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Zuma roped in by KwaZulu-Natal ANC to ‘cleanse’ province amid spiralling political killings

Zuma roped in by KwaZulu-Natal ANC to ‘cleanse’ province amid spiralling political killings
Former President Jacob Zuma. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

As the assassination of political leaders and activists continues unabated in KwaZulu-Natal, the ANC in the province has asked former president Jacob Zuma to help ‘cleanse the province and bring to an end these killings’. He’s also expected to play a role in the party’s 2024 election campaign.

Political parties and other organisations are concerned about the high levels of political and other killings in KwaZulu-Natal, where it seems hardly a week passes without a councillor or political leader being killed.

There are fears that these killings will increase ahead of the 2024 general elections as political parties intensify their campaigns.

anc zuma mkhize

Murdered KwaZulu-Natal ward councillor, Mabhungu Mkhize. (Image: Youtube | Sharpened with AI)

The latest victim is Mabhungu Mkhize (45), the ANC Ward 41 councillor in Msunduzi (Pietermaritzburg) Local Municipality, who was shot and killed on Friday, 25 August, at Imbali’s Unit 14. A friend who was with Mkhize in the car was also shot in the thigh and was rushed to hospital. Three suspects have since been apprehended. Mkhize will be laid to rest in Pietermaritzburg this Saturday.

anc zuma mchunu

Ntombenhle Mchunu, the 75-year-old Nongoma Local Municipality councillor and leader of the National Freedom Party’s women’s wing, was murdered in July 2023. (Photo: Twitter | Sharpened with AI)

Weeks before Mkhize’s murder, Ntombenhle Mchunu (75), a National Freedom Party (NFP) councillor in Nongoma Local Municipality, was murdered when gunmen entered her home and fired a volley of shots, which killed her and injured one of her grandchildren. Her killers are still at large.

One of the strangest cases of a suspected politically motivated killing occurred just before the November 2021 local government elections. Siyabonga Mkhize, the then eThekwini Ward 101 councillor, was campaigning in his bakkie with his two bodyguards in Mayville when they came under attack. Mkhize and one bodyguard died on the scene. The second bodyguard was rushed to hospital.

Mkhize’s face was on the ballot during the elections and he won the seat posthumously, thus instantly requiring a by-election. The man who replaced Mkhize as the candidate was Mzimuni Ngiba, who also won the seat comfortably. A few months after the by-election, Ngiba was arrested and charged with killing Mkhize.

He received a council salary for more than a year while in jail awaiting trial. In May, the eThekwini Municipality Council finally approved the process of removing Ngiba from the payroll, and as a councillor.

A history of violence

Crispin Hemson of the Durban University of Technology’s International Centre of Nonviolence, which has undertaken extensive studies on violence and political killings in KwaZulu-Natal, said the fight for positions and resources within the ruling ANC and other political parties was behind the killings.

“To understand this phenomenon better, you have to look at what is the history behind it, why South Africa in general, and KZN in particular, has high levels of violent crime incidents and contract killings,” he said.

“In this country, we have a long history of violence, ranging from [the] pre-colonial era to during colonisation and apartheid and in the post-apartheid era. Even after we attained democracy, the culture of violence has continued to shape human relationships. There has been no process to cleanse people and counsel them on the impact of violence.

“On the other hand, there is immense competition for positions that have access to wealth and resources. In our country, there are many who are seeking positions of power in order to access wealth and other resources. Once you have that there is a potential for violence.

“The only way to stop that will be to grow the economy, create more opportunities for people to make a living without resorting to politics or killings,” Hemson said, adding that the lack of arrests and prosecution of perpetrators was also adding to the scourge.

Zuma’s intervention

The KwaZulu-Natal ANC told Daily Maverick that it is concerned about the high levels of political and other killings in the province and it has decided to rope in former president Jacob Zuma to lead a multiparty, multireligious formation effort to “cleanse the province and bring to an end these killings”. 

In early August, the former president had been due to resume his 15-month jail sentence for contempt of court when President Cyril Ramaphosa granted a last-minute pardon to almost 10,000 low-risk prisoners, including Zuma. Zuma still faces several other charges related to the Arms Deal, alongside French arms manufacturer Thales.

