The death of former ANC Youth League sec­re­tary Sindiso Ma­gaqa is the lat­est in a string of po­lit­i­cal killings in KwaZulu-Na­tal. S’thembile Cele trav­elled the king­dom to search for answers to ex­plain the blood­let­ting

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It has be­come the prov­ince where you die for ‘mess­ing with the food chain’, and where killing is a ‘tra­di­tion that elim­i­nates prob­lems’

The death of former ANC Youth League sec­re­tary­gen­eral Sindiso Ma­gaqa has, once again, cast the spot­light on po­lit­i­cal killings in KwaZulu-Na­tal. With pres­sure mount­ing from his sup­port­ers for jus­tice to be served, au­thor­i­ties have taken on a new vigour in their hunt for the cul­prits, who gun down un­sus­pect­ing men and women with po­lit­i­cal ties.

Be­fore Ma­gaqa’s slay­ing, there was the mur­der of Kwazuk­wakhe Mkhize, a Ward 3 coun­cil­lor from Mkham­bat­hini Lo­cal Mu­nic­i­pal­ity. Mkhize was re­port­edly shot in the back sev­eral times by an un­known as­sailant.

Mkhize’s mur­der was pre­ceded by that of Ntokozo “Lithi” Ma­phu­mulo, a former ANC coun­cil­lor from the lower south coast. Ma­phu­mulo was am­bushed out­side his fam­ily home by men wear­ing po­lice uni­forms.

A week be­fore Ma­phu­mulo died, 30-year-old Sbongile Mt­shali was shot at Gle­be­lands hos­tel, bring­ing the body count there to 93 in two years. The hos­tel is now in­fa­mous for be­ing an al­leged hit­men’s den.

The vi­o­lent deaths are noth­ing new in the prov­ince, which saw se­ri­ous blood-let­ting in the run-up to the un­ban­ning of the ANC in the late 1980s. It con­tin­ued even af­ter the water­shed elec­tions in 1994.

This era of in­ternecine vi­o­lence has been re­ferred to as both a civil and a low-in­ten­sity war, with an es­ti­mated 20 000 peo­ple los­ing their lives.

Town­ships, vil­lages and sprawl­ing in­for­mal set­tle­ments on the edges of cities were set ablaze. Streets were lit­tered with gun-rid­dled bod­ies as sup­port­ers of the Inkatha Free­dom Party (IFP) clashed with those of the ANC and the then United Demo­cratic Front. They killed each other in­dis­crim­i­nately. Peo­ple who mon­i­tored the vi­o­lence lost count of the num­ber of mas­sacres that took place.

Aca­demic au­thor Maria Schuld writes that half of the es­ti­mated 20 000 deaths can be at­trib­uted to po­lit­i­cal vi­o­lence through large-group vi­o­lent at­tacks.

“At­tacks started as large groups sweep­ing an area and burn­ing down houses, loot­ing, steal­ing cat­tle, threat­en­ing, stab­bing, beat­ing and oc­ca­sion­ally shoot­ing peo­ple who did not flee in time,” she writes.

“An im­por­tant ex­am­ple is the so-called seven-day war near Pi­eter­mar­itzburg. Inkatha vig­i­lantes were bused in to strate­gic assem­bly points and at­tacked the lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties with spears, knobker­ries, sjam­boks and guns to wipe out in­sur­gent el­e­ments from the area ‘in­fil­trated’ by ANC com­rades.

“Sim­i­lar co­or­di­nated large-group at­tacks took place in the Dur­ban town­ships, es­pe­cially around mi­grant labour hos­tels. These vi­o­lent at­tacks were an in­stru­ment of ter­ri­to­rial con­trol. Peo­ple were sys­tem­at­i­cally threat­ened to leave their houses and forced re­cruit­ment was fre­quently re­ported along­side such at­tacks.”

Large-group at­tacks were used not only against res­i­dents of a cer­tain area, but also against peo­ple as­sem­bled at fu­ner­als and po­lit­i­cal ral­lies.

As­sas­si­na­tions in KwaZulu-Na­tal showed some dis­tinct fea­tures. In the few cases where back­ground fac­tors are suf­fi­ciently known, killings took place in re­venge cy­cles of “killing the killer”. They were car­ried out at night (mostly at the vic­tim’s house) or in day­time and in pub­lic, in so-called drive-by shoot­ings.

