GROUND LEVEL REPORT
‘Take the bribe or die’: Nongoma councillors threatened as political violence brings KZN town to its knees
‘While they are fighting there in fancy courts and council chambers, we are left to fend for ourselves. The roads are bad, we don’t have water and our children are not working.’
The battle for control of the Nongoma Local Municipality between political rivals the IFP and ANC is being waged in council and the courts. The struggle for supremacy has led to the deaths of councillors. Municipal meetings are now held virtually, as councillors fear for their lives.
Nongoma in the Zululand District is its second-largest municipality in terms of population. The town and surrounding villages are notorious for having produced hitmen for hire over the years. Some blame this on the thousands of illegal weapons left behind by faction fights, land disputes and decades of political violence.
Prior to the local government elections in 2021, the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) controlled the municipality. However, the IFP subsequently lost its majority, winning only 45.8% of the vote and taking 21 council seats (20 ward seats and one proportional representation (PR) seat).
The breakaway National Freedom Party (NFP) won 29.3% of the vote, taking 13 seats (three ward seats and 10 PR seats).
In the same poll, the African National Congress (ANC) secured 17.3% of the vote – eight PR seats and no ward councillors.
The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) won 3.8% of the vote and two PR seats. The last seat on the council is held by the National People’s Front (NPF), an NFP breakaway party.
After the elections, the IFP persuaded the EFF and the NPF to form a coalition that saw IFP strongman, Magaqa Mncwango, emerge as mayor and EFF councillor Sabelo Nkosi as his deputy.
However, the EFF changed course and sided with the ANC-NFP alliance, which succeeded in filing motions of no confidence.
Eight KwaZulu-Natal municipalities were disrupted after a decision by the EFF – announced by party leader Julius Malema in January 2023 – that all members serving as deputy mayors must resign with immediate effect, leaving the IFP with no viable coalition partners to hold on to power.
Currently, the Nongoma municipality is ruled by a coalition made up of the ANC, NFP and EFF. The deal saw the NFP’s Clifford Ndabandaba becoming mayor and the EFF’s Sabelo Nkosi becoming his deputy. The ANC’s Babongile Sithole bagged the speaker’s position.
Both before and after the new administration took over, the municipality has been in limbo as the political power struggle plays out in court.
The IFP suffered a blow when the ANC-NFP-EFF coalition and the KZN Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs secured an interdict in the Pietermaritzburg High Court preventing the IFP’s Prince Bheki Zulu from calling himself the speaker and holding council meetings.
The IFP’s Magaqa Mncwango has vowed not to rest until Nongoma is back in the hands of the IFP, which he said is by far the biggest party in the municipality.
According to independent elections analyst Wayne Sussman, the outcome of the 2021 local government elections is the main cause of ructions in the Nongoma council.
“Here, no party had an outright majority. The IFP was initially backed by the EFF. They then lost a seat to the NFP in a by-election, which further loosened their grip on the mayoral chain. Today, in theory, the NFP, ANC and EFF should be able to agree on the ideal candidate for mayor and speaker. Together, they have 24 out of 45 seats.
“My sense is the main cause of instability is the divisions within the NFP, as some of its councillors want to go with the IFP and others want to go with the ANC. If the NFP can be united, there should be a stable government (in the Nongoma council),” Sussman said.
Death in the air
When unknown gunmen stormed the house of 75-year-old NFP councillor Ntombenhle Mchunu’s home in Nongoma in the early hours of Sunday, 30 July, shooting her several times and killing her instantly, it was not the first political hit in Nongoma.
A few weeks ago, on 30 September, the husband of NFP councillor NP Zulu was shot dead in his Nongoma home.
After this murder, Nongoma mayor Clifford Ndabandaba told the SABC that armed men had arrived at the councillor’s home and demanded to see her, before shooting her husband. As a consequence, he said, NFP councillors are now in hiding.
This week, an NFP councillor, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he feared for his life and was considering resigning from his post.
“This is not life. We don’t trust each other as NFP councillors. We are fearful. A few months ago I got a phone call warning me that if I don’t take the bribe and vote as told, my family will miss me as I would be killed.”
One of the senior managers, who was part of the Mncwango-IFP team that ran the municipality until a successful vote of no confidence ousted then-mayor Mncwango, told Daily Maverick that the impasse was causing huge service delivery backlogs.
“Coalition partners don’t have wards. It is only the NFP that has wards and they, too, only have three ward seats. So the coalition partners don’t have platforms to introduce services to the people because most ward councillors belong to the IFP. As things stand, the current coalition is in power but not in charge,” he said.
As the battle for power rages, it is the local populace that suffers the most. Some of the findings of the recent Census reveal that:
- 98.34% of the Nongoma population live in rural areas.
- The level of education is low, with only 33% of the population having a primary school education and 5.3% having reached Grade 12.
- Only 12% of the community has access to electricity.
- There is one police station.
Nqobile Dhlomo, a 34-year-old unemployed man living in an informal settlement outside Nongoma, said the main problem facing residents was a shortage of water.
“We live so near to the growing town of Nongoma yet we often have to go to the river to fetch water,” he said.
These sentiments were echoed by Nompumelelo Zondo, a 56-year-old disabled woman from KwaDayeni, a village on the main road leading to Ulundi. She said the pace of service delivery was slow even when the IFP was in charge, but it has “now gone even worse”.
“While they are fighting there in fancy courts and council chambers, we are left to fend for ourselves. The roads are bad, we don’t have water and our children are not working. They have to rely on our pension for food and other stuff. It is very difficult,” Zondo said.
Solutions to the impasse
Bongiwe Sithole-Moloi, KZN MEC for Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, told Daily Maverick that her department was doing all it could to ensure that the municipality could perform its duties, even as the court cases and power struggles rage.
“We believe in fostering a culture of tolerance, cooperation and respect among all stakeholders. We therefore call upon the political parties within the Nongoma Local Municipality to put aside their differences and work collaboratively for the benefit of the community they serve,” she said. DM