Zuma remains a very popular figure in KwaZulu-Natal, where some credit him for bringing an end to political violence between the ANC and the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), which claimed thousands of lives in the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s.

Mafika Mndebele, spokesman for the KwaZulu-Natal ANC, said: “We remain worried that councillors (and other political leaders) remain vulnerable to politically related killings and this will have a negative impact on service delivery. Councillors are expected to respond to community complaints – to hold community meetings and to monitor service delivery in key service delivery areas.”

He said the party had decided to call on Zuma to use his considerable experience in peacemaking to lead the “cleansing and healing process” in the province.

Mndebele said the KwaZulu-Natal ANC also wanted Zuma to play a critical role in the party’s electoral campaign ahead of the 2024 general elections, which could see the ruling party attract less than 50% of the vote for the first time since the first democratic elections in 1994.

It’s unclear exactly what Zuma will do to help reduce political violence in the province. Mzwanele Manyi, spokesman for the Jacob Zuma Foundation, who was sworn in as an EFF MP in June, told Daily Maverick he didn’t usually comment on Zuma’s issues with the ANC.

IFP president Velenkosini Hlabisa said his party had lost many of its leaders to the scourge of political killings, which needed to be tackled head-on once and for all.

“There is absolutely a culture of violence in KwaZulu-Natal which creates a ripe environment for political killing. Weapons are also too easily available. Criminals are actually better equipped than our law enforcement officers. 

“Then there is the problem of high unemployment and poverty, which increases the likelihood that desperate individuals will agree to become hired assassins. It’s a recipe for disaster,” Hlabisa said.

He claimed: “It is worth asking why the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal have opposed any kind of reconciliation between the ANC and the IFP for more than three decades. We will never have peace in this province until genuine reconciliation is achieved, and reconciliation will elude us for as long as the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal finds it more important to hold power than to heal our nation.”

Intervention crucial to ending killings

The South African Local Government Association (Salga) also said it was worried about the killing of councillors in the country, especially in KwaZulu-Natal. In July 2023, Salga in KwaZulu-Natal said 17 councillors had been killed in the province in the past 10 months.

Salga’s provincial chairperson Thami Ntuli said: “KZN is not a safe province to even ordinary citizens, hence law enforcement institutions need to show some urgency. We are aware of the unfortunate growing trend of the political killings in KZN. The safety of the councillors is important according to our view since councillors are public servants and any measure to ensure their safety is supported.”

Ntuli said a trend was emerging where an increasing proportion of council budgets were being spent on hiring bodyguards for councillors. The killing of councillors was so rife in the province that many councillors had bodyguards trailing them 24 hours a day, at the expense of the taxpayer.

Thokozani Mncwabe, spokesperson for the largest faction of the Nazareth Baptist Church, told Daily Maverick that they would support efforts to cleanse and heal KwaZulu-Natal communities and that the church’s leader was concerned about the violence.

“Inkosi Mduduzi ‘Nyazilwezulu’ Shembe is worried about the wanton killings of our people, especially in KZN. This scourge began in politics but has now extended to other facets of our society, including the churches. There are many disputes which are sorted by the barrel of the gun,” Mncwabe said.

“This is very sad and must be urgently brought to an end. We are willing to play our part in the process of finding peace and reconciliation in the nation.”

Abahlali baseMjondolo, the shack dwellers’ movement that primarily campaigns for land, housing and dignity for the poor, said it had lost 25 activists since 2009. Last year alone, four of its leaders had been shot and killed.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Killers of Abahlali baseMjondolo leader hunted him down in his shack after failing to find two of his colleagues

Abahlali leader S’bu Zikode said few of the killers had been arrested and prosecuted.

“We have made countless appeals to the NPA, KZN premiers, justice and police ministers and other government officials over the years. But it seems our effort bore no fruit. We have even lodged a complaint with the United Nations. That is why South Africa was subjected to criticism and rebuke by some fellow members in Geneva.

“We think that the only solution to the political and other killings will be a peace and reconciliation indaba that will involve political parties and political leaders, civil society organisations, traditional leaders like amakhosi and izinduna, church leaders. This is because we believe that political killings cannot be solved by politicians alone,” Zikode said, adding that he had not yet heard about the ANC-Zuma cleansing proposal. DM


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