Glebelands - “We just want service delivery and jobs.”

Hostels were initially established under the apartheid system to house migrant labour conveniently close to urban industrial nodes. These vast, formerly single-sex, housing complexes became hubs of crime and violence, their communities marginalized and used as power blocs from which to wage wars – initially between the ANC and Inkatha, later, as election fodder. Side-lined from service delivery, neglected by political leaders, misunderstood by the public and often misrepresented by the media; circumstances have changed little for hostel dwellers since the so called ‘dawn of democracy.’ At Glebelands Hostel in Umlazi, south of Durban - heart of the ANC’s powerful and contested eThekwini region - conditions have got a whole lot worse.


Administrative neglect, the breakdown of law and order, spiralling state corruption, deteriorating socioeconomic conditions, a culture of impunity, the systematic erosion of constitutional rights, and an increasingly arrogant and brutal political elite, have merged into a perfect storm that has left more than 100 dead and displaced hundreds more from Glebelands. An historic stronghold of the ANC, Glebelands has become better known as ‘the place of death.’


Contextually, political killings in KZN have risen sharply since 2011 and continue unabated as deeply compromised provincial leadership and their ‘homeboy’ - former president Jacob Zuma - fight to maintain political and economic power.


President Cyril Ramaphosa, after convening a top level security cluster intervention, recently said: “We cannot continue to be living in a country where people just take potshots at other people who hold a different view and kill them.”


But as the EFF told the Moerane Commission of Inquiry established in October 2016 to identify the underlying causes of KZN’s killings: “There is no ideology left in the ANC. People are not killing each other over differing ideology; it is only the ideology of the stomach.”


Irrespective of whether you are a mayor or hostel dweller, if you perceived as an impediment to a lucrative tender, a sought after government position, or a popular taxi route - you will end up dead. Nowhere has this been more evident than at Glebelands where the rule of the gun has effectively replaced the rule of law.


Advocate Bheki Manyathi, evidence leader for the Moerane Commission, summing up after more than a year of hearings, declared Glebelands ‘central’ to the provincial slaughter, and said: "We heard evidence that there were several demonstrations to have the councillor removed. The perception was that he was [the] instigator of violence. The plea from residents was ignored by the ANC locally and provincially. A peace committee was established by the province and it yielded results. But it was apparently disbanded by government with no reasons being given. eThekwini Metro up to provincial level, are deliberately turning a blind eye to Glebelands because they are benefiting from the chaos.”


Despite all this, Glebelands remains firmly off the radar for high-level political intervention.


Any intervention that may flow from the view that unity is all that is needed to heal the decades long rents in our social fabric, may, at best, staunch the bleeding but is unlikely to heal any wounds, both at Glebelands and across the province.


Like much of South Africa’s governance meltdown, Glebelands’ carnage could have been avoided. But no one was listening, much less acting.


The mischaracterization of Glebelands murders as ‘pure crime’ by ‘warring factions’ instead of the systematic elimination of a specific segment of the community, has facilitated the expansion of contract killing way beyond the hostel’s confines to include political assassinations, taxi-related hits or any other extra-judicial duties for which the ruling party’s various factions, their politically connected thugs and business partners see fit to engage them.


As the lives of ordinary people are increasingly devalued and sacrificed in the scramble for power and profit, nowhere else in South Africa has the betrayal of the democratic dream left so many dead or deeply traumatised. Glebelands stands bloody testament to decades of state malfeasance and neglect. It will take equally long to resolve, if the will exists to do so.


While there have been many allegations regarding the root causes of Glebelands violence, certain facts stand tall above a sea of politically-orchestrated disinformation. Here are some of the facts.


It is fact that, back in the 1990s, Glebelands residents never received the title deeds to the rooms of which they were promised ownership. A few years later, when the eThekwini Municipality took over hostel administration from the provincial Department of Human Settlements – without consultation – a Hostel Policy was implemented that required residents to pay rent.


It is fact that this lack of consultation brought traditional community structures – the hostel block committees – into direct conflict with the new administration, which proved increasingly remote, inflexible and unwilling to engage in constructive dialogue that could have resolved many of what have become intractable problems today.    


It is fact that rising unemployment caused by the advent of labour broking and the failure of former president Thabo Mbeki’s economic policies to ‘trickle down’ beyond the pockets of politically connected elites, put added financial stress on residents now struggling to pay rent. It is true that attempts by Glebelands residents to counter unemployment, through the establishment of community cooperatives that could undertake basic hostel maintenance, failed to receive support from the municipality. Instead contracts were awarded from the municipality’s ‘preferred supplier’ database – ostensibly to counter corruption, but which usually favoured politically connected contractors.


The reason for the rent boycott that followed – and which, to date, remains largely in place across all Durban’s hostels - is visibly obvious in the poorly maintained buildings and service delivery failure that, a few years ago, led to a R10m water wastage debt that residents refused to pay. A chaotic billing system contributed to the administrative meltdown.      


It has been proven in numerous audit reports and even the municipality’s own statistics, that eThekwini suffers a more than 80-year backlog in the provision of affordable housing. Systemic corruption and incompetency is no secret within local government. Recent research by the Global Initiative Against Organised Crime has drawn clear parallels between municipalities where corruption is rife and assassinations. The eThekwini Municipality has the highest number of assassinations in South Africa and the Auditor General was recently required to withdraw staff investigating corruption after they received death threats.


