Political killings are a reflection of a violent society

Panelists from left: Nomfundo Mogapi, Smanga Sithebe, Athandwa Saba and Sonwabo Gqegqe. Photo by Ramatamo Sehoai

A recent SALGA report and the Moerane Commission have both shone a light on the pervasiveness of violent contestation over leadership positions in municipal and party-political forums. They also revealed how the inter and intra-party contestation for political office has had lethal consequences.

Johannesburg, Gauteng, South Africa

“The recent spate of political killings around the country are not new but are deeply rooted in the violent history of South Africa.” These were the words of Sonwabo Gqegqe, a Specialist in Municipal Governance at the South African Local Government Association (SALGA) speaking at a seminar organised by the Centre for Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR). South Africa has seen a sharp increase in political killings ahead of the 54th National Conference of the ANC scheduled to take place from 16-20 December and the upcoming 2019 General Elections.

 “We’ve had a society whose evolution has essentially been violent. The colonial conquest was itself violent. The interface and the engagement between liberation movements and the apartheid regime was violent. The deployment of third forces and vigilante groups that led to the proliferation of illegal firearms in our society didn’t make things any better. For me that’s the root cause of these killings,” explained Gqegqe.

According to the CSVR the recent SALGA report and the Moerane Commission have both shone a light on the pervasiveness of violent contestation over leadership positions in municipal and party-political forums. They also revealed how the inter and intra-party contestation for political office has had lethal consequences.

“We can’t enter into the ANC elective conference blind with these killings. The conference is highly contested and something must be done about these killings, especially when we know they are so endemic and are linked to the politics,” said Nomfundo Mogapi, Executive Director of CSVR. The province of KwaZulu-Natal which has experienced a lot of these killings featured prominently in the discussion.

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Simanga Sithebe, a youth development worker from KZN who worked in conflict-torn parts of his province spoke at length about the devastating effects of these killings: “Mothers are widows. Children are orphans and families are broken while the justice system hasn’t done much to help.” He agreed with Gqegqe that the KZN province is synonymous with violence which was made worse by the political conflict between the ANC and IFP. “Also lack of basic services such as education, health, water and electricity has fueled these killings where people have used violence to express their frustrations.”

Without directly casting doubt on the Moerane Commission that investigated these killings, a multi-award winning print journalist, Athandiwe Saba said there’ll have to be political will to end political violence. “This coming conference of the ANC is going to be a watershed moment that will determine their seriousness in dealing with these killings,” she said.

SALGA had proposed to the Commission that these killings must be classified as priority crimes. The police must have a specialised unit that will deal thoroughly with these crimes. Municipal officials, councilors, mayors and the speakers must be given high level protection before threats are made against them.

However, as Gqegqe concluded, more than that is needed to deal with this impasse: “This can’t be left to the government. All of us involved need to re-visit the implementation of the RDP of the soul. This will help us to create the kind of the society that we want. We need a society that won’t see violence as a means to settle their differences. We can’t have a society that still see spanking as the way to discipline their kids.”

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