We need to talk about Glebelands Hostel

Some things are not comfortable to talk about — and nor should they be. Glebelands Hostel, a violence-riddled facility in Umlazi (in the south of Durban) is one of those things. It’s not comfortable to talk about the poverty, high levels of unemployment, lack of basic services and, yes, the violence. But we need to talk about Glebelands Hostel.

On Saturday night, about about 9pm, ANC councillor Zodwa Sibiya was gunned down at her room in Block L within the hostel precinct. Her status as an elected official in the Durban-based eThekwini Municipality would, in and of itself, warrant attention from news media. But Glebelands Hostel is such as hotbed of violence that — as tragic as Sibiya’s killing is — it is not unique.

Sixty-two. Let that number set in for a moment. 62. That’s how many people have been murdered at Glebelands…in just 24 months.

This is something we need to talk about, and we need to talk about it now.

What makes Glebelands difficult to talk about is just how complicated it is. But that doesn’t justify us not having the difficult/complicated conversation. Rather, this very complication should motive us to talk about it; to try get to the bottom of the rottenness that is Glebelands. The 62 deaths — and countless assassination attempts, along with allegations of police torture (which are regularly denied) and calls this weekend for the United Nations to investigate the killings and the deplorable conditions in the hostel precinct — are reason enough to delve into the problems there. Seven people have been killed this year alone…and more deaths are likely to follow.

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Glebelands Hostel, south of Durban, the scene of 62 murders since April 2014. PICTURE: Dasen Thathia/eNCA (via Twitter)

What makes Glebelands so complex is that the violence here in unlike violence at any other Durban hostel. Oh, make no mistake, Glebelands is not the only violent hostel in the region — in fact, the KwaMashu hostel, in the north of the city, is probably more violent. Seven people were killed in six days at this hostel, but the reasons are pretty straightforward: political in-fighting and high levels of general criminality. Glebelands is different.

When you try find out what’s going wrong, one thing always comes up: the illegal rental of bed space.

Essentially, the allegation goes, a violent group of residents from one of the hostel blacks have taken control of other hostel blocks and are forcing those residents to pay additional rental on top of what they pay to the municipality. The allegation continues that, should they refuse, the “warlords” will kick the resident out, at best, or, worse, assault or threaten to kill them — and at the worst, kill them. This mafia-sounding theory doesn’t sound like it makes much sense on the surface. But you need to realise how lucrative the control of beds can be. As many as 22 000 people live in the hostel complex, many of them migrants from the Eastern Cape (this is important, and we’ll come to it in a bit). Assume you have control of just 10% of these beds. That’s 2200 beds. Assume R100 a month (and that’s conservative). That’s R220 000 a month in illegal rental income. The theory now begins to sound less fanciful.

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Residents of Glebelands Hostel at a “crisis press conference” on Sunday, April 17 2016. Fearing for their safety, they asked for their identities to be concealed. PICTURE: Matthew Savides

There’s much more to Glebelands and I’ll come back to this topic over the next few months. But I want you to, please, ask questions (and Google the hostel) to find out what’s going on here. It’s too big an issue for us to ignore.

In the meantime, here are some stories myself and some colleagues have written over the last few months:

Glebelands is not easy to talk about. But we really should.

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