/ 26 October 2012

Wheels of justice turn slowly as political killings escalate

IFP members clear the blood from the ground where one of their fellow members
IFP members clear the blood from the ground where one of their fellow members

A 1998 non-governmental organisation report said that political assassinations in South Africa escalated after 1984: between 1985 and 1989 there were 96 in the country – a rate of just less than 20 a year.

Today, in KwaZulu-Natal, political killings are occurring at an even greater rate. According to an internal ANC report, 38 members have been killed in the province since the beginning of 2011. At least 13 Inkatha Freedom Party and National Freedom Party members have been killed as well, which means that about 50 politically linked people have been killed in the province in less than two years.   

It is apparent that many (not necessarily all) of the IFP and NFP killings are linked to interparty rivalry. But this is not the only driver of assassinations in KwaZulu-Natal. The death of an ANC member in Nongoma in March 2009 is understood to have been at the hands of an IFP member, although the killings of ANC members are generally seen to be "internal".

In September, for instance, ANC member Sifiso Khumalo was sentenced to 22 years in jail for killing two other ANC members. The conviction came 10 days after they died. But this should not create the illusion that the province's criminal justice system or its government deal enthusiastically with such cases.

Until recently, the provincial government had no reliable list of murdered ANC members or the dates of their deaths. A report on this to the provincial legislature in August contained serious omissions and inaccuracies.

ANC-aligned people
Apart from Khumalo, the only other conviction for the killing of an ANC member was on July 12, when four people were found guilty of the July 2007 slaying of ANC councillor Reuben Magutshwa. The case took five years to complete.

There have been arrests in at least seven cases, including in two of the four incidents of ANC councillors slain since March last year. But such matters are commonly postponed repeatedly, as is the case with the two men arrested in June 2011 for killing Umlazi councillor Wiseman Mshibe three months previously.

Another feature of cases involving the deaths of ANC-aligned people is a very high incidence of suspects being killed by police. For all the ANC-aligned people killed since the beginning of 2009, there appears to have been only one conviction – but four suspects have been killed.

A man was arrested for killing eThekwini regional secretary Sbu Sibiya in July 2011, but another suspect was killed in a separate incident. Three people connected to the death of ANC-aligned Inkosi Mbongeleni Zondi in January 2009 were also killed; the Cato Manor organised crime unit is allegedly responsible for these deaths. All were linked to the KwaMaphumulo Taxi Association (KTA).

In the Mail & Guardian last week, Niren Tolsi referred to the "murky web of police brutality and political interests" in disputes over taxi routes. In the period August 2008 to September 2009 police, mostly linked to the Cato Manor unit, reportedly killed nine members of KTA, a rival of the Stanger Taxi Association.

Indictment charges
The 30 members of the unit charged with murder and racketeering will appear in court again next week. The indictment charges that they were motivated by the "desire to enrich themselves", either by receiving bonuses for their "excellent performance" or through "financial benefits" from businesses or individuals in conflict with the 28 people they are charged with murdering. They are accused of, among other things, killing off the KTA's core for money on behalf of the Stanger association.

According to the Cato Manor unit, three of the KTA people they killed were responsible for the Zondi murder. None was ever tried in court, but the case has been closed on the basis that the suspects are deceased. If, in fact, other people killed Zondi, this is very convenient for them.  

We do not know who killed Zondi. But we do know that members of the Cato Manor unit were not only the self-appointed investigators and jury, but also the executioners of his alleged killers. This alone shows that the investigation into his death should urgently be reopened. But is there any chance that an investigative unit entrusted with this task will be able to carry it out free from political interference?

  • David Bruce is an independent researcher specialising in crime and policing