It can be no coincidence that the ANC’s most contested regions – Moses Mabhida, Harry Gwala, Lower South Coast and eThekwini – whose recent court interdict put an end to the rushed and fatally flawed provincial elective conference which would have restored Zuma-man Sihle Zikhalala to head the ANC’s strongest province; have suffered the highest number of assassinations.  Many branches within these regions – including Glebelands - were flagged in presidential hopeful, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma’s 2011 branch audit report, as riddled with irregularities, intimidation and violence. The ANC, however, failed to put its house in order which has led to the assassination of around 100 party leaders – mostly from these same contested regions. 


It is fact that regional and provincial ANC structures failed to act when Glebelands ward 76 brought a vote of no confidence against their councilor, Robert Mzobe, and his branch executive committee. Complaints made via the requisite party channels were consistently ignored and when all else failed, the community burned down Mzobe’s office. Immediately thereafter, council allocated Mzobe the most expensive private security detail of any government official of that level in the country.


Within months the killing began.


Records prove that the vast majority of Glebelands murder victims and evictees were block committee members or community leaders who opposed Mzobe. In mid-2014 a group of Mzobe’s supporters led by a notorious hostel warlord and known hijacker, handed a memorandum to government officials to which was attached a list of names of those deemed ‘unwanted at Glebelands’. Most names were of block committee members and their associates who had mobilized for improved service delivery and leveled allegations of corruption and nepotism against Mzobe since 2011. They were accused of ‘selling beds’ – the illicit sale or rental of room space – a practice that can proliferate in the absence of proper hostel administration and sound policing, but which rarely leads to fatalities.


While some block committees were undoubtedly ‘selling beds,’ as one community leader put it: “How come government is given a list of people ‘not wanted’ here, then all those people are killed? If you say you are not happy with the councilor, then you are killed, who killed them?”


It is fact that after years of killings, several hitmen and a resident police officer, long accused of orchestrating the murders - allegations strongly refuted by politically tainted provincial police management - have finally been arrested and charged under common purpose for conspiring to commit 19 murders, attempted murders and other crimes. According to court papers the accused’s victims were “mostly persons who threatened to frustrate or interfere with their aim of assuming control… of payments made by dwellers of the hostel.”  


But these are just the foot soldiers.


As a resident recently said after one of the accused was sentenced to life imprisonment: “We are seeing justice for the first time, but we also need action against the instigators. Provincial government must tell us what was stopping them all these years from ending the violence.”       


Mzobe is related to Zuma and many believe this has prevented investigation into his alleged involvement in the carnage or scrutiny of Glebelands contracts.


While analysts and the media hype up Ramaphosa’s ‘clean deal,’ KZN has devolved into a cesspit of political intrigue, ethnic chauvinism and instability. Service delivery at Glebelands has all but ground to a halt. Buildings severely damaged in an October 2017 storm remain roofless, unrepaired and unliveable, compounding the overcrowding in undamaged blocks. A budget for critically needed repairs appears to have evaporated and a strike by cleaning staff remains unresolved after more than four months, leaving the hostel filthier than ever. Government departments are failing to implement remedial actions required by the Public Protector’s 2016/7 intervention. Oversight is derived from bureaucratic fantasy, not residents lived reality.


A longstanding Glebelands resident and religious minister summed up the contribution made by social and environmental decay to the proliferation of contract killing: “If your government forces you to live in conditions such as these – worse than animals – they cannot have respect for your life. How then can you respect the lives of others if no one respects yours? It therefore becomes easy for a young boy with no future and no hope to take a little money to take a life. They know they will not live long.” 


Glebelands symbolises all that has gone wrong with the ANC and exposes our fake democracy – perhaps the reason why national government and civil society prefer to avert their eyes.


While the recent prosecution of hostel hitmen may herald a glimmer of light on the law enforcement front, President Cyril Ramaphosa’s ‘new dawn’ is unlikely to bring about the radical structural shifts in governance, service delivery roll out and political accountability that is critically needed to enact the ANC’s elusive promise of a ‘better life for all’ at Glebelands.


As one resident recently put it: “We are sick and tired of these politicians. We don’t care who is president - we just want service delivery and jobs.”




1.       October 2017 storm damage – still unrepaired - left top floors of more than 30 blocks uninhabitable and worsened the existing overcrowding. Some rooms originally meant to accommodate 4 people now house 20. This is leading to increased tension and violence within the community.


2.       While the municipality claims all water leaks and aged underground infrastructure has been repaired, this is not the case.


3.       Unhygienic and inhumane living conditions undermine residents’ health – particularly that of children – who are forced to rely on the crumbling public health service.


4.       Repairs undertaken by the eThekwini Municipality’s ‘preferred service providers’ is often poorly executed. A lack of oversight allows leaking taps such as this one at Block S, to contribute significantly to the more than 30% of water wasted by the eThekwini Municipality.


5.       Residents claim living conditions were better under the apartheid regime.


6.       Many of Glebelands blocks are named after struggle icons or countries that supported the anti-apartheid struggle. Block Q is named Cuba, Block R is named Russia, and Block S bears the title Solomon Mahlangu.


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