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Assessing and promoting civil and minority rights in South Africa.

[Source: South African Monitor.]

Glen Mashinini, chairman of the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC), warned in Durban on 9 June 2016 that politicians’ failure to mute wild political promises and violent tendencies could destroy South Africa’s democratic achievements.

Mashinini’s warning came less than 12 hours after it emerged that two members of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) were gunned down in Pietermaritzburg’s Imbali township. One was fatally wounded while another is fighting for her life in hospital. Since April 16, in the run-up to local elections on 3 August 2016, at least six senior ANC members have been killed in KwaZulu-Natal.

Many of the parties’ leaders, including the ANC’s provincial chairman Sihle Zikalala, warned about the existence of so-called “no go areas”. According to KwaZulu-Natal ANC spokesman Mdumiseni Ntuli, the ongoing assassinations of ANC leaders could be the work of party insiders who hire hit men to take out their comrades.

Killings have become part of local ANC politics

Over the past five years, at least 55 people were killed in circumstances bearing the hallmarks of assassinations. The trend seems at present to be largely concentrated in northern provinces, including KwaZulu Natal, Northwest, Mpumalanga and Gauteng, although political killings have also occurred in the Western and Eastern Cape provinces.

Police Minister Nathi Nhleko recently established a political violence task team to deal with recurring murders, attacks and threats. However, it is not expected that this will have a major impact soon. Already in August 2013, Raymond Suttner, a lawyer and honorary professor at Witwatersrand University, as well as a former ANC activist, stated: (W)holesale assassinations have become a regularised way of deciding on leadership and access to wealth within the ANC and its allies.

Karl von Holdt, director of the Society, Work and Development Institute at the University of the Witwatersrand concludes that three forms of intra-elite conflict over access to positions and resurces occur. These forms are political assassinations, local protests, and the struggle for factional control over the coercive instruments of the state.

Analysts concur that the control of resources, such as municipal tenders and jobs, are at the heart of the killings. “Access to networks that include people who are willing to carry out such killings may be one condition that enables such violence to flourish,” wrote an analyst, David Bruce, in a September 2013 article in the journal, Crime Quarterly. “Another may be the belief that pursuing political objectives through violence is legitimate, even within the context of post-apartheid South Africa.”

Political violence, factions and a hybrid system

Political competition and factionalism over positions and resources, sometimes violent, will intensify in the run-up to the local elections on 3 August 2016, the ANC’s leadership succession in 2017, and the national elections in 2019.

Under the rule of president Jacob Zuma, South Africa has moved from a flawed democracy to a hybrid regime. The locus of politics is no longer parliament and elections, but a field of power where non-democratic and democratic elements interact. These elements include: an unaccountable presidentialism; weak democratic checks on the executive; extending the ANC’s power in a one-partydominant state through state patronage and pro-ANC crony capitalists; and the securitization of politics and political assassinations. Factional competition over positions and resources is intensifying in the ANC, its allies and breakaway factions, like the Economic Freedom Fighters and NUMSA trade union. These dynamics will result in shifts, uncertainty and discretionary decisions in economic policy-making. They will also result in militant strikes, political tensions and protests, and local political assassinations.

A climate of fear in several provinces

Media attention is very much on political killings in KwaZulu Natal, the province from which pres. Zuma hails. However, local ANC officials and politicians in Mpumalanga, Gauteng and Northwest provinces are also being targeted, giving rise to a climate of fear.

“It’s not the ANC that is killing the people, but it’s corrupt people within the ANC who want to monopolise power using the organisational machinery.” When you get involved in ANC party politics in Mpumalanga, you know you may be killed. This is according to ANC councillor candidate Themba Mpila, whose friend Michael “Zane” Phelembe was shot at his home in Pienaar on 27 May 2016 and died a few days later.

“We joined the ANC voluntarily with the full understanding of the politics of Mpumalanga that, among other things, we would be killed,” said a distraught Mpila. He said Phelembe had told him of a hit list and that his (Mpila’s) name was also on it.

In Tshwane, an ANC member’s bodyguard was shot during a meeting intended to elect a ward councillor for Hammanskraal. Jeanette Dibetso-Nyathi, a former mayor of Rustenburg, Northwest province, was shot at two years ago. Neo Moepi, previously the spokesperson for Thandi Modise, the chairperson of the National Council of Provinces, said he has to watch his back. “It’s not just me; everyone in this province is scared.”


South Africa at a Glance
59 620 000 (mid 2020 estimate)
3.2% y/y in July 2020 (CPI) & +1.9 y/y in July 2020 (PPI)
-51% q/q (2nd quarter of 2020)
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