and rural areas in KZN, the widespread presence of weapons suggests that Durban may not be atypical.

The jump in gunshot deaths post-1988 coincided with the flooding of weapons into this province during the dying days of apartheid. An analysis of TRC records and court records which document this process reveals dozens of cases in which reference is made to caches of weapons, including huge quantities of AK-47s. Of the 11 800 guns destroyed by the police during 2008 relatively few were AK-47s, and it is not known whether destructions include guns such as R4s which also continue to feature prominently in taxi and CIT violence. It seems that there has been no real effort to locate the guns clearly associated with specific individuals, including the estimated 64 tons of a Vlakplaas consignment (which also included rocket launchers, mines and grenades) delivered to the province in 1993.

Policing and guns

At least twenty police members have reportedly died at the hands of well armed criminals during 2008; police, claiming that they come under attack, shoot suspects dead, with at least 19 known deaths at the hands of police during the last four months of 2008.

The conduct of some police members is part and parcel of the gun problem. In March, in what appears clearly an inside job, 43 guns linked to taxi conflict were stolen from a storeroom at Maphumulo station. According to well informed sources Provincial Management had been apprised of the inadequacy of the storage facilities, but no action had been taken. Senior Supt Chonco was investigating the theft of the guns, and the kwaMaphumulo/kwaDukuza taxi violence, which has been linked to certain police members. He was shot dead in an ambush in August, while on his way to court. One suspect died at the scene, and another six were shot dead in separate incidents by the police before they could appear in court. Dead men tell no tales.

Police members may also also abuse their service guns – killing themselves, their partners and other community members; they may also fail to secure their weapons adequately. Some achieved notoriety during 2008 when they threatened other motorists while driving in blue light vehicles.  There is obviously a need for far stricter control over the use of guns by police members themselves.

Failure of the police to stem taxi violence

The taxi industry appears to have easy access to large quantities of weapons, used in the conflict which continued all over the province during 2008. Threats have also been made to shoot police members impounding vehicles.  Gunshots were fired at buses which were set alight, in competition over routes. In Inanda one unfortunate commuter was burnt to death, having been unable to escape because he had been shot and injured.  Taxi industry violence is compounded by gun-toting private security personnel, as in the Mandeni area where they have been threatening and intimidating commuters and drivers alike as a means of extorting money from them.

The failure of the police to take a firm stand against taxi lawlessness, through instituting regular roadblocks and searches for weapons – using SANDF backup if necessary – suggests that they are not serious about eradicating this type of conflict, which costs so many lives each year.

Political and public violence

A young ANC supporter was shot dead after the party launched its election campaign in Umlazi in August. Political office bearers shot dead this year included Endumeni(Dundee) IFP councillor Petros Nxele, ANC Deputy Mayor of Umkhambathini municipality Johnson Mkhize, and IFP Chairperson at Jacobs hostel, Bhekisisa Mthethwa. Prominent community activist and ANC local government candidate in Gluckstad, Piet Mtshali,was shot dead by the police under highly suspicious circumstances.

ANC/IFP tensions, linked to threats and attacks, continued in a number of areas, including Muden, Elandskop and Camperdown, and intra-party violence linked to corruption in local government also claimed lives. However, 2008 will be remembered for the intra-ANC tensions generated by leadership issues and the organised protest action and war talk which accompanied the court appearances of Jacob Zuma. When leading members of the ANC left to form new party COPE the disruptive conduct by unruly ANC-linked mobs continued, and led to the cancellation of a meeting of the party to be held in Verulam in November.

2008 also had its share of other types of violent, potentially lethal, protest action about service delivery and transport problems – which saw buses and train carriages being burnt. Protest action against street renaming saw thousands of IFP supporters marching through Durban carrying traditional weapons. Zuma-linked protests saw a large crowd of ANC supporters also marching with such weapons, and burning tyres during a march at kwaMashu. It is illegal to carry weapons in public, and the failure of the police to charge those carrying them makes a mockery of the law.

Time to get serious about disarming

The first months of 2009 are likely to be marked by increasing political tensions, as COPE, as well as the ANC and IFP, vie for votes. Various factors exacerbate the risk of violence in the run up to the elections :  In a political climate characterised by intolerance a significant sector of the well armed taxi industry has taken a firm political stand for the ANC. Then there is the presence of a large group of men and women who have been undergoing paramilitary training – including in subversive tactics – who are jobless. They are known to have been using wooden guns for practice and there is good reason to believe that they may have access to weapons stockpiled in this province.

