‘Jewel of the Midlands’ Losing its Sparkle

Bheki Mbanjwa, Mercury (Durban), June 29, 2009

Chants of “Makuliwe, Makuliwe” (let there be war), by stick-wielding IFP supporters coupled with a heavy police presence in Greytown on Friday best captured the mood of a town that has reached boiling point.

In recent weeks the image of the small town, referred to as the “Jewel of the Midlands” on its official website, has continued to lose its sparkle after a string of what are believed to be politically motivated murders.

At least three councillors, two IFP and one ANC, have been killed in Greytown between May 25 and June 25.

These, and many other killings, have raised fears that this could be the start of an upsurge in violence with the potential to spread to other parts of the Midlands–an area of KwaZulu-Natal where some of the bloodiest political battles of the late 1980s to the early 90s were fought.

“We haven’t forgotten how to use our guns, and we haven’t thrown them away. Losing our men in the violence (of the 90s) has only made us stronger, so we are ready to fight. We are prepared to fight any time as we can no longer stand by the wayside and see our leaders being killed in such cowardly acts,” said a woman who was part of the IFP’s protest march in Greytown on Friday.

She and dozens of other IFP supporters demonstrated outside Greytown’s Magistrate’s Court, where 37-year-old Mqaneni Zondi appeared on a charge of murdering IFP ward councillor Ntuthuko Ngcobo, 46, who was gunned down in an ambush near the Ntembisweni area on May 25.

Two weeks after that incident, an ANC councillor in the uMzinyathi district, 44-year-old Thembinkosi Malunga, was killed at the ANC’s Greytown constituency offices.

On Youth Day, June 16, there was an attempt on the life of IFP councillor Sibongiseni Shange, who was also ambushed by unknown gunmen armed with AK47s. He was shot in the stomach, but survived the attack.

Last Thursday, yet another IFP councillor, Bernard Ntuli, 50, was gunned down near the Makhabeleni area in Krans-kop.

The attacks, however, are not only directed at councillors and leaders. Ordinary members of the IFP and the ANC have also found themselves on the receiving end.

On Friday, IFP member Sabelo Zondi was killed in Ntembisweni and his friend was seriously injured in an attack which is also believed to have been politically motivated.

Last Monday, three members of the Sikhakhane family of Ntembisweni were attacked and killed by unknown gunmen. Those killed included Agnes Sikhakhane, a 70-year-old grandmother, Mfaniseni Nkomo, 18, and four-year-old Pamela Sikhakhane.

An ANC activist, 19-year-old Sihle Sikhakhane, discovered the bodies when he arrived home on Tuesday morning. He has no doubt that their deaths were a result of his or the family’s association with the ANC.

Speaking to the Daily News from the ANC’s offices in Greytown on Friday, Sikhakhane said he and other ANC activists in the Ntembisweni area were living in fear of being attacked.

“We are being attacked by IFP members, we feel that we are not safe,” the distraught teenager said.

The attacks on the family of Sikhakhane happened on the day of a failed peace meeting between local IFP and ANC leaders.

Planned

“The meeting was organised by the police and scheduled for 10am at the local police station. We went there as ANC leaders, and waited for over an hour without any word from the IFP,” said the chairman of the ANC’s Inkosi Bhambatha region, Philani Mavundla.

“They (IFP leaders) did not want to attend, I suspect, because they knew what was being planned for later that night.”

However, IFP leaders have denied any knowledge of the meeting.

Albert Mncwango, the IFP national organiser who was part of Friday’s protest march, said it was time for leaders of both parties in Greytown to sit down and iron out their differences before the situation got completely out of control.

Judging by the recent war of words between Mavundla and Greytown mayor and IFP leader Petrus Ngubane, any meeting between the two leaders remains a pipedream.

Despite being relatives, the two leaders have been involved in a bitter battle of words, with Ngubane claiming Mavundla was behind the attacks on IFP councillors.

The IFP further claimed that the ANC wanted to force by-elections in the area to ensure that there was a change of guard in the local government.

The IFP currently has 12 seats, the ANC has eight and the DA has one, in the uMvoti council.

Mavundla has, however, denied that either he or any members of his party were planning a hostile takeover of the municipality, as alleged by the IFP.

The ANC leader, who is also a prominent businessman, says he has no ambitions of being mayor and remains a councillor “not because I lack employment. but because the ANC branches wanted me there”.

According to Mavundla, the ANC had made significant inroads in Greytown and surrounding areas, a clear sign that the party would do well in the 2011 local government elections.

“In the 2006 elections, the IFP in this area got about 22 000 votes compared to the 9 700 received by the ANC. However, things have changed and this is best shown by what we achieved in the elections held this year.

“The IFP lost 11 000 votes, while the ANC gained 8 000,” he said.

Meanwhile, Transport, Community Safety and Liaison MEC Bheki Cele said last week that political intolerance would not be tolerated by the police, and that the government would do everything to bring stability to Greytown.

“It is our main priority to stem any acts of violence in the province, and we will pursue all the available avenues to find the perpetrators of these acts of violence, and we will deal with them accordingly,” Cele said.


FIFA president Sepp Blatter, World Cup organiser Danny Jordaan and just about everyone else involved in the 2010 finals have been playing down the risk of violence and crime in South Africa and in hundreds of reports over the last five years I have always been prepared to give them the benefit of the doubt.

That was until last night when I was effectively “mugged” by two uniformed police officers who demanded “pounds or dollars” before they would let me go on my way. In the end I handed over 200 rand (about 15 pounds)–and they showed their “gratitude” in the most astonishing way.

{snip}

I . . . was nearing Sandton when I saw a flashing light about 200 metres ahead and realised a policeman was indicating by torchlight for me to stop. I did.

After the usual pleasantries of, “How are you tonight sir,” and a check of my driving licence and passport, they . . . ordered me out of the car and asked me where I had been and if I had been drinking.

I told them “Rustenburg” and no I hadn’t been drinking as I was driving. Seeing my Confederations Cup accreditation tag around my neck they asked me what I thought of the game which Spain won 5-0.

{snip} They then asked me where I was going.

When I told them the name of my hotel, which was only about five minutes drive away, they told me I would never find it.

I told them I had a very reliable SatNav. They told me it was useless and I would get lost. Only they knew where my hotel was and after giving me directions asked me for their money.

“Where are our dollars or pounds, sir ?” they asked in a more threatening manner.

I gave them their cash and they let me go.

A minute later I saw their blue light flashing in my mirror again. This time I was rather more concerned.

They pulled me over again and the younger of the two said: “You will get lost sir,” and in no uncertain terms indicated I follow them again.

Bizarrely, they took me directly to the hotel–blue lights flashing all the way.

“Good night sir,” they shouted as the car park barrier raised, “and be careful, it is very dangerous on the roads in South Africa at night.”

You can say that again.

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