KwaZulu-Natal ANC leaders have to exercise political maturity and not engage in public mudslinging that could lead to violence, experts say. Picture: Phill Magakoe

KwaZulu-Natal ANC leaders have to exercise political maturity and not engage in public mudslinging that could lead to violence, experts say. 

Following the Pietermaritzburg High Court decision to nullify the November 2015 provincial elective conference onTuesday, politics professor at Rhodes University, Richard Pithouse, said the fear of violence was rational considering the history of political killings in the province. 

Also a social justice activist, Pithouse said he had already received messages from politically active people expressing such fears. 

“Although there are people in the ANC who have a conscience about the political violence, judging from the lack of proper investigations and honest discussions, there didn’t seem to be a willingness to face up to it. 

"Pretending there are external, mysterious forces responsible for the violence is a denial of any kind of responsibility,” he said.

Gareth Newham, the head of the Justice and Violence Prevention programme at the Institute for Security Studies, said that as the judgment changed the legitimacy of the provincial executive, it could result in some using violence to settle political scores.

He said violence was not necessarily inevitable but could be used to destabilise the opposite side. 

“It’s worrying because the province has had a large number of political killings, but whether there is violence or not depends on the leadership on either side to call on their followers to abide by the court’s decision. 

"They could help mitigate violence by actively doing what they can to keep tempers down and not  playing the blame game,” said Newham. 

Right now,  all eyes would be on the leaders of the factions, who – Newham believes – should be held responsible for ensuring their factions adhere to the judgment and not undermine the rule of law. 

Political analyst Dr Bheki Mngomezulu agreed, saying that a show of political maturity would probably stop tensions from flaring. 

“But if they go to the public and  handle this in a callous manner, once one person is killed it will escalate.”

If violence was not averted now, it would escalate in the run-up to the national elective conference in December. 

With the  parties to the court case being from opposing factions who supported different candidates to succeed President Jacob Zuma as ANC president, the stakes were high and the situation needed to be handled with caution, said Mngomezulu.

The Mercury