Even if there is no escalation in violence, there is no way in which violent crime will decrease significantly while there are so many illegal weapons around.  Far too many lives have been lost because the government has not taken decisive steps to rid this country of illegal weapons. A good start would be to disarm taxi operators, and to form a hand-picked national team to investigate all reports of illegal weapons, including those in the possession of rogue elements of the private security industry.


  1. Information on gunshot deaths in Durban from Naidoo S R and Shelley Rawsthome n.d. ‘A Tale of One City : Durban : The Epidemiology and Pathology, Fatal Violence across 15 years 1988 – 2003  Research Report and Neethling I (ed) ‘A Profile of Fatal Injuries in eThekwini(Durban), addendum to 9th Annual Report of the National Injury Mortality Surveillance System (NIMSS) 2007 Unisa
  2. The estimated 64 tons of Vlakplaas weapons are from one consignment only of approximately 70 tons, some of which was destroyed in a controlled explosion several years ago (see report on Scorpions ‘Trial by Media’ at http://www.violencemonitor.com
  3. There have been a number of other Monitor reports during 2008 on intra-ANC violence, war talk and Xenophobia, which are still to be posted on the web site.

The Failure Of The National Crime Prevention Strategy : Rejoinder To The Institute Of Security Studies

According to the media, a recent Institute of Security Studies report attributes the failure of the National Crime Prevention Strategy to its not being linked to underlying socio-economic causes, and reportedly downplays the role of the police. Socio-economic conditions contribute to crime, but it is an oversimplification to place the emphasis on poverty, unemployment, lack of education and inadequate social services, and it stigmatises the poor at the expense of better off crime kingpins. Continuing high levels of crime are, above all, a glaring indictment of the failure of the criminal justice system.

Crime and socio-economic context

While there is no denying that bureaucratic incompetence and corruption (both of which have there roots in the pre-1994 period) have retarded service delivery, there is no way in which gross disparities in health, education, and social spending in general, inherited from the apartheid era, could have been rectified in a mere fourteen years.  Glib references to a lack of education ignore the crippling legacy of Bantu Education, which will take decades to eradicate – for educators who were themselves badly taught are likely to perpetuate past errors.

Poverty and unemployment do not necessarily spawn crime (and nor do they, in themselves, threaten national security). There are poor societies all over the world which have nowhere near the crime rate that South Africa, especially in terms of violent crime, does. Studies of slum populations, for example, have shown that amidst high unemployment levels, people often manage to subsist through informal sector activities and reciprocal networks[i].

High levels of violent crime are not new – they have simply spread from the ghettoes of apartheid, where they were unchecked (and often fomented) by the State. Over many decades, black South Africans were criminalised for petty offences, such as beer brewing and the contravention of pass laws, many learning the ways of hardened criminals during their time in prison. Over a century of labour migrancy destroyed normal family life for millions, with children growing up without fathers (and often mothers), some of them exposed from an early age to the violence of single sex hostel life. The importance of stable family life – including the presence of suitable male role models – for children’s moral development[ii] is beyond dispute, and it is disgraceful that the present government has done little, if anything, to address migrancy-related problems. At the same time, the use of violence to solve problems is common to all racial groups (one has only to drive on our roads), with family killings by white South Africans having historically been among the highest in the world.

In terms of crime generally, blaming socio-economic conditions obscures the high levels of fraud and white collar crime, involving people who cannot claim to be disadvantaged – and the fact that it is the better off who often run syndicates which recruit poor people, e.g. to steal cars. Organised crime involving drug running is a prime example of how the failure to deal with affluent people who run syndicates perpetuates a system in which the poor are recruited as the visible face of drug running. Organised crime fuels ‘ordinary’ crime, for poor addicts need to steal to feed their habit.

In-depth qualitative research on drug-running related violence in the USA shows the complexity of links between unemployment and crime, for even when jobs are available, they may be spurned because they are menial and low paying. The lure of drug running is that it provides status through income higher than that for minimal wage jobs – and South Africa is a very status conscious society.[iii]

The importance of the criminal justice system

In all societies of the world, no matter how simple the social organisation, the quest for justice is fundamental: If there is no justice, if the norms and values of society are not upheld by those vested by its members with the authority to do so, disorder and lawlessness will threaten the fabric of society.[iv] The mechanisms employed to dispense justice depend on the nature of particular societies and in modern States it is the police and the courts which are charged with this responsibility.

