18 September, 2012

The Politics of Greed and Assassination

by Hussein Solomon

In September 2008, Mcebisi Skwatsha, the then newly elected African National Congress (ANC) chairperson in the Western Cape, stated that the ANC in the province has “been driven by factionalism, patronage and political assassination”. Skwatsha, of course, experienced this first hand in June of that fateful year when he was stabbed in the neck at an ANC meeting.

I have been mulling over Skwatsha’s prescient words in recent days as we witness a spike in political murders in KwaZulu-Natal. According to Willies Mchunu, KZN MEC for Community Safety, there have been 35 politically related murders since mid-2011. The most recent of these was Umtshezi Municipality Ward Councillor Jimmy Lembede who was shot dead by two men at his home whilst both his wife and five-year-old daughter were shot and wounded and his 11-year-old son was burned with boiling water. The viciousness of the act speaks volumes about the violent nature of our society and the barbarism which has come to characterize South African politics.

Unlike the 1980s and 1990s which witnessed political murders as the ANC and the Inkatha Freedom Party were engaged in a life-and-death struggle for political dominance, the current spate of assassinations seem to be more over greed as opposed to ideological difference. Indeed Frans Cronje, CEO of the South African Institute of Race Relations has cogently argued, “We have been hard pressed to find a single person killed over an idea. It all depends on tenders and corruption”.

In other words, being a councillor provides you with the means to divert state resources into your personal bank account. Conversely, losing your position as a councillor means this avenue for self-enrichment, at the expense of the taxpayer, is now closed. Small wonder then that during last year’s local government elections South Africa witnessed a spike of murders against local councillors by those left off from party lists.

Neither is KZN and the Western Cape the only provinces to be affected. In Mpumulanga, intra-ANC killings in the run-up to the 2011 local government elections moved Democratic Alliance (DA) leader Helen Zille to declare that, “The ANC has lost the meaning of their existence. Their sole focus is on money and that’s why there are political killings in the province. These killings are a clear sign of how corruption has grown in the ruling party”.

These tendencies within the ruling party, in particular, raise several disturbing questions. At what point will this politics of greed and assassination surface at provincial and national level? After all, alliances between the different factions contesting the Mangaung leadership conference straddle local, provincial and national levels. Given the ANC’s inability to curb this destructive phenomenon themselves, could the security services take decisive measures to end these political assassinations? Given their own politicisation, however, how can the security services be seen as impartial referees?

As the country gears itself for national elections next year, we should prepare ourselves for more political murders.

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