Daily Maverick

The ANC’s deadly trinity: Politics, power, patronage

In KwaZulu-Natal, an ANC member campaigning for Zuma’s support sends an SMS to a government minister on his way home after a party political meeting. Two hours later he is shot dead. In the North West a whistleblower is murdered by a mayor who still keeps on drawing his R357,000 salary, despite being convicted and incarcerated. In South Africa, a brutal war is raging over access to resources and political power, and the battleground is within the ruling party. By MANDY DE WAAL, with additional reporting by THAPELO LEKGOWA.

The ANC’s chief whip in the Hibiscus municipality in KwaZulu-Natal, Wandile ‘Wonderboy’ Mkhize, was strolling near his home in Manaba near Margate with a friend, at about 20h00 on the night of Saturday 30 June 2012, when a car suddenly pulled up alongside the two. A volley of shots burst forth from the vehicle. When the shooting was over Mkhize was lying dead, agonisingly close to the gates of his own home.

Described by his peers as an intellectual, the ANC councillor served as chairman of a governance committee in his municipality. He had just returned from a party meeting where he had openly supported Jacob Zuma’s ticket for Mangaung.

Media reports say that Mkhize had received death threats prior to the killings, but he didn’t put too much store in them; perhaps he was just too busy with the intense political campaign to ensure Zuma’s nomination to the ruling party’s elective conference. People at the meeting that Mkhize attended before he died spoke of him leading delegates in songs of support of Zuma, and of a bitter confrontation he became involved in, with supporters of Kgalema Motlanthe.

An hour before he was shot dead, Mkhize sent Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula an SMS. The message talked about regional political contestation within the ANCYL at a time when both Mbalula and Mkhize were a part of that structure. Mkhize confessed to the “the stories and lies we fed as members to some of u in leadership” which was followed by the heartfelt realisation that the ANC was in crisis and in desperate need of unity.

“But now Mbaks (Mbalula’s nickname) we are here. ANC and pipo (people) beyond ANC need us united and focused,” the SMS read. “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 any (and) many brains after Polokwane, we can’t afford to lose or sideline anyone anymore. We need u all,” the SMS to Mbalula said.

KwaZulu-Natal has always been a hot spot in South Africa, and the epicentre of political violence. Former police chief Bheki Cele recently remarked that locals shouldn’t be surprised by the violence because, as he put it, SA is normally a brutal society, why is political violence any different? Business as usual.

Cele added that during the contestation for the first democratic elections there were so many political funerals to go to he had to carefully pick and choose what ceremonies for the dead he’d attend. “For 37 weekends in 1993 I attended funerals,” Cele said at a recent talk in the province.

David Bruce, a researcher at the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation, puts the political death toll in KwaZulu-Natal at 51. Writing for Daily Maverick, Bruce mentions that there’s an “an ANC internal report” which states that 38 party members were killed in the province since 2011. “If we add to this at least 13 IFP or NFP members who have been killed in this period, no less than 51 people affiliated with these parties have been killed in the province in less than two years.”

A chilling observation by Bruce follows: “The provincial government is controlled by the ANC, but even the killings of ANC members appear to attract little serious consideration from the provincial criminal justice system. For all the ANC members killed since the beginning of 2009, only one man has been convicted.”

The ANC’s deadly competition isn’t with an external political enemy, because the biggest body count is contained well within the ruling party’s own boundaries. It is evident and it is obvious that the major contributor to political violence in South Africa is an ANC at war with itself.

Even leaders of the tripartite alliance are pointing fingers within the coalition. “Political killings are so commonplace in KwaZulu-Natal that we can no longer blame them on the IFP warlords because it’s an inside job,” Cosatu General Secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi, told unionists at the federation’s congress in the province.

Vavi warned about the ghost of Polokwane past, which was haunted by what he called “foreign tendencies”, such as relentless lobbying, renting membership and going for a winner-takes-all type positioning. He said that even though the issue of divisions and factionalism was known, the alliance displayed “a refusal sometimes to do what we know is correct.”

The killings, assassinations and factionalism are now so blatant that they have captured the attention of the global media, with The New York Times writing about the ‘Lethal Battles for Even (the) Smallest of Political Posts’ in South Africa. Similarly the New Statesman asks the shameful question: ‘Can South Africa’s ruling party overcome its reputation for corruption, nepotism and violence?’

