Family disputes about inheritance often happen when the estate is a sizeable one. When access to wealth and power is combined with polygyny, they are almost inevitable. The practice generates tensions among wives, fuelled by relatives hoping to benefit by supporting a particular house.  The current contestations within the extended Zulu royal family are occurring in a context in which traditional leadership provides access to considerable power and economic resources, including business interests. Changing circumstances shaping the late King Goodwill’s reign illustrate the way in which political and economic factors impact on this leadership, and will continue to do so for his successor.  Taxpayers fund several kings and thousands of others in traditional leadership positions, so far greater fiduciary controls, and transparency, and fiduciary controls are long overdue. Without greater public oversight governing parties will continue to dispense patronage without financial constraints, hoping for the political support and influence of these leaders.

The young Goodwill Zwelithini became king during the implementation of the divisive homeland policy and soon became embroiled in competing family interests inextricably entwined with the KwaZulu government. Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi, its Chief Minister, is the son of Princess Magogo, sister of the king’s grandfather. He also claimed the title of ‘chief induna’ (privy chancellor) of the king on hereditary entitlement. His own father had served his maternal uncle King Solomon, in that position. However, the young king was believed to be far too close to other princes who were accused of exercising a negative influence over him. He initially ignored summonses to appear before the KwaZulu legislature, and when he did finally do so, in July 1979, he was so humiliated that he fled the legislature.

That same year the KwaZulu government appointed a Select committee of five members, three of whom were chiefs, chaired by its Minister of Justice, C J Mthethwa) to investigate who was creating friction between the King and the government’ (Resolution No 26).  Chief Minister Buthelezi had refused to take homeland independence and it was feared that the apartheid government would exert influence on the young king to follow the same independence course as had neighbouring Transkei. In its report the committee detailed the matters investigated :(1)The exclusion of the Chief Minister from the programme of the King’s installation ceremony (2)The purpose of empowering His Majesty to appoint the Chief Minister (3)The King’s visit to Pretoria (4)the formation of various political parties, including iNala, Mkhonto and the Zulu National Party.

The Committee conceded that it experienced difficulty in obtaining ‘satisfactory evidence’, especially in urban areas like Umlazi.  It reported that ‘people feared it so much that some of the witnesses went to the extent of bidding farewell to their children when they left their homes because they suspected that they might be imprisoned and not come back’  Nevertheless, it found that virtually all interviewees  named the king’s uncle, Prince Clement, as ‘arch instigator’ against Buthelezi, who believed that the position of Master of Ceremonies at the installation  was his by birth.  Clement argued that the MC should be chosen, and he had suggested Prince Herbert for the role.  Prince Clement was said to have been the king’s choice as KwaZulu’s Chief Minister, as the position called for someone of royal birth. It should be noted that although Buthelezi was a prince through his mother’s royalty, in the patrilineal Zulu society he was not a member of the royal lineage, since descent passes from father to son.  Clement was alleged to have been among those who plotted against Buthelezi at secret meetings, and to have had dealings with other pro-independence parties, as they favoured an eSwatini system of royal governance (KwaZulu was hardly a democracy as most legislature members were government approved chiefs, and very few ‘citizens’ voted in elections). Various other people in the region, and in Johannesburg, were named as exercising a bad influence on the king. Singled out for special attention was the king’s second wife, Queen Buhle kaMathe.. She was accused of exerting too much influence over him, and of having also challenged Inkatha being headed by ‘ordinary man’ and not the king.

Predictably, some members of the legislature thought it was ‘high time’ that the KwaZulu government took ‘drastic steps against people who create much friction’, especially Clement. The king had to be warned about Queen Buhle, and it would ‘be good if all her talking ceases’. In insulting Buthelezi she showed contempt for the whole nation. Men were appointed to screen issues affecting the king, his communications were monitored, his movements were restricted and loyal staff were dismissed.

Years of silence from the king followed. At Shaka Day celebrations in the 1980s it was Buthelezi who made provocative speeches in volatile Durban townships, warning of the threats to the Zulu nation from ‘evil maggots’ in their midst [the UDF].   With the unbanning of the ANC the king himself appeared on public platforms, making inflammatory speeches he would not have penned. People close to royals claimed he was a virtual prisoner, while Buthelezi forced political concessions from negotiating parties, and ensured that KwaZulu land was retained in the private Ingonyama Trust.  Credible reports told of the king being desperate to publicly assert his independence, but the northern areas were particularly dangerous for those supporting liberation, even royals. Prince Petrus Zulu had been murdered, a crime for which a man trained by the apartheid military in the Caprivi received amnesty from the TRC.

In the months following April 1994 the king, supported by close relatives, including senior uncle Prince Mcwayezeni,  prepared to publicly assert his independence.  In September, the announcement came, through his newly appointed spokesperson, Prince Sifiso Zulu, that he would henceforth place himself above party politics and work for peace and development in the province. Serious threats to his safety and that of those close to him started immediately, emanating from by groups of armed men opposing his move,  claiming threats to the Zulu nation because the king had denigrated his minister (Buthelezi)  The relatives targeted included Princes Clement and Zeblon, and his sister Princess Nonhlanhla; the induna at the king’s Babanango farm was also threatened. At the urging of the king, constant pressure was exerted on the SAPS and SANDF to increase protection for the king and his family. In April 1996 Queen Buhle and her daughter were seriously injured, and another relative was killed, at a house in KwaMashu. The attackers came from the nearby A Section hostels and no real effort was made to apprehend them. Threats to Clement continued until his death in the late 1990s.  Tensions between the parties continued until 1999, but there was a gradual improvement in the relationship between the king and Buthlezi.

During these tense years the king, supported by his Royal Council, and his lawyer and brother-in-law, Sdumo Mathe, formed the King’s Peace and Development Trust to support the Reconstruction and Development work of government.  However, many people approached him with an eye to their own business interests, including a foreigner seeking ‘concessions’.  Having trustworthy relatives, and his lawyer, around him offered some protection from shady business people.  Mathe also managed the Ingonyama Trust on behalf of the king

In 1999 the king’s main support pillars crumbled.  Following the death of Clement, Prince Mcwayizeni died that September,  and Prince Cyril Zulu, who was extending the development work in Durban hostels, was assassinated. Then, in December 1999, Sdumo Mathe was killed when his car went over a cliff near Nongoma.  There is compelling evidence that it was not an accident.   With these losses, the vulnerability of the king to unsavoury influences increased. Twenty years later the noble aims of the Peace and Development Foundation Trust had evaporated.   

After Mathe’s death a Board was established to administer the Inonyama Trust, and the exploitation of poor rural residents started.  A lease was given for the Mabaso tradition leader (Mbazwane) to operate a private game lodge.  Residents of Mabaso and neighbouring Mbila areas found that their properties had been fenced off without any consultation. They fought back through the courts and eventually won but the exploitative agenda of the Trust was clear. However, a court case to have it declared unconstitutional was opposed by the then Minister of Land Affairs Didiza.

