DURBAN - KWAZULU-NATAL could be labelled the assassination capital, following a research report which revealed that the province has high rates of assassinations linked to political objectives and taxi industry power struggles and conflict over routes.
The report, titled Murder By Contract: Targeted killings in eastern and southern Africa, was authored by Kim Thomas, an analyst at the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organised Crime.
It found that there were considerable increases in targeted killings between 2014 and late 2017, the prevalence of hits in the taxi industry, and that among provinces, KZN had the highest number of assassinations.
KZN consistently had the most assassination cases between 2015 and 2020 (38%; 323 cases).
In 2018, 71 hits were recorded in Gauteng, more than the 67 hits recorded for KZN in that year. It was the first time in the 21-year data set that another province had recorded more hits than KZN.
Between 2015 and 2020, political assassinations were concentrated in KZN.
“Data from 2016 and 2019 show two localised peaks during this study period. Both years were election years: 2016 saw municipal elections in August and national elections were held in 2019.
“In 2020, a contextually drastic decrease in political hits was noticed in KZN. This was likely due, in part, to the national Covid-19 lockdown, which meant that political branch meetings and conferences, which are frequently accompanied by violence, did not take place as usual.
“The decline in political hits in KZN is likely a temporary pause in violence rather than the start of a long-term declining trend,” read the report.
It found that hits in the taxi industry made up the highest number of incidents in the data set for South Africa (438 cases; 51%). Most cases were recorded in KZN (155 cases; 35%).
The highest number of personal hits in the data collection period were recorded in KZN (20 cases; 31%), while KZN (45 cases; 26%) had the second-highest number of hits linked to organised crime.
University of KwaZulu-Natal Criminology and Forensic Studies Professor Nirmala Gopal said: “Pre- and post-apartheid violent behaviour in KZN continues unabated. KZN has become a laboratory for testing violent behaviour.
“For some odd reason, KZN seems to be more tolerant of organised violence in the form of killings, assassinations and murder. The KZN taxi industry has a history of Mafia-style killings. It is no wonder that KZN has comparatively higher figures than the rest of South Africa.”
University of the Western Cape deputy dean of research Professor Bheki Mngomezulu said targeted killings in South Africa in general and in KZN had been prevalent for some time and KZN was the hardest-hit, followed by Gauteng.
Among the many motivating factors were intra-party squabbles, inter-party feuds, and splits between political parties.
“In a nutshell, the high numbers of killings in KZN cannot be attributed to any single causal factor. While these killings are not confined to KZN, the fact that this province has been leading over many years is of great concern,” Mngomezulu said.
Violence monitor Mary de Haas said KZN has been the epicentre of taxi killings for a long time because “it is home to perhaps the most powerful of the long-distance taxi associations”.
“So much of what happens in Gauteng may be linked to long-distance taxis from KZN. Political assassinations were concentrated in KZN because the tensions surrounding the elections focused on ensuring that supporters of Zuma were prioritised, especially in the eThekwini metro and Pietermaritzburg.”