BY NJABULO BUTHELEZI in Durban

Police Minister Bheki Cele under pressure to end political killings.

A SHARP spike in political killings ahead of watershed elections in South Africa, is a gruesome reminder of how the race for public office can be a matter of life and death.

This dog eat dog state of affairs epitomises the fierce battle for positions within the African National Congress (ANC) and fight between candidates who view political office as an opportunity to line their pockets.

South Africa has struggled to shed off the scourge of political assassinations since the dawn of independence 27 years ago.

Individuals will stop at nothing to eliminate those whose ascension to public office they oppose.

The killings habitually heighten leading to elections, and the upcoming local government elections have been no exception.

No less than eight aspirants have been killed, and that is the official figure.

On Monday, government officials, in an effort to assure citizens of an environment conducive for free and fair elections amid the volatility, revealed the death toll.

The southeast province KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), the epicentre of the deadly violence in the run-up to the historic elections in 1994, is again the epicentre of the bloodbath.

Bheki Cele, the Minister of Police, confirmed at least six people had been killed in the region.

Among those killed are Zibuse Mlaba, former ANC member of the KZN provincial legislature.

The veteran politician (65) was gunned down at a local shopping centre in Cato Ridge, in full view of the public last Thursday.

It is believed to be an assassination.

Mlaba was a liberation struggle stalwart.

Siyabonga Mkhize, the aspirant councilor of the ANC, which has been in power since the demise of apartheid, was shot dead days earlier.

He was killed alongside a fellow party member while they were in a bakkie, having completed a door-to-door campaign in the area of Cato Crest, west of Durban.

Two other members survived the attack.

The murders are attributed to the factionalism bedeviling the ANC, with its biggest structure, not spared the infighting.

The Cator Crest has a reputation as a crime hotspot and land invasions in recent years.

Some councilor candidates were said to be hiding following the intra-party violence.

Last week, unknown assailants gunned down Michael Thulani Shangase, an aspiring opposition Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) ward councillor in the provincial capital, Pietermaritzburg.

He was reportedly returning from a campaign meeting in the region of Harewood.

Killings have also been documented in Mpumalanga province where a senior provincial government and party official, Mandla Msibi, has been arrested for the alleged murder of three ANC members.

A councilor believes he was the target.

Msibi- a Member of the Executive Council (MEC) – has been arrested alongside two other suspects and has since secured bail.

In Gauteng province, at the end of September, gun men shot dead Tshwane ANC Ward Councillor, Tshepo Motaung, as he drove with some relatives, one who was injured.

Four months ago, an aspirant councilor, Thembekile Somngwangwa, was stabbed to death after a community meeting of the ruling party.

It is alleged the killing was related to the selection of councillors in the Eastern Cape. The selection process has been an emotive issue within ANC.

Another ANC leader in the province, Michael Phelembe, who was the local party’s branch deputy chairperson, was shot at his Mbombela home and died at home.

Mpumalanga has been described as notorious for political assassinations.

This list seemingly is endless.

The Security Cluster this week provided an update on progress made since President Cyril Ramaphosa tasked an Inter-Ministerial Committee (IMC) to end political violence in KZN.

It was tasked with investigating political murders dating back to May 2018.

Since its inception that year, the IMC disclosed its Task Team had made several arrests and secured multiple life sentences as well as sentences between ten and 15 years on politically-related cases.

“There is no doubt that the Task Team has prevented more bloodshed in the (KZN) province,” the Security Cluster stated.

Police Minister Bheki Cele said police recorded some 33 political murders in KZN between 2016 and June 2017.

The Security Cluster comprises the Departments of Police, Home Affairs, Justice and Correctional Services as well as Defence and Military Veterans.

“All forms of criminality will not be tolerated before, during and after the voting period,” Thandi Modise, the Defence and Military Veterans Minister, warned on behalf of the security cluster.

South African voters will be electing from among over 94 000 candidates vying for position at district, metropolitan and local municipality levels in the nine provinces.

Some 325 parties are contesting.

More than 26,2 million South Africans are registered to vote. – CAJ NEWS