In 2005 the ANC provincial government replaced the IFP as a dispenser of constantly increasing amounts of patronage. Sycophants, including politicians and business people, appealed for the king’s support for projects of dubious value while telling the king what they thought would win him over (e.g. it would bring development) while lining their own pockets. For example,  eMpembeni (adjacent to Richards Bay) residents were told they would have to move from their land ‘for oil’, and a lease was given by the Trust without their knowing about the deal. it was alleged that the king had supported this ‘development’ and that at least one family member had business interests in it.        

Such are the forces impacting on the lives of traditional leaders, and hence the need for strict financial controls, with set budgets, and audits by the Auditor General, for all these leaders. Before colonialism transformed traditional leadership, chiefs needed popular support (or, with state formation, armies) to retain their positions if they wished to avoid deposition or even death. Ideally, tribute to leaders was reciprocated to subjects in need. Tribute (taxes, sundry gifts) continues, without reciprocity. Perhaps salaries for these leaders should be contingent on all of them supporting charitable work to uplift their largely impoverished subjects.

NOTE:This report draws on a large body of data, including a copy of the report of the Select Committee of the KwaZulu government legislature referred to, press clippings, correspondence between KZN Monitor and security forces and interviews and interactions with members of the royal family and the late king’s lawyer Sdumo Mathe


The fear of violence, widespread before the April 1994 elections, remains,  with good reason, ingrained in the South African psyche.  Regular reports of home invasions, rapes, hijackings, and farm attacks fuel these fears. Those who are most vulnerable live in ‘traditional’ rural areas where well-armed assailants prowl bad roads, far from the nearest police station, at night. People now fear having their movements tracked by hit men, including if they assist in criminal investigations.  Rooted in the past, the current violence is fuelled by gross structural inequality, critical levels of unemployment, and the impunity with which criminal networks operate.  It is likely to get worse unless urgent steps are taken to address known contributory factors. While electoral reform is overdue there is also a crying need for civil society to strengthen its hand.

True democracy does not exist, for the poor rely on the largesse of politicians rather than holding them to account. Patronage, not democratic governance, drives our politics.  When promised service delivery does not happen because of corruption and incompetence powerlessness rears its ugly head in the form of protest, fuelled by criminals using it to their own advantage.

Iniquitous government policy fuels unemployment. Instead of providing training and jobs for shack and hostel dwellers, or serviced sites on which people can build homes, lucrative tenders are dished out to political cronies to provide sub-standard housing.   Patronage encourages a culture of entitlement and demeaning dependency, instead of the dignity of work. Unemployment facilitates recruitment to crime networks – drug running, or training as hit men.  No real effort has been made to deal with pre-1994 Organised Crime networks – including taxi mafia – and they have gone from strength to strength.  The taxi industry poses a threat to social stability, but there is no political will to deal with it. Taxi operators who have attempted to expose gross corruption and secretive government deals are murdered, and no one is brought to book.  It is common knowledge that the industry is a major source of well- armed, trained, hit men for hire.

The private security industry is badly regulated, with its regulatory body suffering from the same cadre deployment problems as other SOEs. It is probable that a large percentage of security companies are not registered.  Even when new companies register, and manage to show the competence to acquire guns, they may quietly disappear, with guns remaining unaccounted for.  Despite the legislation, people with criminal records may be employed.  Enforcing proper regulation of both the taxi and the security industry is not difficult, but it is not prioritised, raising questions about vested interests.  Yet it is in these networks that many of the guns used in crimes circulate.

The new government encountered obstacles in trying to transform the brutal and repressive police force it inherited, but these paled to insignificance with the policing appointments made by former president Zuma.  Grossly irregular promotions of incompetent people, and corruption, flourished for years, as did killings and torture by police members. For the first time in eight years, there was a perceptible improvement in accountability when a well-trained, experienced police member was appointed National Commissioner. As with other Zuma-era appointments it will take years to correct the damage done. Political meddling in the crime intelligence service has done inestimable harm to the fight against crime through the deployment of highly suspect operatives, some of whom had undergone sinister training overseas.  Public Order Policing (POP) has been deteriorating for years, suffering from ill-discipline and a poor standard of training not in step with international norms. Even more problematic than POP is the Tactical Response Unit(TRT), another Zuma-era spawn, whose hallmark is brutality. It is not clear why this notorious unit even exists, given the legislative mandate of Public Order Policing, and the well-trained National Intervention Unit. To make matters worse, police lacking the required identification may be accompanied by unknown security company employees while committing abuses, which is a major impediment to accountability.

Legislation requires that torture, abuse, and killings by SAPS members be investigated by the Independent Police Complaints Directorate (IPID).  IPID suffers from serious constraints, the most critical of which is its lack of independence from the Ministry of Police – an overt conflict of interest, obviated internationally by the appointment of completely independent reporting structures.  Despite lobbyists, supported by a Constitutional Court judgment, having pressed for legislation giving IPID independence for years, parliament – which has become a rubber stamp – drags its heels.

Of great concern is a marked deterioration in prosecution services.  In district courts, malicious prosecutions may clog up rolls instead of being pruned by prosecutors failing to provide guidance to investigators.  Decisions by the KZN DPP’s office not to prosecute apparently dangerous criminals, despite evidence, raise serious questions about whether this service is usurping the role of open courts, and overlooking the possible life or death implications for victims or witnesses. A recent decision not to prosecute POP and Dog Unit members, who seriously abused whistle-blower Thabiso Zulu when maliciously arresting him at his family home in July 2020, raises further concerns about his already perilous safety.  There was medical evidence of the abuse, and the identities of some members were known, yet they are not being held to account.  In October 2019 Zulu was shot and almost killed. In the July 2020 incident, he may well have been killed had he not managed to make a telephone call which led to the local station commissioner being informed of the raid. Zulu has fought tirelessly against corruption, and for justice, and not only has he been denied protection but the police themselves have now, in effect, been given carte blanche by the DPP to continue their campaign against him with impunity.  The matter is being followed up.

Complaints against magistrates, too, are increasing and it is obvious that some of those in this position should never have been appointed. Since it is virtually impossible to remove them when they have lost the confidence of investigators, prosecutors, and the public, it is imperative that far stricter criteria – and much greater transparency – be used in magisterial appointments.

Securing any form of justice for people who cannot afford good lawyers – the majority of South Africans – has become a virtually insoluble problem. It is also a major contributing factor to the escalation of crime.

The outlook is dire and likely to worsen. The situation requires political action,  but it will not happen unless far more South Africans involve themselves in the fight for social and criminal justice for the majority. Professionalism has been largely killed off by trade unionism, and voluntarism is no longer associated with well-heeled elites. While there are many admirable voluntary initiatives, far more of those who are lucky enough to have good jobs could give back in hours of their time – in education, trauma counselling and legal services – to build a more just society. As a collective, we have only ourselves to blame if we allow politicians to continue to ruin our beautiful country


At around 02h00 on the morning of 5th April armed men broke the lock on the door of the Ndlovu home at eMpembeni, KwaDube, stormed into the house and shot Mr Bruce Ndlovu dead with a rifle, in front of his mother, his young children, and the mother of his children.  The killers were police members, who arranged for colleagues to remove the ballistics evidence. The deceased’s body was also removed, leaving the relatives to celebrate Family Day in a state of shock in their blood-spattered home.

