South Africa

AGE OF THE ASSASSIN

Salga calls on Ramaphosa and Cele to take action after another KZN councillor is murdered

Salga calls on Ramaphosa and Cele to take action after another KZN councillor is murdered
Ntombenhle Mchunu, the 75-year-old Nongoma Local Municipality councillor and leader of the National Freedom Party’s women’s wing, was murdered on Sunday. (Photo: Twitter)

Nongoma Local Municipality councillor Ntombenhle Mchunu (75) was shot dead in her home on Sunday, leading to renewed calls for an intervention to tackle political killings in KwaZulu-Natal.

The South African Local Government Association (Salga) has called on President Cyril Ramaphosa and Police Minister Bheki Cele to take action to end political assassinations in KwaZulu-Natal and bring the perpetrators to book.

This was in response to the killing of Ntombenhle Mchunu, the 75-year-old Nongoma Local Municipality councillor and leader of the National Freedom Party’s (NFP’s) women’s wing.

Police said Mchunu was sleeping at her home in KwaNongoma when gunmen broke in at about 1am on Sunday and shot her. She died on the scene.

One of her relatives was injured in the incident and was in critical condition at the time of reporting.  

NFP kingmaker

Wayne Sussman, an independent political and election analyst, said Mchunu’s death would bring a fresh wave of instability to the Nongoma Local Municipality.

There are 45 seats in the Nongoma council. The IFP has 20 seats, the NFP 14, the ANC eight, the EFF two and the National People’s Front one. This makes the NFP the kingmaker, with the deciding votes on who governs Nongoma. 

“Nongoma is one of the hotly contested, hung municipalities. On paper, the NFP-ANC coalition should be in power, but the municipality has been plagued by instability. The NFP councillors have been persuaded by both the IFP and ANC, hence the divisions within the party,” Sussman said.

In February, a bloc of ANC, NFP and EFF councillors succeeded in passing a vote of no-confidence in the mayor, long-standing IFP leader Mangaqa Mncwango. IFP councillors were absent from the meeting.

The ANC and NFP, which had an agreement to work together in KZN councils, subsequently replaced Mncwango with the NFP’s Mshangane Ndabandaba, but the IFP took the matter to court and succeeded in reversing the vote and reinstalled Mncwango.

Surprisingly, Ndabandaba then accepted the IFP’s nomination to be deputy mayor and was duly elected to the position, thus signalling the NFP’s move away from its deal with the ANC.

The NFP has appeared divided over whether it should continue working with the ANC on its plan to dislodge the IFP from KZN councils or work with the party. When NFP leaders met recently, they failed to provide direction and said councillors should choose their allegiances.

The status of the mayor and other positions in the Nongoma Municipality is the subject of at least two ongoing court cases. Some sources, both within and outside the NFP, have told Daily Maverick they believe Mchunu’s killing was related to tensions over leadership positions in the Nongoma Municipality.

The NFP said it believed that Mchunu was killed because of her political activities.

“As the NFP, we are reeling in shock after receiving the sad news of the passing of our councillor in the early hours of Sunday. Councillor Mchunu was our Exco member within the Nongoma municipality. She was also a leader of the NFP women’s movement, having served as the chair within the Nongoma constituency,” said Mbali Shinga, an NFP member of the KZN provincial legislature.

Canaan Mdletshe, the secretary of the NFP, told Newzroom Afrika on Sunday evening that although there was a divergence of opinion among the party’s leaders and councillors, especially about whether the party should form a coalition with the IFP or the ANC, he did not believe NFP members would kill each other over the issue.

Mdletshe said Mchunu’s murder followed an alleged threat from an IFP member to take action if the IFP lost control of Nongoma Municipality. The IFP distanced itself from the threat, which circulated via a voice recording.

On Sunday, Thami Ntuli, the chairperson of Salga in KZN and the KZN IFP chairperson, said: “We are calling on President Ramaphosa and Minister Cele to start taking the political killings in KZN seriously. This wanton killing of our councillors and leaders has been going on for many years now but it seems like government is doing nothing because perpetrators of these heinous crimes are not arrested and brought to book. We want to see arrests and convictions.

“We will not be able to build a safer society if we cannot secure our councillors, secure our community leader. We need a proactive police force because in the past the perpetrators were not arrested, thus sending a wrong message that you can commit murder and get away with it.”  

Bheki Mtolo, the ANC KZN provincial secretary, said his party was shocked by the murder.

“The African National Congress in KwaZulu-Natal has been alerted by its regional leadership and the leadership of the National Freedom Party about the barbaric murder of Mama Ntombenhle Mchunu. 

“She was not only an NFP councillor but was a dependable community leader who was loved by society. We call on the people of KwaZulu-Natal to stand together and show a public display of disapproval of chief warmongers who are masquerading as politicians.  They must be arrested and removed from society,” Mtolo said.

Rampant killings

In November 2022, Salga revealed that 54 councillors and municipal officials around SA had been killed since the November 2021 local government elections. The majority of these murders were in KZN.

In July 2023, Salga said 17 councillors in KZN had been assassinated in the months since September 2022.

Political assassinations have often been attributed to battles around power struggles and patronage networks within the ruling ANC.

Read more in Daily Maverick: ‘Horrific’ new trend of ANC political killings triggers by-elections in Joburg and KZN

However, in recent times, political killings have occurred across the political spectrum, with the NFP and IFP losing leaders and councillors.

In 2021, the NFP claimed that 21 of its leaders and prominent members had been killed since the party was founded in early 2011.

Police spokesperson Brigadier Athlenda Mathe said, “The South African Police Services’ national task team on political killings has mobilised maximum resources to apprehend suspects behind the killing of an NFP councillor.” DM

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