Overview of Violence during 1998

‘And the killing goes on’ was the title of a paper given by Pietermaritzburg-based violence monitor Wendy Leeb towards the end of 1988, at the height of the carnage in and around that city. A decade later the killing still goes on : Since the end of 1988 at least 12 000 people have died in KZN, almost 4 000 of them since the elections in 1994, in violence which has political overtones. Countless thousands have been injured, traumatised and displaced. Over seven hundred of those deaths have occurred in the first eleven months of 1998. Given the entrenched culture of violence in South Africa, the continuing low intensity political conflict in KZN – and the ready availability of guns – violent crime in general remains endemic.

The high visibility of conflict in Richmond in 1998, characterised by massacres, allegations of security force complicity, and political mud-slinging, drew – briefly – national and international attention to the continuing turmoil in this province. Meanwhile, violence continues to rage, largely unseen, in all regions, and – especially in deep rural areas around Nongoma, Empangeni/Eshowe and Greytown – receives scant media attention.

A number of those who have been killed during 1998 – IFP leadership in the South Coast, ANC and UDM supporters in Richmond, and ANC office-bearers in Gingindlovu – have clear connections with political parties. Contrary to the utterances of leaders, tensions and killings involving IFP and ANC (and intra-party struggles) continue in a number of areas. However, links between politics (which is fundamentally about power relationships in society) and violence are not confined to struggles between representatives of political parties. The Natal Monitor has made the point on various occasions that, compared with the pre-election period, the nature of the violence has been changing in recent years; nevertheless, much of it still appears aimed at destabilising large areas of the province, including through criminal and taxi conflict (see, for example, the Monitor for June/July 1998). Some of the destruction, especially that which targets women, children and elderly folk, appears wanton terrorism.

There is an unfortunate tendency, even on the part of monitors and the media, to portray much of the violence (including in areas around Nongoma, Greytown and Harding) as ‘faction fighting’. This interpretation presumably originates from police sources, and from grossly oversimplified – and paternalistic – stereotypes of ‘traditional Africans/Zulus’, which have their roots in the discredited social science research of the colonial era and the divide-and-rule policy of apartheid.

The realities of the conflict are far more complex, and an analysis which fails to take into account the wider context in which the affected communities are situated is flawed. Isolated, ‘traditional’ communities are figments of imagination, wishful thinking and tourist promotions. Poverty-stricken rural areas in which ‘faction fighting’ takes place are heavily dependent on migrant earnings. When in town migrants live in hostels, which are highly politicised. The political linkages are maintained through chiefs who, in KZN, fall under the umbrella body of a deeply politicised House of Traditional Leaders. Taxis – often under political and/or police ownership – provide transport links to all areas of the province (and country). Is it mere co-incidence that persons who were members of, or close to, some of the more notorious apartheid security forces happen to live and/or own farms in some of the volatile areas of this province?

‘Faction fighting’ is frequently linked to contests over land and chiefship. Chiefship is a heavily contested area of struggle, as a number of amakhosi, includingNgwane (Hluhluwe), Xolo (kwaXolo) and T A Hlongwane(Bergville) will attest. These chiefs are amongst those who live in fear of their lives from political opponents. Similarly, conflict which has wracked Dududu (near Scottburgh) during 1998 does not appear unconnected to the apolitical stand of the local chief.

The reality is that human beings continue to die, needlessly, and that not enough people seem to care about halting the carnage. Despite the alarming crime levels, from which no South Africans are safe, the vast majority of the victims in this province are black and poor. During 1998 a number of alleged perpetrators of high profile crimes – involving the murders of a Durban lawyer, an Eshowe nun, an Empangeni doctor, and several farmers, and the rape of Swiss tourists, have been arrested and/or convicted. However, with certain notable exceptions, the rate of conviction in the vast majority of cases of violence, in which victims are black, is still painfully low. Why was it possible for community members to hand over to the police the alleged rapists of the Swiss tourists – yet continuing murders in the same area go undetected. Why is there no equivalent public outrage when local women and children are raped?

At the present time (beginning of December) violence continues in a number of areas of the province, including around Nongoma, Empangeni, Mtunzini, Greytown/Mapumulo, hostels in Durban, Umbumbulu, and Lower South Coast areas around Margate, Izingolweni and Harding. Indiscriminate killings are taking place, once again, in L Section, KwaMashu; those involved are well known – except, it seems, to the police.

From Pongola in the north – where ANC/IFP tensions threaten bloodshed – to Izingolweni and Harding, in the south, and Himeville and Bergville in the west of the province, the season of goodwill may not be a peaceful one for local residents.