The prime reason for the failure of the Crime Prevention Strategy in South Africa lies with policing.  The assertion by the police that most violent crime is social contact crime, much of which is beyond police control must be challenged.  Firstly, given notoriously low conviction rates for serious crime, what is the factual basis for this statement? Secondly, there appear to be serious problems with the Crime Intelligence component, for community members often seem to know more about where the criminals and guns are, and who is under threat, than the police do. [v]

While there are good detectives, they are generally assigned to high profile and high priority cases. Statement taking by police members is often atrocious and – like lost evidence, and perjury by police members – ruins cases for court. The majority of serious crimes go undetected, especially when victims live in townships and rural areas. The ISS report notes the vacuum left by the disbanding of the commando system. It is quite correct that there are serious problems with rural safety, but the commando system did nothing to protect most of the victims, poor black people – in fact there are numerous cases on record of abuse at the hands of commando members. Rural safety is indivisible and the failure to deal with crime in historically disadvantaged areas leads to its spilling over into farms and middle class suburbs.  Take, e.g. continuing high levels of crime in rural Macambini, which spills over into numerous farm attacks on neighbouring Mangete, as well as the nearby N2 where local thugs have rendered travel, especially at night, unsafe.[vi]

There are serious problems with the management of the SAPS, evidenced by personal testimonies from victims, and regular media reports about corruption, abuse of power, the escape of awaiting trial prisoners and the theft of guns. These problems impact negatively on those police members striving to do their best – who may be victims of nepotism. having been bypassed for promotion at the expense of incompetent colleagues.

While socio-economic development remains of pressing importance – as does the provision of a nurturing family environment for children – the real priority is the urgent restructuring of the South African Police Service, and the upgrading of members’ skills. It is only when it becomes obvious that crime does not pay (and it does at present) that levels are likely to drop significantly.

  1. There are numerous sociological and anthropological studies of slums and informal settlements which support this argument, e.g. Lloyd P 1979 Slums of Hope Penguin; Lomnitz L 1977 Networks and Marginality : Life in a Mexican Shanty Town
  2. The link between the breakdown of morality and crime is made by, among others, Rauch J in ISS Monograph 114, April 2005, at http://www.iss.co.za/pubs
  3. Phillippe Bourgois 1993 ‘Crack in Spanish Harlem’ in Haviland W and R Gordon Talking about People Haviland’; Dembo et al 1993 ‘Crack Cocaine Dealing by Adolescents in Two Public Housing Projects : A Pilot Study’ Human Organization Vol 52 No 1.  With regard to the preoccupation with status de Haas M ‘Of joints and jollers : culture and class in Natal Shebeens’ in Preston-Whyte E and C Rogerson (eds) South Africa’s Informal Economy Cape Town : Oxford University Press
  4. This position is spelt out more fully in de Haas 1993 ‘Violence and the Criminal Justice System’, a comparative look at justice cross-culturally, prepared for the Goldstone Commission
  5. This section draws on first hand information provided by victims and members of the SAPS – including through cases followed up – as well as media reports

Macambini, Dubai And The Office Of The Premier KZN : Answers Please Mr Premier

The motives for the orchestrated protest action by thousands of Macambini residents on 4 December, which saw them blockading the main roads immediately north of the uThukela river, must be questioned. According to the owner-in-law of the land, the Ingonyama Trust, it cannot be leased or alienated without the formal consent of the Traditional Council concerned. Why then is the Traditional Council, headed by Inkosi Khayalihle Mathaba, who rules the area with an iron fist, protesting instead of simply declining the Dubai offer?

At the same time, the provincial government has important questions to answer, especially about who stands to benefit from the Dubai investment – and whether the provincial government’s failure to take action against a man who has broken the law with impunity has anything to do with alleged shared business interests with anyone associated in any way with government.

The proposed development in context

The Macambini area has suffered high levels of political violence, intimidation and crime for almost twenty years.  In the 1990s countless people were killed, or driven from the area, with the TRC making a finding of gross human rights violations against traditional leader Mathaba.

While violence raged in Macambini, Mathaba directed people to settle, illegally, on adjoining Mangete farms owned by Dunn descendants, with the farmers enduring a campaign of terror – the burning of sugar cane, and innumerable attacks. Before an Interdict against Mathaba and others was to be finalised in 1996 he lodged a land claim on behalf of people who had been moved from Mangete in the 1970s to the Wangu area, which was not then part of Macambini. This claim was settled, albeit irregularly, in 2002, but up until the present time the illegal occupants have not been given the land which was purchased for them – including seven farms in Mangete which, like Wangu, remains under the control of non-claimant Mathaba. The Interdict, ordering the occupants off the land, was finalised in 2004. The First Respondent, Mathaba, and the illegal occupants are in flagrant disobedience of Order, placing them all in contempt of court.

