Daily Dispatch

Former Dispatch journalist exposes interface between politics and murder

New book details how political conflict in KwaZulu-Natal morphed into endemic corruption, hit-squads


It is hardly a secret that patronage networks are ingrained in SA society.

The Gupta family’s capture of the state during the Jacob Zuma years laid bare the ease with which political heavyweigh­ts can be swayed for the sake of their own pockets, but even at provincial and local government level ‘marriages’ between shady business figures and public representa­tives occur with alarming frequency.

Only last week it emerged that ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule’s sons had landed two Covid-19 contracts in the Free State. As an indication of the hubris that exists among the country’s Teflon politician­s, Magashule fired off a press release denouncing corruption.

It is tantamount to mockery of the citizenry, a schoolyard bully taunting the smaller child whose lunch he has just pilfered. Yet so accustomed have South Africans become to the abuse and gas lighting, they play it down by way of satirical memes.

But patronage networks are serious business. In fact, as former Daily Dispatch journalist Greg Ardé shows in his new book, War Party: How the ANC’s political killings are breaking SA, they are often literally a matter of life and death.

Ardé has zeroed in on KwaZulu-Natal, where ANC infighting has spilt over into large-scale bloodshed.

The scarcely concealed relationsh­ip between regional and municipal luminaries and the taxi industry, from which hit men are drawn to carry out assassinat­ions, is cast in stone, and has every potential to spread its influence throughout the country.

Often the question is asked why KwaZuluNat­al, and not other provinces, has become such a political bloodbath.

As Ardé explains, the brutal conflict between the ANC and IFP in the 80s and 90s created a legacy of violence, a standard that is still adhered to when settling scores or removing opponents.

There are so many examples of regional party secretarie­s or municipal speakers being killed that sometimes it is difficult to follow who ultimately is responsibl­e, but that is precisely what makes the perpetrato­rs so successful.

Their tracks are covered in complicate­d networks that at times stretch beyond the borders of the province, though thanks to the author’s meticulous investigat­ion they can also be traced to a small village in northern KwaZulu-Natal, for example.

Those found to be holding up a tender process are executed with extreme prejudice, with taxi industry hit men deployed for this purpose. The cosiness of this arrangemen­t is all too clear.

“In April 2015 senior cops in KZN were on the hunt for Sputla Mpungose, a man reputed to be one of the biggest taxi bosses in KZN ... They traced him to the office of Transport MEC Willies Mchunu in Truro House on Durban’s Esplanade, where they believed he was hiding ...

“When members of the Hawks and the SAPS National Interventi­on Unit (NIU) arrived at Truro House, where the provincial premier also had his office at the time, there was a stand-off between them and the state VIP protection detail and the public order policemen on duty at the building ... The Hawks and the NIU members were told to leave but they refused. They had to cool their heels in the reception while a general was called to negotiate with Mchunu.”

In correspond­ence to Ardé while he was writing the book, Mchunu told him that as far as he could remember Mpungose was not at his offices because he had been “tipped off”.

Innocents on KwaZulu-Natal’s political landscape appear to be few and far between, which is not surprising given the consequenc­es that await those who do not toe the line.

But that does not excuse the levels of depravity Ardé details.

A provincial detective encountere­d one scam relating to the emergency provision of water in municipali­ties during the drought.

“Water supply trickled to residents because councillor­s failed to ensure key maintenanc­e of water services. They employed friends in technical posts instead of engineers capable of maintainin­g the supply infrastruc­ture. When the taps ran dry, it presented another opportunit­y for graft.

“Councils advertised tenders for the supply of water, sometimes for projects that didn’t exist.”

In this instance, police were able to put a stop to the scam after a sting operation netted a councillor alleged to be at its heart, but it is apparent such schemes are the tip of the iceberg both in the province and country.

* War Party: How the ANC’s political killings are breaking SA is published by Tafelberg

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