Daily Maverick

Political Violence: ANC hints at a return of the ‘third force’ in KwaZulu-Natal

Two decades after their deadly efforts to derail democracy failed, the faceless killers of KwaZulu-Natal are back for another bite, this time to destabilise South Africa for reasons ANC leaders are for now leaving to the imagination. As the province prepares for two more weekends of political funerals, there are many more explanations for the killings than actual prosecutions. By CARIEN DU PLESSIS.

KwaZulu-Natal ANC secretary Super Zuma kept a straight face when he said the renewed spate of political assassinations aimed at party’s councillors was linked to forces intent on destabilising the country.

While denying that the killings – highlighted this week by the death of uMzimkhulu councillor and former ANC Youth League secretary Sindiso Magaqa – are entirely political or are directed and/or conducted by ANC insiders, the party is apparently leaving nothing to chance.

And so, the province has appointed two teams consisting of provincial executive committee members, who cannot be named for security reasons.

One “will deal with internal investigations to the causes of murders in the organisation”, and the other “deals with the political work engaging the ANC members and all its structures that will include political education and the importance of unity, cohesion as well as tolerance among the members”.

Asked about possible reasons for the killings, and why the phenomenon is manifesting in KwaZulu-Natal specifically (it’s not the only province where the ANC has internal squabbles), Zuma said: “We are of the view that there seems to be a deeper thing we are not dealing with.”

He talked about the black-on-black violence in the province in the 1980s and 1990s between Inkatha and ANC members.

During the apartheid era, all of us were thinking that this was black-on-black violence between the parties. Later on we discovered that in the process there were sponsors of the violence,” he said.

These were intent on destabilising the country, using KwaZulu-Natal as the entry point (he didn’t clarify why this province specifically). The recent pattern of killing was the same, he said.

Let’s broaden our thinking and broaden this investigation. We are not saying that this is what’s happening. We are saying look at the pattern, we might be facing a similar situation.”

It was more than just internal ANC violence, he said. “It is assassinations by highly trained people… We need to look at whether there is an agenda to destabilise the country.”

The implication was that there is a third force at work.

Even so, on Thursday a video emerged on eNCA showing the bodyguards of one of the party leadership’s own, eThekwini regional secretary Bheki Ntuli, fooling around with some guns in the front seat of a car, making threats about killing “that dog”.

The bodyguards are shown cocking two handguns and an AK-47, which it is illegal to carry in South Africa. Ntuli apparently needs these protectors – who have since been fired – by his side to feel safe, and he’s by far not the only local ANC politician here with minders.

Zuma did not specify who the destabilising forces could be, but an ANC official afterwards said that we should trust the spooks on this.

Perhaps the ANC’s policy discussion documents, in which foreign intelligence agents and #FeesMustFall protesters are all identified as potential destabilisers, hold the answer; perhaps more will emerge when the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal makes its submission to the Moerane Commission of Inquiry into political violence in the province.

Casting vague aspersions could, however, be dangerous.

Once you define your enemy as the third force, you no longer have democratic engagement. You are dealing with an enemy that needs to be repressed,” said Richard Pithouse, a professor of political science at Rhodes University.

Pithouse said that while the violence previously happened between the ANC and the IFP or the ANC and the South African Communist Party, it was now happening within the ANC itself. The vast number of new members joining the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal has in the past been identified as contributing to the increased violence.

Pithouse said it would be more honest for the ANC to acknowledge that the country went through a civil war in the ‘80s and that the movement had subsequently also been used as a network by criminals. The problem was best dealt with by outside prosecution, he said.

It was also important that it be addressed now, and addressed properly.

Assassinations as seen in KwaZulu-Natal are spreading to the rest of the country. In the neighbouring Eastern Cape, just on Wednesday night, a councillor was assassinated in front of his home in Port Elizabeth.

Meanwhile KwaZulu-Natal is preparing to bury this weekend Kwazi Mkhize, 34, from uMkhambathini (Camperdown) outside Pietermaritzburg, another ANC councillor who was gunned down following a meeting. The weekend after, Magaqa will be laid to rest.

More than 80 ANC politicians have been assassinated in the province since 2011, and 60 suspects have been arrested (there’s been a suspicious lack of prosecutions). The pace of violence seems to have picked up in the past year following intense competition for positions ahead of the local government elections.

Even as the ANC’s provincial leaders condemn the murders, and even as they are running from funeral to funeral, they might not really have the appetite to alienate useful political players too much.

In the next month or two the courts will pronounce on a case that’s questioned the legitimacy of the 2015 provincial conference at which the current leaders were elected.

The court could order a re-run of the conference, which means a re-election.

Some now say provincial chair Sihle Zikalala’s support base was tenuous and he would have to work hard to retain his position should a fresh conference be called.

Comrades are afraid to take unpopular decisions,” one ANC local leader said, adding that provincial leaders should really be stronger in their condemnation of Magaqa’s murder. The 34-year-old survived a hail of bullets on 13 July but died of heart failure this week.

The Mail & Guardian is reporting that Magaqa’s death could be linked to a local tender that ballooned from R4-million to R37-million. Another leader in the region, however, said residents see Magaqa’s killing as Khaya Thobela’s people exacting payback for his blood.

Thobela, speaker of the Umzimkhulu municipality and deputy chairperson in the Harry Gwala region, was assassinated in April.

Thobela apparently had ambitions to ascend to the region’s leadership at the party’s regional conference, which hasn’t happened yet. Magaqa was associated with the incumbent leadership.

So aggrieved were local ANC branch members that they marched in front of Magaqa’s house on Tuesday, preventing ANC provincial deputy secretary Mluleki Ndobe from joining mourners.

Ndobe was close to Thobela.

It’s too late to verify these claims with the dead, but the perceptions of the living are almost as powerful as reality. Some in the party are warning that these should be dealt with. It may already be too late. DM

Photo by Divya Thakur via Flickr.

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