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There is barely a single tap with running water, let alone a structured toilet for people living in Tyeni village in Port St Johns, where three people were shot dead and 18 homesteads set alight on September 4.

If you need to use a toilet, one has to hike up the hills into the forest. For water, residents drink from the Umzimvubu River which is also a source of water for animals. There are no government-built structures like a clinic or a police station, not even a gravel road for cars to drive on. Those who travel to the area have to park their cars at nearby villages and walk the rest of the way through the forest or down the hills, according to resident Mzuliswa Noqekem.

This is making it difficult for villagers who need a health facility or to report any wrongdoing to the polic. Pregnant women have to stay in villages close to the road when their pregnancy is near due. Also very challenging is when the bodies of deceased people have to be transported to a hearse waiting on the road.

This past weekend, two of the three people shot dead in the September violence – Khazalakhe Noqekem and Sigcina Zatyobana – were laid to rest in a forest in the village. The third victim, Nomthwangona Mbantswa, will be buried on Wednesday. The three were killed in what has been rumoured to be factional battles over stock theft and the building of a dam that is expected to provide water relief to these communities. 

Police have visited the areas to investigate the allegations of faction fighting between groups from the Gangata, Siphusiphu, Ziphondo, Maqhinebeni and Mhlotsheni areas and the Tyeni community. Tyeni homes still stand deserted while their owners fear for their safety. Police are investigating cases of murder and attempted murder and suspects are yet to be arrested.

Thembela Noqekem, in green attire, is surrounded by mourners during the funeral of her husband, Khazalakhe.

When Elitsha visited Tyeni village this past weekend, which is about 30km away from the main road, we found the burnt houses still unoccupied and the affected residents still in hiding.

Community leaders say without any support, the houses will remain as they are as the homeowners have no means to rebuild. “Runnning water, toilets, and a road is one of their main concerns, even though a police station and a health facility was needed,” said Mzuliswa Noqekem, a brother to one of the deceased. 

Community leader, Siyabonga Zatyobana, whose uncle was one of the deceased, said many people, especially youngsters, were giving up on life because there is no hope. He said girl children were dropping out of school and getting married at a young age. “There is potential from young people but they drop out of school because there are no supporting structures and their families need them for household chores. It’s very sad to see girl children as young as 15 years getting married; here it has become a norm.

“There has been so much teenage pregnancy. There are no sports facilities whatsoever,” he said. Zatyobana said villagers feel that politicians have turned a blind eye to their needs, stripping the beautiful village of its dignity. “These villages could be a good tourist attraction but with the current underdevelopment, that is a pipedream,” Zatyobana said.

Children from these villages, especially Tyeni, have not been attending school since September 4, when the fighting started, and barely go outside fearing they might be attacked. Children as young as three years old, have been hiding in a nearby forest for safety. The situation remains tense with leaders from the five communities refusing to engage each other.

Suspects in these cases are still at large, police say. Efforts by the Tyeni community leaders to find peace have fallen on deaf ears.

Some of the houses that were set alight in Port St Johns 

Noqekem, whose brother was laid to rest this weekend, said many of the complainants in the cases were reluctant to cooperate with the police for fear of their lives, believing that once they come out their safety will be compromised. Noqekem said there has been some efforts to engage other villages but nothing positive resulted and they were threatened with further violence.

“Children cannot go to school. We are still in hiding. We tried to reach out but it seems those people still want to attack us. There is no peace. This is not about stock theft but a dam that is to be built for water. We are told we should relocate to make way for the dam; when we refuse we were attacked,” he said.

A mother, Zamile Bhaca, said her four children and that of other families in Tyeni village, cannot go to school. “They are at risk. If they can’t get to us, they will harm the children,” she said. A community leader from Gangatha village, one of the alleged instigators of the attacks, Zibonele Tom, disputes his village was not willing to engage. “We’ve been engaging with them for years but nothing come out of those meetings Affected parties need to talk. We refute that we are the ones who went there and killed people,” said Tom.

The area’s chief, Butho Yonke, said law enforcement agencies should be involved in these meetings. Police spokesperson, Colonel Priscilla Naidu appealed to the villagers to work with police and to provide any information that can lead to the arrest of the culprits. 

“Information may be anonymously provided,” she said.