How to stay alive as a politi­cian

CityPress - - Voices - Seana Nkhahle voices@ city­press. co. za

Since 2000, more than 450 political lead­ers have been as­sas­si­nated in South Africa. The ma­jor­ity of th­ese mur­ders have oc­curred at lo­cal level, where coun­cil­lors are tar­geted by com­mu­ni­ties, political ri­vals and en­trepreneurs who feel threat­ened or wish to ben­e­fit by re­mov­ing a sit­ting elected coun­cil­lor.

Political as­sas­si­na­tions are in­creas­ingly be­ing tied to com­pe­ti­tion for re­sources. This com­pe­ti­tion is in­ten­si­fy­ing as can­di­dates vie for po­si­tions in pub­lic of­fice, with its at­ten­dant rights and priv­i­leges.

This is hap­pen­ing while ser­vice-de­liv­ery pro­test­ers in­creas­ingly tar­get coun­cil­lors’ prop­er­ties and demon­strate es­ca­lat­ing lev­els of pub­lic vi­o­lence.

Van­dal­ism and ar­son are of­ten ac­com­pa­nied by im­plicit or ex­plicit threats of per­sonal harm.

The phe­nom­e­non of the “political as­sas­si­na­tion” is so wide­spread and pro­nounced in South Africa that it has its own Wikipedia en­try.

The col­lab­o­ra­tive on­line en­cy­clopae­dia has a list of more than 20 coun­cil­lors who have per­ished at the hands of political ri­vals and po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated crim­i­nals.

Con­flict is stir­ring un­der the sur­face as com­mu­ni­ties grow restive with coun­cil­lors who they per­ceive as un­re­spon­sive to their as­pi­ra­tions for a bet­ter life. Lev­els of ex­pec­ta­tion have yet to be man­aged cor­rectly to re­duce the risk of ten­sion build­ing up as a re­sult of ill-con­sid­ered prom­ises.

This means that lead­ers across all lev­els, from the lo­cal to the pro­vin­cial and na­tional, need to craft re­al­is­tic prom­ises and plans care­fully.

Th­ese must be fol­lowed up with ef­fec­tive de­liv­ery and con­stant di­a­logue.

Rel­a­tive de­pri­va­tion may play a role in this, as coun­cil­lors liv­ing in poor com­mu­ni­ties be­come in­come earn­ers and lead a more priv­i­leged life­style than that of their neigh­bours.

There have been in­stances where the houses of coun­cil­lors and may­ors have been looted prior to be­ing torched. It starts off with pub­lic gath­er­ings – pro­tected by law – that of­ten turn vi­o­lent and de­te­ri­o­rate into van­dal­ism, ar­son and theft.

The con­se­quences of th­ese acts are sel­dom felt by the per­pe­tra­tors, and their per­ceived im­punity en­cour­ages more of the same.

The sys­temic chal­lenge to democ­racy and state le­git­i­macy posed by coun­cil­lor as­sas­si­na­tions and the de­struc­tion of prop­erty is not sim­ply an elec­toral is­sue. It touches on how lead­ers en­gage with com­mu­ni­ties, how con­flicts over re­sources are me­di­ated, and how law and or­der are en­forced.

If lo­cal govern­ment is to be­come the seat of ex­cel­lence in re­source gov­er­nance, pub­lic rep­re­sen­ta­tion and par­tic­i­pa­tion, the is­sue of coun­cil­lor as­sas­si­na­tions must be con­sid­ered in terms of short- and longer-term so­lu­tions.

In the short term, those at risk will re­quire pro­tec­tion, while in the medium to long term, col­lec­tive ef­forts must be in­vested in ad­dress­ing ma­jor sys­temic chal­lenges at a so­ci­etal and gov­er­nance level.

The suc­cess­ful res­o­lu­tion of deep-seated, sys­temic chal­lenges will min­imise the need for preven­tive mea­sures such as pay­ing for pro­tec­tion ser­vices.

Nkhahle is an ex­ec­u­tive man­ager at the SA Lo­cal Govern­ment As­so­ci­a­tion

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