South Africa


More than two assassinations weekly in SA, with targets becoming ever more high-profile

More than two assassinations weekly in SA, with targets becoming ever more high-profile
Illustrative image | Sources: Leon Sadiki / Bloomberg via Getty Images | Gallo Images / Papi Morake) | pngwing | Rawpixel

Assassinations are growing in South Africa, now even affecting the music industry, as seen with the February killing of Kiernan Forbes, better known as AKA. An organised crime report has also found that increasingly prominent individuals are being targeted.

“Not a week goes by in South Africa without an assassination.”

This is the opening line of a new Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime (GI-TOC) report — The Business of Killing: Assassinations in South Africa.

Released this month, the report by GI-TOC analyst Rumbi Matamba comes as increasing focus is placed on hits in this country. 

It creates a worrying picture of the overall situation and indicates just how easily violence is paid for in South Africa. The report focuses on several case studies, including that of shack dwellers’ movement Abahlali baseMjondolo (AbM), whose leaders have been killed in assassinations.

It also makes recommendations on how to try and stem the problem of hits, from improving intelligence gathering and professionalising police investigations to tightening firearms controls. GI-TOC’s research showed that weapons used in killings also came from private security and state sources.

Tip of the iceberg

Methodology used in deriving statistics in the report included monitoring assassinations and using an electronic database of local and national news. 

“The resulting data is undoubtedly an undercount because the database records only cases reported in the media that are identified as hits, contract killings, taxi killings or assassinations,” the report said. 

“Some cases are only identified as hits later — months or even years after the event — through court procedures or investigations and subsequent arrests.”

This means the number of hits carried out in South Africa is likely higher than what the report reflects.

Victims are more high-profile

“In 2022… GI-TOC recorded 141 assassinations in the country, an average of more than two a week,” it said, and “that is almost undoubtedly an undercount given the limited sources of data. They occur so frequently, the cases and the headlines blur together in the news cycle… the prominence of the victims appears to be growing.”

Last month Bosasa liquidator Cloete Murray and his son were shot in what appeared to be a targeted attack in Midrand, Johannesburg. Both died. In February rapper Kiernan Forbes, also known as AKA, and his celebrity chef friend, Tebello Motsoane, were shot and killed outside a Durban restaurant.

No arrests have been announced in either of the above cases.

Monetised violence

“Although such targeted killings constitute a small proportion of the country’s extraordinarily high murder rate, they have a powerful, resonating impact, in that they send out an unequivocal, threatening message to the victims’ communities, colleagues and families,” the GI-TOC report found.

“In South Africa, particularly over the last two decades, violence has become a monetisable commodity that can be bought and sold.”

The 141 assassinations GI-TOC recorded in South Africa in 2022 were down by four cases from 2021.

“Cases of taxi-industry-related targeted killings declined by 19% — from 80 cases recorded in 2021 to 65 in 2022… Political cases went up by 33%, from 30 cases recorded in 2021 to 40 in 2022. Organised crime cases went down slightly from 30 cases in 2021 to 29 recorded in 2022.”

Deadly political fights

The report said hits linked to politics had steadily increased since 2020. Targeted political killings also extended to activists and whistleblowers. 

The report referenced the case of Gauteng health department official Babita Deokaran, who uncovered corruption in that department, and was murdered outside her Johannesburg home on 23 August 2021.

“The targeting of members of civil society illustrates how space for civil society has significantly declined on the continent since the [Covid-19] pandemic,” the report said.

In terms of other politically motivated killings, the report found these “went up from 24 recorded in 2020 to 30 cases in 2021 and 40 in 2022, the second highest number of incidents ever recorded in the database.”

It said that the number of recorded political hits in 2021 was higher than in 2016, a previous local government election year.

“The waning power of the ANC, partly due to voter apathy and a declining majority in the latest general elections, suggests that ANC candidates are fighting for political positions internally across the different provinces.”

KZN’s hitmen

KwaZulu-Natal recorded the highest number of political killing cases in 2022 – 21 cases, which was more than half those reported nationally.

