DURBAN, May 9 – Political killings in KwaZulu-Natal show no signs of ending, with the murder of yet another African National Congress (ANC) regional party leader on Monday night causing consternation within the ruling party.
When the latest killing is added to the ANC’s figures presented at the Moerane Commission last year, the total number of political killings in the province is pushed to over 80 since 2011, but one independent analyst puts the number as high as 104 over the same period.
And it appears there has been a serious uptick in this pervasive crime, with nearly half of the killings having happened since the beginning of 2016, spurred on by that year’s local government elections.
The most high profile killing so far has been that of former ANC Youth League secretary-general, Sindiso Magaqa, who was gunned down along with two colleagues in July last year. Magaqa was a PR councillor at uMzimkhulu municipality at the time of the shooting and was allegedly exposing corruption at the institution.
His colleagues survived the shooting and were later issued with private security at the municipality’s cost, but Magaqa died in hospital in September. While much fanfare was made about the police allegedly killing one of the men responsible for Magaqa’s murder in a shootout unrelated to the murder, there are doubts that this was indeed a suspect.
So high is the number of killings that KwaZulu-Natal premier Willies Mchunu in late 2016 established the Moerane Commission to investigate politically connected violence in the province from 2011 onwards. The commission ended in March this year and its final report is awaited.
Despite heightened awareness of the problem, including the commission of inquiry, Monday’s murder of Sifiso Cele, an African National Congress Oshabeni branch treasurer at Ray Nkonyeni Municipality on the Lower South Coast of KwaZulu-Natal, brings the number of ANC members killed in the province to 24 since 2016.
According to KwaZulu-Natal based researcher, Mary De Haas, who has been monitoring violence in the province for decades and who also testified before the Moerane Commission, her “rough” calculations from 2011 to the end of 2017 indicated 104 deaths that were politically motivated.
She stressed that a large proportion of the killings were the result of Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) and National Freedom Party (NFP) clashes. The NFP was formed as a result of a breakaway from the IFP in 2011.
“There is a more detailed figure of 22 [killings] during the first few months of 2016 up until the [local government elections] and, if I count up between August 2016 and October 2017, there were approximately 21,” she said.
De Haas stressed that her figures were based on the victims being political office bearers, prominent activists or senior municipal officials.
She said the number of deaths recorded at Durban’s notorious Glebelands hostel complex in Umlazi, “cannot be separated from the political context” but that she had not, except on two occasions, included them in the list.
De Haas said this was done largely because “the ANC and it seems even the Moerane Commission has veered to accepting it and holds that these deaths are about economic competition … which is nonsense”.
Glebelands activist Vanessa Burger has alleged that over 100 murders that have taken place in the province since 2014 can be traced back to hitmen operating from the sprawling hostel complex, which is estimated to house between 20 and 22 000 people.
Seven suspects, including a Durban Central detective, are currently incarcerated on charges of conspiring to kill hostel residents.
Many of these killings, including murders at the hostel, Burger told the Moerane Commission, were politically motivated, but police allege the killings are “purely criminal”.
According to the ANC, 42-year-old Cele was “assassinated” in the early hours of Monday at his home in the Margate area in the presence of his partner and children.
Police minister Bheki Cele visited the area on Wednesday.
Testifying before the Moerane Commission in October last year, the party’s provincial task team coordinator, Sihle Zikalala, said the ANC’s own calculations, which were based on law enforcement reports, indicate that 80 politicians had been killed in the province since 2011.
Thirty people from various political parties had died since the start of 2016, he said, with 19 of those being ANC members.
“Since January 2016 the killings included 19 members of the ANC; three members of the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP); three members of the National Freedom Party (NFP); three members of the South African Communist Party (SACP); and one member of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF),” he said.
Barely a month after Zikalala’s testimony at the commission, two men from the party’s Moses Mabhida Region (Pietermaritzburg area) were shot to death in separate incidents.
Former ANC branch chairperson Lungisani Mnguni was shot and killed near Camperdown in November in broad daylight while he was delivering items for a school nutrition programme. He was supposed to attend the party’s national conference as a delegate in December.
Just days later, Sthembiso Mhlongo, the deputy regional secretary of the ANC youth league in the Moses Mabhida region was shot at his home in the Mpophomeni area. He died hours later in a private hospital. According to police, the 35-year-old opened the door for his killers, who said they were police officers.
On New Year’s day, Jozini ward two Councillor Njabulo “Jija” Dlamini was stabbed to death on Richards Bay’s main beach.
In March, ANC local voting district coordinator Nqobizwe Mkhize was killed at his home in the Imfume area of Durban over the voter registration weekend. Mkhize’s wife was in the bed when he was murdered. She was told to cover her face before the shooting started.
Despite the establishment of a special task team and a reward of up to R450,000 being offered by the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation, known as the Hawks, convictions remain elusive.
In September last year, KZN’s community safety MEC, Mxolisi Kaunda, said that of 41 cases of political violence in the province, which included murder, 61 arrests had been made but no suspects had been successfully prosecuted.