Overview of Violence during 1998

‘And the killing goes on’ was the title of a paper given by Pietermaritzburg-based violence monitor Wendy Leeb towards the end of 1988, at the height of the carnage in and around that city. A decade later the killing still goes on : Since the end of 1988 at least 12 000 people have died in KZN, almost 4 000 of them since the elections in 1994, in violence which has political overtones. Countless thousands have been injured, traumatised and displaced. Over seven hundred of those deaths have occurred in the first eleven months of 1998. Given the entrenched culture of violence in South Africa, the continuing low intensity political conflict in KZN – and the ready availability of guns – violent crime in general remains endemic.

The high visibility of conflict in Richmond in 1998, characterised by massacres, allegations of security force complicity, and political mud-slinging, drew – briefly – national and international attention to the continuing turmoil in this province. Meanwhile, violence continues to rage, largely unseen, in all regions, and – especially in deep rural areas around Nongoma, Empangeni/Eshowe and Greytown – receives scant media attention.

A number of those who have been killed during 1998 – IFP leadership in the South Coast, ANC and UDM supporters in Richmond, and ANC office-bearers in Gingindlovu – have clear connections with political parties. Contrary to the utterances of leaders, tensions and killings involving IFP and ANC (and intra-party struggles) continue in a number of areas. However, links between politics (which is fundamentally about power relationships in society) and violence are not confined to struggles between representatives of political parties. The Natal Monitor has made the point on various occasions that, compared with the pre-election period, the nature of the violence has been changing in recent years; nevertheless, much of it still appears aimed at destabilising large areas of the province, including through criminal and taxi conflict (see, for example, the Monitor for June/July 1998). Some of the destruction, especially that which targets women, children and elderly folk, appears wanton terrorism.

There is an unfortunate tendency, even on the part of monitors and the media, to portray much of the violence (including in areas around Nongoma, Greytown and Harding) as ‘faction fighting’. This interpretation presumably originates from police sources, and from grossly oversimplified – and paternalistic – stereotypes of ‘traditional Africans/Zulus’, which have their roots in the discredited social science research of the colonial era and the divide-and-rule policy of apartheid.

The realities of the conflict are far more complex, and an analysis which fails to take into account the wider context in which the affected communities are situated is flawed. Isolated, ‘traditional’ communities are figments of imagination, wishful thinking and tourist promotions. Poverty-stricken rural areas in which ‘faction fighting’ takes place are heavily dependent on migrant earnings. When in town migrants live in hostels, which are highly politicised. The political linkages are maintained through chiefs who, in KZN, fall under the umbrella body of a deeply politicised House of Traditional Leaders. Taxis – often under political and/or police ownership – provide transport links to all areas of the province (and country). Is it mere co-incidence that persons who were members of, or close to, some of the more notorious apartheid security forces happen to live and/or own farms in some of the volatile areas of this province?

‘Faction fighting’ is frequently linked to contests over land and chiefship. Chiefship is a heavily contested area of struggle, as a number of amakhosi, includingNgwane (Hluhluwe), Xolo (kwaXolo) and T A Hlongwane(Bergville) will attest. These chiefs are amongst those who live in fear of their lives from political opponents. Similarly, conflict which has wracked Dududu (near Scottburgh) during 1998 does not appear unconnected to the apolitical stand of the local chief.

The reality is that human beings continue to die, needlessly, and that not enough people seem to care about halting the carnage. Despite the alarming crime levels, from which no South Africans are safe, the vast majority of the victims in this province are black and poor. During 1998 a number of alleged perpetrators of high profile crimes – involving the murders of a Durban lawyer, an Eshowe nun, an Empangeni doctor, and several farmers, and the rape of Swiss tourists, have been arrested and/or convicted. However, with certain notable exceptions, the rate of conviction in the vast majority of cases of violence, in which victims are black, is still painfully low. Why was it possible for community members to hand over to the police the alleged rapists of the Swiss tourists – yet continuing murders in the same area go undetected. Why is there no equivalent public outrage when local women and children are raped?

At the present time (beginning of December) violence continues in a number of areas of the province, including around Nongoma, Empangeni, Mtunzini, Greytown/Mapumulo, hostels in Durban, Umbumbulu, and Lower South Coast areas around Margate, Izingolweni and Harding. Indiscriminate killings are taking place, once again, in L Section, KwaMashu; those involved are well known – except, it seems, to the police.

