The soul of wit
5 December 2016 02:23 (South Africa)
South Africa

KwaZulu-Natal's intra-ANC violence: Killing Fields Redux?

  • CYRIL MADLALA
    CYRIL MADLALA
  • South Africa
Photo by Reuters.

To this day in places such as Mpumalanga township in Hammarsdale, the epicentre of much of the blood-letting, the ruins of destroyed homes remain a stark reminder of the horrors. Those who recall the bloody low-level civil war that raged between the IFP and the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal during the eighties fear that the tensions between the ANC and its alliance partner the SACP fear a similar chapter may have begun. By CYRIL MADLALA.

It was a virtual war of attrition between the IFP and the ANC. Those who were affected by the conflict, both from the IFP and the ANC, agree that it was a chapter best left closed forever.

But now there is growing unease about tensions between the ANC and its alliance partner, the South African Communist Party. When two men were killed at an SACP meeting in Inchanga two weeks ago, fingers pointed at the ANC. At the funeral of a senior ANC representative, former provincial secretary Sipho Gcabashe, felt unwelcome by mourners who were not willing to allow him to convey his organisation’s condolences.

At the court appearance of ANC members arrested in connection with the attack, the standoff between SACP and ANC supporters left no doubt that the resolution of political differences through violence, remains an option for some.

Inchanga is not an isolated case.

From various parts of the province, reports stream in about ANC meetings that turn violent. At stake are nominations for the coming local government elections.

The violent intra-party conflict among ANC supporters before the highly divisive provincial conference in November has not abated. The organisation is torn between those in favour of the new leadership under Sihle Zikalala and those nursing the wounds of Premier Senzo Mchunu’s defeat as provincial chairman.

The provincial SACP’s gripe with the ANC is the perceived sidelining of the communists in the selection of candidates for the local government elections. The provincial ANC Youth League’s palpable disdain for the SACP has not helped either. They grab any opportunity to cast doubt about the struggle credentials of senior communists in the province. They have gone to the extent of challenging the provincial SACP secretary to vacate his seat in the provincial legislature if he is uncomfortable with the ANC’s method of selecting its public office representatives.

Why are the stakes so high? Why are comrades prepared to walk over other comrades’ bodies to become mere councillors? Does the overzealousness have anything to do with the trumpeted “selflessness” or any of the qualities envisaged in the seminal Eye of Needle?

The answer, of course, lies in the possibilities and opportunities that come with this territory; access to State resources and the ability to influence decisions that further particular business interests.

It is now common cause that business people with fat cheques bankroll various politicians in the province. Ahead of any ANC election, business people whose livelihoods depend on government tenders add the financial muscle to the different slates with the understanding that they shall reap their rewards with the triumph of their favoured candidates.

Leaders - particularly the younger ones - have acquired expensive tastes in whisky and clearly live way beyond their own means.

It is this indebtedness to business interests that makes comrades so desperate to ascend to political power. What would traditionally have been a struggle to get a branch to convene successfully, has grown into a struggle to get regions to conduct their electoral business peacefully and that evolved into a provincial conference whose outcome remains contested to this day.

It is this burden of being a divided province that KwaZulu-Natal brings to national politics. Forget about those who say there are no kingmakers in the ANC. By the sheer force of the number of its delegates at national conferences, KwaZulu-Natal’s voice carries considerable weight.

Over the years, its preferred candidates for the top leadership posts in the ANC have been successful. No serious bargaining for these positions could take place without KwaZulu-Natal’s input. The province generally voted as a solid block.

Now things have changed.

The vanquished at the provincial conference remain convinced that justice has not been done and that the current leadership ascended the throne fraudulently.

The fights during the selection of candidates for the local government elections point to a province that is yet to settle differences between the two factions.

Instead of moving closer together and throwing the odd chair here and there, when things get heated comrades now draw guns.

In Pietermaritzburg the circulation of a hit-list with the names of the mayor, the municipal manager and some councilors has instilled fear among comrades. Veteran KwaZulu-Natal violence monitor Mary de Haas has suggested:

Intra-ANC conflict lies at the heart of the carnage in the Glebelands Hostel which has claimed 55 lives in less than two years”. Particularly unhelpful in the attempted resolution of the conflict that has arisen from the processes that led to the disputed provincial conference election result, are suspicions that certain members of the national executive committee have vested interests in the make-up of the provincial leadership and can therefore not mediate fairly.”

With 2017 around the corner to elect Jacob Zuma’s successor as ANC president, KwaZulu-Natal is fertile ground for anyone harbouring such ambitions.

The defeated grouping was known to prefer the deputy president, Cyril Ramaphosa, to take over from Zuma, while the Youth League, which was the driving force behind Zikalala’s winning team, preferred a first female president, in the person of Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. The stakes are high, not only for the ANC in the province, but for national politics.

The violent conflict has to be addressed as a matter of urgency.

De Haas paints an ominous picture:

With some exceptions, never, since 1994, has it been easier to take out political enemies and get away with it – especially if the hits are within the ANC. While there have been some important arrests in recent Glebelands cases, there are no known convictions for 55 murders. “

Given these dynamics, the potential for violence linked to the forthcoming elections is great. However, the scale is difficult to predict.

What seems likely is that specific people who pose a threat to vested interests, or party dissenters, are particularly vulnerable, and that much campaigning will be accompanied by threat, intimidation and the dispensing of patronage,” she says.

Of course, the aggrieved provincial conference losers could just go away and sulk in a corner, thus giving up this contest that will ultimately determine who becomes the next president of the ANC and the Republic. After all, don’t all “loyal and disciplined” members accept the outcomes of conferences and fall into line irrespective of their initial personal preferences?

That would certainly ease the tension.

But there is also a view, certainly shared by the provincial communists that the ANC needs to be rescued from “tenderpreneurs” who have “captured” some among the leaders.

The problem is that such is the desperation of some to lead, they will stop at nothing to gain access to those State resources – even if it means KwaZulu-Natal becomes those killings fields again. DM

Photo by REUTERS.

  • CYRIL MADLALA
    CYRIL MADLALA
  • South Africa

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