Black smoke thickened in the sky as 18 homesteads were set alight at Tyeni village in Port St Johns on Saturday. Three people were gunned down, casualties it is believed of a factional battle. Two died and one is recovering in hospital.
Police are investigating allegations that five villages – Gangata, Siphusiphu, Ziphondo, Maqhinebeni and Mhlotsheni – joined together in an attack on the community of Tyeni village. Women and children sought refuge in a nearby forest or with relatives in other villages and towns.
Police said the motive for the attacks was not clear but the villagers living in Tyeni and nearby believe the attacks were because leaders in Tyeni village are perceived to be keeping job opportunities in development projects for their own people.
Police spokesperson, Kaya Matola-Mvanyashe said detectives were on the hunt for suspects involved in the brutal murders and attempted murder. Police visited the areas to investigate the allegation of “faction fighting” between villages. “The nearby forest where the incident took place was searched and two bodies were found [and] a third body was later discovered,” said Matola-Mvanyashe.
A Tyeni resident said his house, where he lived with his two children and wife, was burned to the ground. He said a group of men came in the early hours of Saturday morning and started assaulting him, shooting and burning houses.
“The situation is tense. We are all scared. The other villages are accusing us of only involving people from our village when it comes to development in the area. This battle has been ongoing for years, almost a decade now. Innocent people have been affected. They [attackers] don’t care if you are involved in politics or not. They are cruel because there are people who have nothing to do with development in this area,” said the resident, who asked not to provide his name for safety reasons.
He said he has abandoned the village because he is afraid. “Tyeni village is now like a ghost town. It’s not safe to go there. Yes, nothing will happen now because law enforcement is around, but obvious as soon as everything is calm they will come back for more blood,” he said.