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‘Ears to the ground’ will help monitor possible WC gang violence on election day – IEC

‘Ears to the ground’ will help monitor possible WC gang violence on election day – IEC
Illustrative image | Gang violence; IEC. (Photos: Ashraf Hendricks | Shelley Christians)

The Western Cape is known as SA’s gangsterism capital and some residents fear that shifts in political alignments could stoke violence. The IEC in the province has security measures in place to protect voters and staff.

Some residents in gangsterism hotspots in the Western Cape are worried that the 2024 elections, set to be held on 29 May this year, could see tensions flaring among gangs.

The Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) in the province, though, has already flagged gang rivalry and violence as among the issues that need monitoring.

Other concerns include how gender-based violence, a problem across South Africa, could affect voter turnout, especially since more women than men are registered to vote in the Western Cape.

‘Gangs back political parties’ 

Last week a resident who lives in a Cape Town gang hotspot, who chose to speak to Daily Maverick anonymously for safety reasons, said they were “extremely worried” about politics stoking tensions between rival gangs.

The resident said when political parties were “intolerant” of each other, this sometimes affected interactions between members of different gangs.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Spate of shootings in Cape Town linked to political, gang and construction mafia elements

“We have different gangs supporting different political parties and that creates intolerance… it also creates fear among voters who might then not turn up to vote,” the resident explained.

Abie Isaacs, chair of the Cape Flats Safety Forum, told Daily Maverick the group was concerned about escalating gang violence – it had noted an increase in related activity since the start of this year.

“We further hope all protocols [have] been taken into consideration for the elections by the security cluster,” he said.

Isaacs also called on politicians not to use crime as a campaigning tool.

In the runup to elections, politicians in the Western Cape have been known to focus more on gangsterism and highlight ways to crack down on the scourge, probably in the hope of winning votes.

‘Not insulated from crime’

Michael Hendrickse, the Western Cape’s electoral officer, acknowledged that crime could spill over and affect the IEC’s operations, impacting voters.

“The IEC does not operate in a vacuum, neatly insulated in voting stations,” he told Daily Maverick.

“What happens in the community impacts the work of the IEC and its mandate – which is delivering free and fair elections.”

Gangsterism could affect many residents and IEC staff.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Gangsta’s Paradise – how the ‘bullet rule’ of gangsters is strangling the life out of SA’s Mother City

“It’s a concern that gang violence may constrain the ability of neighbourhood residents to mobilise politically and consequently resist gang violence through institutionalised channels,” Hendrickse said.

“Living in neighbourhoods where gangs rule the roost is a blight on the lives of ordinary law-abiding citizens who have no choice but to live under these conditions.”

If isolated cases were picked up in which ructions between gangs could influence voter turnout, Hendrickse said “we will investigate whether voting station boundaries can be moved.

“But given the shifting nature of gang rivalry, this is not always a solution.”

Conflict mediation

In the past two elections, Hendrickse said, there had been no need to move or close voting stations due to violence. (In August 2016 it was reported that a woman was wounded in a shooting on local elections’ voting day in the Cape Town suburb of Manenberg.)

“The IEC also has a conflict mediation programme where we have on-boarded experienced mediation specialists in the province who have the experience, skill and, most importantly, their ears to the ground to help resolve situations,” he said.

Gang violence also had a potential ripple effect.

“Having to often endure this continuous onslaught may also result in fewer incentives and opportunities to hold elected representatives accountable,” Hendrickse said

Taxi violence and women voters

Other flagged issues included taxi industry violence that has resulted in several fatal shootings.

In one of the latest incidents, a police officer was one of two people shot dead in Masiphumelele on the Cape Peninsula on 25 February.

Daily Maverick reported that the officer had been set to testify at the murder trial of a high-profile Cape Town taxi boss.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Nyanga cop due to testify against Cape Town taxi boss gunned down in apparent hit

Another issue the IEC was taking into consideration was gender-based violence. 

“Due to the unequal power dynamics between the sexes, this pandemic has far-reaching ramifications that extend beyond the actual violence,” Hendrickse said.

“We have more women on our voters’ roll than men, [and] it may also mean that criminal violence may have a further disproportionate effect on women wanting to vote.”

The number of women shot and stabbed from 2018 to 2023. (Image: The Outlier)

Women make up more than 1.8 million of those on the Western Cape’s voters’ roll, from a registered voting population of nearly 3.3 million.

“It is within this context that there are continuing efforts by the IEC to ensure voter safety at our voting stations,” Hendrickse said.

The IEC was working with law enforcement, including the South African Police Service (SAPS), and engaging community and faith-based organisations. 

Last week Western Cape police spokesperson Colonel André Traut told Daily Maverick that voter safety would be prioritised.

“At a suitable time, and closer to the event, Western Cape SAPS will announce our readiness to ensure the safety of voters and the public at large,” he said.

Collusion accusations

Gangsterism with links to politics is nothing new.

The Mail & Guardian once reported that then president Jacob Zuma met several gang leaders in May 2011 as part of a plan to wrest control of the Western Cape from the DA.

While the ANC in the province denied that the meeting took place, several police sources insisted that it had.

Around that time, about a decade or so ago, there was a flurry of accusations between the ANC and DA. The gist was that certain ANC figures, like its Western Cape leader at the time, Marius Fransman, were colluding with gangsters.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Forget gang accusations — Plato, Fransman union shows political amnesia alive and well

Similar accusations were made against Fransman’s political opponent at the time, Dan Plato, then the DA’s provincial community safety MEC.

Despite the accusations, the two made amends and in February 2024 it emerged Plato had left the DA and joined Fransman’s new party, the People’s Movement for Change.

The party intends to contest the upcoming general elections. DM

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