The ruptures of the apartheid era have been carried over into post-apartheid society, leaving the country with a tragic reputation for beatings, murder and the abuse of women and children. Police record some 650,000 victims of violence a year. As a recent headline put it: “South Africa is one of the most violent and unsafe countries in the world.” There is little trust in the police and more than 500,000 private security guards are employed by firms and individuals at a cost of $3.7-billion a year – more than twice the number of police officers. This climate of violence is carried over into political life, yet outside of South Africa this is little understood. Most international observers assume the miracle of the reconciliation ushered in by Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu with the Rainbow Nation still prevails. Yet the evidence is that political murders and intimidation now disfigure South African politics. Violence and intimidation threaten the legitimacy of the 2019 general election. Unless these issues are recognised and confronted there is a risk that the democracy for which so much was sacrificed will be undermined.
In June 2016 the Minister of Police, Nkosinathi Nhleko, announced that a special police task team had been established to investigate and try to prevent political killings. “We have noted with serious concern the incidents of killings, particularly where political figures are victims or where the killings are being linked to the upcoming local government. A situation like this cannot be allowed to continue, especially in the context of democracy,” he said in a statement. A year later Minister Nhleko reported that the killings continued, as did the work of the “special task team”, which consisted of seven detectives, five crime intelligence officers, four members from the Hawks and 11 members from the taxi violence task team.
No details of any prosecutions by Police Minister Nhleko have been published, nor have the findings of the police “special task team” been made public. This failure has left the public in the dark about the scale of the problem. The killings are worst in KwaZulu-Natal and the province established the Moerane Commission to look into the issue. When it was announced, the premier of the province said: “Our records show that during 2016 to date, a total of 12 members of the African National Congress (ANC), 3 members of the National Freedom Party (NFP), 3 members of the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) and 2 members of the South African Communist Party (SACP) have been murdered.”