ROAD TO LOCAL ELECTIONS
KZN killing fields: Political murders surge as November 2021 polls draw near
There are fears that a drive-by shooting in Inanda is the start of more political killings ahead of local government elections in KwaZulu-Natal.
While the local government elections in 2011 and 2016 were conducted in a relatively peaceful atmosphere in most of South Africa, in KwaZulu-Natal the polls were accompanied by violence and killing of leaders and candidates.
The police recorded at least 33 political murders in the province between January 2016 and June 2017. They include Bongani Skhosana, Khanyisile Ngobese-Sibisi and Thembi Mbongo, all of whom were ANC councillor candidates who were gunned down just days before the 2016 local government elections.
Their faces were on the posters when the elections were held on 3 August 2016 and they won their wards “posthumously”. But the Independent Electoral Commission had to hold by-elections on 7 November 2016 in Skhosana’s Ward 1 in Umuziwabantu Local Municipality (Harding), Ngobese-Sibisi’s Ward 20 in Alfred Duma Local Municipality (Ladysmith) and Mbongo’s Ward 6 in Newcastle Local Municipality.
Although a few leaders and councillors from the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) and the National Freedom Party were killed during this period, most attacks were ANC-related, and were often referred to as intra-party killings, because they were believed to stem from jockeying for position within the ruling party.
Moerane Commission of Inquiry
The killings continued after the Moerane Commission of Inquiry was established by the then KZN premier, Willies Mchunu, in October 2016 to probe political killings in the province since 2011.
Professor Paulus Zulu from the University of KwaZulu-Natal testified at the commission that an academic study showed that the province has a culture of blood-letting, mainly for positions in social and political structures.
The commission has since tabled its report, and the political killings continue.
On Saturday afternoon, ANC members were holding a meeting in Inanda’s Buhlebethu Primary, in eThekwini’s Ward 54, when men on the back of a bakkie opened fire, killing Beatrice Dlamini (75), Ncami Shange (34) and Philisiwe Jili (39) and injuring five other women and one man. They were standing in a queue to vote for an ANC councillor candidate.
Mandla Mkhwanazi, Ward 54 councillor, said the community was shocked by the incident.
“We understand when there are contests and people have different views. But there is no need for violence. We are still wondering what type of person can open fire on a group of people, especially women.”
The ANC Women’s League (ANCWL) in KwaZulu-Natal condemned the killings as a “barbaric act” and called on police to act swiftly to arrest the perpetrators.
Nonhlanhla Gabela, ANCWL provincial secretary, said: “As the ANCWL, we find the use of violence on an unarmed group of women or delegates appalling. As much as we have no idea what led to the shooting, such acts of violence remind us of unpleasant scenes when people were killed for what they believed in.
“As a province, we have lost many lives due to political violence and we never thought that during this time, while in a democratic country, we would witness such killings of defenceless women.”
Glebelands Hostel a ‘reservoir of hitmen’
Another ANC-related incident happened in Durban’s Glebelands Hostel on Sunday, 12 September when Sthembiso Mkhize (41), a member of the local peace committee and a supporter of the ANC, was shot and killed in Glebelands Block R. He died instantly. His neighbours said he was shot in front of his three-year-old son. There are fears that his death could trigger more murders in the hostel.
According to Vanessa Burger, an independent community activist for human rights and social justice who has researched violence at the hostels in Durban, more than 150 killings throughout KZN and other provinces can be linked to hitmen who allegedly reside at Glebelands, or have ties to the hostel.
During the Moerane Commission hearing the hostel was referred to as a “reservoir of hitmen”. The commission made an on-site visit to the hostel in September 2017.
Burger said the hostel is on a knife-edge after Mkhize’s murder.
“It seems the people of Glebelands… may never be free from this cycle of generational violence passed in blood from father to son and from mother to daughter, from which there is almost no hope of escaping without a real social and economic transformation grounded in political will and backed by sound governance and a rule of law, all of which are entirely absent from South Africa’s increasingly lethal, self-serving dystopian political landscape,” she said.
Hit on Sindiso Magaqa
Another political murder that featured prominently at the commission was that of former ANCYL national secretary-general Sindiso Magaqa, who was a councillor in Umzimkhulu Local Municipality at the time of his death in September 2017. He was coming from an ANC meeting when the car he was travelling in with two other councillors was ambushed. They were all injured and Magaqa died of his injuries in a Durban hospital. He was a whistle-blower in one of the dodgy multimillion-rand tenders awarded by the municipality. The men arrested for Magaqa’s death are still facing trial.
In all the political murders committed in KZN, there have been very few arrests and even fewer convictions.
Mid Illovo a hotspot
Mid Illovo, in the Mkhambathini Local Municipality, is another hotspot where recently there have been a number of killings. In May this year the house of Ward 7 councillor Mzwandile Shandu was attacked and two men, believed to be foreign nationals who were doing carpentry work in the house, were shot and killed.
Before the attack, Shandu’s brother and a woman friend were shot and killed by unknown men in their vehicle in Dwengu in Mid Illovo. Their bodies were discovered in the veld by cattle herders.
In August, 32-year-old Ntobe Shezi, who was recently nominated as the ANC candidate in the 2021 local government elections, and her sister Thabisile were attacked by a group.
Shezi said they are fearful because their brother, who was also an ANC member, was shot and killed three months ago. His killers are still at large.
Shezi and her sister have been forced to leave their home at KwaDwengu in Mid Illovo following the attack on their homestead.
Shezi said she believes the attack on her was carried out by her political enemies as some people had threatened that “they will not be led by a woman”.
‘Acts of criminals’
Nhlakanipho Ntombela, spokesperson for the ANC in KZN, said they are aware that the councillor candidate nomination processes are accompanied by tension and contestations, but they didn’t expect these to spill out into open violence.
“These are not political acts, these are acts of criminals. We extend our condolences to the families who lost their loved ones,” he said.
Professor Bheki Mngomezulu, political science professor at the University of the Western Cape, said ANC-related violence had become a norm ahead of local government polls, especially in KZN.
Politics of enrichment
Mngomezulu said when the first democratic local government elections were held in 1995, KZN had to delay theirs until the following year because of violence between the ANC and the IFP.
He said that now members of the ANC have turned against each other in acts of brutal violence.
“It is clear that during these difficult economic times many people see the position of the councillor as a very lucrative space where they can earn a handsome salary, get closer to dishing out tenders and get other remunerations on the side.
“That is why many people enter the political space – not to serve the people but to enrich themselves. Whenever they see a rival candidate who is better than them they do their best to eliminate that individual; that’s why you see so many killings during this time.
“Also, the factional battles become even more severe and deadly in branches. Our law enforcement agencies should get wind of these killings and arrest those who are involved so that they would eliminate the culture of impunity,” he said.
Cele visit to Inanda
The police say these murders have been referred to the provincial political killings task team. Jay Naicker, police spokesperson, said police were still investigating the murders but no one has been arrested yet.
Police Minister Bheki Cele was in KwaZulu-Natal on Tuesday and he was briefed by SAPS KZN top brass about the shooting in Inanda. He was accompanied by Deputy Police Minister Cassel Mathale and Deputy Minister of State Security Zizi Kodwa.
He visited the scene of the shooting and spoke to the families of the victims.
Cele urged community members to work with the police to find the killers. He said people must not be afraid to vote in the local government elections.
“The investigation has been taken [over] by the political task team. This is an attack on democracy. We will be working very hard so that we don’t have further loss of lives [as we head towards the local government elections],” said Cele. DM