It is thus essential that adequate numbers of security force personnel – including SANDF members – be deployed in the province over the festive season. It has been possible for South Africa to deploy hundreds of soldiers in Lesotho. Additional security force personnel were sent to Richmond as part of a strategy to halt the carnage. A similar policy should operate in all the violence-ravaged areas of this province. It is worth repeating that safety and security, like charity, begins at home.

The Year Ahead

It should go without saying that high numbers of security force personnel should remain deployed in the province in the run-up to, and during, the 1999 elections. At the same time, there have been a number of incidents in which members of the SANDF have been involved in killings and other human rights abuses, and their behaviour, like that of the police, needs careful monitoring.

If any meaningful impact is to be made on the high levels of violent crime in general, there are three areas, in particular in need of urgent attention : The criminal justice system generally and policing in particular, controls over guns, and the private security company industry.

The criminal justice system

The new provincial prosecuting authority under the directorship of Chris McAdam is a step in the right direction, but a great deal will depend on the capabilities of legal staff to be appointed, and the competence and credibility of police investigators. The replacement of former Attorney-General McNally(himself a political appointee) was long overdue. The issue has, unfortunately, become politicised, but the fact is that problems with this office go well beyond party politics. With some exceptions there have been difficulties in instituting effective prosecutions against police members, whilst people against whom evidence is tenuous have been pursued with vigour. The matter of human rights advocate Jennifer Wild, who has battled for five and a half years to clear her name, is a case in point : When the case was thrown out of court Mr McNally reinstituted proceedings. Suddenly, after years of huge expense to the taxpayer, and inestimable trauma to the accused, a pretext was found for withdrawing these charges – coincidentally after intervention by the national Director of Prosecutions.

Meaningful transformation of the SAPS remains long overdue. Corruption is rife and morale is poor. Whilst the independent committee looking into allegations of racism is welcome, far more must be done about the state of the service in general – in fact a Judicial Commission of Enquiry into corruption would not be out of place. At the very least the grossly over-stretched Independent Complaints Directorate should be provided with additional, competent, personnel. Having a suitable retired Judge or senior advocate as a police ombudsman is another option which should be considered. The morale of members is poor for a variety of reasons, including the dangerous nature of police work, the corruption of colleagues, and the lack of recognition which good police members receive. From lists of promotions black members are still seriously disadvantaged compared with their white counterparts, and there appears to have been no fast tracking of capable, experienced black members with clean records who – had they been white – would have achieved high ranks under apartheid. Promoting young, relatively inexperienced members who have qualifications on paper (which does not necessarily qualify the person as a capable practitioner) is also not a solution, and can be very damaging to morale, and militate against the type of teamwork which is essential, especially in detective work. If the government is really serious about promoting the interests of those grievously disadvantaged by apartheid – and about dealing effectively with crime – this continuing discrimination against competent black members should be remedied with immediate effect.

Controls over guns

The urgency of implementing tighter controls over dangerous weapons cannot be over-emphasised. This task is far too important to be left solely in the hands of the police. The appointment of a senior legal person, whose task it would be to inspect the work of police units and ensure that confiscated guns are destroyed, and follow up cases of weapons missing from police stations, and other irregularities surrounding guns and the police, should be considered.

Private security companies

Security companies play an important role in protecting people and property, particularly in a society in which police are over-stretched and under-resourced. However, if they are to contribute to a declining crime rate – rather than an escalating one – it is imperative that their personnel and activities be subject to over-arching control from a body enjoying widespread legitimacy. If such controls are lacking there is nothing to prevent fly-by-night companies employing people with criminal records, or illegal aliens, and failing to exercise due control over weapons they acquire in their line of business. Depending on the scale of their operations, private security companies can, in effect, function as armed militias. It is for this reason that they must be controlled, very firmly, by the government of the day. Adequate regulation of this industry is long overdue, and is yet another factor which contributes to a widespread perception that this government has not yet established a strong enough grip on matters relating to the safety and security of its citizens.

Mangete In Crisis: Is Nobody Listening?

Following a recent arson attack in which their community hall was razed, and continuing threats that they will be driven off their ancestral lands, members of the Dunn farming community of the KZN north coast are living in fear of their lives. For the past seven years their appeals to government, including the Ministries of Land Affairs and Safety and Security, seem to have fallen on deaf ears. Unless something is done to halt the campaign of terror being waged against them other farmers in this province wil not be safe from similar terror tactics.