The dysfunctional state of management at the IPID KZN office was again revealed when it transpired that its Tollfree number did not work, and nor did the standby number obtained from a helpful staff member. Apparently, members of the public are supposed to surmise that they should report incidents after hours to the Flying Squad – the very people against whom complaints against SAPS are supposed to be lodged with an independent body.  The death had been reported to the management member on duty, but the standby duty investigator for the area was only informed about the incident eight hours after it had happened.  The rule that the crime scene should be left undisturbed until the IPID investigator is present was ignored –  as were clear instructions from the National Commissioner SAPS, in May 2020, about procedures to be followed during arrest.

The local Esikhaleni station commissioner could not explain to the brother of the deceased what had happened.  When challenged later in the day he only knew from a duty officer that there had been an ‘operation’.  The next day (Tuesday) he, reluctantly, admitted that the police involved were POP, TRT (Tactical Response Team) and the Flying Squad, and that two cases had been opened against the deceased.  However, even that information was incorrect as it subsequently transpired that the police from Empangeni were accompanied by members of TRT and a local Esikhaleni member. Unsurprisingly (since this has been a common theme in police killings since apartheid), it is alleged that the deceased had an unlicensed firearm.  This allegation is strenuously denied by the family, who maintain that the deceased had been accused of any crime, nor had any attempts been made to arrest him. From the case numbers provided, they had been recently opened in Empangeni – while the deceased was in steady employment in Richards Bay.

The context of the killing is crucial. A spate of killings by hit men occurred in 2018 and early 1019.  There were widespread allegations that they were orchestrated by a powerful, feared, local businessman. However, there were no arrests by the local Esikhaleni police, despite available information.  A team established by the National SAPS office, not reporting to the local police, arrested hit men and the businessman for three murders, all apparently corruption linked. The investigation was well done, and bail was denied in one of the cases.  Then, unexpectedly, the office of the KZN DPP declined to prosecute anyone – even the hitmen – months later.  Since this businessman has openly boasted about his prosecutor friends, and had apparently had to sell an expensive property in Durban, people believe there has been a serious miscarriage of justice.  An Appeal has been lodged with the National Director of Public Prosecutions. There are a string of allegations, some backed by evidence, of the businessman’s close relationship with local police, including the acting station commissioner.

In June 2019 members of the ORS team  (Operational Response Team) sent to the area to protect people, under POP command abused and tortured – by ‘tubing’ (near suffocation) residents, while wearing balaclavas.. Co-incidentally, the worst abuses were inflicted on relatives of the deceased for whose murders the businessman was then in prison.

A second crucial factor is that those abused, and the Ndlovu family, live in the Gebetuko area where people have been told they will have to move for ‘oil’. Although it is known that there are plans for this area, no government department will provide any details about them. It is almost certain that, given its proximity to the Richards Bay harbour, these plans relate to proposed gas/oil storage and pipelines.  As with the titanium mining in KwaDube, local tender beneficiaries will doubtless be hopeful of further lucrative income opportunities.

It is not only the Esikhaleni police who are culpable in this killing, so too is the King Cetewayo Cluster management under which Empangeni SAPS also falls.  This office has, consistently, been unhelpful in assisting this community, or even providing adequate vehicles to protect the team investigating the murders in a dangerous area. It was this office which also slandered with fake news Wiseman Hadebe, one of those for whose murder the businessman was arrested, after he had been tracked and killed in Ngwelezane where he was in hiding, and his respected eMpembeni family was grieving his death.

Co-incidentally, the murder of Bruce Ndlovu occurred amidst rumours of planned hits on his brother Sifiso, and others related to victims of the 2018/19 murders – especially the Dladla family – or who assisted the investigative task team which made arrests in 2020.  In January 2021 police arrived at the Ndlovu home at night and abused family members.  When they had left the nephew of the deceased had disappeared. According to the station commissioner, who advised the family to open a missing person case, he was not in police cells. Two days later he had turned up in the cells, but family members were not permitted to see him; he remains there, facing charges. This conduct is typical of policing in Esikhaleni, where a crucial Order Book covering the period of the 2019 abuses could not be located when the IPID investigator went to check it.

The Ndlovu family has suffered the loss of their loved one,  a breadwinner in steady employment.  The children will probably be traumatised for life by what they witnessed.  There are extremely serious concerns about the safety of Sifiso Ndlovu, and the police will be held responsible if he suffers harm.  The National office of the SAPS has assisted with arranging probes into grossly irregular POP conduct, including in eMpembeni.  Attention must now be given to dealing with the systemic brutality of the notorious TRT members. This police brutality must stop, and heads must roll.  Bruce Ndlovu’s death must not be in vain.


In theory, South Africa is a democracy with an admirable Constitution. The reality is different, for the Bill of Rights  is violated with impunity.  Our abnormally high rate of violent crime is the most obvious symptom of this disjuncture between the ideal and the real. So, too, is the onslaught on health and land rights through malnutrition, lack of access to clean water, polluted environments, and removals from ancestral land. Most people lack the money for lawyers, so even that avenue to redress when the state regularly fails them, is not an option.  At the heart of the failure of the state to uphold rights lies dysfunctional governance. Gross corruption and financial profligacy is accompanied by a growing culture of secrecy, lack of access to information, and a weak parliament and opposition. The authoritarian hand is revealed by the establishment of an apartheid-reminiscent State Security Council in February 2020.

Authoritarian tendencies were given full rein with the outbreak of Covid-19. The proclaimed State of Disaster was accompanied by militaristic rhetoric and rights infringements having little bearing on necessary protective measures.  One of the new powers the government gave itself has not received enough public scrutiny: Its ability to conduct mass surveillance through access to cell phone-related data.  The stated rationale was to trace networks of people who developed Covid-19, but there is no public information about its usage for that purpose.  The lonely, agonising death at home of 74-year old Sizani Ngubane, after being tested Covid-19 positive, and despite pleas for assistance from her hospitalised son, shows that there was no follow up. What, then, is this information being used for?

We need full information about what is happening with our data, for in recent years the locations of people who are murdered by hit men may be tracked remotely. Hit men have even boasted about it to potential victims.  Location tracking can be done in various ways through documents and devices with minute chips, but cell phones are probably the easiest option if criminals have access to private information held by unethical dealers. Now the legal access to what should be confidential information has also facilitated snooping by the state. Unfortunately, even people in government may have unsavoury connections, as evidenced in political hits.  Enemies of the state may include the very people who are trying to clean it up – anti-corruption campaigners such as Thabiso Zulu who, despite attempts on his life, has been denied protection by the very minister whose job it is to prevent crime. That too many people with information about corruption in government dare not speak out for fear of being killed is understandable, especially given the ease with which they are tracked and executed with impunity. In Italy even investigative journalists may have police protection.

