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Political Killings Erode South Africa’s Democracy

As at 13 July 2017, 89 people have died, since 13 March 2014, in politically-motivated killings. No one so far, has been convicted of any of these killings. This has led to the appointment of the R15 million Moerane Commission of Inquiry into political killings in KwaZulu-Natal. Last week, the Raymond Mhlaba Municipality in the Eastern Cape’s Council Speaker, Thozama Njobe, was shot and killed after she reported that she had received threats to her life. Outspoken African National Congress (ANC) Member of Parliament, Dr Makhosi Khoza, is currently in the news for publicising death threats to herself and her family over her political utterances.

The recently released Public Protector’s report into the political killings at Glebelands Hostel, which partly forms the basis for the Moerane Commission, revealed a toxic mix of squalor, poverty, murder and State indifference. In particular, eThekwini Municipality (the Municipality), which bears administrative responsibility for the hostels, was found to have failed to promote a safe and healthy environment. The Municipality too failed to give the residents of the Hostel equitable access to the municipal services to which they would have been ordinarily entitled. The local South African Police Service (SAPS) were found wanting, as was the Department of Social Development (DSD). The SAPS failed to uphold the rights of the Glebelands residents to be free from all forms of violence and failed its constitutional mandate of preventing crime. The DSD was found to have failed its constitutional responsibility to the victims of hostel violence. The remedial action recommended includes the Provincial Head of the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) monitoring SAPS investigation of allegations of police torture and killings, with a copy of the final report being given to the Public Protector. Arguably, while the remedial action recommendation rightly shines a spotlight on the State’s failures, they however are not far-reaching enough in bringing to book the culprits behind the killings.

While perhaps politically-motivated killings - since 1994 - have ceased to occupy public discourse, the reality is that political killings continue and are mostly linked to local political rivalries and connections to criminal networks, notably in the taxi industry. This, according to research conducted by the Institute for Security Studies (ISS). South Africa lacks an established system to collect information on political killings and such research often only focuses on the killings targeting specific individuals affiliated to political parties. The killing must further be motivated by contestation over access to political power. This suggests that there may be many more political assassinations which are not classified as such, where the motive behind the killing is unknown. The ISS makes the point that “Political office may come to be seen as the primary vehicle for acquiring financial assets and security. In a context of generalised poverty and financial insecurity, political office is also a source of broader leverage. One may be able to use one’s influence to help members of one’s family to secure jobs or houses”.

The Constitution envisages a democratic State founded on human dignity, the achievement of equality and the advancement of human rights and freedoms, among other values. The Constitution places a duty on the State to respect, protect, promote and fulfil the rights so enshrined. Political rights are also enshrined and importantly, citizens are free to make political choices. The targeted killings serve to intimidate citizens and curtail the freedom to make political choices as intended by the Constitution. In turn, this affects the health of South Africa’s democracy.

Ultimately, human rights are interdependent, interconnected and indivisible. Perhaps the Glebelands Hostel situation best encapsulates this mantra. Glebelands Hostel, on the city’s peripheries, meant to house men from rural areas, working in low income and menial jobs, stands as a relic of apartheid South Africa and should not be in existence 23 years into democracy. That such dehumanising, single-sex dwellings continue to exist, is an indication of the State’s failure to not only protect and respect the dweller’s rights to dignity but also their rights to access adequate housing. The dehumanising conditions in turn have festered conditions, which made it possible for the unabating political killings with seeming impunity. In the run-up to the 2019 elections, where the contest for power will become more concerted - the stakes are sure to be higher - so will possibly, the political killings, with the hostels as places of mobilisation. The Moerane Commission will do well to ensure that independent, high-ranking SAPS personnel investigate the political killings - as should the Minister of Police - for other political killings outside of KwaZulu-Natal. For as long as the political killings happen with seeming impunity - South Africa’s democracy will continue to be eroded.


(c) 2017 Centre for Constitutional Rights

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