KwaZulu-Natal police have arrested a tender kingpin in what has been hailed as a major breakthrough in the quest to end killings in the Empembeni area near Richards Bay.
The area has been gripped by fear since hitmen started targeting community activists in July for asking too many questions about a proposed oil project.
Community members had also refused to leave their homes. Their opposition to relocation stemmed from previous experiences when families were moved and compensated although their situation, they said, ended up being worse than before.
Only sketchy details about the oil project were announced at a community meeting in 2017 and no further developments have taken place.
However, hitmen had allegedly been gunning down the leaders of the protest against the project.
The mineral resources department said mining licences were issued before 2017 to Richards Bay Minerals (RBM) and Tronox to produce titanium and zirconium. RBM was recently given a new licence for its Zulti South expansion project, which is not oil related.
Residents had not been given further information about the oil project since it was announced in 2017.
And they did not know why activists had been killed. Since a planned march was organised to protest against the oil project, eight men had been killed. Many others were in hiding. Some of the men were tracked down to their hideouts and shot.
KwaZulu-Natal police said they did not know what had led to the killings.
Police spokesperson Colonel Thembeka Mbhele hailed the arrest of Justice Ngwane (36) last Sunday as a breakthrough. He appeared in court on Monday and will return to court on March 6 for a bail application.
Mbhele said Ngwane was the second suspect to be arrested. The arrest is in connection with the murder of Gundane Dube (38), who was shot on February 4. “Dube was seated in his vehicle at Mpembeni Reserve when he was attacked by unknown people who opened fire and fatally wounded him. He sustained multiple gunshot wounds,” Mbhele said.
When word got around that police were working to find the killers, Tholithemba Makhaya (32) handed himself over to the police on February 9.
KwaZulu-Natal National Prosecuting Authority spokesperson Natasha Ramkisson also said that no further details could be provided regarding Ngwane’s arrest because the matter was still under investigation.
Both Ngwane and Makhaya will appear at Esikhaleni Magistrate’s Court on March 6 for bail application.
Ngwane is a businessman who was always under the watch of not less than five bodyguards.
Since his arrest, City Press has learnt that community members have approached the local traditional leader, Inkosi Mfanazonke Dube, to ensure that Ngwane’s tenders at RBM were stopped.
Dube could not be reached for comment.
RBM spokesperson, Zanele Zungu, said: “Commercial arrangements between RBM and its suppliers are confidential and it would be inappropriate for us to comment on a legal matter.”
Zungu said that RBM did not know anything about the oil project.
“In the area mentioned above, Zulti South project has been in planning since 2003 and we have been very transparent, working with the community and the traditional chiefs throughout that period,” she said.