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TRC Final Report
Page Number (Original) 269
Paragraph Numbers 293 to 302
293 Hit-squad activity became widespread in KwaZulu and Natal during the 1990s. From information received by the Commission, it would appear that the hit-squad operations undertaken by the ‘Caprivi trainees’ and other political networks were predominantly supportive of the IFP, drawing in officials of the KwaZulu government and police force, as well as senior politicians and leaders of the party. As such, hit-squad members had access to KwaZulu Government resources such as vehicles, arms and ammunition. A measure of protection from prosecution was gained through the collusion of the KZP and the SAP with the activities of hit networks.
294 The killing of two activists in New Hanover in 1990 and the case of the Esikhawinibased hit squad led by Mr Brian Gcina Mkhize provide two examples of the operation of the many hit-squad networks that existed in the region during this period.
The Killing of Vusi Ngcobo and Bonowakhe Gasa
During 1990, a Roman Catholic priest from the Wartburg area, Reverend Garth Michelson, wrote a letter to the then Minister of Law and Order, Mr Adriaan Vlok, in which he expressed his concern that there was a police hit squad operating in the Mbava area, near Wartburg. His concerns were raised following the killing of two UDF activists, Mr Vusi Ngcobo and Mr Bonowakhe Gasa [KZN/HG/922/NY], in Mbava on 6 January 1990. Vlok responded to Michelson’s letter on 30 July 1990 as follows:
“Further to my letter dated 14 February 1990 I wish to advise you that a thorough investigation is being conducted by the SAP. Investigations instituted have proved that so-called hit squads do not exist in the SAP. This is a farfetched figment which exists only in the imaginations of certain individuals, organisations, etc. and has no foundation whatsoever.”
The two activists, Ngcobo and Gasa, had been shot and left to die in a mealie [corn] field in Swayimane on 6 January 1990. Witnesses said that the killing was carried out by one white and three black men wearing light blue shirts similar to the SAP uniform. The four men had been seen arriving at the home of KwaZulu Member of Parliament Thanduyise Psychology Ndlovu in a yellow police van and then proceeding from Ndlovu’s home in a white Crusade with a private registration number.
An informal inquest held in 1991 found that ‘persons unknown‘ were responsible for the deaths. A second inquest was held in May 1995. The inquest magistrate,
RA Stewart, found that former special constable Welcome Muzi Hlophe (aka ‘BigBoy’ Hlophe), SAP Lance Sergeant Peter Smith, KwaZulu government driver Abraham Shoba and a fourth unknown man were prima facie directly responsible for the killings. He also found that the original investigating officer, Major Joseph van Zyl, was an accessory to the killings and recommended that an investigation be opened with a view to a possible conviction of Van Zyl. He further found that the then Secretary of the KwaZulu Legislature, Mr Robert Mzimela, KwaZulu employee Z Mkhize, and then head of the KLA Protection Unit Major Leonard Langeni had been implicated in a cover-up operation. (Mzimela and Langeni were both involved in the operations of the Esikhawini hit squad – see below.)
On receipt of the inquest findings, the Natal attorney-general, Mr Tim McNally, declined to prosecute any but Hlophe and Smith. He further failed to pursue any investigations in respect of the other findings made by the inquest court. Hlophe and Smith were subsequently acquitted in the Pietermaritzburg Supreme Court.
THE COMMISSION FINDS THAT THE INVESTIGATION INTO THE KILLINGS WAS ATTENDED BY A SYSTEMATIC COVER-UP BY MEMBERS OF THE SAP, INCLUDING THE GIVING OF FALSE AND MISLEADING EVIDENCE AND THE REFUSAL BY THE POLICE AND KWAZULU GOVERNMENT WITNESSES TO ANSWER NUMEROUS QUESTIONS AT THE SECOND INQUEST. A HIGH-RANKING POLICE OFFICER ENGINEERED SUCH A COVER-UP BY REMOVING A STATEMENT FROM THE INVESTIGATION DOCKET AND BY DISPOSING OF THE PROJECTILE REMOVED FROM THE HEAD OF THE DECEASED MR GASA. TWO KWAZULU GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS AND A HIGH-RANKING KZP OFFICER FACILITATED THE PLACING OF A GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEE WITH NDLOVU IN ORDER TO ASSIST NDLOVU IN DEALING WITH THE ‘TROUBLEMAKERS’ IN THE AREA, AND ATTEMPTED IN THE SECOND INQUEST TO COVER UP THE ROLE OF SAID EMPLOYEE IN THE KILLING.
THE COMMISSION FINDS THAT THE DECEASED WERE KILLED BECAUSE OF THEIR PERCEIVED AFFILIATION TO THE UDF AND THAT THE KILLING WAS PLANNED BY A LOCAL INKATHA LEADER AND PERFORMED WITH THE COLLUSION OF THE MEMBERS OF THE SAP AND THE KZP, AS EVIDENCED BY THE COVER-UP WHICH FOLLOWED THE KILLING.