Dealing with this type of crime is the job of state security agencies which are themselves in a serious disarray.  Take, for example, the crucial police crime intelligence component, which has been subject to years of political interference resulting in destructive factionalism, and incompetence and worse, which can neutralise the efforts of members striving to do their jobs professionally.  There were enough policing problems before the political impact of Polokwane, but they paled to insignificance with the appointment of yet another politician, Bheki Cele, as national commissioner.  His tenure, and that of his successor Riah Phiyega, saw an escalation in political interference, incompetence, and corruption.  The present national commissioner, an experienced police member, set in motion a slow, but perceptible, return to professional policing but, once again, the hand of political interference is blatant and destructive. Surely there is a clear conflict of interest if the minister who wants the national commissioner removed is the very person responsible for some of the serious problems the commissioner has tackled?  If the current, overt, attempts to regain complete political control of policing succeed there will be no protection against the untrammelled snooping powers of the government, and the potential consequences for political enemies. 

That it is not only through violent crime that many South Africans risk dying is highlighted by the Covid-19 pandemic.  How can people who hardly have clean water to drink maintain the cleanliness standards to protect them against infection, let alone buy sanitiser if they do not have enough money for food? Instead of ensuring that people had sufficient food and water, and that school feeding schemes continued, too many government departments allowed avaricious officials to steal food parcels and siphon off huge Covid relief funds.  The escalation of malnutrition linked to job losses will leave a marked impact on the health of many, especially children.  Unacceptably high levels of TB and other preventable diseases are linked to the government’s failure, in 25 years, to provide decent housing, sanitation and food security – the very steps which virtually wiped TB off the face of Europe. Sophisticated research facilities may be image-boosting (and career boosting), but prevention is far better than cure, not only for people but for the fiscus.

It is not only poor people whose health rights may be threatened. The government’s autocratic hand is revealed in its roll out of 5G networks without proper consultation.  This technology is extremely controversial; it is subject to vigorous public debate elsewhere. Over 230 scientists from more than forty countries have warned of potentially serious effects of this technology, especially cancer, and have urged that far more, independent, research be carried out before it is introduced.

Threats to the environment, and to people’s land rights, may be interlinked. Since 2019 various pieces of legislation and policy documents relating to mineral resource exploration and mining, and the new Khoisan and Traditional Leaders Act, all reduce transparency about business deals done. When the Expropriation Bill before parliament is linked to this minerals-related policy, it seems likely that the biggest losers will be poor, rural people. The land which sustains them could be expropriated for mining or infrastructure development, rationalised as ‘public interest’ – the interests, of course, being those of multinational companies or local elites.   Already, people living in coal mining areas such as Somkhele, Nongoma and Dannhauser, are suffering a serious onslaught on their rights. The water they and their cattle drink is polluted, including with coal dust, there are high levels of respiratory diseases, and some are in hiding because they risk being killed like anti-mining activist Fikile Ntshangase, if they oppose moving from their land.

With the justice system beset by problems, redress when rights are violated is increasingly difficult, as it needs money to access lawyers and courts.  Mr P,  who was badly abused by the police and hospitalised, has never had the results of his scans and tests, and  a PAIA application for his medical record is being ignored. Unlike the deaths of Life Esidimeni victims, the needless deaths of many hundreds of cancer patients due to gross, well documented, corruption in the KZN Department of Health have been swept under the carpet, with the senior politicians responsible for these deaths continuing to occupy prominent positions in government.   As with so many other land claims, that of the M family was settled irregularly, giving land the family had been associated with since the mid nineteen century to unknown people, and leaving elderly, disabled Mr M broken-hearted. Referral to the Land Claims Court must be done by the Commission, which, having been unable to provide documentation about the settlement, will not do so. Despite damning evidence, and the settlement of two civil claims, there have been no prosecutions for the killings of over thirty people by apartheid-era members of KZN’s Organised Crime unit. Despite the rhetoric, black lives, it seems, still do not matter.


While the Covid-19 pandemic occupied centre-stage in 2020, a video clip circulating at Christmastide pointed to more deep-seated problems which will persist when the threat of the Coronavirus fades.  This clip, showing a pantechnicon gridlocked on a national road being looted of its cargo of baked beans by hordes of residents of nearby areas, is emblematic of the potent destabilising forces of hunger and lawlessness gripping our country. While the National Coronavirus Command Council increased government controls, its increasingly authoritarian inclinations are evident in 2020 legislation increasing powers of state organs and decreasing consultation and transparency. In March, a National Security Council – sounding ominously like apartheid’s State Security Council – was gazetted into existence, despite the government having managed quite well without one for twenty-five years.  The cherry on its authoritarian top was the signing into law of the Khoisan and Traditional Leaders Act, and the passing of the Traditional Courts Bill, which go even further than apartheid in reinforcing the feudal status of rural black people.

Covid-19 has exposed our social fault lines.  The pandemic targets rich and poor alike, but it is the millions of immune-compromised, malnourished people, many without clean water, who are most vulnerable. We are rightly concerned about the mounting Covid death toll (currently a minimum of 27 568 );  that TB claimed 63 000 lives in 2018 barely raises an eyebrow. Why have we not made strides in eradicating it by providing decent housing, water, sanitation, and nutrition?  Why is the Department of Health not leading a government drive to prevent TB?   Adequate nutrition should be integral to primary health care, but lockdown has seen already high levels of malnutrition soar. Why were school feeding schemes not operating during lockdown? What type of employment will youths stunted physically and mentally by malnutrition find? Poverty does not necessarily lead to crime, but it provides a large pool of people desperate for jobs in a crime-ridden society.

Crime, including Cash-in-Transit, taxi and farm murders, gender-based violence, and opportunistic theft, has continued unabated.  Like some taxi industry players who provide career openings for hit men, organised crime networks – largely untouched, and empowered by tobacco and liquor bans – offer get-rich-quick jobs to poor, vulnerable youths.  We have long been a leader in protest action, especially around the lack of service delivery, 2020 has seen a spate of apparently well organised, extremely violent protest – mobs burning cars and trucks, for example – some of it linked to sinister ‘business forums’ , Recently an angry mob attacked an ambulance sent to collect a patient in the KZN Midlands, and paramedics fortunately escaped with their lives.  Like damage to infrastructure, including allegedly by ‘sabotage’, this lawlessness is harming people, and causing economic damage our debt-ridden country cannot afford.

Its roots lie in extremely bad governance which, instead of empowering the historically disadvantaged, has, with impunity, looted money destined for services, and uses them as voting fodder with promises of patronage that usually do not materialise.  The acute sense of deprivation all too often erupts in protest – but the disempowered may also be used in protest orchestrated by others for their own selfish gains.  In this, the most unequal society in the world, we ignore this growing lawlessness, and its root causes, at our own peril.

Amidst the diversion of Covid-19 the government has introduced a raft of questionable legislation and policy documents. It started with policy about amending the Constitution to allow expropriation of land without compensation, ending the year by inviting comment on the bill about it ( increasingly, comment is not even acknowledged). The public should not be fooled by rhetoric about redress for the disadvantaged as it is state departments which continue to deprive poor people of land, through the corruption-riddled Land Claims Commission, and complicity with the Ingonyama Trust, traditional leaders, and mining companies. Their arrogance includes ignoring court orders and even Concourt judgments.

