Unrest in South Africa

African National Congress

By Heinrich Matthee

The ANC is unlikely to lose its grip on power soon. For minorities who feel alienated, no easy options remain. However, Indian South Africans have considerable socio-economic and cultural capital, and local power configurations differ. Lobbying and adhoc alliances involving other minorities, individual decision-makers with clean hands and international actors could still make a difference in a specific case.
However, the main sources of hope are not politicians, but self-reliant citizens and self-help ventures. The cultivation of institutions in places as diverse as Gatesville and Durban already show how communities can provide in some educational, social and security services. As the central state deteriorates, local initiative and entrepeneurship may still pave better roads into the future. But political and labour violence will stalk foreign business after the Marikana massacre.

On 12 August, Nora Madolo was shot midmorning while walking in the community of Marikana mine in Rustenburg, South Africa. The killing of the union shop steward came shortly before the tense anniversary of the Marikana mine massacre of August 16, 2012.

Last year, the Marikana mine was the site of a violent strike. The strike escalated when police fired at thousands of protesters, killing 34. The strike then spread to other platinum, gold and iron-ore mines, costing the key mining sector billions of rand in revenue.

Since then, a fragile labour order exists in the mining sector. However, an even more ominous political and reputational risk looms for foreign business in South Africa in the next few years.

Among the critics are the iconic retired Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a fervent anti-apartheid activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner. Tutu indicated in May 2013 that he would “very sadly not be able to vote for the ANC after the way things have gone.”

Police are investigating a plot to murder parliamentary ethics committee chairman Ben Turok and the registrar of members’ interests, Fazela Mohamed. Both are members of the committee investigating former communications minister Dina Pule. In the North West, the African National Congress (ANC) is investigating an alleged plot to kill former premier Thandi Modise. The politics of the ANC has become fused with intimidation and even assassinations, often factional struggles about patronage and wealth.

As the British Economist explained on 20 October 2012, “Jobs in national and local politics provide access to public funds and cash from firms eager to buy political influence. Because the stakes are so high, competition for power is bitter and sometimes bloody, particularly at the local level. In the past five years over 40 politicians have been killed in KwaZulu-Natal, a province with a history of political violence, and at least five more in Mpumalanga, a province in the north-east of the country. The killing is often about money. Sometimes whistle-blowers are murdered to stop them revealing corruption; sometimes rivals are disposed of.”

Minorities Attacked

About 100 people have been arrested in connection with xenophobic attacks on shops owned by foreign nationals during protests in the eastern coastal city of Port Elizabeth. It is the second time in the year 2013 that foreign shopkeepers have been subjected to looting, arson and evacuation in the area.The attacks started after a Somali shopkeeper was arrested on 14 September 2013 for allegedly killing a man. All charges against him have since been provisionally withdrawn. Initially shops were looted and vehicles set alight. The police had to escort foreign shopkeepers to areas of safety and called in reinforcements. The violence spread to more neighbourhoods and businesses of Somali and Chinese nationals were destroyed.

Despite assurances by the government that xenophobia would receive priority attention, at least three major incidents are being reported each week. In 2011, at least 120 foreign nationals were killed. During 2012, at least 140 foreign nationals were killed, many of them grotesquely and intimately.
Xenophobic intimidation and violence also affect indigenous minorities: Indians, Jews and Afrikaners.
In 2012, rioters in Rustenburg threatened South African shopkeepers of Indian descent with violence and taunts, calling them makwerekwere, a term previously reserved for foreigners of African origin. The mayor of Newcastle has been called a "Gupta" and told to "go home".

On 28 August 2013, protesters at a concert at the University of the Witwatersrand sang “Kill the Jew”. Even this display of anti-Semitism was ignored by the authorities.

In 2010 the ruling party of South Africa, the African National Congress (ANC), had to be taken to court before admitting that similar chants of “Shoot the farmer” could be hurtful. About 1,500 South African farmers, mostly Afrikaners, have been killed since 1994.

Under the ANC of president Jacob Zuma there have been advances in building houses for the poor and increased access to electricity and water. However, power corrupts. And after 19 years, power in a one-party dominant state is also corrupting democracy.