Members of the Dunn community, descendants of nineteenth century British settler John Dunn and his Zulu wives, who hold title deeds to their land bordering on the Tugela River, are small scale sugar cane farmers. Since 1993 they have been subject to ‘land invasions’, as squatters have built houses on their farms. Whilst this illegal occupation is justified by claims that the squatters are merely returning to land from which they were forcibly removed under apartheid, relatively few of the several thousand people living in these illegal structures have historic ties to the area. For example, on one of the earliest properties affected, in 1993, the owners of which were forced to vacate in fear of their personal safety, those erecting structures (and dismantling the house of the property owner) were not from the ranks of the original displacees. Part of the Mangete area is the subject of a contested land claim lodged by neighbouring chief Khayalesha Mathaba on behalf of the Macambini Tribal Authority. In the mean time, illegal building activities continue, despite a request to the Land Claims Commission that a moratorium be declared on the erection of any further structures.

During the past eight years, members of the Dunn community have been subject to threat, intimidation – including through threatening, anonymous pamphlets – and acts of violence from some of the squatters and persons associated with them. In one recent incident the Chairperson of Mangete Landowners association, Ms Pat Dunn, was held up at gunpoint and robbed. The farmers’ financial losses, incurred through the regular burning of their sugar cane, and the poisoning of cattle, have been huge.

When the land invasions started it was no secret that the instigator was Inkosi Mathaba, and what is happening in Mangete cannot be divorced from events in the Macambini area over the past decade. In the run up to the 1994 elections, especially, and, to a somewhat lesser extent since then, this area has been wracked by politically-linked violence in which many people, especially ANC supporters, have been chased away or killed, often by known hitmen. At present there is a vigilante-type gang styling itself ‘Pagad’ which is targetting suspected ANC sympathisers. Violence in Macambini has been closely linked to similar activities in other north coast areas, which smack of sinister ‘third force’ networks and tactics. What is of particular concern is the influence which Inkosi Mathaba appears to wield over police in the area; he has reportedly been overheard boasting that they are his ‘eyes and ears’.

The apparently cosy relationship between Mathaba and the police raises questions about the conspicuous failure of the security forces to ensure that members of the Dunn community receive the protection to which they are entitled, despite senior management having been apprised of the dangers to which they were subject since 1994. They were told in 1995, for example, that people were being shot at in broad daylight and that fearful for their safety, women and children were locking themselves away in their homes during the day. In one recent incident on 19 February an illegal blockade of roads leading to Mangete, led by one Sibiya (a self-styled squatter leader who is not from the area) posed a serious threat to the safety of residents and disrupted work and schooling. Members of management of the SAPS and SANDF were advised, over a week before it took place, that this blockade was being planned, and were given specific details, including the time at which it was to start. They arrived only after the illegal activities had commenced and the safety of residents had been unncessarily jeopardised.

The burning of the community hall during the early hours of Sunday 19 April is but one indicator of gross derelection of duty on the part of the security forces and their intelligence arms. It should have been obvious that the recent intensification of hostilities towards the Dunn community poses grave danger to people’s lives and property, especially as numbers of ‘intelligence agents’ have been active in the area (although it should be noted that massacres in Richmond occurred despite the area being awash with ‘intelligence’ agents). To add insult to injury, later in the day on which the hall was burnt Inkosi Mathaba held a meeting near the smouldering ruins. It is alleged that, in the course of this meeting, marked by racist rhetoric, threats were made that:

  • Other community structures such as clinic and schools would be targetted
  • Pat Dunn would end up in the coffin which had been displayed, with her name on it, at a previous meeting
  • There would be a further blockade of roads if the squatters were not victorious in court

Such threats must be taken seriously, especially given the arms circulating in the area. As the date of the court case approaches, and during and after the hearing itself, the extremely volatile situation in Mangete may well give rise to further attacks on life and property. It is absolutely essential that security force patrols remain deployed in the area. Whilst an army patrol would be welcome, under no circumstances should soldiers deployed in the area come from KwaZulu-Natal, since serious allegations are made about continuing partisanship on the part of certain recruits from this province.

The deployment of patrols is a stopgap measure. What is happening in Mangete is symptomatic of what is perceived as ineffectiveness on the part of those charged with implementing land reform. More importantly, however, it is an extremely serious indictment of the failure of those charged with meeting the safety and security needs of South Africa’s citizens to fulfill their mandate. Whilst problems with policing abound, nowhere are these problems more pronounced that in the rural North Coast and Northern regions. Since provincial management has shown itself incapable of addressing these problems, the time for firm action at a national level is long overdue.

A failure by government to ensure that its organs of state take action to right the wrongs of Mangete will be interpreted as carte blanche not only to people wishing to help themselves to land which does not belong to them, but to perpetrators of violent crime conducting their reign of terror in rural areas.