Two related documents, Amendments to Mineral and Petroleum Resources Regulations, and the Draft Upstream Petroleum Resources Development Bill leave no doubt about the government’s explicit, climate-unfriendly focus on petroleum-related mining. From these documents transparency and consultation will be minimal and communities most affected may not even know about what is proposed. The interests of the Applicants for mining rights appear paramount.  Conveniently, the recently gazetted Khoisan and Traditional Leaders Act will allow traditional leaders to enter into agreements with businesses, including mining, whether or not their ‘subjects’ want it.  What has been happening in the Somkhele (Mtubatuba) and Zululand Anthracite Colliery (Nongoma) mining areas makes the government’s plans clear : It will have no compunction in allowing the removal of people from their ancestral homes, and bases of subsistence, with all the attendant consequences for increased hunger.

The government is pushing ahead with 5G rollout without any meaningful consultation, despite over 230 scientists from more than forty countries having lobbied the European Union to halt any roll out pending further comprehensive research, and warning about its carcinogenic potential.  The draft policy document stipulates that property owners do not have the right to refuse entry to people sent to install neighbourhood infrastructure. Then there is the Victims Support Services Bill which, despite some praiseworthy aims, gives a Department not known for efficiency – Social Development – increased powers over NPOs (although the wording is so bad some of its basic provisions are obscure).  Lastly, The Police Services Amendment Bill, needs a complete revamp to deal with myriad problems, including the increased power it gives to the Minister. For twenty-five years the President has had the power to order the deployment of the Public Order Police, but this bill gives that power to the Minister. This legislation is incapable of dealing with SAPS corruption, which is primarily the job of The Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID). It is the legislation relating to IPID needs urgent change, since currently the Directorate is remotely controlled by the same Minister who is responsible for policing, so it cannot function independently, as international norms demand.

The legislation giving ministers too many powers in appointing people to bodies, including Boards of SOEs, needs amending. The Minister of Health, for example, has vast powers to appoint to important bodies which should have complete independence, such as the Health Ombudsman and the Registrar of the Health Professions Council. For a democracy to function properly, power should be far more diffuse, and not concentrated in relatively few hands whose decisions are motivated by party politics. This problem is exacerbated by the virtual demise of professionalism, which has been tainted, or even captured, by politics, including through trade union alliances.     Parliament is increasingly appearing a mere rubber stamp, with insufficient informed debate about legislation, and relatively few opposition party members making constructive contributions.

In conclusion, this culture of increasing lawlessness and its myriad of causal factors must be addressed urgently, if it is not to spiral further out of control. Related to it is the appalling state of governance and the erosion of democracy. We all need to wake up and do something about it. Civil society forums can play an important role, but we must also focus on politicians of all parties who are elected to office.  Close monitoring of parliament, legislative assemblies, and local government councils is essential, as is unremitting pressure on representatives of all parties to do the work they are now failing to do to earn their taxpayer funded salaries and perks. Our struggle for accountability and transparency in governance must be escalated since we are still a long way from being a truly democratic state.


A forty-year old report on soils and land usage in the neighbouring Mpukunyoni and Nhlana Traditional Authority areas in northern KwaZulu-Natal extols their suitability for agriculture. However, in these areas, adjacent to the  Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Parks and oldest proclaimed Wilderness area in Africa, such development did not materialise, for 2007 Petmin’s Tendele Coal (Pty) Ltd started its open cast mining operations in Somkhele, Mpukunyoni.  Since 2014 the threat of coal mining has also been hanging over the heads of Nhlana’s Fuleni residents.  Since the Somkhele operations started, mining has moved to new villages, displacing over a hundred families from land they have occupied for generations. The current expansion drive to displace yet more families from Ophondweni – which led to the recent assassination of community leader Mam Fikile Ntshangase – is but one manifestation of the social and environmental degradation caused by this mining.  As long as profit for relatively few is put before the quality of life of thousands of people and their environment, the mine will carry on moving to, and ruining, new areas. By fiddling with coal while the planet burns, the government shows utter contempt for the most basic of human rights to water, food security, safety, health, and a clean environment.  Mining does not alleviate poverty, but it entrenches inequality.  What these areas need is true, community-driven development, utilising all the environmental, agricultural and tourism potential of the area it is part of.

Mining activities bring conflict, for only a select few benefit from what are generally low -grade jobs, the security of which relies on the vagaries of international markets. Even coal truck operators are reportedly not locals. In 2017, as the full impact of the mining operations, including broken promises about employment and training, were felt, opposition to the mining increased.  It was countered by the tactics of an informal coalition in which mine management, traditional leadership and provincial government played different roles.  The traditional leadership, which contributes to the prevailing climate of intense fear, claims, erroneously, that it owns the land. Legal rights to live on the land are vested in residents through the Interim Protection of Informal Land Rights legislation, and the Ingonyama Trust merely holds such areas in trust.

The criminal tactics used against community leaders and families refusing to relocate range from threat (including anonymous phone calls), overt intimidation, malicious damage to property/arson attacks, and, in collusion with local police, malicious arrests (over 70 in 2017) Disinformation has also been used against Applicants in two high court cases, the Mfolozi Community Environmental Justice Organisation (MCEJOI) and the Global Environmental Trust (GET), who are challenging the mine’s expansion.  They are accused of causing unemployment if the mine is forced to close because it cannot expand – an obvious recipe for intra-community strife. This campaign has been stepped up since 2019 when planned expansion to Ophondweni and surrounds was thwarted by some families refusing to move. 2020 saw increased death threats (including to fourteen women), shooting around homes at night, and attempted murder. In May, in a particularly devious move, elderly people in a remote area were served with hundreds of pages of documents (in English) by the mine’s lawyers, ordering them to appear in court in Pietermaritzburg in June. Stress levels among these elderly folks soared (locals claimed stress was a factor in two earlier deaths). After their lawyer intervened, the planned action was withdrawn.

Weeks before Mrs Ntshangase was killed, some members of MCEJO had been seduced by financial inducements to sign a supposed agreement that the court case about the mine’s expansion, set down for 2021, would be withdrawn.  They had no power to do so on behalf of MCEJO, their membership was suspended, and they joined in the violent campaign against their erstwhile colleagues.  After Mrs Ntshangase stood firm against them and refused to be part of their dirty deals she was brutally gunned down.  Already traumatised people are terrified when darkness descends, On 22 November the Ntshangase dog died of suspected poisoning.

Mining affects the whole community.  Houses near the operations are cracked and there is no compensation.  Pollution, including from coal dust, is a violation of human rights. In Somkhele it is linked to an explosion of respiratory illnesses and deaths (the threat of Covid-19 pales to insignificance).  Fearing for their children’s health, some families send them to school elsewhere.  Heritage laws regarding ancestral graves are ignored. Large areas of precious cultivated farmland have been lost, and nutritional levels have suffered.  Worst of all is the community’s loss of water. Coal needs huge quantities of water for washing, and access to the Mfolosi river has been fenced off.  The streams people formerly relied on have dried up, and the mine reportedly uses precious groundwater.  Rainwater storage tanks are polluted with coal dust so water for drinking must be boiled, and electricity is expensive.  Women, especially, suffer, since they must find ways to procure water, even if it means walking for hours and risking sexual assault. WoMin,  a proactive women’s group, did its own research and its report ‘ ‘No Longer a Life Worth Living’ sums up their hardships. Taps are dry and whole areas are without water, even from tankers, despite ongoing appeals to the local and district municipalities.  In July, 29 women protesting with their buckets were arrested and spent nine days in prison.

