KwaZulu-Natal was once a bloody hot spot where peace appeared to be a dirty word. The province also became a major headache in South Africa’s transition to a democracy. It was only days before the first democratic elections that the Inkatha Freedom Party’s Mangosuthu Buthelezi decided to participate.
The KwaZulu-Natal story then was about no-go areas, murders and assassinations. Hit squads, aided by apartheid security forces, were able to sow mayhem and peace efforts seemed fruitless.
Although the first democratic polls in the province were mired in controversy, in the end, national interest won out and the IFP, which was in the majority, formed a provincial unity government with its arch-enemy, the ANC.
Today, the murders and assassinations still occur, albeit on a far smaller scale. Now there are other parties in the mix, with the IFP and its offshoot, the National Freedom Party (NFP), at each other’s throats.
Even King Goodwill Zwelithini, once allied to Buthelezi, was wooed by and developed a good relationship with ANC leaders in the province. This drove a wedge between Zwelithini and Buthelezi.
According to an independent policing researcher, David Bruce, there were more than 100 assassinations in the province between 2003 and 2013, with most linked to interparty conflict.
The formation of the NFP, led by former IFP chairperson Zanele kaMagwaza-Msibi, has led to more than 20 deaths. In some of the hostels, many of which are in KwaMashu in Durban, at least eight people have died so far this year.
More recently, intra-party violence has taken root within the ANC’s South Coast and uMtshezi (Estcourt) regions, with comrade pitted against comrade.
According to Bruce, an internal ANC inquiry found that 38 ANC members have been murdered since 2011, all related to the jockeying for positions.
KwaZulu-Natal became the ANC’s heartland under President Jacob Zuma – the biggest ANC province, pushing the Eastern Cape into second spot. It brought in the numbers for the ANC in the last election with increased support, while the ruling party’s votes decreased in other provinces.
That unity is no longer the case with deep divisions between Zuma supporters and those who believe his time is up.
But the ANC factions in the province appear to have put their differences aside because of concerns about the impact the Economic Freedom Fighters and the backlash over Nkandla could have at the polls.
The party is going all out to muster huge numbers of votes, leaving the leadership and other factional battles until later.
As in the rest of the country, patronage remains key and several businesspeople have made their fortunes on the back of the ANC. Celebrity couple Shauwn and S’bu Mpisane are among those who have thrived in eThekwini and elsewhere, with the help of then-ANC regional leader and strongman John Mchunu who died in 2010. Massive housing contracts worth millions were channelled their way.
The Mpisanes have used their considerable resources to help campaign for the ANC and reportedly underwrote an ANC youth festival in Durban last weekend.
This week, the Democratic Alliance (DA) complained this was proof that government tender beneficiaries are being used to fund the ANC’s political campaign.
The ANC’s provincial spokesperson, Senzo Mkhize, rejected this and said many people had funded the event, none of whom was compelled to bankroll the party.
Meanwhile, the IFP’s octogenarian president has been criss-crossing the province. On April 21, in the veld at Obuka, between Empangeni and Melmoth in the Uthungulu district municipality, Buthelezi drew a modest crowd of about 300 people clad in white IFP T-shirts.
With hardly any media present, Buthelezi dispensed with a façade of civility or speaking in English and went for kaMagwaza-Msibi’s jugular, accusing her of using municipal funds to campaign for the NFP.
“If these allegations are true,” he told the audience, “then it’s no wonder her banners are bigger and more prominent than those of the ruling party”.
Referring to her as a “little girl” who had emerged out of nowhere, Buthelezi had someone read out a report from the isiZulu-language weekly Bayede, which told of how kaMagwaza-Msibi had allegedly been giving members of the standing committee on public accounts the runaround when called to account for the expenditure of R440-million on a water and sanitation project.
“[In] KwaNongoma, she used municipal funds to buy people food parcels,” Buthelezi said. “When she wanted to do that when she was part of the IFP, I stopped her. She turned away and laughed.
“The ANC taught her well because they are the masters at this. It’s surprising now that they are no longer proud of her actions.”
During the last local government elections, the NFP and ANC formed a coalition, taking 19 hung municipalities in the province, dashing the IFP’s municipal hopes.
However, the NFP’s relationship with the ANC has soured, with some NFP councillors deciding to co-operate with their former colleagues instead.
“There have always been tensions between the NFP and IFP,” a political science lecturer at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Zakhele Ndlovu, said.
“Unfortunately for the NFP, things did not go well [with the coalition with the ANC]. Soon after they formed this coalition, some NFP councillors decided to be supportive of the IFP.
“And if you look at the NFP’s campaign, you can see that it no longer had that cosy relationship that it had with the ANC when it first emerged.”
Ndlovu added: “The emergence of the NFP has caused all sorts of problems for the IFP because it has eaten away at their support base. Close to half of the IFP’s support has gone to the NFP. If there was no NFP, the IFP would continue to do relatively okay in this province. She [kaMagwaza-Msibi] took with her quite a number of people from the IFP.
“The NFP will only serve to widen the ANC’s margin over all opposition in the province,” he said.
“But most of those people [in leadership] wanted positions in government. And it’s not just between the IFP and the NFP; it happens in other parties as well.”
Ramped up efforts
Some ANC stalwarts and councillors believe that certain “fumbles” – chiefly the public protector’s report on Zuma’s homestead at Nkandla – will see the ANC’s support decrease in the province.
As a result, and as is the case with every election, the ANC has ramped up its efforts to win over minority voters. But anti-Indian sentiment among ANC supporters in the province, including disgruntlement over the issue of black economic empowerment, has not helped the party’s cause.
Yet in areas such as ward 90, a vast area of coastal Durban that includes Orient Hills, Isipingo Beach, Lotus Park, Isipingo Rail and what was the old Durban airport, ANC members claim they are stepping into a void created by the Minority Front (MF), which they say has failed its constituency.
With the death of MF leader Amichand Rajbansi, the party has been split by internal strife and leadership battles.
A local resident and ANC branch secretary, Dayzel Sanaroo, said that the writing off of rent arrears in nearly 700 units in areas such as Lotus Park and Orient Hills, the installation of prepaid electricity metres and the renovation of flats have helped to shift the perception that the ANC does not deliver to minorities.
“Even the meeting we had here today shows that people are putting their trust in the ANC,” Sanaroo said.
For the past three local government elections, ward 90 has oscillated between the MF and the ANC.
“We’re telling people to vote ANC,” Sanaroo said, “because it is like showing respect to the ANC, for what the ANC has done.”
Pienaar claims there have been similar shifts in Indian communities such as Phoenix, where the ANC now controls ward 48 after a by-election forced by the defection of a DA councillor.
At a recent ANC event in Westcliff, Chatsworth, attended by KwaZulu-Natal Premier Senzo Mchunu, he promised to look into employment equity regulations.
Meanwhile, the DA has also had its share of problems and intra-party strife. With the rise of a black leadership corps, some of its old guard have resigned as elected representatives in bodies such as the eThekwini council, which is in tune with party leader Helen Zille’s vision of turning the DA into a more inclusive party.
It became the third-largest party in the province, after the ANC and IFP, in the 2009 elections, but whether it will be able to increase its support substantially this time around remains to be seen.