In­stead of large groups us­ing tra­di­tional weapons, small groups of pro­fes­sion­als were said to be be­hind a large share of vi­o­lent at­tacks in the early 1990s.

Premier Wil­lies Mchunu says the vi­o­lence from that era has made the prov­ince more sus­cep­ti­ble to vi­o­lence than any other.

“This prov­ince has been the one most af­fected by in­ter­nal vi­o­lence. If you look at what hap­pened in this prov­ince, vi­o­lence started rear­ing its head when there was a strug­gle for lib­er­a­tion in South Africa, as well as the re­pres­sion of that strug­gle by the apartheid regime,” he said.

A res­i­dent of the lower south coast, which re­mains a hot­bed of vi­o­lence, de­scribes how nor­malised the war had be­come. “We lived in an IFP strong­hold not too far from a pre­dom­i­nantly ANC area. Guys from our area would cross over to the other side in the dead of night to at­tack peo­ple. The same would hap­pen to our peo­ple. No one was safe.

“Fam­i­lies were burnt alive in cars as they made their way home. It was nor­mal,” the res­i­dent said.

“My sis­ter was killed by sol­diers who came to as­sist the ANC. Her hus­band was be­lieved to be part of a vig­i­lante group that had killed ANC peo­ple in a night at­tack. Her house was stormed by the sol­diers and she was set alight with a body strapped to her back.”

Thou­sands of young peo­ple were trained and armed as spe­cial pro­tec­tion units for the IFP, and as self-de­fence units for the ANC. Tons of high-power weapons and grenades were brought into the prov­ince. Many of these were sup­plied by the apartheid po­lice, who fu­elled the vi­o­lent con­fronta­tions.

Decades later, the men­tion of war­lords such as Rich­mond’s Si­fiso Nk­abinde – who was slain in 1999 and whose de­fec­tion from the ANC to the United Demo­cratic Move­ment sparked a bloody war be­tween erst­while com­rades – still cause ten­sions in Mid­lands wa­ter­ing holes. The singing of songs aligned with cer­tain po­lit­i­cal fig­ures will earn you a gun in your face. “KwaZulu-Na­tal had a war,” said one res­i­dent.

“Peo­ple got used to fight­ing. It is how things were re­solved. It seems that it is how things will al­ways be re­solved.”

An­other res­i­dent added: “Other places don’t have that cul­ture. Here, we kill peo­ple who mess with the food chain.”

Lead­ers in KwaZulu-Na­tal have la­mented the fact that po­lit­i­cal killings in the prov­ince to­day are in­tra­party in na­ture. They are al­legedly linked to con­tes­ta­tions within the ANC.

The killings gen­er­ally gain mo­men­tum dur­ing elec­tion sea­sons. The SA Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment As­so­ci­a­tion has sup­ported this claim, stat­ing that the run-up to elec­tions is char­ac­terised by an in­crease in as­sas­si­na­tions.

An in­sider to ANC pol­i­tics in KwaZulu-Na­tal pointed out a phe­nom­e­non whereby peo­ple, such as ten­der­preneurs, killed in­com­ing coun­cil­lors so that their favoured peo­ple could re­main and con­tinue to give them ac­cess to ten­ders.

“When there is po­lit­i­cal con­tes­ta­tion, par­tic­u­larly at lo­cal gov­ern­ment level – and you are going to re­move the hand that feeds me, and come with some­one else and their peo­ple – I am mo­ti­vated not as some­one who wants to con­test the po­si­tion, but rather as some­one in­ter­ested in who will oc­cupy the po­si­tion,” said the in­sider.

“So I do the hits on be­half of the hand that feeds me. I will kill for them be­cause I come from a tra­di­tion that elim­i­nates prob­lems.”


ON THE WARPATH Self-pro­claimed war­lord Si­fiso Nk­abinde with his hench­men. The no­to­ri­ous gun­man was fa­tally shot by un­known as­sas­sins on Jan­uary 23 1999

CON­CERNED IFP leader Man­go­suthu Buthelezi

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