295 In the Esikhawini area, near Richards Bay, politically motivated violence between supporters of the ANC and the IFP erupted and escalated in 1991. The township was predominantly ANC-supporting and the IFP were losing support. J2 section of the township was considered an IFP stronghold and was regularly attacked by ANC supporters. At a certain stage, local Inkatha leaders approached the Inkatha leadership in Ulundi because they were concerned that they were losing the struggle against the ANC in the township.
296 In 1991, as a result of these concerns, Daluxolo Luthuli summoned Gcina Brian Mkhize [AM4599/97] to a meeting in Ulundi. Mkhize was a ‘Caprivi trainee’ who had joined the KZP and was posted to the Esikhawini Riot Unit in 1990. The meeting was held at KZP Captain Leonard Langeni’s office in Ulundi early in 1991. At the time, Langeni was the officer commanding the then KLA Protection Unit. Others present at the meeting were Luthuli, Prince Gideon Zulu (then KwaZulu Minister of Pensions), Mr M R Mzimela (then Secretary of the KwaZulu Legislature), and Mr MZ Khumalo (then personal assistant to Chief Buthelezi).
297 Mkhize told the Commission that he was told at this meeting that “the time had arrived to use the skills acquired at the Caprivi”. He was instructed to take action against the ANC in Esikhawini. It was the intention of those present that unlawful means would be employed against the ANC. He was told to work directly with the Mayor of Esikhawini, Mr BB Biyela, and IFP councillor Ms Lindiwe Mbuyazi and to report directly to Langeni and Luthuli. Mkhize was told to gather reliable people to assist him.
298 Initially, the plan was that he would join with Inkatha youth who were already attacking ANC-dominated areas. He worked with, amongst others, Mr Nhlakanipho Mathenjwa, Mr Lucky Mbuyazi and Mr Siyabonga Mbuyazi. Captain Langeni arranged for Mkhize to collect weapons for these illegal activities from Mr Thomas Buthelezi, a ‘Caprivi trainee’ based at Port Durnford.
299 The youth were unable to halt the ANC attacks on Inkatha members, and reported this to Langeni and Luthuli. In the subsequent months, the composition and operations of the hit squad were discussed at a number of other meetings in Ulundi and Esikhawini and a decision was made to form a more sophisticated hit squad. Those proposed were Mr Romeo Mbuso Mbambo [AM4598/97], a KZP member, Mr Israel Hlongwane [AM4600/97], who had been involved with Luthuli in the violence in Mpumalanga, and Mr Zweli Dlamini [AM3685/96], a ‘Caprivi trainee’ who had also been involved in violence in both Clermont and Mpumalanga. KZP Constable Victor Buthelezi and at least two other ‘Caprivi trainees’ were also included in the hit squad. Not all members of the hit squad participated in every attack.
300 Mkhize was the leader of the group and generally took instructions from Captain Langeni. Ms Mbuyazi and Mayor BB Biyela were aware of their activities and, in specific instances, provided actual support to their operations. Others who were sometimes involved included Prince Gideon Zulu from Eshowe, Chief Mathaba from Nyoni and Mr Robert Mkhize from Empangeni.
301 Ms Mbuyazi arranged with the District Commissioner, Brigadier Mzimela, for Mbambo to be transferred to the Detective Branch where he would be in a position to cover up the crimes of IFP supporters and prevent their arrests. Robert Mkhize was already a member of the Esikhawini Internal Stability Unit (ISU) and his instructions were to ensure that patrols would be kept away from where Inkatha was planning to attack. Mbambo’s instructions were to ensure that cases against the hit-squad members were not properly investigated, by destroying evidence and making misleading entries in the police dockets. The hit squad was to carry out attacks on those nights when Mbambo and Mkhize were on duty and therefore able to carry out these instructions.
302 Between 1991 and August 1993 (when Mbambo was arrested by members of the SAP), the hit squad killed an unknown number of people in the Esikhawini area and was also responsible for a number of killings and attempted killings elsewhere, particularly in the Sundumbili/Nyoni, Mandini and Eshowe areas. Prominent Inkatha-aligned officials gave ongoing direction and logistic support (such as weapons, ammunition, vehicles, accommodation and finances). This applied both at the local level (Mr BB Biyela, Ms Mbuyazi, Chief Mathaba, Brigadier Mzimela) and at a regional level (Captain Langeni, Daluxolo Luthuli, Prince Gideon Zulu, Mr MZ Khumalo). A number of hit lists were compiled at meetings with the IFP leaders. The targets were all ANC leaders, members or sympathisers. The hit squad was responsible, inter alia, for the following killings: Mr Naphtal Nxumalo, Mr Nathi Gumede, Mr April Taliwe Mkhwanazi, Sgt Dlamini, Sgt Khumalo, Mr John Mabika, and four young MK members killed at a shebeen. In addition to targeting particular individuals for assassination, the hit squad carried out dozens of random attacks on shebeens, bus stops, buses and streets where ANC supporters were known to gather. On some nights, the hit squad would carry out two or three attacks on different targets; sometimes they would drive around a section of the township known to be an ANC stronghold, looking for people to attack. After every hit, Mkhize would report back to Langeni, either personally or telephonically, to keep him informed of all their operations.