South Africa

South Africa

KwaZulu-Natal Violence: The daily reality of living in fear of being assassinated

KwaZulu-Natal Violence: The daily reality of living in fear of being assassinated

As yet another ANC-related murder has shaken the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands this week, the deputy mayor of the Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma Municipality recalled an assassination attempt that he survived a year ago. By CARIEN DU PLESSIS.

It was a weekend with lots of drunk people around, so Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma Municipality deputy mayor Philani Shange thought nothing of it when someone approached him when he arrived home around 21:00 on 8 October 2016, a Saturday night.

I opened the gate, then I went through the gate, parked the car, and closed the gate. That’s when it happened.”

The 34-year-old always thought that when he got to his village, Khwezela, in Bulwer area, he was safe.

I grew up there, I have done things there my whole life.”

But on that night the man who had come up behind him in the dark was carrying something. Then he heard a sound. Three bullets from an automatic rifle slammed into the open door of his Isuzu. As he ran around the front of the car – which he had left running – through the garage and into the house to get away, six more shots were fired in his direction. None hit him.

By the time a neighbour and the police arrived to assist him, the assailant had disappeared.

Shange opened a case at the Bulwer police station and was later advised that it had been transferred to the Hawks. Almost a year on, he is still to hear back from them.

Shange believes a bad case of food poisoning which saw him admitted to hospital just before Christmas may have been another attempt by his political foes to deal with him.

His case has some echoes of that of his late ANC Youth League peer, Sindiso Magaqa, a councillor from the neighbouring Umzimkhulu Municipality, who died in September 2017 after being badly wounded in a similar shooting two months before.

This week a former ANC branch chairperson, who is, like Shange, from Bulwer, was shot dead, bringing to five the number of ANC public representatives who have been killed in the region named after the Struggle stalwart Harry Gwala.

Nkosinathi Ngcobo was the clerk responsible for councillors in the Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma Municipality – renamed last year for the presidential hopeful who was born in a village in the Bulwer area.

The assassination of ANC public representatives and leaders is said to have spiked since before the 2016 local elections, and has been attributed by politicians like former provincial chairperson Senzo Mchunu to bickering over access to resources.

More than 80 such murders have gone unsolved since 2011, an issue that is being probed by the Moerane Commission into political killings in the province. The commission is due to sit again this month, with the ANC in the province having indicated its willingness to testify.

Many councillors, including Shange, now employ bodyguards, although the municipality’s current offices in the old railway station in Donnybrook do not have a receptionist, much less any security beyond the guard who signs in cars at the gate. New offices are under construction in Bulwer, however.

Shange still claims to have no idea who might have tried to kill him, but says his promotion changed everything.

He has been a councillor here since 2011 and became deputy mayor after the local elections in August 2016.

You start dealing with a number of issues you were not dealing with when you are an ordinary councillor.”

This, he says, included being in a position to point out when tenders were fraudulently awarded. Shange declines to go into specifics, claiming he doesn’t know what exactly the gripe of his detractors was.

Being a young councillor here is not that easy, especially in this environment. You have people who have been here for a very long time who have that perception of saying they understand the system better.

We come in, we challenge the system itself. You start tampering, but you deal with people who have been in a comfort zone [of doing things in certain ways] for some time.

Being young, and coming in with fresh ideas, that creates uncomfortability (sic) for people who have gotten used to that system that has been there.”

Several councillors killed in recent times have been around Shange’s age.

Shange said those ordering the killings were “evil people who want to hide under the banner of the ANC”, who are driven by greed, jealousy and power-mongering.

He said even though this happened mostly to ANC councillors, the ANC was a big organisation that allowed a lot of different people – even criminals – to join. The party itself could, however, not be blamed, he insists.

It is not the ANC. I feel that at all times you must always protect the ANC.”

As the region prepares for another funeral this weekend, Shange said it was a “pity” that the killings were happening in KwaZulu-Natal. “It is the last province to have dealt with political violence. When old wounds are not being healed from the ‘90s (when violence was fuelled by a so-called ‘third force’ sponsored by the apartheid state), what do you expect?”. DM

Photo: Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma Municipality deputy mayor Philani Shange with one of his official cars.


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