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SA’s elections stand out globally ‘for very real’ threat of violence — assassination report

SA’s elections stand out globally ‘for very real’ threat of violence — assassination report
South Africa’s upcoming elections face the ominous shadow of potential violence, with a new report shedding light on the deadly collusion between criminal networks and state actors vying for power and enrichment. (Graphic: Bogosi Motau)

A politically motivated hit has been carried out roughly every fortnight between January and April this year — the run up to South Africa’s critical elections next week. This is according to a new report on killings in the country. 

“While there are some 64 elections being held the world over in 2024, South Africa’s elections stand out for the very real threat of violence that they bring, a cumulation of the influence of criminal networks and state-embedded actors in driving criminality.”

This is according to a new report, The Politics of Murder: Criminal governance and targeted killings in South Africa, authored by Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime (GI-TOC) analysts Rumbi Matamba and Chwayita Thobela.

The May 2024 report draws on research from sources including GI-TOC’s South Africa Organized Crime Observatory (SA-Obs) as well as a local and national news database.

Battle for power and enrichment

“Targets of political killings in South Africa include activists, whistle-blowers, local councillors, party supporters and government administrators, but local councillors make up the majority of victims,” the report said.

“At the heart of this is the battle for power and self-enrichment in a highly unequal society, which is reflected in the assassination trends.”

It found that “a higher number of political assassinations and spikes in violence are more likely to occur in municipal election years than in national election years”.

However, “the greatest number of political assassinations recorded in the database was in fact during the 2019 national elections, when 42 incidents were noted.”

10 assassinations in 4 months

A few days ago, South Africa’s security cluster assured residents measures were in place to see that voting goes off smoothly on 29 May, which marks the most pivotal elections in the country in three decades.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Poll will ‘proceed without any incidents of crime or disruptions’, says NatJoints chief

Violent incidents have already happened, though.

“In the first four months of 2024 alone, the SA-Obs recorded 10 politically motivated assassinations, an average of at least one hit every two weeks between January and April,” Matamba and Thobela found in their report.

(Source: Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime (GI-TOC) analysts Rumbi Matamba and Chwayita Thobela.)

“The incidents continue the grim pattern of previous years: the killings are brutal, often carried out by hitmen with little regard for bystanders and frequently targeting high-profile individuals.

“The killings have also become more brazen, with victims targeted at public gatherings, often in front of children and community members.”

Read more in Daily Maverick: Shock and sadness after former ‘poo fighter’ Loyiso Nkohla gunned down in Philippi

Matamba and Thobela said political assassinations in the country could be understood “as part of a system of collaborative criminal governance, involving local politicians and government administrators colluding with criminal actors to eliminate rivals”.

Collusion and cash incentives

Their report stated: “Under a system of collaborative criminal governance in South Africa, hitmen typically kill because there is a financial incentive for them to do so.

“This is different from the divided form of criminal governance seen in places such as Mexico, for example, where hitmen kill as part of competition with the State for territorial control.”

Targeted killings in the country were enmeshed in criminal networks that involved “State-embedded actors.”

Such killings, the report said, “lead to increased violence in gang-afflicted communities, influence transparency and accountability in state-owned enterprises, and affect the provision of essential services such as water, electricity and sanitation”.

Killings and KwaZulu-Natal

There had been political assassinations in all nine of South Africa’s provinces.

But KwaZulu-Natal experienced the majority of attacks — 158 of 280 recorded cases between 2015 and 2024.

Political assassinations in SA

(Source: Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime analysts Rumbi Matamba and Chwayita Thobela.)

Read more in Daily Maverick: Assassination nation – political contract killings escalate in KZN as hitmen are offered ‘job after job’

“In addition to its long history of violence, the province has a substantial number of illegal firearms in circulation from internal arms flows, as well as from arms trafficking related to the instability in Mozambique,” Matamba and Thobela found in their report.

