South Africa

South Africa: Political Murder, Inc.

By Greg Nicolson 9 October 2012

Local-level movements across the country have experienced a spate of killings lately. Shop stewards, different political party factions and rival parties have been targeted. With criminal charges a rare occurrence, it shows we haven’t come so far from the days of old. By GREG NICOLSON.

The National Union of Mineworkers has been hit hard. Only the other day, a branch leader was killed at his house at Western Platinum not long after his secretary was murdered. Another branch leader escaped an attack, but his wife died. A cousin of a shop steward was gunned down in an apparent case of mistaken identity.

All these murders occurred after five NUM members were murdered at Marikana before police shot and killed 34 workers on 16 August. The lives lost add to the tally of murders seen at mining strikes earlier in the year.

This weekend an Inkatha Freedom Party councillor’s body was found in KwaMashu, KwaZulu-Natal, a battleground for disputes between the IFP and the National Freedom Party. On 26 September, a hail of bullets hit three ANC members outside Durban after a meeting. One of the victims later died from his wounds in hospital. These killings add to other politically-related murders from 2012. ANC members Wandile Mkhize, Dumisani Malunga, Bheki Chiliza and Nhlakanipho Shabane were all killed this year in KwaZulu-Natal.

It seems that when things get tough in South Africa, people get killed. While the worker and political party deaths have different causes and are executed in varying manners, the list of murders all seem to emanate from rivalries among citizens’ associations, mostly local, and power plays within them.

In the ANC, the deaths are said to be caused by the party’s structure and the pot of gold that can accompany an elected position. At the funeral of Councillor Wandile Mkhize, President Zuma shot a warning through the party. “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 hell-bent on causing disunity and destabilising the organisation.”

One version suggests Mkhize was murdered to derail Zuma’s campaign for re-election. If so, the ANC’s election process itself had something to do with it. Because members cannot debate leadership until only a few months before voting, battles are fought and rivalries stoked in the dark.

The 2009 murder of councillor and shop steward Moss Phakoe in North West highlighted another common cause of death. Phakoe was assassinated by former Rustenburg Mayor Matthew Wolmarans and his bodyguard, both convicted in July, after he informed then-Minister Sicelo Shiceka of corruption within the Bojanala Platinum District Municipality and North West provincial government. He was a whistleblower, plain and simple, and was murdered for exposing corruption and trying to put an end to someone’s misdeeds.

The conviction of Phakoe’s killers was a rare win for justice. Writing in the Sunday Times, researcher David Bruce said there have been 42 deaths and 36 suspected incidents of political murders in KwaZulu-Natal alone since December 2008 (his numbers are higher than those he also cites from Cosatu). He said the tally includes 19 ANC members, six IFP members, two indunas (factory overseers), one member of the Department of Transport and 11 NFP members since its 2011 formation.

The majority of political murders, he said, are politically protected killings (PPKs). He defines them as lawful (by the police) and unlawful “assassination of people understood to pose a threat to established political interests”.

Bruce found only one recorded conviction from among 14 killings in Mpumalanga since 1998. In KZN, there have been only four convictions. “One of the consequences of PPKs is that people start to believe there is a general licence for political killings – but in fact this may only be available to people in certain political positions”.

In KZN on Monday police arrested a man for the killing of the ANC’s Dumisani Malunga and last month another man was imprisoned for his role in the murder. But arrests are few and the deaths many.

The same can be said in the mines, where violence and intimidation have reigned this year as the National Union of Mineworkers struggles against a drop in perceived legitimacy. The Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union has muscled its way into the fold in a bitter turf war between the unions. While they battle for ground as workers strike, rival members and those who still want to work have been shot and hacked to death. Some arrests have been made but most killings have so far gone uncharged.

Two of the year’s defining issues – ANC political contestation and mining strikes – have reminded us that when Apartheid ended not everyone was willing to solve disputes democratically. While no doubt the country’s majority is committed to resolving power struggles through discussion, peaceful demonstration and the ballot box, for some, there is just too much to win, too much to lose, and far too few consequences for taking a shortcut. DM

Read more:

  • “The ANC’s provincial criminal enterprise problem,” on Daily Maverick
  • “War drums: the ultimate KZN political campaign tool,” on Daily Maverick
  • “Freedom is a killer,” on City Press
  • “Darkness visible in JZ’s kingdom by the sea,” on Daily Maverick

Photo by Reuters.


In other news...

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