Political violence is not new to South Africa but the rise in politically linked murders (and attempted murders) is particularly disturbing. Most of the deaths are linked to the ANC, although there have been victims from other political parties and from civil society.
Most of the killings have occurred in KwaZulu-Natal. The Eastern Cape has also seen an increase in assassinations in recent years. The motive is not always clear, but common reasons include: political rivalry / factionalism, state violence, and personal gain (e.g. assassination of ward councillors in order to take their job).
The trend started around the 2006 local government election and persisted over the next ten years until the Moerane Commission was established to investigate the problem. The commission’s broad recommendations did nothing to stop the killings over the next five years.
Political killings since June 2021
At least 23 politicians and civil society leaders have been victims of murder or attempted murder since June 2021. All of the victims lived in KwaZulu-Natal (15) or the Eastern Cape (8). Almost all of the victims held political office in the ANC (15) or were members of Abahlali baseMjondolo (AbM), a human rights organisation based in Ethekwini metro.
Almost half of the victims were ward councillors or potential ward candidates, and at least one of the murders has been linked to a rival candidate. We can only hope that that these particular killings will follow the trend of previous local elections and decrease over time.
The killing of AbM activists is a different matter. Activists have been targeted by state institutions, including the Ethekwini metro police force. 26 AbM members have been killed since 2005 – three of them in August 2022 alone.
The interactive heatmap shows the location of the killings / attempted killings over the past 15 months. It was partly inspired by a similar visualisation from the Institute for Security Studies.
Most have occurred in the Ethekwini and Nelson Mandela Bay metros, and it is necessary to zoom into the map to differentiate between events in these municipalities.
Clicking on a point will display a panel with the victim’s name, photograph, and summary of the event. There is a link at the bottom of the panel to a news article on the event.
Note: Some locations are approximate
Violence threatens our right to democratic participation
All violence is condemnable, but political killings in particular have a chilling effect on democratic participation. Potential candidates will be reluctant to stand for office if death is an occupational risk. Voters will be repulsed by the service delivery failures and uncertainty of new councillors, to say nothing of the political impunity of the violence.
The political killings in this article are a small subset of the hundreds of killings over the last 15 years, the whistleblowers who threatened the corrupt, ordinary ANC branch members killed for belonging to the wrong faction, and so on.
We will continue to monitor political killings and investigate the links between political violence and democratic participation.
Honestly the ANC needs to do something about this. This is discouraging also to future political leaders. Only powerful and connected people now will join politics because an ordinary person like me would be scared of dying for public resources.