Below the surface, social tensions and factional dissent simmer. Already on 11 November 2012, The Washington Post stated: “In newspaper columns, on radio talk shows, blogs and social media, the ANC is facing a public outcry, accused of corruption, being ineffective, wasteful and out of touch with South Africa's impoverished masses. Even prominent anti-apartheid figures are publicly disparaging the ANC leadership, calling its credibility into question.”

Among the critics are the iconic retired Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a fervent anti-apartheid activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner. Tutu indicated in May 2013 that he would “very sadly not be able to vote for the ANC after the way things have gone.” As reasons, he referred to pervasive state corruption, mismanagement and the intimidation of political opponents.

The beauty of South Africa’s landscape and the potential of its diverse economy are patently clear. However, political intimidation and assassinations are not exactly the mainstay of democracies.

The Economist of 10 August 2013 warned against crony capitalism, citing the example of business people like Cyril Ramaphosa in South Africa becoming too close to the ANC government. However, crony capitalism with links to political intimidation and local assassinations are even more deadly to business reputations.

There are clear political, labour and reputational risks for the 554 major international firms in South Africa, especially if they become too close to the ANC. As ANC factions and opponents compete, these risks are likely to increase during the next few years.

Dr. Heinrich Matthee is a Europe-based political risk analyst and a Research Associate, Free State University, SA.

Some of the victims of political


  • Thandi Mtsweni, deputy mayor, Secunda, Mpumalanga, 2007 (shot dead by two gunmen when she arrived home with her husband and 14-year-old son);

  • Moss Phakoe, ANC councillor, Rustenburg, North West, 2009 (gunned down in his car as he came home after putting up posters for the ANC election campaign);

  • Jimmy Mtolo, local ANC leader, Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, 2009 (assailant engaged Mtolo in a conversation before drawing a gun and firing two shots into him at close range);

  • S’thembiso Cele, the chairman of the ANC Youth League in KwaZulu-Natal’s Umgababa on the south coast, 2009 (gunned down in his Nelspruit home);

  • Bongani Ngcobo, ANC leader, Nongoma, KwaZulu-Natal, 2009 (shot through the window of his home);

  • Jabulani Khumalo, ANC leader, Nongoma, KwaZulu-Natal, 2009 (shot outside St Benedictine Hospital where he worked);

  • Jimmy Mohlala, ANC leader, Mbombela, Mpumalanga, 2010 (Shot dead at his house after two men attacked him and his son, who was shot in the leg);

  • James Nkambule, senior ANC politician, Mpumalanga, 2010 (poisoned)

  • Sammy Mpatlanyane, senior ANC politician, Mpumalanga, 2010 (shot dead in his bedroom);

  • John Ndlovu, ANC politician, Thulamasha, Mpumalanga, 2011 (shot dead and body dumped 20km away);

  • S’bu Sibiya, ANC regional secretary, Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, 2011 (shot dead in the driveway of his home in Inanda);

  • Wiseman Mshibe, ANC councillor, Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, 2011 (shot four times in his driveway at Congo informal settlement in Inanda);

  • Wandile Mkhize, ANC chief whip, South Coast, KwaZulu-Natal, 2012 (shot dead in a drive-by shooting near his home in Manaba);

  • Nhlakanipho Shabane, ANC member, South Coast, KwaZulu-Natal, 2012 (fatally shot with Mkhize);

  • Dumisani Malunga, ANC member, South Coast, KwaZulu-Natal, 2012 (ambushed and shot dead while travelling in a car);

  • Bheki Chiliza, ANC member, South Coast, KwaZulu-Natal, 2012 (ambushed and shot dead with Malunga).

  • Mthembeni Shezi, ANC councillor, Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, 2012 (died in a hail of bullets fired on an ANC meeting, two other ANC members were critically wounded);

  • David Mosiane Chika, ANC Leader, North West 2012 (shot in the stomach outside his home);

  • S’bu Majola, ANC branch chairperson, Wembezi, Estcourt, 2013 (shot dead); and

  • Nkululeko Gwala, ANC member, Cato Crest, Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, 2013 (shot dead in a hail of 12 bullets).

This list is not exhaustive; the full body count runs to a greater length.


September 2013

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