A climate of extreme political repression exists in Macambini, with the persecution of ANC activists having continued up until the present time. In 2004 Walter Buthelezi obtained a High Court Interdict against Mathaba, who threatened him with death for placing ANC posters. Prominent activist and local government candidate Mrs Sibongile Zungu was threatened by Mathaba in 2005, prior to various attempts to kill her, and a number of other ANC activists have been killed in recent years. Why has the ANC as a political party not taken steps to prevent attacks on people who risk their lives for it, and why has it, as government in the province, failed to take action against Mathaba despite his having broken the law?

A deafening silence

Following gross intimidation of voters and election officials in Macambini during the 2006 local government elections, affidavits were made with a view to disputing the election results. The regional structures of the ANC refused to take the matter further, despite its presumably having been in its interest to do so.

In May 2006 a letter was addressed to MEC for Local Government, Housing and Traditional Affairs, Mr Mike Mabuyakhulu, detailing Mathaba’s contravention of the legislation governing traditional leadership and the fact that he was in contempt of court. The MEC was requested to take appropriate action. Despite follow up letters, and an appeal to the relevant national minister, no response was received.

When threats to Mrs Zungu and criminal attacks on Mangete farmers continued, a letter was addressed to ANC leader Ndebele in December 2006, referring to matters raised with Mabuyakhulu, and the MEC’s non-response. Information was provided about paramilitary training in the area, and its potential for destabilisation.   Reference was made to allegations of proposed business ventures in the area involving Mathaba and at least one person close to the provincial government, raising the issue of possible corruption. The premier was warned that if no action was taken more blood was sure to be spilled. There was no response.

On 26 February 2007 well armed men attacked the Zungu home, shooting and throwing incendiary devices. The large house was razed, and two grandchildren were injured by shrapnel. Miraculously, no one was killed, but the family was left with only the nightclothes they were wearing. They relocated to a room in nearby Mandeni, but the threats continued – apparently because family members recognised attackers, including Mbongwa Maphumulo. Maphumulo is an induna of the chief, and a ward councillor. He was recently found guilty of possession of three unlicensed firearms and sentenced to 15 years imprisonment.  Mrs Zungu had campaigned tirelessly for the ANC despite being under threat, but appeals to help her made to the leadership – including the Women’s League and NEC – fell on deaf ears.

In July 2007 a letter was faxed, and sent registered mail, to the Speaker of the Legislature, Mr Willies Mchunu, drawing attention to the unlawful conduct of Mathaba, an MPL, and requesting an enquiry. The registered letter was never collected from the post office and was returned to sender. No response was ever received to the fax.

When, in April 2008, the rumours about the Dubai investment were confirmed, an open letter to the premier, reiterating previous concerns, and asking a number of questions – including about local financial stakeholders – elicited a prompt response from his office. A meeting with Director General Mbanjwa followed. Mbanjwa provided various undertakings, including that that no Macambini resident would be dispossessed of land and that the illegal occupants on Mangete farms would be given land due to them in terms of the claim settlement. Despite an assurance of regular progress reports, and a follow up letter, nothing further was ever heard from the office of the premier.

Answers please Premier Ndebele

There is a perception that the government of this province has continued to turn a blind eye to gross human rights violations and unlawful activities in Macambini and Mangete because of vested financial interests on the part of person/s associated with it. Whatever the truth, its handling of the Dubai-investment matter has provided a pretext for increased destabilisation in an area which is a haven for criminals, and seems awash with guns.  Premier Ndebele owes the public a full explanation:

  1. Is it true that Mathaba travelled to Dubai with a person or persons from his office when talks were held with investors
  2. Is it true that Mathaba was given a large sum of money and, if so, where did this money come from?
  3. Who exactly are the local stakeholders in the proposed R44 billion development and are any persons currently serving in government among them?

TRC/Court records cited

  • Findings against Mathaba in TRC Report Volume 3
  • Water Buthelezi Durban and Coast High Court Interdict 3565/2004
  • Mangete land invasion details in Durban and Coast High Court cases 6212/03 and 1931/96 (Interdict)