Just a decade ago, political violence was still alive in KwaZulu-Natal. Now ANC leaders are claiming there are sinister elements within the organisation that could cause the nightmare's resurgence in the province. But is this a real threat or campaign expediency? By RANJENI MUNUSAMY.
KwaZulu-Natal councillor Wandile Mkhize’s murder last week was senseless and brought to a violent end a bright star in the ANC. A text message announcing his death caused shock waves as it passed around ANC circles last weekend. Mkhize had returned from the ANC policy conference in Midrand to his home in Manaba near Margate, on the KZN south coast, when he and fellow ANC member Nhlankanipho Ntshangase were shot in a drive-by shooting.
The murder has all the hallmarks of a political hit but the police investigation has not yet produced any firm evidence of what was behind his slaying. Last year, Mkhize unsuccessfully contested the post of ANC Youth League secretary-general against Sindiso Magaqa, who has since been suspended from the league for a year.
Mkhize was an ardent supporter of President Jacob Zuma, particularly during the time of the president’s criminal trials. He always remained in close contact with Zuma.
Mkhize had apparently been receiving death threats from unknown people for reasons yet to be established. An extended and heartfelt SMS Mkhize sent to sports minister Fikile Mbalula just before he was shot adds to the cryptic circumstances around his murder.
Part of the message read: “I will not speak for many. But my observation stems from the contradictions and how we handled things in the YL when u comrades left.”
It went on: “The stories and lies we fed as members to some of u in leadership further served to deepen the contradiction… The more time we spend against each other the more we put our country in crisis. Am worried dat if we collectively don’t rise above what divide us, Mangaung will be worse than Polokwane and our movement and country will be at great risk.”
“Mtchana I can (do) whatever I can to either bring JZ on board, or some senior leaders of KZN. Our movement lost the likes of (Jabu) Moloketi (sic) any many brains after Polokwane, we can’t afford to lose or sideline anyone anymore. We need u all,” the message concluded.
On Sunday, political heavyweights including Zuma, Mbalula, KZN premier Zweli Mkhize and police minister Nathi Mthethwa attended Mkhize’s funeral, where emotions ran high as speakers reminded mourners of his passion and dedication to the ANC.
Either intentionally or incidentally, political fires were stoked.
Speaking during the funeral service, Zuma warned ANC members to be vigilant of “brutal assassinations” of party leaders which, he said, are an attempt to divide and destabilise the organisation.
“As the ANC, we are always concerned when we lose members, regardless of their position in the organisation, but we are even more concerned when these deaths are targeted at ANC leaders,” The Times quoted Zuma.
He said the fact that Mkhize was the third ANC leader to be killed in a similar style – shot dead as they arrived home – in KZN, was of grave concern. ANC eThekwini region secretary, Sbu Sibiya, and ANC councillor Wiseman Mshibe were killed in the same way last year.
KwaZulu-Natal was notorious for political violence for decades, with brutal battles between ANC and IFP supporters that claimed thousands of lives. While most of the country stabilised after the 1994 democratic breakthrough, political violence raged in KZN in the mid-90s and there were still tensions and political violence hotspots in some parts of the province during the 1999 and 2004 elections.
Though the province has since been purged of political violence, the memory of years of political strife still haunts many KZN townships, with broken families and visible scars serving as a constant reminder of a violent past.
While he was provincial leader of the ANC, Zuma was central in the process to secure a peace deal with the IFP and quell the flames of violence in KZN. It was a process that required delicate footwork on Zuma’s part because the negotiations were derailed several times. With the commitment of some IFP leaders who fought against warlords in that party to keep the peace process on track, a deal was eventually sealed and the province set off on a journey towards stability and progress.
Over the years since then, there have been sporadic threats and warnings that there could be a resurgence of violence, particularly when local politicians were murdered. These threats mostly emanated from the IFP, which occasionally claims that their representatives are threatened as the ANC gains control of areas previously dominated by Inkatha.
The truth of the matter was that the IFP remained relevant for as long as its supporters needed protection and were at war with the ANC. Once the threat of violence dissipated, the IFP’s support seeped away and, with it, its relevance in contemporary politics.
Mkhize’s funeral this weekend was the first time ANC leaders echoed the sentiments of their former foes in the IFP since the era of political violence in KZN passed. The difference this time is that the enemy appears to be within.
Zuma told mourners at the funeral: “The big question we must ask ourselves is who benefits from these killings. I appeal to all ANC members to be vigilant as it seems there are dark, unforeseen forces hellbent on causing disunity and destabilising the organisation.”
Zuma also said that, during the ANC policy conference last month, Mkhize raised concerns with him about how the ANC lobbies leadership. The irony was that Mkhize’s funeral ultimately served as a campaign rally for Zuma’s second term as ANC president.
The Mercury reported that huge flags bearing Zuma’s face were waved about in the funeral marquee as, song after song, the crowd pointed two fingers in the air, indicating their support for Zuma to serve another term.
Prominent ANC Youth League leaders were notably absent, even though Mkhize served in various capacities in the league.
Premier Mkhize added to the mystery around the councillor’s murder, warning that, though the ANC had “no specific knowledge” of why the councillor was killed, the party must “look at the confluence of politics, criminality and business” because it was going to cause huge problems in the party.
The Young Communist League’s Buti Manamela left no doubt as to what he thought was behind the murder: “Mkhize was not a taxi driver or a business owner but a politician and therefore there must have been a political motive for his death”.
The thread running through all these statements is that there are “dark, unforeseen forces” within the ANC that have resorted to assassinations for political purposes. Because there was no doubt about Mkhize’s loyalty to Zuma, it would be logical to assume these dark forces are opposed to Zuma’s re-election. If this were true, it would mean criminals are actively plotting to kill innocent people in order “destabilise the organisation” and unseat Zuma.
While these sentiments may never be articulated directly, the political blackmail and intimidation of opponents is in the subtext. In the midst of grief and anger around Mkhize’s death, it is anyone's guess how these sentiments may be interpreted. What if they lead to violent reprisals against people opposed to Zuma? In a province with such a violent past and which coalesced around Zuma with great emotion during his trials to carry him to the presidency, the prospect of revenge attacks is not that far-fetched.
It does not take much effort for politicians to beat war drums, but they need to be mindful of the consequences. The journey to the ANC’s elective conference in Mangaung is already characterised by bitter factional battles and public crossfire. Stoking the fires of political violence in order to incite hyper-vigilance, paranoia and emotive support will take the ANC to a point of no return.
Mkhize’s final words should serve as a constant reminder to those who opt for political expediency on the campaign trail: “Am worried dat if we collectively don’t rise above what divide us, Mangaung will be worse than Polokwane and our movement and country will be at great risk”. DM
Photo: South African Defence Force Army and police patrol the township at Magoda near Richmond January 25, 1999. Police Commissioner George Fivaz has promised to deploy more police after United Democratic Movement secretary-general Sifiso Nkabide's was killed at the weekend, fuelling fears of a flare up in violence. (REUTERS)