With the local elections around the corner, KwaZulu-Natal is already bleeding following the death of three women at an ANC political gathering recently.
Ncami Shange, Beatrice Nzama and Philisiwe Jili were gunned down outside a primary school in Inanda after attending an ANC community meeting to finalise the selection of candidates for the local government elections.
Five more people – four women and a man – were also injured during the shooting. Political violence on this scale
is not new in the province, going back in modern history to the seven-day war in the hills above Pietermaritzburg which saw Inkatha forces swoop on the United Democratic Front in 1990.
Then, 80 people were killed and another 20,000 were believed to have been left homeless.
And things haven’t changed, as pointed out by Dr Sunday Paul C Onwuegbuchulam from the centre for gender and African studies at the University of the Free State in his recent paper, Anatomy of Political Violence
in South Africa.
“Political killings constitute another rising phenomenon contributing to the violent crime statistics in the country,” Onwuegbuchulam noted in his paper.
“Reporting in July 2016, then minister of police Nathi Nhleko noted the country had 25 politically motivated violent crimes, with 14 such cases being murder and attempted murder.”
The report also noted that KZN recorded the most cases of political murders or attempted murders – 25 – between May and July 2016, mainly involving members of the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) and the ANC.
On Tuesday, while visiting the scene, Police Minister Bheki Cele said the KZN political task team had charged 271 people for crimes related to political violence in the province so far.
“The violence in KZN is so dire it is regarded as the killing fields of South Africa,” said Onwuegbuchulam, referring to violence monitor Mary De Haas’ paper on the same issue in 2016 about the local government elections.
Onwuegbuchulam said KZN had always been a hotspot for political killings.
“Contestations are part of the political process. If people are not happy with the type of political procedures going forward they have a right to contest it, but it should not be in a violent way,” he said.
And throwing in a few thousand rounds of ammunition still missing of the 1.2 million stolen during the recent riots triggered by former president Jacob Zuma’s arrest was not going to help the process, according to a report by the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organised Crime.
“This ammunition, in conjunction with the flood of illegal weapons, may help fuel criminal and political violence in this already volatile region, which has the highest rate of political assassinations in the country,” the report said.
“The ammunition theft also adds fuel to the fire of illicit firearms in South Africa, following several scandals surrounding state regulation of firearms, and could have a serious impact on violence and crime in the province.”
Political analyst Daniel Silke said election season was always a time for rising tension within political parties.
“An example is the ANC, where there is a high degree of factionalism within the branches,” Silke said.
He added politicians were faced with different pressures within the party.
“There is more pressure for a particular job. There is a high degree of desperation for many who see the job of a local councillor as employment, rather than being of service, and for many it is a matter of life and death in terms of earning a salary or to be able to exercise patronage if they get elected. It becomes almost a desperate situation for many.
“This leads to the increased violence and tension as the candidate list gets compiled.”
Political analyst Levy Ndou said political killings were not a new phenomenon.
“I blame political leaders for such chaos because it’s their duty to develop a way to conscientise their members not to go to the extent of killing each other for political party position,” Ndou said.
Silke said not only was the government supposed to be concerned about a wrecked society due to internal divisions, but also the missing ammunition which was unaccounted for.
“The security services should be extremely concerned that we have this high level of untracked ammunition. The danger is obviously in terms of an increase in political violence and criminal violence,” he said.