Event Reports

The state of political violence in KwaZulu-Natal

The Democracy Development Programme (DDP), a long term partner of Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung (KAS), wrapped up its 2012 political forums by partnering with local radio station Gagasi FM to host a public panel discussion on the recent spate of political killings and violence in KwaZulu-Natal on the 19th November, 2012 at the Elangeni Hotel in Durban.

In the last few months, the province of KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) has witnessed several assassinations, which many believe are politically motivated. These murders involved ward councillors and ordinary citizens who belonged to different political parties in KZN. Although political violence is not limited to KZN, the recent murders and failure of the justice and law enforcement systems to adequately address this problem has raised serious concerns among citizens and civil society organisations. It is essential to look into the factors that may have caused such alarming incidents in order to develop strategies on how to curtail political violence.

Therefore this public discussion forum., hosted by DDP, was partly motivated by the need to find a peaceful solution to the problem by bringing leaders of the various political parties in the province together and to engage in a dialogue on political tolerance in our democratic society.

Political parties need to release information on political violence

Guest speaker Mary De Haas (violence monitor) shared her perspective on the state of political violence in KZN. Sharing the platform with her were political party representatives, including, the African National Congress (ANC) represented by Dr. Sibongiseni Dhlomo; Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) represented by Mr. Blessed Gwala and the National Freedom Party (NFP) represented by Prof. Nhlanhla Khubisa.

The discussions were facilitated by Mr. Alex Mthiyane of Gagasi FM. The event was opened by Dr Rama Naidu who reiterated the purpose of the event and welcomed all party representatives, including the audience to the forum. The speakers were given time to share their opinions on political violence, especially on whether the political parties have instituted mechanism(s) to curb political violence. These presentations were followed by questions and further discussions.

Speaking on the state of political violence in KZN, Mary De Haas alluded to the fact that the violence that has led to the deaths of many is not necessarily politically motivated, but is connected to issues such as corruption, business deals that got out of control, struggles for power and over resources and distrust to mention just a few. Many citizens have lost their lives in their attempts to expose corruption. She indicated that since mid-October 2012, there have been about 41 deaths stemming from political killings and 60% of the victims are National Freedom Party (NFP) supporters. The political parties involved in these murder cases are reluctant to release information on killings and violence.

Instill a culture of political tolerance in young citizens

According to Mary De Haas, this violence is often intra-party and part of the solution to this problem is for politicians to start talking to each other. Political Party leaders therefore need to promote political tolerance and encourage freedom of expression among their party functionaries and foot soldiers. Political violence is endemic in South Africa, and it is therefore necessary to educate young citizens and instill in them a culture of political tolerance, peace and reconciliation. Citizens have a responsibility to collectively engage in stopping the adoption of legislation that has the potential to infringe freedom of expression and human rights in South African society.

The political party representatives outlined their commitments in promoting peace and stability in the province. The IFP indicated that they seek and support any efforts to eradicate violence. The party claims to have demonstrated this commitment through their participation in the Kings Initiative and bilateral talks between NFP and IFP among others.

The NFP also maintains that they are committed to peace and condemn any acts of violence among their party supporters. The NFP is however alarmed about the death toll since the formation of the party. Professor Nhlanhla Khubisa who represented the party at the event indicated that the party has lost 27 supporters, more than 11 of whom were from Durban. He stated that, they do not want to see further bloodshed and thus are willing to endorse any initiative aimed at curbing political violence.

Commission should investigate political violence in provinces

Dr. Sibongiseni Dhlomo who spoke on behalf of the ANC mentioned that the party continually preaches non-violence and political tolerance to party supporters. He indicated that as a majority ruling political party, they have a responsibility to lead well. According to him, the ANC encourages its youth wing to refrain from harsh confrontations and violence with other opposition party supporters. Party members who fail to abide the regulations and engage in violence are dealt with according to the party Constitution. In extreme cases involving murder, the culprit’s party membership is stripped and he/she is handed over to the police.

Some of the questions that were posed by audience after the presentations were: What action plans have been put in place by various parties to promote unity? What can the NFP and IFP do to find a common ground and work together to address political violence? How can communities hold law enforcement agencies accountable? What is the role of civil society and media in solving the problem of political violence? What initiatives have been put in place to promote education on political tolerance? And what are the views of government on the role of the media in reporting issues of crime and violence? The audience were mainly of the view that until political leaders lived by example, walked their talk and engaged one another in peaceful dialogue, any efforts aimed at remedying political violence will continue to be in vain. The important recommendation was the need to have a peace commission in place to deal holistically with the problem of violence. Each province could have a commission that will handle cases of violence and make recommendations to government for action to be taken. It was also suggested that there is a need to sensitize citizens about the impact of violence in society. The role of the media, despite its imperfections, is key in the fight against violence. All citizens, regardless of political affiliation, gender, race and status have a role to play in fighting against violence.