As long as there are hostels, evil has a home
KwaMashu's hostel for men has always been a scary place. As children, we used to dread going there.
But our lower primary school teachers would insist that we spend a portion of our weekends there to collectbones which the school sold for some purpose we never really understood.
Hostel men, our teachers would often tell us, loved their red meat, so none of us had any reason to arrive at school empty-handed after a weekend of feasting by the migrant labourers.
If you arrived at school on a Monday morning without a bag full of bones, you were inviting vicious caning by the principal or any of her subordinates.
Fearing a beating, we would prowl the terrifying and filthy hostel alleys searching for bones.
At almost every block, there would be a group of migrant workers - some as old as our grandfathers - who would hurl insults at us for allegedly being of lesser stock just because our parents were city slickers.
Long before what commentators in the 1980s labelled as "black-on-black" violence, the hostel had become synonymous with faction fights and brutal killings.
By the time Nelson Mandela walked out of the then Victor Verster prison on February 11 1990, very few township dwellers would venture into the area.
Like many other all-male hostels in what was then Natal and many parts of the then Transvaal, the KwaMashu residence was a hotbed of violent political conflict.
Even though the running battles between the ANC and the Inkatha Freedom Party were resolved when a new democratic order was established in 1994, this hostel and a number of others - notably Umlazi township's T-section (also known as 17) - have remained volatile.
When KwaMashu overtook Cape Town's Nyanga township as South Africa's murder capital in 2009, police statistics revealed that most of the killings took place at the hostel.
Around the same period, Umlazi's T-section was hogging the headlines for all the wrong reasons after a group of local residents began to brutally attack women for wearing pants in public.
Since then, there have been killings in these areas linked to faction fights, taxi turf wars and political rivalry as well as plain criminal activity.
What all of this tells us is that the problem in KwaMashu and similar hostels is much deeper than mere political differences between the IFP and the breakaway group , the National Freedom Party.
The killing of IFP member Siya Dlamini in front of media cameras - allegedly by an NFP leader, Mzonjani Zulu - has once again shone the spotlight on the hostels in a dramatic fashion.
Dlamini was the third IFP member to be killed in the conflict between the two political parties at the hostel.
Over a week ago, councillor Themba Xulu was found dead near a tea plantation after being abducted from his home by unknown men.
Celiwe Shezi, another IFP member, was discovered dead near the hostel. She had been shot with a single bullet.
While an urgent meeting between IFP leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi and NFP leader Zanele Magwaza-Msibi would go a long way in easing tensions between the supporters of the two parties, it is high time the security forces took drastic measures to tackle the fundamental root causes of violence in this and many other hostels.
There are just too many dangerous weapons at the KwaMashu and Umlazi hostels.
Residents in the two townships have long been complaining about these hostels becoming hubs for criminal activities.
Many of the vehicle hijackings and house break-ins are planned from these hostels, township residents say.
As veteran violence monitor Mary de Haas pointed out to this newspaper yesterday, many of the weapons that were used during the faction fights and political violence of the 1980s and 1990s were never accounted for.
There have been many efforts in the past to encourage citizens to hand over their illegal weapons to the police without facing prosecution. Clearly those efforts failed.
Unless the country's security forces move into these hostels and cleanse them of weapons, the killings will continue unabated.
It cannot be acceptable that, 18 years into democracy, these hostels remain the lawless and deadly places they came to be known as during apartheid.