As the first democratic elections loomed in April 1994 South Africa was on a knife edge, with raging violence threatening a slide into civil war. The source of the tensions lay in the demands of conservative groupings for regional autonomy as opposed to the interim constitution agreed to by the ANC and NP. Amidst threats of election boycott, politically contested townships and black rural areas especially, but not exclusively, in KZN, were wracked by state-sponsored violence. In April 1994 alone, despite a State of Emergency, at least 338 people died in the province. Gradually all the election opponents, agreed to participate, the last being the IFP, which announced its decision days before the elections. There was a collective sigh of relief when the elections proceeded relatively peacefully. However, political killings continued afterwards. Between May and December 1994, there were at least 640 such deaths in KZN. This pattern was to continue for the rest of the decade, with over 4 000 recorded deaths between April 1994 and the end of 1999. While the political death toll, and murders generally, continued to decline in the new millennium, and each subsequent election was more peaceful than the previous one, South Africa has continued to experience exceptionally high levels of violence for the past twenty years.
As well established patterns of political and taxi-related killings continued after the elections the most noticeable impact of violence on the lives of all South Africans was that of a general criminal nature (all violence is, of course, criminal). Townships and other deprived areas country-wide had long been havens for criminals – which had led to the establishment of vigilante groupings in Durban townships in the 1970s. With the eruption of political violence and a massive influx of guns into those areas in the 1980s and 1990s, visible, violent crime also spread rapidly to the ‘whites only’ areas which had, hitherto, been relatively secure. Protest action, which continued after the advent of democracy, has, over the years, become increasingly violent. There is also a history of violence on the mines, including in the Rustenburg area made notorious by the 2012 Marikana massacre. Long standing organized-crime networks continued and expanded, with increasing reports of drugs such as mandrax flooding townships and rural areas
Farm attacks, while not a new phenomenon, carried on, and appeared more conspicuous. Following claims by farmers’ associations that they were politically-motivated, as some had been during the apartheid years, the then Minister of Safety and Security established a research committee to investigate the phenomenon. Its 2003 report, based on exhaustive research, failed to find any evidence of political orchestration. However, in areas farmed by previously disadvantaged small-scale farmers such as Mangete (near Mandeni) and Nqabeni (near Harding), criminal invasions of land, orchestrated by local traditional leaders, took place, and were accompanied by countless criminal acts of violence, including attacks on the farmers themselves and the burning of their property and crops.
That South Africa had exceptionally high levels of violence against women and children, including rape – even of babies – had become apparent by the 1990s. Political violence and the climate of ungovernability in many areas fuelled the rape epidemic, with young ‘soldiers’ demanding sexual favours as their right, and using rape as a weapon against political enemies.
By the late 1990s it was obvious that there were serious problems with the criminal justice system, especially policing. The amalgamation of the different police forces (homelands and the former South African Police) had been fraught with problems and the supposed transformation of the service was handled very badly, with disastrous, long-term consequences. In far too many cases diligence and experience were overlooked and members were promoted to management positions beyond their levels of competence. Many members with long period of unblemished service – especially indigenous African – left the new SAPS, impacting badly on components such as detective services. Appalling police brutality was manifest in continuing abuse, torture, deaths and killings which, if anything, have increased noticeably in the past few years.
It is against this background of unchecked criminal violence that the continuation of political killings, should be seen. Sporadic killings of this nature have continued all over the country, with different dynamics, but KZN has borne the brunt of this type of violence, especially during the first five years of democracy.. During this time tensions between parties continued, especially during the initial years when national and provincial constitutions were being finalized. In 1997 the relationship between the IFP and the ANC started to improve, with continuing peace talks between the leadership of the parties (although there is no evidence that these talks impacted on what was happening in violence-torn communities where the political killing business continued as usual).
It was excellent detective work which rapidly reduced high violence levels in Mandini and Mtubatuba, and the repercussions of the Shobashobane massacre, in December 1995, which had a major impact on the continuing killings in the Izingolweni and KwaXolo (Margate) areas. Following dozens of killings around Mandeni in 1995 a small team of detectives under former Goldstone investigator Mandla Vilakazi soon made arrests which led to High Court convictions The same team arrested the key warlord in Mtubatuba and his hitmen. The warlord was killed while on bail (for the fourth time) and, during the high court trial of his henchmen it was confirmed that they had been assisted in their attacks by members of the Umfolosi based Stability Unit (who were also implicated in cases of serious abuse in many north coast areas). Following the Shobashobane massacre there was a major spotlight on the police (who had failed to protect the targeted community), especially when a Commission of Enquiry held hearings. Several key warlords were killed and the areas stabilized. While the conflict in these areas had been between the IFP and the ANC, events in Richmond in the late 1990s involved ANC supporters and those of the late Sifiso Nkabinde, a former ANC warlord who had moved to the newly formed UDM. While the truth of what really happened in Richmond remains to be told there is enough evidence to show the flames were being fanned by members of the police and intelligence operatives.
Violence linked to politics has continued up to the present, but has decreased. Potential flashpoints include Durban hostels, Estcourt and the Ulundi/Nongoma area. Although an estimated 64 politically-linked killings have taken place in the past four years the decline in the past decade has been noticeable. Defining what constitutes a political killing has become increasingly difficult because of factors such as links between politicians and taxi operators and, in some areas, the alleged involvement of some politicians in drug dealing. Intra-party conflict has become increasingly common, especially as elections approach and there is competition over places on party lists. Politicians exposing corruption in their own parties also risk being killed.
Two factors are integral to the continuing violence in this province – the ready availability of weapons and continued paramilitary training, including in Macambini and Mahlabatini in the 2006-2008 period. Whether these recruits are implicated in political, taxi, or other hits is not known.
South Africa remains an abnormally violent society and, without fundamental structural change, there is little light on the horizon. As long as children grow up as victims of, and witnesses to, abuse, without suitable male role models, and single sex hostels are not replaced by family accommodation, the current cycle of violence is likely to persist. Policing has continued to deteriorate – markedly so in recent years –and brutality and corruption are endemic. If nothing is done, urgently, to remedy policing ills violent crime will continue to pay – and vigilantism will continue to undermine the rule of law.

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