Durban - While it remained a bloody year, political leaders and civil society groups have breathed a sigh of relief at fewer political killings in KwaZulu-Natal this year.
A concerted effort by the police and political parties seems to have paid off in reducing the number of politically related deaths in the province.
KZN Premier Willies Mchunu and Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Zweli Mkhize also attributed the decrease in the killings to the Inter-Ministerial Committee of the Security Cluster, which President Cyril Ramaphosa had earlier this year deployed to the province to deal with the situation.
Apparently the last politician to be killed this year was eThekwini councillor S’bu Maphumulo. He was killed while seated in his car after attending a community meeting at V-Section, uMlazi, in October.
Ethekwini’s ward 80 councillor Mthokozisi Nojiyeza was arrested early this month for Maphumulo’s murder.
The IFP - whose Zululand District Municipality councillor, Sibuyiselo Dlamini, and Zakhele Mazibuko, its publicity secretary in uThukela District, were killed this year - also commended the SAPS’s good work.
Ramaphosa formed the inter-ministerial committee after the murder of ANC stalwart and former ANC councillor in Msunduzi Municipality, Pietermaritzburg, Msawenkosi “Qashana” Mchunu, whose assassination in May threatened to intensify political tensions within the ANC in KZN Midlands.
Among the six suspects standing trial for Mchunu’s murder are Msunduzi Municipality ward councillor Nkosinathi Gambu and Gift Zungu, the son of Umgungundlovu District Municipality mayor Thandiwe Zungu.
Also killed this year was ANC Youth League leader Bongani “Usher” Mkhize, who was gunned down in uMlazi in July after he had attended the ANC’s provincial conference at the Durban University of Technology.
In May the ANC’s Lower South Coast region’s treasurer, Sifiso Cele, was shot dead at his Margate home.
In response to the killings, Police Minister Bheki Cele formed the Political Killing Task Team, which had been making arrests.
ANC provincial spokesperson Nomagugu Simelane-Zulu said the beginning of the year had “been bad” when it came to the killing of “our comrades”, but in the middle of the year “it became clear that police were beginning to act”.
“So this was a much better year because people are now facing justice,” said Simelane-Zulu.
She said the lack of arrests in the previous years saw criminals entering the ANC political space.
“In any state where the government security clusters are ineffective, crime would always be high,” she said.
IFP spokesperson Mkhuleko Hlengwa said the killing of Dlamini, who was also the IFP Youth Brigade district chairperson and IFP national council member, “was a matter within ourselves”.
He said the party suspected that Mazibuko was killed for exposing corruption in the uThukela District Municipality, where he worked as an occupational health and safety manager.
“But insofar as the Dlamini matter goes, it was very clear from the onset that it was an internal murder,” he said.
Hlengwa concurred that there had been an improvement in law enforcement this year, which included arrests in connection with Dlamini’s murder.
During a South African Local Government Association National Assembly recently held in Durban, Mkhize said since 2012 40 councillors had been killed in KZN, mainly because of greed over municipal resources.
“It is a matter of concern if the death of a councillor is linked to some kind of irregularities at procurement level,” Mkhize said.
Mchunu, who praised the inter-ministerial committee, said some other murders could also be blamed on preparations for the 2016 local government elections.
“After their intervention (inter-ministerial committee) there have been so many arrests that we ourselves are beginning to lose count,” he said.
He said the Moerane Commission of Inquiry into political killings in the province had linked most killings to local government power struggles.
“You will realise, Mr President, that in KZN we have not seen much of any resemblance of political killings in the run-up to the national elections,” said Mchunu, who also warned Ramaphosa that such killings might recur in the run-up to 2021 local government elections.
Ramaphosa said the police action taken against killers of politicians should also be applied against people “who have put personal greed ahead of the interests of our people”.
“We must deal with them so that they become afraid. They must know that if they do wrong things they will be dealt with like we are dealing with the killers here in this province,” said Ramaphosa.
Vanessa Burger, an independent community activist for human rights and Social Justice, said the year had seen a huge improvement.
“There have been lots of arrests, and in my opinion it is because of an agreement within the ANC for a ceasefire behind the scenes,” she said.
KZN violence monitor Mary de Haas said in the last few months of the year even the killing of Abahlali Basemjondolo and Glebelands Hostel dwellers, which she also described as political, had decreased.
“Generally, it has been better during the past few months but it is difficult to forecast if the trend will continue next year. Some of the alleged main perpetrators have been arrested, which probably accounts for the improvement of the situation.
“But with the election coming up next year we don’t know what is going to happen,” said De Haas.