Death stalks mining community after peacemaker’s assassination

Mbuyazi was allegedly ambushed at a local shisa nyama where gunmen fired undisclosed rounds of ammunition at the car he was travelling in. He died instantly.

It is feared that Mbuyazi’s killing will lead to further bloodshed as he was a key figure in efforts to unite different factions embroiled in a bitter battle over proceeds from a R74 million settlement fund over land and mining rights. The deceased was a key figure in the Mbuyazi traditional authority.

Zikalala visited the headquarters of Richards Bay Minerals on Wednesday to try and broker peace in the area. But his visit was dealt a heavy blow when Mbuyazi, a key negotiator was gunned down after the meeting.

KZN Premier Spokesperson, Lennox Mabaso said engagements will continue to try and find lasting peace within the community. Zikalala was expected to address the community yesterday [Saturday].

Captain Nqobile Gwala, KZN police spokesperson said Mbuyazi was shot and killed by unknown assailants while in his vehicle.

“Two of his bodyguards were also shot but survived the attack. The motive of the attack is not yet known and no arrests have been made. Police are investigating a case of murder,” said Gwala.   

The area remains on edge as community activist Phiwayinkosi Mntambo revealed to Mukurukuru Media just hours before Mbuyazi’s killing.

“The situation is desperate, innocent people are losing lives and more blood will be shed. Some of us have abandoned our homes for fear of being assassinated. Our cries for help are ignored by the authorities. The chieftaincy has turned against the community in their quest for money,” Mntambo said.

He was talking about the deadly conflict that has torn the community of KwaMbonambi near Richards Bay apart and led to the killing of at least 12 people and displacement of several others.

During the day nothing seems to be amiss with villagers going about their daily routines but when  night falls residents hastily cower into their respective homesteads for fear of the unknown. Some residents flee the village to seek refuge in neighbouring areas and make their way back to the village at daybreak.

Mntambo said the deadly conflict began when mining giant Richards Bay Minerals (RBM) owned by Rio Tinto, released a R74.5 million package after the Mbuyazi traditional council representing the community successfully claimed for land damage compensation.

“The success of the claim spelt disaster for the indigenous community. The tribal council who were given a mandate by RBM to verify the authenticity of the people who were due to benefit in the pay-out did shoddy work. As residents we had called for a transparent verification process, but this was not the case. The people conducting the verification removed half of the intended beneficiaries. They replaced them with their friends and relatives who are not original owners of the land. They do not even reside in the village,” says Mntambo.

Mntambo is one of the community members who was fraudulently removed from the list of beneficiaries. He said his views and his decision to stand for what was right made him ‘public enemy number one’ turning him into a nomad in the land of his birth.

“My younger brother was killed while asleep in one of our rondavels and our homestead was set alight. He was alone in the house and he was burnt to death beyond recognition. After this incident my family fled the area,” says Mntambo.

Somehow Mntambo believes that the attackers mistook his brother for him. He now lives on the run to stay a step ahead of assassins. Another community activist, Boy Mthembu said part of the problem is the absence of a permanent inkosi.

“All these years, we’ve been having people who are appointed on interim basis. These people do not have the interests of the community at heart. Instead they divide and victimise the community,” said Mthembu.

At first, Mthembu is uncomfortable discussing the pay out and the alleged side lining of some of the community members.

“You must understand that this is a sensitive topic because it involves people’s lives. For us leading from the front, we are literally putting our bodies on the line. The current interim traditional council is misusing the power bestowed on them. They saw the pay out as an opportunity to amass wealth at the expense of the poor,” he said.

He confirmed that the interim tribal council had removed some villagers from the beneficiaries list which has led to growing resentment from the community. He said stakes were high with those calling for transparency in the verification process threatened and some dealt with through the barrel of a gun.

This, Mthembu said, prompted angry reaction from the KwaMbonambi community who in January submitted a memorandum of  to the provincial Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs.

They were demanding among other things the removal of Martin Mbuyazi, the administrator of the Mbuyazi chieftaincy. Mbuyazi who was appointed two years ago by former KZN Premier Willies Mchunu is accused by the villagers of being the central figure in their woes. They accused him of unleashing a reign of terror on those opposed to his rule and swindling funds.

KwaMbonambi Land Damage Committee chairperson, Wandile Ndlela said the situation has reached boiling point.

“The community’s anger has spiralled out of control and has spilled over to RBM headquarters. They want the company to intervene and restart the process of verification. Fictitious beneficiaries and political friends were awarded community money. People are angry because they have not received what is due to them. A number of people were also removed from the list and replaced with names of people who are not citizens of KwaMbonambi,” Ndlela said.

Ndlela said the rivalry between the two factions who are contesting the chieftaincy has also exacerbated their problems. At the heart of the hostile relations is the divisive contest for leadership succession of the Mbuyazi tribal authority.

In 2006, Sibusiso Zwelibhekile Mbuyazi ascended the Mbuyazi throne after the death of his father Inkosi Mtholeni Mbonambi. Inkosi Mtholeni had died without a will and this resulted in the emergence of many self-proclaimed heirs to the throne.

Sibusiso’s half-brother contested his brother’s ascendency and was installed as inkosi in March 2010. He too did not last in the seat after a protracted legal wrangle. In 2012, Hloniphile Mbonambi, the wife of the late chief Mtholeni Mbuyazi was appointed to handle administrative affairs of the chieftaincy until a permanent inkosi was appointed. In the same year, Sibusiso passed away which led to her widow Sithembile Mkhize entering the leadership fray.

RBM said in a statement this week that the violence which has spilled over to its operations and had therefore to temporarily shutdown operations.

“The safety of our people is Rio Tinto’s key priority and we have taken decisive action to stop operations to reduce the risk of serious harm to our team members. We are in discussions with the local communities, regional and national governments, and the police in order to find a way to address the safety and security issues,” said chief executive officer, Bold Baatar. The closure was in the aftermath of the shooting and wounding of a worker near the company’s premises. – Mukurukuru Media

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