South Africa’s local elections due on November 1 have witnessed emerging insecurity in what looks like history repeating itself.
Political killings among black-majority political parties have always been a common in South African political space, even during apartheid era.
But since the 2011 local government elections, politically motivated murders have been on a rise.
Factional battles within the ruling African National Congress (ANC) have been attributed as the major source of these killings.
KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) is often regarded as the epicentre of violence as the jostling for posts and power intensifies.
On September 10, three women were gunned down in Inanda township of Durban during an ANC branch meeting at Buhlebethu Primary School.
Five were wounded when gunmen opened fire at a group of people at the meeting in what was concluded to be a politically motivated attack. This incident came shortly after 11 people were shot dead in uMlazi in two separate shootings within five days.
Another Durban town of Ntuzuma has also recently had reported violence although a conclusive number of people killed is yet to be established.
The volatile situation in KZN has prompted Police Minister Bekhi Cele to contemplate the deployment of the South African National Defence Forces (SANDF) in the area as back-up in the run-up to the elections.
“We still have the army that has not been called back to the bases to those specific places in the three provinces that we have mentioned. The SANDF are still in KZN and Gauteng and the Western Cape if need be,” Minister Cele said. While at least 14 people have so far been murdered in the run-up to the November 1 polls, there were 33 killings recorded the last time around when South Africa went for local government elections.
A total of 33 killings were recorded during the pre-and post-election period of January 2016 and June 2017.
After that, the situation remained tense especially in Durban's Glebelands Hostels which are known as the “reservoir of hitmen.”
So serious was the violence that then KZN Premier Willies Mchunu established the Moerane Commission of Inquiry in October 2016 to probe the political killings.
The Commission found out that more than 150 political murders since 2011 had Glebelands as their source.
Another KZN area in the Mid Illovo, in the Mkhambathini Local Municipality was also identified as a political murders hotspot.
But in the build-up to the upcoming plebiscite, Inanda, Ntuzuma and uMlazi have so far been the centre of the violence. So tense has been the situation that some election candidates have withdrawn their candidatures for fear of their lives.
This was confirmed last weekend which was the last voter registration period.
While the ANC has been mostly blamed for the killings, the South African Communist Party (SACP) is now complaining the violence is now affecting their members as well.
“This is a clear indication that democracy has been thrown out of the window through these brutal killings,” said SACP KZN secretary Themba Mthembu.
“People are terrified at what is happening and they are opting to withdraw despite being favoured by their respective constituencies.”
Six SACP aspiring ward councillors pulled out of the elections in what the SACP says is a result of intimidation from ANC rivals who have always been fighting amongst themselves.
Mr Mthembu does not shy away from blaming the ANC for the bloodbath in the province
“The elephant is in the room. We had several meetings with the ruling party to raise our concerns about the flawed nomination processes,” Mr Mthembu said.
“But our concerns were rubbished. This is not for the first time, even during the 2016 local government elections, some of the SACP members were killed leading up to the elections.”
While Cele has hinted at the deployment of the military, the KZN situation has attracted the attention of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s office.
Since Mr Ramaphosa moved the intelligence department to be directly under him, any acts of violence are now being taken more seriously.
There are fears the KZN situation could degenerate into chaos similar to the violence which rocked KZN and Gauteng in July during the protests against the jailing of former President Jacob Zuma.
Deputy Minister of State Security in the Presidency, Zizi Kodwa says they are closely monitoring the disturbances.
“Our overall responsibility at the moment is to protect citizens in these elections because when we do so, we are protecting the system because there is a very clear orchestration of criminality who want to intimidate.”
“We want to ensure that we assure our people that these elections will be safe. If there are elements that continue to intimidate, those elements will be dealt with by the law.”
Mr Kodwa says this problem is not only unique in KZN.
“It’s not just here in KZN, there are a lot of problems in Gauteng and last Friday we had some problems in the Western Cape in Gugulethu,” he said.
“It’s an issue that is very linked to elections. There also should be an understanding that crime is high here [Inanda] so it could be a combination of criminals finding a new space in the political space.
“It’s intimidation of people so they don’t get into the gear of elections and voting.”
Brushes between political rivals within parties fighting for a common cause are not new in South Africa. They were prevalent even in the 1980s.
There was a brutal confrontation between the Inkatha Freedom Party and the United Democratic Front fighting for political space in KZN.
Assassinations between the two parties were witnessed and after independence, 450 politically motivated murders were recorded by 2013.
Now with the ANC in shambles in KZN, more intra-party killings are expected as the country heads to local government elections.