Living in fear: Competition over tenders leads to rise in murders in eMpembeni

Over the last few years, the small village on the North Coast has seen a number of killings believed to be linked to squabbles over business deals from big companies.

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EMPEMBENI - The latest, unexplained murder in eMpembeni near Richards Bay, in KwaZulu-Natal, has prompted renewed calls for intervention and increased policing in the area.

Over the last few years, the small village on the North Coast has seen a number of killings believed to be linked to squabbles over business deals from big companies.

Richards Bay has grown from a small fishing town to an industrialised zone where thousands of people are employed by big firms, while small business owners compete for tenders offered by these companies.

In the last few years, many people have been killed, while others were forced into hiding.

According to the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organised Crime, at least 38 people have been murdered in mining localities in the province in the last five years.

And there are now fears of a resurgence of violence in eMpembeni.

A COMMUNITY ON EDGE

For a short period of time tensions in this rural community seemed to have calmed, but it was the murder of Bheki Ndlovu - who was attacked by gunmen four weeks ago - that has left residents on edge.

Thirty-nine-year-old Ndlovu was killed in his home in front of his girlfriend and 10-month-old baby.

It’s alleged those who barged into their home were wearing police uniforms and balaclavas. His murder is now the subject of an investigation by the Independent Police Investigative Directorate.

His brother, Sifiso, a businessman, told Eyewitness News the family was desperate for answers.

“The police just came to my house, and we don’t know why, they didn’t ask anything, they just shot and killed him with seven bullets.”

Most of the attacks in mining localities like eMpembeni have been linked to competition over tenders offered by big firms.

Chairperson of the KwaDube business forum, Vumani Shandu, suspects Ndlovu was mistaken for his older brother.

“That guy was not the real target. He didn’t like politics or business and preferred keeping to himself. He was killed because he looked like his brother - Sifiso Ndlovu. Sifiso was the real target,” said Shandu.

Having survived six assassination attempts himself, Shandu urged those in power to intervene to avoid a further loss of life.

“They must work with us because we know where this issue emanates from,” said Shandu.

Business owners want an impartial authority to mediate between those warring over business deals.

CALLS FOR ACCOUNTABILITY

But violence researcher, monitor and analyst, Mary de Haas, does not believe that mediation between warring businesses is the only solution to the problem. She said first there needed to be accountability for the crimes.

“It’s all about a lack of any proper implementation of law and order in the area, and that’s the only way forward. You know there are people with illegal guns causing problems in the area. Until that is dealt with, it’s just going to carry on,” said De Haas.

De Haas has recorded at least 20 assassinations in the area since 2018.

“You’ve got to have to have a system of justice that works if you want to bring any stability or peace to your society, and that’s not happening in eMpembeni. That’s the crux of the problem. The key perpetrators need to be arrested.”

In April, South Africa’s largest mineral sands producer and beneficiation company, Richards Bay Minerals, announced that its R6.7 billion mining expansion project would remain on hold until security issues threatening its operations were resolved. It cited attacks on its employees.

Some in the community believe rogue cops are working with criminals.

Eyewitness News reached out to the authorities for comment several times, but received no response.

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