KwaZulu-Natal police have testified that the high number of murders at the infamous Glebelands Hostel were not politically motivated.
The senior police officers were giving evidence at the Moerane Commission of Inquiry on Monday, detailing progress police had made in investigating killings, and responding to numerous claims of poor police work.
Brigadier Tebogo Mbhele, the provincial head of organised crime in KZN and the head of the task team investigating Glebelands murders and attempted murders, said he personally read up on cases.
"Since I took over investigating cases [at] Glebelands, I have perused a lot of cases where we obtained statements. There is nothing linking those murder cases to politics. The murders are pure criminality, nothing else. The people who have been arrested are ordinary criminals."
Another senior KZN official, Brigadier Bongani Maqashalala, said witness statements posed a serious problem in their attempts to resolve political killings.
"We have got a common problem, where witnesses submit statements and then turn against what they said in these statements."
Maqashalala said witnesses even abandoned trials or died before being brought to court.
"Some are killed, some have health problems and die. There are many reasons."
He added: "Some witnesses are able to give information to guide the police, but do not want [to go on the record]. They are reluctant, and do not want their information recorded."
During the commission's afternoon session, Major General Dumezweni Chiliza - a former uMlazi cluster commander - defended police when he testified about the death of Glebelands Hostel resident Sipho Ndovela.
Ndovela was murdered in broad daylight, less than five metres from the uMlazi Magistrate's Court in May 2015.
He was in court for a case that was postponed indefinitely. He was a key witness in a separate incident, the murder of his friend Fikile Siyephu.
Ndovela's police detail left him at court, but did not stay with him - a fact that has been criticised significantly at the commission.
Tasked with transport only
Commissioner chairperson Marumo Moerane grilled Chiliza on why police did not remain with Ndovela throughout his visit to court. Chiliza was evasive and continually said that officers were only tasked with transporting him from Glebelands Hostel to court, and back.
"He went outside court for some reason. He was not meant to do this. The officers could not do anything about him going outside. Police were only tasked with transporting him from Glebelands to court and back."
Moerane insisted that police should have guarded him throughout his court appearance, but Chiliza responded that police were not obliged to do so.
"When dealing with SAPS, there is no standard procedure for transporting witnesses. There is no standard operational procedure in this organisation."
KwaZulu-Natal's acting provincial police commissioner Major General Bheki Langa was not present for the final day of police testimony on Monday.
Langa is apparently on "official police business" in Mozambique.
Langa was meant to testify at a previous sitting, but left early due to "other commitments". Moerane informed him that a separate day would be reserved for his testimony.
Moerane was visibly displeased that Langa was not present.
Evidence leaders are expected to give closing statements by Wednesday.