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The murder of AKA is a tragedy that might galvanise a demand for decisive action

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Dr Imraan Buccus is a senior research associate at the Auwal Socio-economic Research Institute and a postdoctoral fellow at Durban University of Technology.

Pressure for decisive action against the growing normalisation of assassination as a tool of political, business or personal rivalries and score settling will have to come from society.

The murder of the rapper Kiernan Jarryd “AKA” Forbes on Durban’s Florida Road sent shockwaves around the country and made international news. As well as being a tragedy for Forbes’s family and friends, it’s another disaster for Durban’s beleaguered tourist industry.

Durban has a very, very serious problem with criminal and political gangsterism. The violence now endemic in the city, and KwaZulu-Natal in general, is swiftly spreading to the rest of the country.

Back in 2013, David Bruce, who was jailed for refusing to serve in the apartheid military, wrote a groundbreaking paper titled “A provincial concern? Political killings in South Africa”. Bruce showed that political assassinations – within the ANC, between the ANC and the IFP, and against grassroots activists – were fundamentally a KwaZulu-Natal problem. But, in the past decade, political assassinations have spread throughout the country, including to the Eastern Cape, where they are now also endemic.

The mafia-style “business forums” that use armed intimidation to shake down legitimate business also had their origin in this part of the country. They have now moved as far afield as Cape Town, where state housing projects are being brazenly targeted.

Incredibly, the former mayor of eThekwini, the notorious Zandile Gumede, actively sought to institutionalise these mafias in the City’s procurement strategies.

At the time of writing, there is no confirmation of who ordered the hit on Forbes, or who pulled the triggers. But, in a city where paid assassins have moved from the taxi industry into politics, and often operate with impunity, it is not difficult for anyone with the right amount of money to contact a hitman.

As other analysts have noted, KwaZulu-Natal has become like Mexico or central America, a place in which political and criminal violence are deeply entrenched.

We should not be naive about how difficult it is to get out of this kind of situation once it has been normalised and the police and the criminal justice system are captured. Countries like Mexico and Belize have been stuck in this kind of crisis for many years, and they show no signs of getting out.

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The 2018 release of the 423-page Moerane Commission report on political violence in KwaZulu-Natal made exactly no difference. In fact, things got worse. It has been many years since it became clear that many police officers and some police stations had been captured by politically connected mafias.

The experience of grassroots activists in the city – who are repeatedly arrested on bogus charges, denied bail and then jailed for long periods before the charges are dropped – shows, clearly, that parts of the prosecuting authority are also captured.

The idea, trendy among some academics and NGO types, that the police should be abolished is a dangerously silly fantasy. It is true that, right now, the police are often just another mafia. But without a legitimate force to counter them, the mafias rampant in Durban and other parts of KwaZulu-Natal will further entrench themselves.


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We need to look back to successful strategies used towards the end of the war between the UDF and Inkatha, when experienced and skilled police officers with integrity were brought in from outside the province, adequately funded, ring-fenced from their compromised local colleagues and given the space to investigate and make arrests.

We need specialised and highly skilled units, kept apart from “normal” police officers and stations, that can be brought in to undertake expert investigations.

Arresting the assassins is not enough. There will always be another desperate young man ready to step up if the money is right. But, once a few of the principals have been arrested and a few powerful people jailed, others will start thinking twice about contracting hits.

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It is vital we act decisively. Unfortunately, we suffer under a president notorious for indecision and unwilling to take on the corrupt and anti-democratic elements in his party. Pressure for decisive action against the growing normalisation of assassination as a tool of political, business or personal rivalries and score settling will have to come from society.

Many of those who used to just shrug their shoulders when a grassroots activist was assassinated in an informal settlement or rural village are deeply shocked that one of the country’s best-known figures was gunned down on Florida Road. Perhaps this terrible tragedy may galvanise a demand for decisive action to bring an end to the growing ubiquity of assassinations and hits.

We can only hope. DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R25.

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Dennis Bailey says:

    Dream on!

  • Cunningham Ngcukana says:

    Whenever a journalist writes a story relating to violence we need to have certain sensitivities that escape political opportunists whenever a celebrity is killed. Imran Buccus was visibly absent when Anele Tembe was killed in the presence of the late AKA. He is very insensitive to the parents, family and friends of Anele whose tragic death remains unresolved and the NPA has been challenged on the case by the family. We all certainly want the brutal killings to come to an end that have engulfed our country irrespective of the status of the person and station in life. However, femicide is a very serious problem in this country to have such insensitivity. The attempt by Panyaza Lesufi to score cheap political points with a Provincial funeral, was appropriately responded to by the President who showed sensitivity to the Tembe family and was cognisant of the late AKA’s suspected role in her death and did not want to mire the state in the controversy. We must speak and call out the opportunism and journalistic thuggery of Imran Buccus. We must call on Daily Maverick to show sensitivity and not allow itself to be used in such a way. The headline is very phallic and for all intents and purpose fails to speak to the issues of wanton murder including that of Anele Tembe and many who were shot over the last two weeks that Panyaza Lesufi ignored.

  • Palesa Tyobeka says:

    I thought I would raise the issue of Anele and many others but I couldn’t have said anything more eloquently that Cunningham Ngcukana has. Has the nack to get to the nub of the issue.

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