Thando Nondlwana

By Thando Nondywana

News Reporter

Assassinations: South Africans ‘have no qualms’ taking out political rivals

Global organisation warns of rising political assassinations ahead of South Africa's 2024 elections, threatening democracy.

A global anti-crime organisation has warned that political assassinations are on the increase in the run-up to the elections and that they “pose a very real threat to the country’s democracy”.

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South Africa’s political violence history may be repeating itself, with the 2024 general elections marked by a similar “instability and unpredictability” that surrounded the first democratic elections in 1994, according to a report by the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organised Crime.

By the numbers

The report on South Africa recorded 35 assassinations during the first four months of 2024, of which 10 were political killings – an average of one hit every two weeks, raising concerns about a risk of political violence in the lead up to and after the elections.

The organisation emphasised political assassinations are important to monitor in the context of the 2024 elections, which are likely to bring significant party realignments and a real risk of post-election violence.

The report, titled Politics of Murder, showed the number of politically linked assassinations had risen steadily since 2010.

A breakdown of assassinations in South Africa in 2023 placed political killings at nearly 24%, amounting to 31 incidents and making it the third-most prevalent type of targeted killing, just behind hits associated with organised crime and the minibus taxi industry.

It said the number of assassinations, or contract killings, have historically spiked during municipal and national election years and have consistently increased since 2000.

According to the data, municipal elections accounted for 56% while the national elections accounted for 81 cases, or 44%, of the recorded incidents.

“During national election years covered in the database [2004, 2009, 2014 and 2019], violence flared up in the wake of the elections,” the report said.

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Authors Rumbi Matamba and Chwayita Thobela said this was particularly critical, with South Africa’s 2024 general election fast approaching.

Previous analysis has shown there are spikes in political assassinations during election years, particularly in provinces such as KwaZulu-Natal.

The significance of the ANC’s factional politics was highlighted by the majority of the cases in the database being killings of ANC members by ANC members, but since 2022, members of other political parties had been assassinated, indicating a mixture of both intra and inter-party political contestation.

Murder for self-enrichment

Political violence researcher Mary de Haas said the report drew a grim picture of the power and self-enrichment struggle within political killings.

“It is difficult to categorise all these killings as political,” she said.

“One has to look at whether there were internal party factions, or business interests, because these often overlap. But the motives can be linked to factors which go together with politics in South Africa,” she said.

“These include eliminating rivals for contracts, positions and to silence anyone who speaks out against corruption.”

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The breakdown of hits by province in the report shows similar patterns to previous years, with the highest number of political assassinations in 2023 recorded in KZN, a province particularly affected by violence targeting local councillors.

Significantly, fewer cases were recorded in five other provinces. De Haas emphasised that the collapse of policing in the country had led to difficulties in making breakthroughs in cases where hitmen were used.

She said the problems lay from policing at lower levels, where competent detective skills were lacking, to top management.