“The province also has a notoriously violent taxi industry, which provides firearms and hitmen to the rest of the country and sometimes to other parts of southern Africa.”

This — “the ready availability of contract killers and illicit firearms in the province” — posed a threat to political stability.

Drugs, thugs, extortion

In terms of broader organised crime killings, the report said victims “included suspected drug dealers, gang members and law enforcement officers investigating organised crime cases, mostly related to gang rivalries, and extortion and protection racketeering by criminal gangs.”

It added that “Business owners and people in the entertainment industry, including DJs and musicians, were also targeted”.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Beyond DJ Sumbody’s murder – business tensions, underworld fears and a court order

Examples pointing to that included the February 2023 murders of Kiernan Forbes, also known as AKA, and his celebrity chef friend, Tebello Motsoane, who were shot outside a Durban restaurant.

Gauteng recorded the highest number of organised crime killings in 2023 and some of the violence was linked to the Boko Haram extortion gang.

Read more in Daily Maverick: When gangsters came to the party: The ANC’s links to Tshwane’s ‘Boko Haram’

“Competition between Boko Haram and other offshoot gangs led to the targeting of members of rival gangs, often in mass shootings, such as the shooting in Mamelodi on 19 May 2023, which resulted in the death of four Boko Haram members,” Matamba and Thobela’s report said.

Turf wars and key cases

Meanwhile, in the Western Cape in 2023, gang turf wars and infighting likely contributed to attacks.

The report referenced the murder of Simon Stanfield in March 2023 — he was the cousin of alleged 28s gang boss Ralph Stanfield.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Another cousin of alleged 28s gang boss Ralph Stanfield murdered, this time while Stanfield in custody

It also pointed out certain court matters expected to have a broad impact in the Western Cape.

“The arrests of alleged high-profile gang leaders in 2023, Nafiz Modack for the 2020 murder of Anti-Gang Unit Lieutenant Colonel Charl Kinnear, and Ralph Stanfield and his wife, Nicole on charges of car theft, fraud and attempted murder, are key cases to watch in this regard, as they may lead to changes in gang dynamics in the Western Cape,” Matamba and Thobela’s report said.

Modack is among a group on trial in the Western Cape High Court in connection with Kinnear’s assassination.

Gangsterism and government

Stanfield and Nicole Johnson are also detained ahead of a potential trial in the car theft case.

The report highlighted that “gangsterism in South Africa is inextricably caught up in issues of governance”.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Company previously flagged over ‘28s gang’ suspicions still building houses for Western Cape government

“There have been allegations of collusion between municipal officials and alleged underworld figures who run businesses such as construction companies,” it said.

“In the Western Cape, for example, there were accusations that some tenders were manipulated by municipal and council employees in favour of companies accused of having criminal connections.”

Last year in February, a City of Cape Town official — Wendy Kloppers was murdered in a shooting in Delft, at the Symphony Way Housing Project building site.

City manager Lungelo Mbandazayo had told IOL Kloppers was killed after the City refused to give in to gangsters’ demands for work from contractors at the housing project.

Read more in Daily Maverick: ‘I want to live my life’ — ex-Cape Town mayco member Malusi Booi quits as councillor seven months after police raid

Daily Maverick reported that the month after Kloppers was killed, in March last year, Malusi Booi was fired as mayoral committee member for human settlements after his City of Cape Town office was raided during a fraud and corruption investigation.

Booi was not criminally charged.

Stanfield’s name had cropped up in that investigation. DM


Daily Maverick has closed comments on all elections articles for the next two weeks. While we do everything in our power to ensure deliberately false, misleading and hateful commentary does not get published on our site, it’s simply not possible for our small team to have sight of every comment. Given the political dynamics of the moment, we cannot risk malignant actors abusing our platform to manipulate and mislead others. We remain committed to providing you with a platform for dynamic conversation and exchange and trust that you understand our need for circumspection at this sensitive time for our country.

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