On Monday December 6, 2021, a 39-year old Isiah Fisherman Ngwenya of Mkhitsini in the Shiselweni region was arrested and charged under the Arms and Ammunition Act no 24/1964 for allegedly shooting and killing Indvuna Mbongeleni Vilakati. Vilakati had been working with the area’s Chief, Mfukwama Mndzebele, who himself is also incarcerated for allegedly killing his nephew, Mondli Mndzebele, of the same community.

After the demise of Mdzebele, the Chief was arrested while his Indvuna, Vilakati, fled to live in the mountains in fear of being killed by angry residents who have always accused him of working closely with the Chief in the perpetual exploitation of people.

Because the people were angry at the Chief for killing Mndzebele this made Vilakati to fear for his life  because he knew had been the chief's right hand man and trusted ally through and through.  It was understandable for Vilakati to flee and live in the mountains, especially after the royal kraal was burnt down by the residents as emotions and tampers got highly charged in the community. 

It wasn't long before Vilakati decided to flee to the mountains. His ‘exile’ from his community was cut short when threats to burn his homestead reached his ears, only to be shot dead shortly upon arrival from the mountains. 

Ngwenya was the first suspect because the police recalled an incident where he had survived gunshots allegedly from Vilakati but the latter was not arrested because Ngwenya bizarrely refused to implicate anyone claiming on that fateful day he was drunk and couldn’t see nor recall anything. That was earlier this year. 

However, the police alleged that this might be a revenge shooting hence Ngwenya was a prime suspect. When the police arrived at his home last week he was again drunk and was taken in for questioning. A used cartridge and live rounds were found at his home at the time of arrest.

“The murder of Vilakati emanates from an earlier dispute between the two and has nothing to do with the current unrest,” says a source from the Crime Intelligence Unit, *Simon Manana. He further mentioned that there was no gun found when Ngwenya’s home raided but on the basis of the previous dispute and the discovery of a cartridge, Ngwenya was a person of interest in the murder. 

 Continued Manana: “what remains ironical is that a gun was found in a place we had searched the previous day and this raised suspicion that someone was trying to play tricks with us. The gun, bullets and the cartridge have since been taken for forensic purposes to ascertain if it is the one that was used.”

But why the killing of people in the area? Why is it that illegal arms are circulating in this manner within Mkhitsini? To understand the origins of the  violent conflict one has to consider the cultivating of and booming dagga trade. Another source adds that police generally fear doing dagga raids in the area because the citizens are considered armed and very dangerous. 

Situated between Hlathikhulu and Nhlangano, Mkhitsini is considered one of the well armed communities in the country. It is believed that almost every homestead has a gun illegally obtained from the black market in South Africa. They are obtained from South Africa because of its close proximity to the community and has huge appetite for the illicit dagga trade. This therefore makes the dagga trade very lucrative and, to some extent, justifies the uncontrolled proliferation of arms. The bushy areas along the banks of Mkhondvo river are considered very strategic and fertile for the trade too. 

Residents claim that days before his death, the Indvuna had called the police to inform them about the arson attacks at his home but Hlathikhulu police were frank enough to tell him they could not come to the area and asked him to bring pictures to the police station for statement recording.

Also adding fuel to the fire is the fact that there is only one way into Mkhitsini and this makes it hard for police to visit the area given the number of weapons they know to be in possession of the residents there.

A middle-aged woman who was found along cattle tracks at Mkhitsini told The Bridge that once an unknown car visits the area, the residents respond with whistles and quickly assembly in the forests with their guns, ready to shoot. 

They always think it’s a police car and are always ready to fight it,” she says. According to her, that is one reason the people at Mkhitsini were violent against one another. Some are able to commit a crime and jump the fence to live in South Africa for some time and come back without fearing the police, she says. 

“The major source of living there is sale of dagga and the fights you see are over dagga fields and nothing else,” she continued.

The Bridge has learnt that the Chief allegedly killed his nephew, Mondli Mndzebele, over a family piece of land belonging to his brother’s children. Mondli was the most vocal and against the seizure of his family’s piece of land by the chief.

It turns out that the Chief is used to doing that with many residents of the area – he would identify a piece of land and instruct the Indvuna to take it back. This resulted in anger among the people and that is why they supported Mondli against the Chief over in the dispute over the land.

“The people here have always been angry against the Chief and his Indvuna because not only were they taking our land, they used to come with police to destroy our dagga fields. This must be seen as a rejection of the chief and his indvuna’s rule. We do not want Chief Mfukwama here,” said a source.

The conflict is about a chief against the whole community and this explains why after burning down about seven of his homesteads, the people had braai as a way of celebrating victory against him. Only one homestead belonging to one of his sons was spared because the son is believed to be living within and among the people.

As it stands, the people at Mkhitsini are celebrating because both Indvuna and the Chief are not there; the chief is arrested, his homesteads burnt down and the Indvuna is dead. But, is the conflict over? Time will tell.

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