October 1999 to November 1999

On the surface, KwaZulu-Natal appears to be making increasing progress in the reduction of politically-linked violence, as evidenced by the continuing good relationships between the ANC and IFP leadership, the largely peaceful elections in June 1999, and the climate of relative peace which prevails in Richmond. Appearances, however, are deceptive : Dozens of people continue to die each month in violence which cannot be explained as mere criminality, there is no freedom of political activity in most rural areas, townships are plagued by criminal-cum-political gangsterism with links to police, and people are still being recruited for ‘training’.

The violence remains largely unseen for various reasons, including the difficulties in obtaining accurate information, especially in rural areas – a problem which must be addressed as a matter of urgency, starting with details of murders and attempted murders on public record every month at each and every police station. The Natal Monitor has recorded, as a very minimal figure, approximately 550 deaths in the first eleven months of this year – but the actual number of people dying (let alone being injured or displaced) is considerably higher.

Essentially, patterns of violence during October and November remained unchanged, with deaths resulting from/linked to taxi conflict, struggles around local government and development, criminal-cum-political gangsterism, ‘faction fighting’ and mysterious execution-style killings. Whilst various events during this period, including the assassination of Prince Cyril Zulu, the murder of another member of the royal family, and the arrest of a prominent local official, drew attention to the ‘no go’ political status of Nongoma, this area is by no means the only one in which people were killed, or lived under constant threat of attack, during this period. Other similar areas, in which deaths and attacks were recorded include PONGOLA, GINGINDOVU and MAPHUMULO. In all of these areas – and in many other violence-wracked places – serious allegations are made about police collusion in the violence, whether with political warlords or with criminal gangs.

Appearances, it must be emphasised, are deceptive : In some ways the security situation in this province, especially in rural areas, is worse than it was in 1999 – because of the failure to address policing problems and the threats to stability posed by private security companies. Another matter which should be addressed as a matter of urgency is that of traditional leadership – especially given proposed changes, and the local government elections scheduled for 2000.

Rural safety – and the position of traditional leaders

The situation in rural areas, especially the more remote ones, is unacceptable. Whilst all in South Africa may fall victim to violent crime, rural people, most of whom lack even a telephone to call for help, are the most vulnerable. In some instances people are attacked at night, or may have their houses searched, by people claiming to be police and/or army. It is often not clear, even when roadblocks operate, whether those manning them are indeed members of security forces – or people who have access to army uniforms and weapons. On occasion, members of the security forces are themselves fired upon by large groups of well armed men. The climate of fear in many rural areas is almost palpable.

Continuing attacks on white farmers must be seen, in this province in particular, in the context of what amounts to low intensity civil war, and of rampant crime (including rape) which also affects large numbers of black rural residents. All these forms of violence are a manifestation of ineffectiveness and, in many areas, apparent collusion, on the part of local police. In some instances the situation is complicated by the appalling victimisation of workers by certain farmers – the situation in the Vryheid/Paulpietersburg area is a case in point.

Tensions surrounding traditional leadership – especially the political pressures to which they are subject – also contributes to instability. During this year a number of leaders have been threatened and/or attacked, and some have been murdered. Inkosi Ngwane of the Hluhluwe area, who had been the victim of harassment by police, army members and his political opponents, was murdered despite appeals having been directed to the police to protect him. Similarly, Inkosi Mahlobo, of Pongola, who was seriously injured in an attack at the end of 1998, has survived further attempts to kill him this year. There are extremely serious allegations of harassment of himself and his followers by the local police, and of collusion between the police and his political opponents.

Generally, those traditional leaders who are targetted are those who allow freedom of political activity. Many rule their chiefdoms through a climate of fear and lack of free political activity, which is inimical to both democracy and sorely needed development. We can only reiterate that the situation will not improve until traditional leadership is firmly divorced from party politics.

Policing : State and Private

The Natal Monitor and other researchers and observers have, over the years, pointed to the dangers posed by the growth of, and lack of control by the State over, the private security industry, yet thus far little has been done. Some components of this industry are actively involved in endangering people’s safety. The lack of controls over the industry is extremely worrisome, and – especially given the continuing problems in State policing – could pose a grave danger to the authority of the democratically-elected government.

Urgent steps to regulate the industry must go hand in hand with a clean up of the police, starting with senior management. The past five years has seen corruption and racism flourish, and political partisanship continue. On the point of his departure from the SAPS national commissioner Fivas is attempting to impose another five years of apartheid-style policing on this country, in the form of appointments to senior management positions. For the sake of the safety and security of all, no appointments should take place until the new Commissioner, Mr Selebi, takes over in January 1999, and there is a thorough evaluation of existing structures and the suitability of candidates for all management positions.. A failure to transform the SAPS may well pose the biggest threat to the stability of the country, and the safety and security of its citizens.

What about the Scorpions?

Hopes that violent crime would finally be brought under control were raised with the launch of the new crime fighting unit, The Scorpions, under the command of Frank Dutton, a man of tremendous integrity and competence, However, experience – including with the Investigative Task Unit (ITU) which Dutton formerly headed – has shown that even under the most able of leadership, the effective functioning of large structures of this nature can be jeopardized by individuals and internal factions.

There are already signs that similar problems are developing within the Scorpions. Some of those recruited to its ranks have the types of backgrounds which render them unfit to serve in a unit of this nature. Close working relationships between senior members of police management and members of the National Intelligence Agency (neither of which agencies have been brought under proper control by the democratically elected government) are a cause for great concern, and are likely to seriously jeopardize the work of the unit. There are extremely serious allegations about the unit’s activities in KwaZulu-Natal, which – unless immediate steps are taken to rectify the situation – bode ill for the course of justice, and the reduction of violence, in this province. Unless the government builds more accountability and transparency into the workings of this unit it may find that it has created a Frankenstein Monster.