Amid increasing threats of violence, will the elections be free and fair in KwaZulu-Natal?

A woman pass by the IEC registration station in Bekkersdal. Picture: Nicholas Thabo Tau

A woman pass by the IEC registration station in Bekkersdal. Picture: Nicholas Thabo Tau

Published Mar 17, 2024


As political parties across the country prepare to do battle at the polls on May 29, concerns have been raised about whether this year’s general elections will be free and fair, especially in KwaZulu-Natal, a province known to be a hotbed of political violence.

Earlier this month, the South African Human Rights Commission took on the plight of shackdweller movement, Abahlali baseMjondolo following the assassination of 24 members in the last 14 years.

A specialised police task team has been set up to investigate the cases.

Political killings in KZN

Last year, at least 52 councillors were killed in politically-motivated murders in the province.

In a media briefing on the work undertaken by the Inter-Ministerial Committee (IMC) on Political Killings in September last year, Police Minister Bheki Cele said cases under scrutiny by the team include 155 cases of murder; 51 attempted murder; 77 intimidation; 12 cases of conspiracy to commit murder; and 26 other ad hoc cases.

The team had investigated more than 300 cases since July 2018.

“So far, the work of the task team has resulted in the arrest of 348 suspects, who have already been charged on 233 cases,” he said.

“Sixty-two suspects have been convicted, while 155 are going through the court processes. Seventeen arrested suspects have since died during the court processes.”

A list of some of the sentences handed down in high profile cases. Graphic: Se-Anne Rall

MK Party Threats

While the province has been relatively calm following the proclamation of the election date, there have been rumblings from the newly-established Jacob Zuma-backed uMkhonto weSizwe (MK) Party.

At least two MK Party leaders have threatened violence if the party was not included on the ballot.

The ANC’s legal bid over the use of the likeness and uMkhonto weSizwe trademark following the registration of the party is set to be heard on March 19 at the Electoral Court in Bloemfontein.

The MK’s Visvin Reddy warned of “anarchy in this country. There will be riots like you have never seen in this country. There will be no elections”.

MKP youth leader, Bonginkosi Khanyile, echoed Reddy’s sentiments during a press conference in Joburg this week.

The Presidency Minister responsible for State Security, Khumbudzo Ntshavheni, said law enforcement agencies were on full alert and would ensure that they protect South Africans against any form of violence.

Government says no threats of violence will be tolerated and said there would be no repeat of the July riots.

Will the 2024 elections be free and fair?

Gareth Newham, the head of the Justice and Violence Prevention Programme at the Institute for Security Studies, said given that senior members of the MK Party have openly and repeatedly made threats of violence and interference in the elections if their unlawful demands are not met, there is a high risk of disruption.

“We remember that similar threats of violence were made in the week running up to the widespread violence that occurred in July 2021. The same networks of criminality are likely to be at play here as most of the planners and instigators of the July violence remain free and are loyal to Zuma,” he said.

“It will be necessary for the state security agencies to start planning now to prevent and contain disruption. Part of this should be to closely monitor those making threats, plan for proactive responses to prevent and contain violence and disruption and proactive enforcement of the electoral law that prohibits such threats.”

Newham added that if this does not happen, then the heads of the Security State Agency, police and local law enforcement authorities should know now that they will be held directly and personally accountable for any failures to ensure a peaceful, free and fair election in KZN or any other part of the country.

KZN Violence Monitor, Mary de Haas, expressed concern over voter intimidation.

She said this is more probable in some pockets of the province.

“Another threat is posed by taxis. Zuma controls the most powerful taxi people in KZN through a relative, and their activities can also wreak havoc as elections draw near as Zuma has a history of taxi deployment to support whichever party he supports, historically the ANC to ensure voters get to stations if they are his supporters,” she said.

De Haas said the converse should apply if people battle to get safe transport to go vote.

Confidence in the IEC

Speaking to IOL, political analyst, Dr Ntsikelelo Breakfast, said the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) has always maintained free and fair elections.

“It doesn’t mean that because there are pockets of violence, there’s a threat of free and fair elections. You can have pockets of violence, not to say they are condoned, but you can still have a free and fair election,” he said.
“There were political killings in previous elections but they have been ruled as free and fair.”

Breakfast said he was confident that the IEC will facilitate a free and fair election.

The IEC itself stated its commitment and readiness to deliver a credible 2024 national and provincial election.

The Commission made the statement following the termination of an employee responsible for the unauthorised release of the candidate nomination list.

Chief Electoral Officer, Sy Mamabolo, said the employee was terminated following an internal investigation.

"The Electoral Commission maintains the highest level of integrity, ethics and professionalism. Any behaviour that violates our code of conduct or undermines the credibility of the organisation cannot be tolerated,“ he said.

A look at the number of registered voters since the 1999 elections in South Africa. Picture: Screenshot from IEC website