The plight of people living near the Zululand Anthracite Colliery in Nongoma is the same as that of Somkhele area residents. It is utterly iniquitous that thousands of people, and the environment, should suffer grievously so that relatively few can make a profit from a fossil fuel that is the biggest driver of global warming, that other countries are phasing out and disinvesting from. Even with covid-19, carbon dioxide emissions have risen in 2020, and South Africa contributes more than its fair share.  The government seems impervious to scientific warnings that the planet has a decade to reduce emissions. It continues, and intends expanding, coal extraction, using it for 85% of its electricity generation, and exporting it. By rationalising its policy as providing employment, it ignores the fact that renewables do a far better job. Europe’s biggest economy, Germany, while reducing its reliance on coal, created four hundred thousand jobs in renewables in a decade. They now provide 46% of its energy needs. South Africa, with its huge solar and wind potential, manages a measly six percent.

Somkhele areas and nearby Fuleni would be ideal places to start phasing out coal mining, and replacing it with sustainable job creation.  Instead of expanding, Tendele would need to rehabilitate all the damaged areas. Intensive work on restoring soil fertility would allow the return of agriculture – including fruit for export – and its situation near game reserves renders it perfect for creating jobs in tourism and environmental work (clean water, anti-poaching activities, game and Wilderness guides). It is also an area of huge historical significance, a site of struggles which shaped the historic Zulu kingdom, and affordable local accommodation would assist tourism, including local. Its location renders it ideal for healing through the Wilderness experience – a crucial factor in mental health – and educational youth camps. It could be a venue for those gathering to document their clan histories, and recording indigenous knowledge among elderly people, while promoting the considerable local musical, artistic, and performance talent.

This should be the goal to lobby for and work towards, but the first step is phasing out mining and restoring land and water rights. Global warming is likely to make South Africa – already running out of water – hotter and drier.  There is no time to lose.


‘Xolobeni has come to KwaZulu-Natal’.  These were the words of a community leader in mining affected Mtubatuba areas when he called to advise that grandmother Fikile Ntshangase had been gunned down in her home at Ophondweni.  Mrs Ntshangase was Vice Chairperson of one of seven sub-committees of the Mfolosi Community Environmental Justice Organisation (MCEJO) for Ophondweni and neighbouring areas, and a powerful voice in opposing the expansion of mining by the Tendele Coal mine, which will displace rural farmers from their homes.  The MCEJO, which represents thousands of subsistence farmers in the broader area affected by the mine, are Applicants in two court cases challenging the expansion of the mine. This assassination followed on a stepped up campaign by the mining company and the KwaZulu-Natal government since February 2020 to persuade applicants to withdraw the court challenge and for those most affected by the expansion – including in the Ophondweni area – to accept the compensation the mine is offering.

During these past few months several MCEJO members have been offered R300 000 by the mine to withdraw the cases. Some have been seduced by this offer and their membership of MCEJO  as been suspended.  All those refusing to sign their properties over to Tendele Mining have received death threats, some linked to local traditional leadership, one survived a drive-by shooting in her home, and one applicant was attacked in his home.  The threat was ever-present, with suspicious vehicles seen in the area at night, and although the local police station deployed patrols the nature of the deep rural area rendered comprehensive protection of residents difficult.  Locals have also devised their own community watch strategies.

With the Supreme Court of Appeal case due to have a virtual hearing on 3 November, the pro-mining campaign has been stepped up during the past week. On 15 October, former MCEJO members who are now colluding with the mine were among those who disrupted a meeting the organisation’s representatives were having with their legal team and one prominent leader was assaulted.  A case is being opened.  This leader, who works in another area, has been warned that his life will be in danger if he visits his family home.

On Monday 19 October, Mrs Ntshangase, who was widowed early this year, and was staying in Ophondweni with her toddler grandson, reported that her dogs were barking in her yard, suggesting that there were intruders in the vicinity.  She is described as being a very strong, powerful voice against capitulating to the demands of the mining company. One of her close associates in this struggle describes her as a leader in the Somkhele/Mpukunyoni committee, working tirelessly for the community, who ‘ exemplified honesty, integrity and the courage to speak her mind……she did not care about being liked, but cared about what she believed was right ‘.  These qualities probably cost her her life.

The strategies used by the mining company in this area are typical of those found in all areas in which these companies operate, which involve dangling incentives to impoverished residents with the inevitable consequences of stirring deep community divisions, invariably leading  to violence and deaths.  In rural areas which are difficult to police it takes great determination and courage to counter these strategies, and Mrs Ntshangase exemplified the type of leadership which promotes community solidarity and resistance.  There are other leaders of this calibre in the NCEJO and, if anything, the assassination of Mama Ntshangase has renewed their determination to step up the fight against exploitation by the mine.

What is truly disgraceful is that the mine is being supported by the KwaZulu government. In June/July the Department of Community Safety and Liaison sent a staff member – apparently from its Civilian Secretariat arm (which is conspicuous in its absence whenever the threat of violence looms) to persuade community members to negotiate with the mine.  Since then, after MCEJO members thought it only proper to approach the office of the Ingonyama (King Zwelithini) about their struggle they have come under even further government pressure via the office of the Premier and CoGTA (Co-operative Governance and Traditional Leadership department).  This is the self-same government that claims that it needs to expropriate land without compensation to redress the land imbalance – while wilfully pushing to displace rural farmers from their family land from which they subsist, and risk their lives in the process..  Perhaps these hypocrites should ask themselves whether, with the assassination of Mrs Ntshangase, they have blood on their hands.


With breath-taking arrogance, the Chairperson of the Ingonyama Trust Board declared – in Women’s Month – that a bill aimed at giving women access to land should not apply in land it controlled.  He was supported by the KwaZulu-Natal House of Traditional Leaders, which agreed that giving land to women undermined ‘African traditions’.  Such arrogance, like many other pronouncements about supposedly ‘African’ ways,  ignores the huge diversity of societies on the continent, and the way in which that heterogeneity has historically shaped access to land. It also obscures the way in which colonialism has shaped current land norms and practices. Ironically, the Trust itself, like the contemporary office of traditional leadership, is a product of colonialism.  In celebrating Heritage month, it is appropriate to consider the disastrous implications of these invented traditions on the status of women and their access to land.

