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Dire situation: The unchallenged political violence spreading in South Africa is a threat to democracy

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Dr Imraan Buccus is senior research associate at the Auwal Socio-Economic Research Institute and a postdoctoral scholar in gender justice, health and human development at Durban University of Technology.

KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) has been the central location for political violence since the 1980s. As a number of commentators have observed, the impunity for violence in the province has meant that contestation for access to political positions and tenders has started to take violent forms in other provinces, most notably Mpumalanga and the Eastern Cape.

The recent arrest of former MEC for agriculture in Mpumalanga, Mandla Msibi, on two charges of murder and one of attempted murder was a shocking demonstration of how the problem of political violence is spreading.

The assassination of respected civil servant Babita Deokaran in Johannesburg in August was an equally appalling development.

As we get close to local government elections, two aspirant councillors have been shot dead in KZN. In recent days, Thulani Shangase, a candidate for the EFF in Pietermaritzburg, and Siyabonga Mkhize in Durban were both murdered in what are assumed to be political killings. Last month, three women were shot dead in Durban when a gunman opened fire in an ANC meeting.

Durban’s grassroots activists first blew the whistle on the growing entanglement between gangsterism and local ANC politics in Durban more than 10 years ago. Their warning was astute. During the Zuma years, the link between politics and gangsterism became more or less open when then mayor Zandile Gumede was publicly associated with the Delangokubona Business Forum, widely described as a mafia organisation.

In Cato Manor, it is rumoured that the same faction of the ANC that has been behind the recent arrest and imprisonment of nine members of Abahlali baseMjondolo on trumped-up charges is behind the recent assassination of Mkhize. This is not confirmed, but the fact that it seems credible to many people shows just how febrile the political atmosphere is at present.

Political violence is not just a threat to its victims. It drives good people out of politics and is a direct and serious threat to democratic values and practices.

It is a matter of huge concern that, aside from some courageous grassroots activists, there has not been serious action against the political violence in KZN that is now spilling into other provinces.

The Moerane Commission of Inquiry, established in 2016 to probe political killings, received useful input from academics, activists and politicians. But the commission was a damp squib in the end, with no real follow-up. One of the points often repeated in the testimony heard by the commission was that during the latter years of the war between Inkatha and the UDF in the late 1980s and early 1980s, the only effective mechanism to address the problem was to bring in high-level, well-funded and dedicated police units from outside the province to investigate political killings.

Once there is no longer impunity for political killings, the situation will start to improve. However, action is not being taken to achieve this, just as action is not being taken to investigate, arrest and prosecute the people who used the massive bread riots in July as cover to organise a campaign of sabotage.

This was an act of treason, and the fact that there are no consequences for treason is a damning indictment of the state.

As Ferial Haffajee recently argued, the obvious explanation for this is that Cyril Ramaphosa knows that he cannot retain his hold on the ANC, and thereby his presidency of the country, if the KZN ANC turns against him. It seems that, for this reason, Ramaphosa is allowing political violence to continue unchallenged.

This is a dire situation and one that all South Africans should insist is resolved as a matter of absolute urgency. It may be that the only way to do this is to create such pressure on Ramaphosa that he fears public opinion more than the KZN ANC.

We need to act, and we need to act now. DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for R25 at Pick n Pay, Exclusive Books and airport bookstores. For your nearest stockist, please click here.

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  • You still call it democracy? Wake up…the ruling party has moved way behind is. These actions are a typical of a party as socialist as you can get