The big questions South Africa should ask itself are, ‘What are the causes of the violence’, and ‘Can anything be done about the causes?’ Political analyst and research fellow at the Helen Suzman Foundation, Aubrey Matshiqi, says to understand what’s happening now, one has to go back close on twenty years to see how the ANC’s relationship with state power changed.

“Since 1994 the access to political power is no longer an end in itself, but has become the means towards the achievement of other ends, particularly narrow economic gain. If you look at the violence you see today there are basically two drivers, battle for political power and the battle for money, and the two are interlinked. If you win the battle for political power you have access to money,” Matshiqi says.

The former UDF, ANC, SACP and MK cadre says it is no surprise that these battles are fiercest in Mpumalanga, KwaZulu-Natal and the North West. “The state is the main instrument through which a middle class is created in these provinces, so if you want to enter the ranks of the middle class in the North West, Limpopo or even Mpumalanga, the main access point is the state through the ANC. So if you win political battles in the ANC you can then enter the ranks of the middle class.” Matshiqi says this is because the ANC is so dominant in these areas that it has become the main platform for the formation of the middle class in these provinces.

Matshiqi warns about being overly reductive about the issue of political violence and adds that it is important to examine political culture in this context. “It is not obvious to too many in the ANC, but as a democratic entity people will have preferences at leadership and other levels that are at variance with their own. Difference is not tolerated in the ANC and that is another one of the drivers of violence,” the political analyst says.

He explains that pre-democracy, the liberation movement and the people were one, and that post democracy this creates a phenomenon where, if one speaks out against the ANC, the people within the ruling party take this as an assault on the self. There has yet to be a separation between the party and the people, he says.

“When you differ with people in the ANC (it is perceived that) you are threatening directly their political and economic interests. Different sections believe that they represent everything that is true about the ANC, whereas political opponents represent everything that is false about the ANC so this is a battle between good and bad. The good is represented by the faction you belong to, and the bad is represented by the opposing faction,” Matshiqi says.
“Because you have characterised your opponents in that way, consciously or unconsciously, there is no limit to what you can do to neutralise. Whatever you do to neutralise them is legitimate. So intolerance is a process of delegitimising the other, and delegitimising what the other stands for.”

On the North West, where bitter rivalries between pro-Zuma and pro-Motlanthe factions realised split provincial nomination councils and an assassination attempt against the ANC provincial secretary Kabelo Mataboge, a ward councillor in Potchefstroom says the reasons for the violence are complex and manifold.

The ANC’s Kholisile Samuel Qolone says that in his view people in the ruling party are greedy: they sign up to support individuals instead of the party, and are entering politics because they envy the lifestyles of top ANC comrades. The bottom line is material values and self-enrichment.

“The violence within the ANC and with other parties in my view has to do with the fact that when comrades came out of exile there was never a process of counselling. Remember, comrades during that time had a very violent life in exile and came back to the country very violent. You tell it (through) their commands in meetings and how they call you off if they disagree with you. The violence is even in their voices and it has been passed on to the younger comrades who now think that is how we behave in meetings. Comrades still need psychological help I think,” Qolone feels.

The comrade from Tlokwe says that the deadly battle for resources in the ANC is a new phenomenon. “We used to work for this organisation when we were given no cent,” Qolone says; “You used to work with no money and all of a sudden you are working with millions. It will make you go crazy and do crazy things.”

“In the ANC we see policies differently. There is (the) view of the wealthy and (the) view of the poor on the ground. Because other comrades are learned they don’t take us seriously,” he says, talking about how these issues are brushed aside by more senior members of the ANC. Qolone adds that the fighting intensifies the higher up in the food chain you are. He says the bitterest feuds always happen between the provincial “fat cats”.

The North West was once the home of a patriot called Moses “Moss” Phakoe, who compiled a dossier on corruption related to the outsourcing of a municipality-owned resort, and handed it to Sicelo Shiceka, who was then Minister of Co-operative Governance. Provincial insiders Daily Maverick talked to also speak of a duplicate dossier Phakoe gave to a senior, unnamed member of the ANC, who then sold these documents on to then Rustenburg Mayor, Matthew Wolmarans, for R30,000.

