Culture Of Violence Once Again Evident As South Africa Approaches Elections

South Africa, once a leading economic and agricultural power in Africa is once again falling to the scourge of violence that has become part of the daily life of its residents. This time it seems focused on the upcoming Municipal Elections.

Bongani Skhosana, local businessman and African National Congress (ANC) candidate for the Umuziwabantu Municipality, was gunned down in public in front of the children he was transporting to school, says Voice of America.

The shooting was not an isolated incident, but one of 12 murders of candidates and activists as the country approaches elections next week. In some cases, the deceased’s names will still appear on the ballot papers, most being members of the ANC. The party has said the motives of the murders are unknown and although a few arrests have been made, investigations are still underway. “We condemn in the strongest possible terms any incidences of violence which have unfortunately sought to characterize this election. We have called up on the law enforcement agencies to act with no fear or favor to bring perpetrators of these incidences to book,” ANC spokesperson Khusela Sangoni said.

A police vehicle patrols a street as residents riot, in Atteridgeville, Pretoria [Shiraaz Mohamed/AP Photo]

These shootings are not the only incidences of political violence witnessed in the build up to the elections. In June, protesters in Atteridgeville, near the capital city of Pretoria, set vehicles and car tires alight, looted shops and stoned passing vehicles in a demonstration aimed at the ANC. The protesters said they were unhappy that the ANC had appointed a mayoral candidate from another party above the preferred local candidate. To make matters worse, the new candidate is from the Zulu tribe, whereas most of the constituency belong to the Pedi tribe.

Jakkie Cilliers, Head of the Institute for Security Studies in Pretoria, believes that political and economic based violence will increase over the next few years. She said much of the anger is rooted in the ANC’s choice of leader, pointing out that Jacob Zuma, the focus of a number of corruption scandals, is becoming increasingly unpopular among the population. “There’s no doubt that President Zuma is the most important recruitment machine for the Democratic Alliance and the Economic Freedom Fighters party,” she said. “And the longer that he stays in power and remains at the helm of the ANC, the better those two parties will do.”

Economic Freedom Fighters leader, Julius Malema talks to the press after being ordered out of Parliament. The country's ruling African National Congress has opened a case of treason against Malema who is alleged to have threatened to remove the government “through the barrel of a gun. [Mike Hutchings/AP Photo]

The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and Democratic Alliance (DA) said in Johannesburg that they have had issues with their campaigning this year, accusing ANC members of intimidation. The ANC has denied this, saying that the parties are not respecting the authorities while campaigning.

EFF spokesperson Veronica Mente said her party is the biggest victim of intimidation and assault “To such an extent that we lost two fighters due to violent attacks in Gauteng.”

Phumzile van Damme of the DA says they have not been permitted to campaign freely. “The ANC came and intimated us, threatened us with violence and they blocked our sound trucks and prevented us from using it,” she said.

ANC head of election campaigns, Nomvula Mokonyane says the parties concerned have brought the trouble on themselves.

Political analyst Aubrey Matshiqi says violence has never been far from the polls, even in 1994 during the nation’s first fully democratic elections, there were incidents of violence.

“Sometimes we forget that two days before the 1994 elections, there were bombs exploding in some parts of the country,” he said in Johannesburg. “So if you put the matter in perspective, the problem of political violence has not been as deep as was the case prior to the 1994 elections. That’s notwithstanding one death is one death too many. So at the level of the country, I don’t think we have reached crisis levels yet,” he said.

A report from the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation, however, has reported that 25 percent of eligible voters have said they are willing to resort to violence to see their political hopes fulfilled.

Catholic Bishop Abel Gabuzza said the recent killings are “one of the biggest threats to South Africa’s hard-won democracy.”

[Photo by AP Photo]