(Credit: The Business of Killing: Assassinations in South Africa, Rumbi Matamba, Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime)

The report also found that KwaZulu-Natal was “notorious for supplying hitmen to various other provinces and sometimes other countries”.

It said: “The taxi industry and KZN province provide reservoirs of hitmen for recruitment. A strategic and concerted effort by law enforcement to disrupt targeted killings and hitmen for hire should be directed at these recruitment pools.”

KwaZulu-Natal was also flagged for taxi violence, which was not limited to the minibus-taxi industry, but also affected other transport networks, including bus services.

Transport terror

According to the GI-TOC report, the highest number of taxi-related killings were recorded in that province (with 30 cases in 2022, compared to 16 in 2021), followed by the Eastern Cape and Western Cape.

On Monday, 10 April, police ministry and transport representatives met in KwaZulu-Natal. A South African Police Service statement about the meeting says: “The engagement comes as scores of taxi owners have in… less than a month, been gunned down in the KwaZulu-Natal province.”

Taxi-related violence had also rocked other provinces, including the Western Cape, where in 2021, rival taxi associations disputed who had the rights to the B97 route that stretched between Bellville and Paarl.

This resulted in violence. At the time, Daily Maverick reported the route would be closed for two months from the end of July 2021.

The GI-TOC report also found: “More than 60 people were reportedly killed between January and August 2021 amid accusations of route invasions and extortion.”

Sites and dates of targeted killings in Cape Town during the 2021 B97 taxi route dispute. (Credit: The Business of Killing: Assassinations in South Africa, Rumbi Matamba, Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime)

Targets from drug dealers to cops

In terms of organised crime killings, as referenced in GI-TOC’s report, targets included drug dealers, gang bosses and law enforcement officials.

Again, KwaZulu-Natal was flagged — it was found there had been a shift in organised crime dynamics: 

“There has been an increase in gang-and drug-related hits occurring in KZN compared to earlier years. The notorious Hard Livings gang, based in Cape Town, has also reportedly been involved in turf wars in Durban.”

(Credit: The Business of Killing: Assassinations in South Africa, Rumbi Matamba, Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime)

In South Africa’s gangsterism capital, the Western Cape, GI-TOC established an increase in organised crime killings “from only one contract killing recorded in 2021 — down from 12 cases in 2020 — to 11 cases recorded in 2022.”

Power shifts in gangs

Suggesting that those figures could rise significantly this year, Daily Maverick recently reported that at least three murders and two attempted murders were carried out in Cape Town last month alone in violence that may be linked to, among other issues, gangsterism and construction tenders.

The GI-TOC report said the gangsterism landscape had been affected by the assassinations of Western Cape gang bosses including Rashied Staggie, gunned down in Cape Town in December 2019, and Ernest “Ernie Lastig” Solomon, killed in a Gauteng shooting in November 2020.

Read in Daily Maverick: Another killing rocks South Africa’s ganglands – the ‘inevitable’ end of Ernie Lastig

“There have been changes in old-order gang structures, with power and control shifting to new leaders,” the report said, which “may have had the effect of imparting a period of relative ‘peace’ in the province’s gang ecosystem, which may now be over, given the increase recorded in 2022.”

Family and romantic disputes

In terms of “personal assassinations,” seven cases were reported in 2022 compared to five in 2021. 

“Personal hits are often related to family or romantic disputes or insurance fraud,” GI-TOC’s report said.

“Many of the personal hits recorded in the database were perpetrated for the purposes of fraudulent insurance claims.”

The case of former police officer Rosemary Ndlovu was referenced. In November 2021 she was sentenced to six life terms in jail for killing family members to receive insurance payouts she had taken out on them. DM

Caryn Dolley has spent years tracing the footprints of crime/drug kingpins from across the world. In her latest book, Clash of the Cartels, Dolley provides unprecedented insight into how specific drug cartels and syndicates have operated via South Africa, becoming embroiled in deadly violence in the country and bolstering local criminal networks. Available now from the Daily Maverick Shop.


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