The nephew and the son of an ANC deputy mayor are among the six men who appeared in court this week for the murder of anti-corruption campaigner and former ANC Pietermaritzburg councillor Musawenkosi “Maqatha” Mchunu earlier this year.
Gift Zungu is the son of Umgungundlovu district municipality deputy mayor Thandiwe “Fucwana” Zungu. He and his cousin Nkosinathi Gambu were arrested with four other men at the weekend for the murder.
Gambu is also a councillor in the ANC Msunduzi municipality (Pietermaritzburg). The other four — Skhanyiso Zimu, Sifiso Mbhele, Mlungisi Zumu and Ayanda Ngubane — are members of the ANC’s Ward 10 committee.
Automatic weapons, allegedly unlicensed, were seized from Gambu’s bodyguards. The men have been remanded in custody until September 20.
Deputy mayor Zungu was a member of the ANC’s conflict-ridden Moses Mabhida regional executive committee, which was replaced by a regional task team, itself disbanded over its failure to hold a regional conference last month.
She also served on the working committee of the Moses Mabhida region, one of the worst hit by the wave of political killings of ANC councillors or candidates that began before the 2016 local government elections.
Mchunu was gunned down at KwaPata in May. ANC activists, councillors and officials have been murdered in Mkhambathini, Richmond, Pietermaritzburg and Mooi River, all of which fall in the Moses Mabhida region.
The arrest of the group casts into stark relief the intensity of the political conflict in the region and the province in the run-up to the governing party’s national conference at Nasrec in December and in its aftermath.
Zungu’s regional leadership backed the unsuccessful presidential bid of Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and the “status quo” slate at the KwaZulu-Natal ANC provincial conference, which lost.
The arrests also place fresh strain on the fragile unity in the ANC in the province, which saw a leadership drawn from the Dlamini-Zuma faction and supporters of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s campaign elected in July.
The tensions, which began before the 2015 provincial conference — declared unlawful by the high court in Pietermaritzburg — had escalated, with the surge in political murders sparking the appointment of the Moerane commission by Premier Willies Mchunu.
The tensions have also paralysed the Msunduzi council, with recent council meetings failing to raise a quorum because of members of the Dlamini-Zuma supporting faction refusing to attend.
Mchunu, who had served as councillor for Ward 10 until 2011, was at the time of his death employed as the public participation officer in the office of Msunduzi speaker Jabu Ngubo.
He had been at the forefront of community protests over alleged corruption in Msunduzi and had led several marches to the ANC regional offices and the Pietermaritzburg City Hall. He was also part of the group of Ramaphosa-supporting branches who had lodged complaints about the alleged bias of the Moses Mabhida regional task team and which had met with the ANC’s national dispute resolution committee, headed by deputy secretary general Jessie Duarte.
About a month before his death, Mchunu was involved in a series of protests about alleged corruption involving council housing in Ward 10. At one of them, a scuffle broke out between residents and Gambu’s bodyguards.
“In the process, one person was shot in the leg,” said an ANC member from the ward, who has asked to remain anonymous.
“Maqatha took that person to Edendale Hospital where they treated him,” he said. “The tensions were heavy in the ward. This here [the arrests of the six men] is a big breakthrough. Comrades are being murdered all over this region, here, Richmond, Mkhambathini, and nobody has been arrested. Maybe now we will get answers.”
During the court appearance by the six, hundreds of ANC members protested outside the Pietermaritzburg magistrate’s court building, while others packed the courtroom, which was heavily secured by the police.
ANC KwaZulu-Natal spokesperson Gugu Simelane-Zulu said the party was shocked by the arrests and called on all ANC members to co-operate with the law enforcement agencies investigating Mchunu’s and other killings. She said although the accused were presumed innocent, the ANC believed the allegations were “extremely serious”.
“We are hopeful that the justice system will do its work independently and with speed. Finalising this matter quickly will allow the ANC to start its internal disciplinary process in order to send a strong message, where it’s necessary,” she said.