Sanctioned taxi violence poisons KwaZulu-Natal

The violent political horror continued unabated in KwaZulu-Natal this week. At the Ntuzuma Magistrate's Court appearance of the National Freedom Party-affiliated murder suspects of Inkatha Free­dom Party supporter Celiwe Shezi, an NFP leader shot dead an IFP supporter in plain sight of the police, public and television cameras.

NFP eThekwini municipality councillor Mzonjani Zulu, who had minutes before the killing talked to journalists about the need for calm in the bloody political feud that has been developing in the province, will now stand trial for the murder of IFP supporter Siya Dlamini.

It is trite but disturbingly true that the political murders have returned KwaZulu-Natal to its bloody past – to the 1980s when the self-defence units aligned to the United Democratic Front and the ANC waged a bloody war with Inkatha's self-protection units that left tens of thousands dead. It has also returned the province to as recently as 1995 when the Shobashobane Christmas Day massacre by Inkatha's amabutho (quasi-military unit) killed 19 and injured hundreds in the small village near Port Shepstone on the South Coast, and to the bloody killing fields of Richmond and the violence between the ANC and the United Democratic Movement, a party formed by former ANC member Bantu Holomisa and former National Party member Roelf Meyer.

Since the breakaway of the NFP from Inkatha last year, there has been a dramatic increase in politically motivated deaths involving the two parties. Reuters reported this week that an internal ANC investigation found that 38 party members had been killed in political violence in KwaZulu-Natal since February last year.

What has triggered this violent flashback after almost 20 years of relative political peace, during which political rivalry was contained to democratic mudslinging on public platforms and verbal attacks in the provincial legislature?

Economic patronage
Undoubtedly, competition at local government level for councillor positions, with the salaries and access to economic patronage they allow, has contributed to the bloodletting between Inkatha, the NFP and the ANC.

Despite denials to the contrary, the leaders and rank and file of Inkatha and its NFP offshoot, as well as regional ANC leaders, have historically been intimate with violence as the main form of political resolution.

The ANC's burgeoning membership in KwaZulu-Natal, combined with the lack of a "political school", has been blamed by some ANC insiders for "the alien tendencies" of violence emerging in the party.

It is also becoming apparent that the NFP, which has divided families and neighbourhoods along party-political lines, was formed because of competition for political resources and not because of any real ideological schism. Despite coalitions with the ANC in several municipalities in the province, NFP leaders at the local level still appear to be closer to the IFP in the cowhide it is cut from.

The Nkandla municipality, home to President Jacob Zuma, is a case in point. Only recently, the NFP and the IFP ganged up to unseat ANC mayor Zandile Mncadi-Mpanza, despite the NFP being part of a coalition with the ANC.

Claims are swirling around that municipal speaker Bongumenzi Ngcobo, who died earlier this month, was poisoned.

Political interests
But what has unleashed the murderous beast, for so long chained by mainstream democratic activity, as petty and ineffectual as this sometimes appears?

Perhaps part of the answer lies in how violence has been legitimised by the murky web of police brutality and political interests that converge in the taxi industry over its routes. The controversial report compiled by former crime intelligence boss Richard Mdluli, for example, names former ANC provincial secretary Senzo Mchunu as having taxi interests on routes around Stanger, Empangeni and Richards Bay.

These are some of the routes over which the provincial government waged a long and bloody battle against the taxi industry, going back to the early part of the past decade when former police commissioner Bheki Cele was provincial minister for transport, safety and security.

At one point, taxi bosses were often killed, with no questions asked, by taxi-policing units, which also included members of the Cato Manor squad now facing a string of murder charges.

It is an industry that is also the veins of the province, with ties ranging from ordinary commuters to the politically connected.

The "legitimised" killings in the taxi industry over an extended period were bound to legitimise killing in the rest of society again – especially in a province that has always known the taste of blood.

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Niren Tolsi
Niren Tolsi is a freelance journalist whose interests include social justice, citizen mobilisation and state violence, protest, the Constitution and Constitutional Court, football and Test cricket.

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