UNDERSTANDING POLITICAL VIOLENCE IN KWA ZULU-NATAL

For all the wrong reasons KZN is once again making national headlines. The spate of killings in the run up to the 2016 local government elections has continued and the Moerane Commission, which is hearing evidence about political violence in the province, has been told that armed hit men in a Durban hostel, with alleged police links, kill with impunity. Why does KZN once again lead the country in political violence? Why has so little been planted done to address the problem?
In KZN, with its distinctive colonial legacy, successive provincial governments have, for over a century, resisted being part of a centralised, unitary state – mooting, for example, a ‘confederal’ status for the province in the 1980s, and leading the opposition to the centralised state model supported by the ANC and the Nationalist Party in the early 1990s. The fragmented KwaZulu Bantustan boasted a sizeable black African movement – Inkatha – whose support was bolstered by significant business interests and supposedly ‘liberal’ whites. The formation of the UDF with its anti-apartheid policies (e.g. opposing the incorporation of areas into KwaZulu) proved threatening to Inkatha which was synonymous with KwaZulu and, hence, apartheid. Apartheid security forces supported Inkatha and trained the homeland police as its political foot soldiers; it also planted agents provocateurs in the UDF and ANC, who were also plagued by criminal com-tsotsis. Mayhem swept the province with violence reaching unprecedented levels as the IFP and its conservative allies pushed – with some success – for greater regional powers, and threatened non-participation in the April 1994 elections. A compromise was reached but the violence continued after the elections, with a recorded 4000 deaths in the May 1994-December 1998 period.
While some of the conflict, as in Richmond, was intra-party, most involved the IFP and the ANC, with right wing police members continuing their support for warlords. The pot was stirred by Inkatha’s self protection units (SPUs), the ANC’s self defence units (SDUs) and purported MK operatives who had fled into exile post 1990. Between 1985 and 1999 at least 15 000 people had died, countless thousands had been injured, and had their homes destroyed, and had been gravely traumatised (especially children) by the violence. Dozens of guns caches –including truck loads of weapons from the Vlakplaas hit squad base – remain unaccounted for.
By the early 2000s most of the inter-party conflict was election-related, but there were some ‘no go’ political zones, and a number of deaths of local government functionaries linked to competition for positions and corruption. Among other conspicuous killings were those that occurred after the NFP (New Freedom Party) had split from the IFP (Inkatha Freedom Party). As elsewhere, taxi-related violence remains endemic ,and may be politically-linked, and service delivery protests have increased. Political intolerance remains rife.
The context in which this entrenched political violence is situated is vastly different to that of two decades ago. KZN has become the biggest ANC supporting region in the country with its Metro, eThekwini, the largest in terms of delegates sent to national conferences. However, it is a deeply divided ANC. The divisions already apparent in the run up to Polokwane had increased and there were internal protests about corruption by 2011. In 2016 the Premier, Senzo Mchunu, who is seen pro-Cyril Ramaphosa, was replaced by President Zuma supporter Willies Mchunu, whose close associate Sihle Zikalala, had replaced Senzo Mchunu as ANC Chairperson in 2015 party elections. A High Court case to have these elections set aside is pending, with the Ramaphose-supporting Applicants claiming that they were irregular. An audit of branch membership is currently underway, and a number of ‘ghosts’ have already been found.
While there were deaths connected with these tensions prior to January 2016, such as those in Glebelands hostel, they escalated across the province as local government elections approached, with at least twenty killed in the first eight months of 2016 (these deaths exclude the killings which continued in Glebelands hostel). Six deaths were of IFP and NFP members, and fourteen were linked to ANC functionaries. Sixteen have died since the elections, and a number of people, including the three UMzimkhulu councillors shot on 13 July, injured.
Central to the pre-election struggles were efforts to ensure that the ‘pro Zuma’ faction was victorious in the selection of councillors. These struggles were conspicuous in eThekwini municipality, where the existing mayor, James Nxumalo – an SACP member seen to be in the RAmaphosa camp – was replaced by Zandile Gumede, a prominent Zuma supporter. Nxumalo’s home area at Ntshanga was one of the hardest hit by political assassinations. Special investigation teams have been deployed, but there have been only a handful of arrests.
The events in Durban’s Glebelands hostel should be seen in this broader context. With good reason (the hostels are in a shocking state) service delivery protests against the councillor, a staunch Zuma ally, started a few years ago. They were spearheaded by leaders of the different blocks who were then, from 2014, targeted by hit men allegedly linked to the councillor, with guns (including police issue) allegedly supplied by a police member accomplice. In addition to the estimated eighty nine deaths in just over three years countless residents, including women and children, have been illegally evicted by thugs demanding protection money and selling beds. There is overwhelming evidence of police complicity, both by acts of omission (standing by while evictions occur) and commission (malicious arrests of opponents of the councillor and torture; the first victim died while being tortured by the police). Among those who died were men who had indicated a willingness to stand as councillor. There has not yet been a single conviction for any of the killings.
This disgraceful situation continues because of the appalling mismanagement of the SAPS, characterised by political interference and nepotism. This is not a new problem but has become far worse since 2009. Detailed research on policing in the latter 1990s showed that there was no meaningful transformation whatsoever. Former right wing apartheid security policemen together with Bantustan police members, most promoted well beyond their levels of competence, remained in control. The fatal mistake made by the ANC government was its failure to recognise and promote competent black South African police members, many of whom, with valuable expertise and experience, left the service. To make matters worse, the ANC placed its own operatives, with no understanding of policing culture and procedures, in senior police positions, with disastrous consequences.
In the past eight years political interference, corruption and nepotism have increased significantly. Crime Intelligence is dysfunctional, too many detectives are badly trained (and/or corrupt), and the management of this component – like the province generally – is atrocious. Malicious arrests, brutality and torture are rife, and IPID is, at best, ineffectual. There are tremendous problems with prosecution services, which should be playing a more constructive role in guiding the police.
Politically motivated killings are part of the general problem of violent crime – and as long as crime pays it will continue. There is virtual anarchy in KZN, and an apparent lack of political will to address it. All South Africans should be outraged by the failure of the government to address problems in the criminal justice system and should use whatever powers they have as citizens to do something about it.