Tshepo Hlambelo, a former Glebelands resident who claimed he was tortured by POP Unit members of the SAPS in 2014 after he was violently evicted from his hostel room by thugs and hitmen, eventually fled to his home in the rural areas near Bizana after he continued receiving death threats. He went missing on 14 Dec 2017.
Bongile Tshepo Hlambelo (also known as Tshepo Jali) was among hundreds of Glebelands residents who fled to the Eastern Cape to escape the killings. He was also tortured and brutally beaten by police during a 2014 hostel raid. On his relocation, Hlambelo became actively involved in the ANC’s faction-ridden Bizana branch, which had links to the volatile local taxi industry.
When the local Border Alliance Taxi Association (BATA) chairman, Maquthu Jali was murdered in October last year, Hlambelo – a relative of Jali’s – was fingered for the hit. Friends and family, however, maintain his innocence, claiming instead that Hlambelo knew something about Jali’s murder that could have led to him becoming a target. Hlambelo has since disappeared and the police do not appear keen to investigate.
After Jali was murdered, Hlambelo was warned that hitmen were looking for him. According to Glebelands friends with whom he had stayed in contact, Hlambelo liked to pose as a tough guy and had cultivated the ‘inkabi’ image. Hitmen can gain a certain status within their communities for their notoriety and relative economic superiority. But Hlambelo apparently had neither wealth nor infamy and his friends suggested he had simply been in the wrong place at the wrong time and probably seen too much.
Hlambelo fled Bizana to stay with his brother Bayanda in another town. On 13 December, the day before his disappearance, Hlambelo received a call from a fellow ANC branch member who apparently offered him a security job at the ANC’s 54th elective conference held last year at Nasrec on 18 December.
Bayanda, who knew the caller, said: “They were both members of the same branch but from different factions. They argued about many things.” The branch member was also a BATA taxi owner who allegedly had close ties to the recently slain Jali.
Although aware of the risks of returning to Bizana, Hlambelo, who had been unemployed for more than 2 years, was apparently offered R40,000 for the Nasrec work, including transport to Gauteng. This alone should have raised red flags as Hlambelo had no formal security training.
Nevertheless, Hlambelo left for Bizana on 13 December. Bayanda – worried about his brother’s safety – tried to call him later, but his phone was on voicemail. Bayanda then contacted the branch member whom Hlambelo was to have met. But the branch member claimed Hlambelo had told him he was going to meet people at a nearby Spar after he received a phone call and had not seen him since. Other attempts to locate Hlambelo also proved fruitless.
Bayanda reported his brother missing at the Bizana Police Station. He was given an inquiry number, but noted the police seemed strangely reluctant to investigate.
Bayanda complained: “I feel they are not taking this seriously. I gave them the contact number of the person who called my brother but they haven’t questioned him.”
A month later, after getting nowhere, Bayanda escalated the matter to the eastern Cape Provincial Commissioner. In March he reported: “I wrote an email to the Province. They responded saying that they have referred the matter to the Cluster, but Cluster took it back to Bizana. Now there’s no direction again. And I don’t trust them at Bizana.”
Bayanda feels the police are too close to local taxi interests and the Bizana ANC branch’s interlinked factional conflict. It is also possible that the person who took Hlambelo to Bizana may have links to Glebelands where the intersectional activities of taxi-related and politically-connected hitmen, within an accountability vacuum, have created a perfect storm of violence that has killed over 100 people across KZN and the Eastern Cape.
Because of these overlapping connections and the Eastern Cape SAPS’ apparent reluctance to investigate, on 16 April an appeal was made to the National Police Commissioner, General Khehla Sithole, to authorise the transfer of the docket to the KZN Provincial Organised Crime Unit/Glebelands Task Team. Two weeks later, another request was made after there was no response from the National Commissioner.
Bayanda has since reported: “There are rumours that 3 of the taxi owners took Tshepo and drugged him because they thought that he knew the hitmen who killed the chairman. Those taxi owners are allegedly the ones responsible for killing the chairman.”
Glebelands sources with knowledge of the matter have made similar allegations. After the assassination of ANC branch leader, Sifiso Cele at Margate on 7 May, Police Minister Bheki Cele said, “Law enforcement agencies need to pull their socks up. If you are given the job and the job is not done, something will have to happen.”
Minister Cele was copied on the email sent to General Khehle Sithole, requesting the transfer of Hlambelo’s case to the special task team. The Hlambelo family, are still hoping “something will have to happen.”
Meanwhile, in the absence of police investigation, desperate with worry and with few options left to find Hlambelo, Bayanda is hoping media exposure may help him uncover the truth.
“This is stressing me day and night. I must try everything to find my brother,” he said.
Anyone with information regarding the disappearance of Bongile Tshepo Hlambelo is requested to contact Bayanda Hlambelo on 073 5708 226 or firstname.lastname@example.org.