02 Mar

Politics Can Be Murderous in South Africa’s Port City of Durban

Politics around South Africa’s third-biggest city, Durban, can be a murderous affair. A bloody battle for positions gripping the African National Congress has left dozens dead in KwaZulu-Natal province in the past year.

The region, which accounts for more than a fifth of the party’s total membership, has been a battleground between two factions vying for control of positions with access to government budgets worth billions of rand.

A local councillor who’s represented constituents in the Umlazi community outside Durban for the past decade learned in December that party colleagues were plotting her assassination.

“The political contest is no longer healthy,” said the councillor, who asked not to be identified because she fears for her life. “If I challenge you, it means I will be your enemy till you die.”

KwaZulu-Natal was one of the hotly contested regions in the race to elect a successor to Jacob Zuma as leader of the ANC in December.

Cyril Ramaphosa defeated Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Zuma’s former wife and ex-chairwoman of the African Union Commission, and was elected South Africa’s president last month.

Violence has claimed the lives of 22 politicians since January 2016 and about 100 others in the past four years in the province, according to Mary De Haas, a researcher who’s monitored the region for several decades. Drive-by shootings are a favoured method of killing in Durban, a port city of 3.7 million people.

It’s so bad that a commission headed by Marumo Moerane, a lawyer, is holding public hearings on the violence that are regularly attended by sobbing relatives recounting how their family members were slain.

Recent political turmoil in the government has filtered down to cripple some of South Africa’s crime-fighting units, said Senzo Mchunu, the former premier of KwaZulu-Natal.

The province is no stranger to political violence, reaching its height in the run-up to South Africa’s first democratic election in 1994 that brought Nelson Mandela to power after white-minority rule.

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