What exactly is this ‘African way’ that the Trust and others refer to, given this tremendous historical, political, ecological and economic diversity, which have impacted in so many different ways on forms of social organisation.  While ancestral veneration, in which either maternal or paternal ancestors might dominate, plays a significant role in most societies  so too did the spread, hundreds of years ago,  of Christianity and Islam  Political organisation ranged from societies having no centralised authorities to feudal kingdoms. All of these factors impacted on the status of women, and how they accessed the land on which most of them farmed. Land was valued for subsistence and, with the rise of states, a means of territorial control. It also had religious significance, especially given its association with family- including female – ancestors.  However, it was the advent of colonialism, especially the rampant capitalism of the nineteenth century, that led to land – including rights to mine on it – as a commercial commodity.   The nature of gender relationships, too, was transformed, since the roles of men and women had been complementary rather than hierarchical. The nineteenth century hierarchy of gender relationships – termed by Marx and Engels ‘ the world historic defeat of the female sex’ – was imposed on colonial subjects  Although, in centralised states, men generally occupied positions of authority, women also exercised power in different ways , especially as they grew older. (White women in South Africa only gained voting rights in 1930). In what is now the Northern Province the Lovedu queen – whose reputation inspired Rider Haggard to write the novel ‘She’ – controlled the realm’s forests herself.

The way in which these colonial powers administered what is now KwaZulu-Natal played a crucial role in shaping South African society, including apartheid. It was in this colony that the ‘indirect rule’ policy (the ‘Shepstone system’) took root. The essence of this policy was that indigenous people were confined to designated areas (Reserves), access to ‘white’ towns was restricted, and those living in reserves were governed through their chiefs, who were responsible to magistrates and the provincial governor. Instead of being ‘chiefs by their people’ (who might previously have deposed or killed them if they were unpopular), chiefs became employees of the colonial government. If they failed to obey instructions, promptly, they were removed and even imprisoned, as Langalibabele of the Hlubi found to his cost. In areas in which people lived contentedly without chiefs, Administrator Shepstone created new ones. After Union in 1910 this indirect rule system, and the exclusionary practices that went with it, became the norm country-wide, and was further refined by apartheid.

In a unique move, the colonial government codified what it defined as customary law (the Natal Code) and dealt a mortal blow to the status of women.  Historians have noted the existence of ‘gender co-operation as opposed to gender contestation’ as Professor Sifiso Ndlovu puts it. Male regiments, for example, had female counterparts. They also participated in networks of authority structures, the pivotal role of Regent Queen Mnqabayi (King Shaka’s aunt) being a prime example.  The codified not-very-customary-law* decreed that women would remain life-long minors, always under the control of a man (father, brother, husband or son). Only under exceptional circumstances could they become ‘emancipated’.  By the time the legislation was amended in the 1980s, the normative damage had been done. Ethnic identity is a learned phenomenon and an article by the late anthropologist David Webster, published posthumously, noted that Thonga men in northernmost KZN were adopting a Zulu identity as it was a preferred category for employment on the mines.  In contrast, women rejected an identity change as they considered they enjoyed more power than their Zulu sisters.

In insulting the women of Africa, the Ingonyama Trust apparently does not realise that it, too, has its roots in colonialism, as do the positions of some of the chiefs. Most of the land held by the Trust is nineteenth century Reserve land, some of which had never been part of the historic Zulu kingdom. This land formed the basis of the KwaZulu homeland, and included land ceded to it by then President de Klerk in the early 1990s.   Like the colonial masters, the Trust and some of the chiefs collude to deprive poor farmers of their land, especially for mining-related purposes. It also insists that men are lease holders to land acquired by women.  Truly, colonialism is alive and well in KwaZulu-Natal and the supposedly democratic government lets it live on.

*This term was used by Harvard Professor Emerita Sally Falk Moore,a lawyer and an anthropologist, to describe the departure from customary law of that she saw operating in traditional courts in Tanzania decades ago.


As in some other rural areas there is apparently no enforcement of Lockdown Regulations in Ophondweni, Mtubatuba.  On the night of 17 April the home of Sabelo Dladla was broken into and he was injured and robbed by the assailants.  This incident is perceived as sending a warning message to Dladla, who is the Second Applicant, representing the 4000 strong Mfolosi community Environmental Justice Organisation (MCEJO) , in a High Court case in which Respondents include government ministers and municipalities, the Ingonyama Trust Board, and Tendele Coal Mining (Pty) Ltd.  The First Applicant in this case (82865/18 North Gauteng High court) is the Global Environmental Trust.  The outcome of this matter,  which is currently set down for Appeal in the  Bloemfontein  Supreme Court of Appeal, has crucial implications for both environmental rights, and the rights of people living on rural land targeted by mining companies.  Fortunately Dladla and his family have gone into hiding as shots were fired outside his house on 29 April.

‘The day before the incident at Dladla’s home local police stations had been alerted by email to tensions, and had been asked to patrol the area, following threats to people who had not agreed to move from their homes for the coal mine to expand its operations.  Whenever mining is planned in rural areas expectations are created that it will bring jobs, which fuel tensions in communities with high unemployment rates.  In the current case, people refusing to sign papers agreeing to move are accused of depriving people of employment, or of leading to retrenchments if the mine is unable to expand.  Those who have not signed these papers are long-standing residents, whose rights to remain on the land are protected in law, and who claim that the compensation offered is not nearly enough to make up for the loss of land which allows them to subsist through farming or keeping livestock. Another important factor is the existence of family graves on the land.   

Among those allegedly making the threats are a former municipal councillor and members of the local Traditional Authority, through which documents had been distributed by the mine for people to sign. Among those receiving threats are members of the M, D, and R families.  From affidavits deposed to, it seems that some of those making the threats have been driving freely in the area in breach of lockdown regulations. On the night of 24 April a vehicle without headlights was able to move around the homes of M and D, with its occupants firing many shots at homes whose residents include elderly people and children.  From descriptions by family members, and the impact marks on the walls, a rifle or rifles were used.

Despite the emailed request for patrols on 16 April, which had been followed up with a further email two days later giving specific directions about the part of Ophondweni under threat, there had been no patrols prior to the attack of 24 April. Nor were any patrols dispatched after a further email sent on 25 April, which had been copied to the Deputy Provincial Commissioner.  Following a telephone call to the local KwaMsane station, a patrol was eventually dispatched that night and the following night.  Since then, despite further follow ups with provincial management, only one patrol has been seen in the area.

The families who have been attacked and/or threatened with attack, are understandably terrified, and threats continue. On 6 May Mr D received an anonymous message on his phone  saying that although ‘they’ did not want to kill anyone ‘they’ wanted D and others to be relocated as ‘they’ had been retrenched from the mine and ‘they’ could return to work if people moved; if they refused to relocate the breadwinners would be shot as it was known where they worked.   Mr D has opened a case of intimidation..

Despite it being known that the traditional authorities themselves have made veiled threats against people who have refused to sign documents from the mine, and despite the presence of well-armed people moving around the area with impunity during lockdown, there are still no regular patrols in the affected area, and no arrests have been made.  Understandably, traumatised residents have no confidence in the local police.  Years of experience shows that local police are generally loth to take action against traditional leadership.  Through the provincial detective head, a request has been made for the Dladla, M and D dockets to be transferred to a task team from another SAPS Cluster. 