Wolmarans was implicated in the corruption and Phakoe was killed mere days after blowing the whistle. Wolmarans was recently convicted of the murder along with his bodyguard, MK veteran, Enock Matshaba. Despite his being convicted and jailed in Rooigrond Prison in Mahikeng, Mail & Guardian confirmed two months ago that Wolmarans was still receiving a monthly salary of R357,000.

Political scientist Steven Friedman of the Centre for the Study of Democracy at the University of Johannesburg says the political violence is all about the nature of SA’s economy. 

“What you have is a very intense version of something we see throughout the ANC – people fighting for resources. If you look at the intensity for which resources are fought over in this country, and the violence with which they are fought over, it has a lot to do with a situation where you have high levels of poverty and inequality.”

Friedman believes that people are encouraged by all sorts of signals they get from the media, advertising, opinion formers and community leaders, to believe that the middle class lifestyle is what civilised people should aspire to. “Unfortunately most people—because of the nature of the economy and society—often don’t have the means to acquire that lifestyle, and decide the best way to acquire the lifestyle is to eliminate others competing for that lifestyle.”

“If you are living in a township or a shack settlement today, the difference between being a local councillor and not being a local councillor is the difference between being middle-class or living in poverty,” Friedman adds. While poverty is not a driver in and of itself for political violence, this materialist culture, which suggests that respect is synonymous with wealth, is a contributor.

Friedman says fighting at a branch level is the coalface battle for resources, while provincial leadership wars are about access to patronage networks. “The way it works is that you use public office to acquire resources, and then you use those resources to buy people’s support so you’ve got more leverage – and you seriously don’t want people interfering in that. A couple of years ago there was a fellow in Mpumalanga, an SACP guy, who used to phone into the radio all the time and complain about corruption, and he was murdered,” Friedman relays, adding that the violence won’t abate anytime soon because SA’s economic challenges will take time to resolve.

Far away from the headlines, the opinion-formers and political leaders, a group of women sit in a huddle, speaking to Daily Maverick. We ask them what the political violence is all about. The women are party members or members of pro-ANC structures that helped in the war against Apartheid. They all live in the North West. All of the women ask Daily Maverick not to use their names.

“The fights in the ANC are encouraged and driven by corrupt and greedy people. None of the people are fighting to help us. Maybe it might be also because the president doesn’t have time for his people,” one woman says.

“Well, none of us are going to Mangaung but we are sending people down there to take out Zuma. We don’t want Zuma to be president. He has failed us.”

“Motlanthe is also the same; they are friends with Zuma. We can’t trust him,” another woman interjects, calling Motlanthe ‘Legwala la Motswana’ which is the Tswana phrase for a coward.

Of course the issue of Nkandla comes up. “How does someone build themselves such an expensive house when we live in shacks? Is he not embarrassed? If he used government money to build the house he should be sent to jail. I will not be surprised to find out he has built other houses somewhere else worth lots of money, using taxpayers’ money.”

Another woman muses that perhaps it would be good to bring back Mbeki, but adds that there’s no way he’d come back, because he was ‘kicked out like a dog’. “I feel sorry for comrade Kabelo (Mataboge) and his family,” she says, explaining that the ruling party has been a ‘beast’ to the provincial secretary.

Then, a taboo issue – that of tribal divisions – is raised. “Zulus are violent and stubborn. They used to kill people during Apartheid under Inkatha. They will do anything to defend another Zulu. I am happy I am not going to Mangaung. Iyo! They will bring guns and there will be blood spilt.”

All of the women are afraid. “We are now even afraid to say things because someone will point a finger at you, and you never know what might happen. I just keep quiet in meetings… when you say things you must be careful.”

They are scared, but they are serious. And they are sick and tired of being outsiders. “The ANC needs to start taking its members seriously. We are all just members with cards, I tell you, and all they need from us are votes and nothing else. Projects come and we are never involved. The councillor never calls meetings; when they meet once in a while, they ask you to tell your problems, which is what you did the last time.”

This story, sadly, can’t end with a snappy summation, a clever thesis or a reductive solution. The problem is as terrible as it is complex – it is charged, entrenched and formidable. And it is happening, daily. DM

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Photo: African National Congress (ANC) supporters leave the Durban Magistrates Court where a man accused of murdering ANC councillor Mthembeni Shezi appeared for his trial, October 11, 2012. REUTERS/Rogan Ward

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