The National Council of Provinces (NCOP) held a debate yesterday on the rising number of local government councillors who have been murdered for political ends. Participating in the debate, the Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, remarked that the frequency and intensity of these callous attacks cannot go unpunished, as they are a sign that South Africa’s democracy is under attack.

Speaking about the findings of the Moerane Report on political killings in KwaZulu-Natal, the Minister mentioned that there is a perception that election to local government is a ticket to social upward mobility and access to resources. Her argument was that if the socio-economic conditions of black people in general do not improve, such contestations for resources are bound to continue.

One permanent delegate to the NCOP, Mr Dennis Ryder, mentioned allegations that the police are involved in the murders in a manner reminiscent of how the apartheid police abetted the political violence that took place in KwaZulu-Natal before the first democratic general elections in the early 1990s. The only difference now, he said, is that the battle is not about ideology, but access to resources. “It’s a contestation for positions, tenders, money and power, not ideology,” he added.

Making the situation worse, Mr Ryder reported claims made by the National Prosecution Authority to the effect that 40 per cent of political murder cases have not been prosecuted due to police interference. He also mentioned that the qualifications necessary to become a councillor are very low, as it requires no academic qualifications or competencies. This makes local government a fertile ground for vicious contestations for resources.

Another NCOP permanent delegate, Mr China Dodovu, urged the police to pursue these cases without fear or favour. He pointed a finger at high-ranking politicians and businessmen who have interests in tenders and local government supply chains.

NCOP permanent delegate Ms S’lindile Luthuli called for a concerted effort to educate people involved in local government about political tolerance and the nature of democratic political contestation. She further added that the ruling party must deal with the intra-political contestations that lead to political killings. She also pointed out that the findings of the Moerane Commission have not been implemented.

In his response to this remark, the Chairperson of the South African Local Government Association, Mr Bheki Stofile, said one of the Moerane Commission’s recommendations was to professionalise the ranks of local government. But, he asked, who would want to serve as a local government councillor, given the risk? He was more interested in addressing all the unresolved cases and the police’s slow response to threats of violence and death.

The Deputy Minister of Police, Mr Cassel Mathale, responded that police have put in place safety and preventative mechanisms to ensure councillors’ safety. These mechanisms include, among others, an inter-ministerial committee established in 2018 and a task team comprising security and justice agencies. He recounted that 302 dockets related to these crimes have been opened and 329 arrest have been made. Currently, police detection rates for these crimes stands at 57 per cent and conviction rates at 85 per cent.

He went further to state that to date, 40 police officers have been arrested for their alleged involvement in these crimes. “It is these successes that inspire us,” he said. He reiterated that those involved in these crimes undermine the rule of law and he assured NCOP members: “It doesn’t matter who is involved in these crimes, we will arrest both those who plot them and those who pull the trigger.” 

Abel Mputing
23 November 2022