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Police minister Bheki Cele. Picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA
Police minister Bheki Cele. Picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA

The country’s top security bosses descended on KwaZulu-Natal on Wednesday to allay fears that the region is being turned into a battlefield.

Eighteen people were killed in three separate mass shootings in the province in the past two weeks.       

On January 14, eight people including a 17-year-old teenager were killed at Esigcakini in Richmond, six people were shot dead at Inanda north of Durban, and four people were killed in a drive-by shooting at a hostel in Kwamakhutha on Sunday afternoon.

The latest shootings are believed to be random crime and not politically motivated. 

Police minister Bheki Cele, together with his deputy minister Cassel Mathale, deputy state security minister Zizi Kodwa, Hawks head Lt-Gen Godfrey Lebeya and KwaZulu-Natal provincial police commissioner Lt-Gen Nhlanhla Mkhwanazi condemned the attacks as “simply unacceptable” and said they had sent “shock waves across the country”.

Apart from residents, business and political leaders have also voiced concern about the killings. Business leaders are concerned that the violence will jeopardise the rebuilding of the region after the unrest in July last year.

In July the province was gripped by fear as civil unrest ensued after calls by some supporters of former president Jacob Zuma to protest against his imprisonment for contempt of court. Looters set buildings ablaze and the army was deployed to restore law and order. The provincial government declared a state of disaster in the province due to the magnitude of the mayhem and destruction.

In the City of Durban the economic cost of the unrest is estimated at R12.8bn while the loss of sales and stock is put at R40bn. Damage to property runs to about R15bn and for machinery and equipment it is estimated at R20bn. About 91,000 jobs were at risk, according to estimates at the time. 

Cele said a multidisciplinary anti-crime operation has resulted in the arrest of seven suspects aged from 21 to 43 for the Richmond killings. Police confiscated high-calibre guns, ammunition and drugs. One person has been arrested for the Inanda shooting and the police were following leads in connection with the murders on Sunday, he said.

Cele said from April to June last year the region recorded 229 incidents of multiple murders, accounting for 531 deaths, with most of the crimes taking place in the eThekwini region.

Senior police leaders attribute the killings to drug wars, retaliation and revenge and believe robbery to be the motive in most of the cases. Police seized more than 1,300 illegal firearms in operations over the past nine months.

“We came down here on a mission to find out what exactly is going on and how far are police from bringing to book the perpetrators of these heinous crimes,” Cele said.

He said the police ministry and the management of the SAPS would not sit back and allow KwaZulu-Natal “to once again be turned into a battlefield”. His team had been inundated with calls from concerned sectors of society.

This was Cele’s second visit to the region in under two weeks. He flew there within hours of the mass shootings on January 14 and addressed senior police managers.. 

“In this meeting we didn’t mince our words when we called on police to up their game if they want to turn this crime picture around. We called on the investigation teams to, at all times, be a step or two ahead of these criminals who seek to undermine the authority of the state.”

Cele said he was pleased with the progress by the investigating teams that heeded the call to “act with agility and precision”, by finding those who either planned these hits or pulled the triggers.

He acknowledged that statistics paint a grim picture of crime gripping the province and vowed that the police would go “above and beyond the normal call of duty and find the killers come hell or high water”.

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