A high-profile assassination is just a matter of time: report
The number of political killings has increased at a terrifying rate, and ANC inaction is the main problem
Politics and death have merged, and it is only a matter of time before senior politicians or civil servants are assassinated.
The warning comes from the Centre for Risk Analysis, which says political killings and death threats have been allowed to go unchecked, thanks to an official response characterised by lethargy and denial.
“If these phenomena reach the upper echelons of power and administration, the decline of the South African condition will have reached its terminus,” the centre says in a new report.
“Poor service delivery, corruption and the mismanagement of such things as education and the economy all pale in the face of the ultimate assault on freedom: the termination of life itself.”
The report’s author, Gareth van Onselen, says a range of causes underpin the killings. “There is some overlap with the taxi industry, a wild, volatile business, while others would appear to be motivated by business interests,” he says.“But many, unequivocally, are entirely political in nature and the majority of those have at their heart the African National Congress. For all that, however, there has been no attempt by the party to conduct any sort of formal inquiry into its own internal political culture and how it has so deteriorated that murder is now so well-established in parts of the organisation to have necessitated no less than a commission of inquiry.”
In October 2016, KwaZulu-Natal premier Willis Mchunu established the Moerane Commission, under advocate Marumo Moerane. It was supposed to report within 12 months, but its latest deadline was the end of May and Times Select has been unable to establish whether it was met.
Van Onselen says it is difficult to track the number of political assassinations because the vast majority go unsolved, making it hard to ascribe a motive to the killers.
He quotes David Bruce, of the Institute of Security Studies, as saying more than 90% of post-apartheid political killings have been in KZN, where there have been around 450.
A report in March by Assassination Witness estimated that there were about 290 political assassinations between 2000 and 2016, or about three every two months. But it said the rate of killings has increased.Between March 2014 and July 2017, 89 people were victims of politically motivated killings in KZN alone, according to the website set up by the Global Initiative against Transnational Organised Crime and the University of Cape Town Centre of Criminology.
Van Onselen says there has been an “equally disturbing” rise in the number of death threats, which are difficult to count and probably grossly under-reported, “as a great many threats will be made in public, but not be reported to the police”.
He adds: “However, a survey of the South African press over the last five years demonstrated that the problem is ubiquitous, common and extends not just to members of the ANC but the state, chapter nine institutions, the fourth estate and the opposition.
“It is impossible to say which death threats are merely meant to intimidate and which constitute some real intention, but against the backdrop of political assassinations, the distinction is redundant in real terms, something that no doubt plays into the hands of those who make use of them.
“And besides, a great many of them, particularly at local government level, precede an actual death.”Slowly but systematically, assassinations and death threats are working their way up the political hierarchy, says Van Onselen.
“Unchecked for a long period of time, it would not be unreasonable to describe them as an increasingly common recourse when factionalism, economic opportunity or the potential consequences of criminal or ethical investigation threaten a person or party.
“South Africa has not suffered a high-profile assassination — the death of a national public representative or public servant — since the uncertainty and violence that marked the first few years of democracy.
“But an analysis of the available data, which demonstrates not just a spike in assassinations but death threats too, suggests such an eventuality is no longer inconceivable ... within a political culture that is becoming increasingly hateful and intolerant.
“Unless something is done, not just to arrest assassins but urgently address the culture of violence and death that, increasingly, is finding a conducive environment in South African politics in general and in the ANC in particular, sooner or later a primarily regional problem is going to become a national one.”
Even though President Cyril Ramaphosa condemned political killings last week and promised “decisive action”, Van Onselen says during nearly four years as deputy president he did not mention the issue.