Politically related violence would remain a factor in KwaZulu-Natal as long as authorities saw it fit to deal with the problem by merely deploying police to certain areas or hot spots. Violence monitor and analyst in the province Mary de Haas said there was not enough evidence that the police were gathering enough intelligence to establish the exact networks that were responsible for the violence in a province that has a history of politically related conflict.
There have been fears that violence would again flare up in the run up to the national elections as it has in the past in certain hot spots, especially during a series of local government elections and by-elections over the past few years – with places like KwaMashu hostel being among those hardest hit.
Estimates from police and violence monitors say at least eight people have died this year alone in violence believed to be politically motivated. KwaZulu-Natal province has the highest number of voters in the country, with just over five million. De Haas said it was not always possible to tell whether the violence was politically motivated and that “the hostels, Estcourt, Ulundi and Mahlabathini remained hot spots”.
“The threats and intimidation has carried on because people get away with it,” De Haas said in a phone interview with the Mail & Guardian. “There are a few convictions for political violence and even less for threats for intimidation.” She said there were sometimes overlapping interests. “It could be politicians or political figures with overlapping interests in taxis. But I think the situation has improved with each elections but it hasn’t disappeared altogether.”
In late April, KwaZulu-Natal Premier Senzo Mchunu told an anti-violence multi-party conference that the province was yet to hold an election where violence did not take place. This was after two episodes of violence believed to be politically motivated took place in Umshwathi Municipality.
Last week, community safety MEC Willies Mchunu announced that 17 000 police officers would be deployed across the country. Furthermore, 175 election monitors would be deployed by his department and 500 by the provincial legislature.
About 50 international observers were also expected to be present during the elections. The community safety MEC said all internal areas of voting stations in KwaMashu hostel would be manned by no less than six police officers. De Haas said there were approximately 65 deaths in the last four years that were possibly politically related.
Last year, independent police researcher David Bruce wrote that since 2003 there have been at least 107 political murders with only six of which appear to have been solved. KwaZulu-Natal Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) spokesperson Thabani Ngwira said that the IEC participated in multi-party task teams where intelligence related to electoral violence was shared with the commission, and that certain areas, such as Estcourt – where there had been disruptions – are visited so that precautionary measures would be taken ahead of the elections. “We don’t think the elections are threatened in any way,” Mgwira said.
Meanwhile, service delivery protests erupted on Monday in parts of the country such as Sterkspruit in the Eastern Cape and Bekkersdal in Gauteng. A polling station was torched in Gugulethu on the East Rand and there was some disruption in KwaZulu-Natal, which disrupted special voting, which continues today.