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Pietermaritzburg - The failure to locate and remove arms caches built up during the apartheid era is one of the reasons why KwaZulu-Natal continues to experience political and minibus taxi-related violence, according to KwaZulu-Natal violence monitor and analyst Mary de Haas.

Speaking at a round table discussion this week organised by the Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference and local advocacy group Pietermaritzburg Agency for Community Social Awareness (Pacsa) on political killings in the province, she said many firearms were distributed at the time to foment political violence. Weapons were also brought in from the former Transkei homeland to assist liberation movements.

"The truth is after the 1994 democratic dispensation none of those weapons were ever recovered, and we are not talking small items here,” De Haas said.

Assault rifles, including R4s and AK47s were still "easily accessible" and these were used to carry out political killings or eliminate rivals in the taxi industry. The recent spate of killings in KwaMashu and the Glebelands hostels in Durban were also indicative of an "inept police force".

“We have not transformed the police into a professional structure. Apartheid era characters are still around and the best detectives are getting sidelined; that is why these problems continue,” De Haas said.

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Political killings were complex, as they involved political party members killing each other over positions and political parties fighting over territory and control, she said.
University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) political analyst Lukhona Mnguni said politically-related killings had increased since the 2011 local government elections when there had been tensions and even fights over nominations for councillor positions.

“The first spike in politically-related killings was in 2011 in the build-up to the local government elections. Thereafter there were killings ahead of the 2012 Mangaung [African National Congress] conference. Again last year there were killings in the build-up to the local government elections, and the ANC’s branch general meetings have been violent. It does not take rocket science to see that there is a jostle for power among [ANC] members,” Mnguni said.

With the governing party losing support in major South African cities, competition for positions, especially in councils, was getting harder and deadlier.

“The fact is because there are so many guns in circulation human life has become very cheap. You can get a hitman for R5000 to kill somebody. It is quite ironic in a country where a right to life is constitutionally enshrined,” he said.

He echoed De Haas's sentiments over the easy access to assault rifles as a reason for concern and also expressed concern over the South African Police Service. 

“The rule of law is not possible in a setting where there are corruptible police and other law enforcement agencies,” Mnguni said.