Armed and organised syndicates are muscling in on Durban’s funeral industry to exclude white and Indian-owned businesses from operating in KZN townships and rural areas.
While a call to “ban” white and Indian undertakers from operating in townships and rural areas around Durban was always dead in the water, it points to a worrying Mafioso trend developing in the East Coast city.
Increasingly, loosely formed organised-crime syndicates acting under the guise of “business forums”, “associations” or “federations” are disrupting industries, sometimes at gunpoint, and demanding their slice of the pie. These radical groups appear to have the ear of both the eThekwini municipality and the KZN government.
In January the National Funeral Practitioners Association of South Africa (Nafupa) announced the ban, as of 1 February, warning that if any Indian or white undertakers continued to host funerals, or drive, or bury, corpses in the townships, they would be met with violence.
|Nafupa president Muzi Hlengwa (left) and sevretary general Nkosentsha Shezi|
Speaking on SABC Morning Live in January, the association’s secretary- general Nkosentsha Shezi alleged that there was a conspiracy against black funeral practitioners, preventing them from getting work from the Road Accident Fund which was a regular supplier of dead people for burial.
“Big white business and Indian companies have colluded with our own government to stop us from doing work,” he claimed. “The only way Indian or white-owned businesses should be allowed to work in townships is if they moved there and sent their children to the “overcrowded schools with broken windows”.
Doves Funeral Services and Avbob, two of the largest undertakers in South Africa, responded by rushing to the High Court in Durban to obtain interdicts against the association’s threats of violence. Provincial minister for Economic Development and a provincial ANC leader, Sihle Zikalala, intervened, but the brewing race war over the right to put a body six feet under was only averted when a back-room deal was struck with Doves.
Doves is in fact a fully-fledged black-owned funeral company.
On 4 February Nafupa’s president Muzi Hlengwa announced that Doves would help them secure an insurance licence, assist by constructing facilities they could use with the transfer of skills, and help them access work via the Road Accident Fund (RAF).
Nafupa said it had also met officials from Home Affairs and the RAF and called for them to “speed up processes we agreed on”. It said the [apartheid] ideal of reserving previously classified black areas for black business only, could be achieved peacefully.
What the association failed to mention is that their office is based in Durban’s lower Berea just outside the CBD and not an apartheid-era “black area” like the townships of Umlazi or KwaMashu which they claim to represent. Their business neighbours are Doves and Avbob.
And like any mafia they had no intention of stopping their extortive demands. In February they continued to harass Avbob until it was forced back to the High Court to interdict the association and Hlengwa for being in violation of the January order.
Judge Moodley postponed the matter to 6 March telling Hlengwa to provide reasons why he shouldn’t go to jail.
On 4 March Hlengwa told a press briefing that Avbob was “cashing in on black people” and said: “Everyone is making money off black people. Avbob has 5.5 million lives they insure and 80% are black people. That equates to 4.4m blacks who have policies or who are covered by them‚ and they are a white company. We must make it a black company. They must hand over the company to us. We want our people; the black people are ours. We vow to take Avbob and make it ours‚ whether they put us in jail or not‚ this will happen‚” he said.
Two days later, after all his fighting talk, Hlengwa sent his wife to a man’s battle. She told Judge Nkosi that her hubby was sick. Both court orders were confirmed as well as a contempt-of-court and a costs order that were awarded in Avbob’s favour.
Avbob asked the court to suspend the imprisonment of Hlengwa for a further six months on condition that he or his association did not threaten the company again.
Avbob spokesman Marius du Plessis said in a statement the company had “always been willing to engage”.
“Their demands were completely unrealistic and irrational. NafupaSA demanded among other things that Avbob pay them 30% of Avbob’s annual profits to shut down their campaign, and to set up fully functional funeral parlours for Nafupa SA.
“We will not allow the benefits due to our members (Avbob is in fact a mutual assurance association; the largest in Africa) to be plundered by violent minorities with narrow agendas of personal enrichment.”
Avbob has a level 2 BBBEE rating, the second-highest ranking. In 2017 it was accredited as a “Top Employer” by the Top Employer Institute, a global certifier of employee conditions which has also accredited Anglo American Platinum, Airports Company SA, Clicks, and the law firm ENSAfrica.
Avbob’s 2017 annual report stated that its income rose 16% to R3.1 billion and the number of funerals conducted grew for the fifth year running. The company says that it has been selling into the “black” market since 1946.
The members of its board of directors are: Frik Rademan (CEO); PA Delport (chairman); Zee Cele; MPP Nyama; NA Cowie; HA Lambrechts; Deno Pillay; GL Marx; and Tracey Cooper. The company insures 5.5 million people and has more than 6,000 employees.
Zuma and Nafupa scratch each other’s backs
Like a murder of crows, birds of a feather flock together.
On 8 March Nafupa held a dinner in honour of former president Jacob Zuma, where they honoured him with an “Achievement Award” for his stance on Radical Economic Transformation.
Among the guests were the pariahs of South Africa, including the mafia-styled Delangokubona SA Business Forum, and Zuma defenders, the Unemployed People’s Trust and Black First Land First (BLF).
At the event, Zuma was reported to have blamed “powerful” whites for his removal.
Also involved in the dinner was VBS Mutual Bank – which was placed under curatorship three days later by the South African Reserve Bank over serious liquidity issues.
The bank and the association have a long-standing banking partnership. VBS infamously loaned Zuma R7.8m to pay for the non-security related upgrades to his Nkandla home.
Zuma also supported Nafupa’s claim saying: “Indian must bury an Indian, white must bury a white and African must bury an African”.
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