While police and army are deployed to stop people brewing beer or drinking in their own homes, and to maliciously arrest people for minor transgressions, the SAPS, which is constitutionally bound to prevent crime, as well as bring perpetrators to justice, is failing completely in its duty to protect vulnerable communities from being attacked and killed while practising ‘maximum enforcement’ against people on the urban streets.

However, government culpability for what is happening in Ophondweni goes beyond the conduct of the police, and extends to environmental and minerals ministries.  Residents in the Mtubatuba areas in which coal mining is taking place attribute high levels of serious respiratory illnesses, and deaths, to the pollution of coal dust, and even send their children out of the area to school elsewhere because of fears for their health. Why, given Global Warming, and the phasing out of coal as an energy source, should the government allow coal mines to expand?  A rush of mining-related legislation by the Department of Minerals and Petroleum Resources provide no real protection for the land rights of rural communities. The passing by parliament of the Khoisan and Traditional Leaders Act, too, shows contempt for the rights of rural communities since it provides traditional leaders, who fit snugly into the pockets of mining companies, with even more powers than they previously had, to enter into business agreements.  If passed, the second of the Bantustan bills – the Traditional courts Bill – will effectively give them even greater social control over their hapless subjects.  Do all these legislative actions by a government that claims to be democratic suggest that it has any real  concern for the basic rights of all South Africans to health, a clean environment, food security and safety – or any commitment to preserving these rights?


The authoritarianism in Covid-19 Regulations is just the latest manifestation of this growing trend in governance, marked by a culture of secrecy and extensive powers given to ministers. It is not surprising since many parliamentarians and executive members supported the passing of the notorious Protection of State Information bill in 2013.  From their conduct and utterances, some apparatchiks would serve with distinction in totalitarian regimes. The ‘new’ regime is looking suspiciously like the old, except that the deep divisions in society are based on class and not race. The National Security Council established by the President in February 2020 mirrors apartheid’s State Security Council and legislation increasing the powers of authoritarian traditional leaders would do the old regime proud.  The militaristic language of the lockdown media statement issued by the KZN premier on 19 April sounded like a declaration of martial law. In the early 2000s when rural communities beset by violence begged for army patrols, the then government refused to deploy soldiers for civilian policing. The Covid-19 lockdown provisions, some of which have no place in a truly democratic society, may well be a sign of things to come, unless more South Africans pay attention and find ways of stopping this disturbing trend in its tracks.

Excessive ministerial powers plus lack of transparency

It has become increasingly difficult to obtain information from government departments, and even PAIA applications may need the threat of court action to produce results. Simultaneously, corruption in government has grown exponentially. Looting in the once financially stable eThekwini Metro has necessitated its borrowing R1 billion rand, while opacity in governance has increased with the passing of a controversial ‘secrecy’ by-law limiting media and public participation in some meetings in 2017, with a further unsuccessful attempt by the mayor in August 2019 to limit media reporting.  Given this context, moves by ministers to appropriate more powers for themselves should be ringing alarm bells.  Take, for example, the planned take-over of some of the functions of schools’ governing bodies by the inept Department of Basic Education via the BELA (Basic Education Laws Amendment Bill), and the autocratic threats by the same minister to discipline teachers who refuse to teach a highly controversial sex education programme, rejected by many parents.

Of all the pending sloppy legislation, the NHI (National Health Insurance) bill demonstrates just how badly power has gone to politicians’ heads. The minister of this seriously dysfunctional department controls all its operations through appointments s/he makes, including to bodies which supposedly provide ‘independent’ oversight of health services. Its vague wording in places gives the minister carte blanche, including in decisions about the powers of national versus provincial competencies, the type of information users will be obliged to provide, and who s/he will give that information to (raising serious concerns about privacy) As if all this power concentrated in one pair of hands is not bad enough, s/he also appoints an Appeals Tribunal with High Court powers, without any recourse to Appeal decisions.

The powers granted to ministers in pending legislation relating to land and mining are very alarming, and their puerile attempts to justify it in terms of black empowerment are nauseatingly hypocritical. A prime example is the Constitution Eighteenth Amendment Draft bill allowing land expropriation without compensation. The land restitution process has been riddled with gross corruption, by-passing many deserving claimants in favour of well- connected opportunists, while the rights of poor rural residents have become increasingly threatened.

There has been a rush of legislation designed to facilitate mining and the empowerment of the elites without adequate time for consultation and comment. While public attention was diverted, the Minister published, on the first day of lockdown, amended Regulations to the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act which ignored submissions and stripped communities of their land rights.   The Draft Upstream Petroleum Resources Development bill was sneakily gazetted on 24 December 2019, and no copy posted on the parliamentary website, despite the deadline for comments being the third week of February.  This bill too represents an extremely serious threat to the rights of people living on land targeted by mining interests.  The apartheid government removed people from their land for its own ideological-cum-economic interests, the present government allows removals for mining activities which only benefit the new elites.

Traditional leaders are among those benefitting and it is in the recent Bantustan Bills that the same apartheid-type agenda is manifest. The Khoisan and Traditional Leaders Act, already signed into law, increases the power of these leaders to conclude business arrangements detrimental to those affected. The Traditional Courts Bill is currently before the NCOP. There is little difference between this legislation and that which it replaces, a section of the Black Administration Act of 1927; if anything, it gives these leaders even more power than the previous racist regimes deemed good for black people. Historically, these courts heard civil cases in terms of some illusionary customary law. Now, their powers are extended to hear certain criminal cases, the details of which are not spelled out in the legislation.  Like his/her predecessor the Minister of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs exercises full power about the nature of crimes included, and their punishment, which s/he will publish in government gazettes – which are inaccessible to those at the receiving end of ‘justice’ meted out by leaders (some of whom engage in criminal activities themselves with impunity). Like apartheid, these political concessions to traditional leaders incorrectly use the abused term ‘culture’ as justification –  but they are racial:  Not only are they are applied only to black people, but their application is not voluntary , as our supposedly democratic parliament has not allowed rural people to opt out of this feudal system.

How are they getting away with it?

While people accept the necessity for regulations relating to, e.g. social distancing, the lockdown was badly planned since it failed to factor in the reliance of a large sector of the population on informal sector and piecemeal work. Hunger has escalated, together with anger at corrupt councillors stealing food for the poor. It is not inconceivable that more poor people will die of poverty-related illnesses than of the Covid-19 virus, especially if they cannot face taking HIV and TB medication without food. The government has no right to decree what legal products people may purchase to consume in the privacy of their homes, or to stop them walking on their own. Nor can their measures be justified in terms of links between trauma and violence, since it is state organs who fail to police taverns and roads properly, as happens in other democracies where governments would not dare incur the wrath of citizens by imposing such ridiculous bans. In South Africa, many simply break the law, depriving the State of desperately-needed revenue – which further feeds avaricious organised crime networks, such as those politically well-connected operators described in Jacques Pauw’s book ‘The President’s Keepers’.

This lockdown has exposed the fallacy that South Africa is a real democracy, and the one lesson everyone should learn from it is that we will never build a democracy if we allow this increasingly blatant authoritarianism to continue.