2021 LOCAL ELECTIONS
Tshwane metro battleground (Part One): Where violence and intimidation are part of the political arsenal
The City of Tshwane is one of the most highly contested metros in the country. Ahead of the municipal elections, the links between violence and politics in the municipality have come to the fore.
The murder of ANC councillor Tshepo Motaung of Mabopane in Tshwane in September was a public reminder of the violence that mars the city’s politics. Motaung died after being shot 20 times soon after he was selected to run again for the position of Ward 22 councillor in Mabopane in the 1 November local government elections.
Police spokesperson Colonel Brenda Muridili said the motive of his killing is still under investigation. However, Motaung’s friends and family believe his killers were hitmen, hired by those who were aggrieved by his candidacy for the councillor position.
Police Minister Bheki Cele has admitted that in Tshwane thuggery is used to win political battles.
“In some instances, gangsters determine as to who will ultimately become a ward councillor, this in order to make sure that the said councillor will grant them favours like tenders upon assuming office,” said Cele during a recent visit to Mamelodi.
His sentiments were echoed by Deputy President David Mabuza during his election campaign in Mabopane a few weeks ago.
“Three or four councillor candidates have already been killed in the past few months, apparently by their political rivals. In other cases, people vying for the position of councillor were forced to flee their homes in fear of their lives,” said Mabuza.
He admitted that intimidation was used as candidates jostled for councillor positions.
Nobody has been arrested yet in connection with the murder of 46-year-old Motaung. Mabopane Ward 30 Councillor Violet Mawiga said she was shattered by her close friend’s death.
“I have not yet recovered from the death of Tshepo Motaung. The two of us were good friends. At the moment many of us councillors in the City of Tshwane are living in fear, not knowing whether we are also being targeted by his killers. This as we don’t know who it is that may have ordered his death and why,” said Mawiga.
Political thuggery is not new to the City of Tshwane. In the run-up to the 2016 local government elections, then-mayor Kgosientsho Ramokgopa was involved in a bitter battle against Mapiti Matsena, who was the ANC chairperson in Tshwane.
The 2016 battle was over who should become mayor after the local government elections. Ramokgopa believed the ANC should retain him while Matsena felt that as the regional chairperson he should assume the mayorship position.
A so-called compromise was implemented by ANC structures to ease the conflict and party veteran Thoko Didiza stood in as a compromise candidate for the mayorship of Tshwane.
But the “Didiza compromise” evidently fuelled the flames of division among ANC supporters. As a result, Mamelodi was hit by riots a few days before the August 2016 elections, with private and public property damaged.
Taxis and buses were set alight after dark and roads were blockaded with rocks, trash and burning tyres. The following morning, workers and school children struggled to access roads and transport, and Mamelodi was effectively under a shutdown. All this was done by unidentified culprits under the guise of being in opposition to the “Didiza compromise”.
In November 2019, Mamelodi-based ANC Youth League (ANCYL) member and former Congress of South African Students leader Lethabo Nkoana was shot and killed at an ANCYL rally in Hammanskraal after a scuffle ensued between two rival ANCYL groups over regional leadership positions.
Two years later, Nkoana’s uncle, Psychology Lethuba, says he still can’t get over the death.
“It is sad that Lethabo was killed by members of an organisation that he loved so much and had dedicated his life to. In Lethabo I have lost a confidante. He was a resourceful man who could give advice and help whenever he was called upon to do so. He was also the breadwinner of the family,” said Lethuba.
Two men, Boitumelo Moatlhodi and Kagiso Kekana, are still on trial for Lethabo’s murder.
South African National Civic Organisation regional leader Abram Mashishi said the problem in Tshwane centres around the tender system. He claimed that since 2016 many councillors in Tshwane use gangsters as bodyguards, getting protection in exchange for awarding tenders.
The violence appears to centre around ANC councillors but has continued unabated since a DA-led coalition took control of the city in 2016.
Mashishi said councillors would use threats of violence to demand shares in any tender project that was in progress in their wards, knowing full well that they had the protection of gangsters.
“The chickens have come home to roost and those gangsters now want tenders for themselves. If councillors can’t award them the tenders that they desire, this often ends up with the killing of the councillor.
“Alternatively, the gangsters would use their influence to coerce communities to oust councillors who are considered to be stubborn from their jobs,” Mashishi continued, putting the blame squarely on the shoulders of the ANC for allowing the dire state of affairs to prevail.
While visiting the family of the slain Motaung in September, Gauteng Premier David Makhura concurred that organised criminal elements had been hired by some councillors since 2017 to disrupt political meetings and kill political opponents.
Councillors and gangs are also linked to the disruption of service delivery projects in Tshwane. For example, work has stalled for more than 10 years on the construction of the magistrates’ court building in Mamelodi East as gang members are allegedly demanding a share in the project from Fikile Construction, which won the tender to build the court.
The development of Solomon Mahlangu Drive, formerly Hans Strijdom Highway, has also been brought to a standstill after gangsters allegedly demanded a cut in the project, awarded to Umso Construction, under the guise of a “joint venture” which would purportedly benefit and empower all citizens of Mamelodi.
Construction on Tsamaya Road in the far east of Mamelodi, led by King Civil Engineering Contractors, has also come to a halt as gangsters are again alleged to be demanding a share in the project, or else no work will be carried out.
The disruptions mean locals working on the projects have lost their incomes.
Political analyst Ralph Mathekga recently told eNCA that the violent political situation in Tshwane is akin to that which is unfolding in most cities in the country, as well as on the African continent as a whole. Mathekga said violence is used to gain political power and wealth. DM
Peter Mothiba is a freelance journalist based in Mamelodi, Tshwane.