From Pongola in the north – where ANC/IFP tensions threaten bloodshed – to Izingolweni and Harding, in the south, and Himeville and Bergville in the west of the province, the season of goodwill may not be a peaceful one for local residents.

It is thus essential that adequate numbers of security force personnel – including SANDF members – be deployed in the province over the festive season. It has been possible for South Africa to deploy hundreds of soldiers in Lesotho. Additional security force personnel were sent to Richmond as part of a strategy to halt the carnage. A similar policy should operate in all the violence-ravaged areas of this province. It is worth repeating that safety and security, like charity, begins at home.

The Year Ahead

It should go without saying that high numbers of security force personnel should remain deployed in the province in the run-up to, and during, the 1999 elections. At the same time, there have been a number of incidents in which members of the SANDF have been involved in killings and other human rights abuses, and their behaviour, like that of the police, needs careful monitoring.

If any meaningful impact is to be made on the high levels of violent crime in general, there are three areas, in particular in need of urgent attention : The criminal justice system generally and policing in particular, controls over guns, and the private security company industry.

The criminal justice system

The new provincial prosecuting authority under the directorship of Chris McAdam is a step in the right direction, but a great deal will depend on the capabilities of legal staff to be appointed, and the competence and credibility of police investigators. The replacement of former Attorney-General McNally(himself a political appointee) was long overdue. The issue has, unfortunately, become politicised, but the fact is that problems with this office go well beyond party politics. With some exceptions there have been difficulties in instituting effective prosecutions against police members, whilst people against whom evidence is tenuous have been pursued with vigour. The matter of human rights advocate Jennifer Wild, who has battled for five and a half years to clear her name, is a case in point : When the case was thrown out of court Mr McNally reinstituted proceedings. Suddenly, after years of huge expense to the taxpayer, and inestimable trauma to the accused, a pretext was found for withdrawing these charges – coincidentally after intervention by the national Director of Prosecutions.

Meaningful transformation of the SAPS remains long overdue. Corruption is rife and morale is poor. Whilst the independent committee looking into allegations of racism is welcome, far more must be done about the state of the service in general – in fact a Judicial Commission of Enquiry into corruption would not be out of place. At the very least the grossly over-stretched Independent Complaints Directorate should be provided with additional, competent, personnel. Having a suitable retired Judge or senior advocate as a police ombudsman is another option which should be considered. The morale of members is poor for a variety of reasons, including the dangerous nature of police work, the corruption of colleagues, and the lack of recognition which good police members receive. From lists of promotions black members are still seriously disadvantaged compared with their white counterparts, and there appears to have been no fast tracking of capable, experienced black members with clean records who – had they been white – would have achieved high ranks under apartheid. Promoting young, relatively inexperienced members who have qualifications on paper (which does not necessarily qualify the person as a capable practitioner) is also not a solution, and can be very damaging to morale, and militate against the type of teamwork which is essential, especially in detective work. If the government is really serious about promoting the interests of those grievously disadvantaged by apartheid – and about dealing effectively with crime – this continuing discrimination against competent black members should be remedied with immediate effect.

Controls over guns

The urgency of implementing tighter controls over dangerous weapons cannot be over-emphasised. This task is far too important to be left solely in the hands of the police. The appointment of a senior legal person, whose task it would be to inspect the work of police units and ensure that confiscated guns are destroyed, and follow up cases of weapons missing from police stations, and other irregularities surrounding guns and the police, should be considered.

Private security companies

Security companies play an important role in protecting people and property, particularly in a society in which police are over-stretched and under-resourced. However, if they are to contribute to a declining crime rate – rather than an escalating one – it is imperative that their personnel and activities be subject to over-arching control from a body enjoying widespread legitimacy. If such controls are lacking there is nothing to prevent fly-by-night companies employing people with criminal records, or illegal aliens, and failing to exercise due control over weapons they acquire in their line of business. Depending on the scale of their operations, private security companies can, in effect, function as armed militias. It is for this reason that they must be controlled, very firmly, by the government of the day. Adequate regulation of this industry is long overdue, and is yet another factor which contributes to a widespread perception that this government has not yet established a strong enough grip on matters relating to the safety and security of its citizens.