The ANC and SACP reap the whirlwind they helped to sow
Sooner or later it was bound to happen. Some 30 years ago the African National Congress (ANC) adopted a strategy of assassinating political opponents in its quest for power. Now some members of the organisation are complaining that assassinations are being used in current power struggles within its own ranks. Its allies in the South African Communist Party (SACP) are also expressing alarm at assassinations.
Instead of being something out of the ordinary, political assassinations have become almost routine in South Africa. This is hardly surprising, for they go back a long way. Part of the campaign of revolutionary violence the ANC launched in the form of its "people's war" was to assassinate black policemen, black local councillors, and members of rival political organisations. The ANC, the SACP, and Umkhonto we Sizwe were all in this together.
The purpose was to make the country ungovernable, to rule black townships by terror, and to eliminate black political rivals.
According to some estimates, there have been 450 political assassinations in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) alone since the ANC came to power in 1994. Others put the total countrywide at 500. Whereas there was supposedly a sharp drop in political murders after 1994, they have evidently increased since the early years of the new century.
Political violence in KZN is being investigated by a commission of enquiry appointed by the provincial premier last year under the chairmanship of Marumo Moerane, an advocate. A police task team is also supposed to be investigating politically motivated violence.
Various politicians and people monitoring violence claim that a large proportion of these killings are within the ANC itself, many of them between rival candidates or rival factions in local elections. According to one newspaper editorial, the ANC is actually "killing its own leaders".
Among the targets for ANC assassination campaigns in the late 1980s and early 1990s were black local councillors, of whom 16 were murdered in the 18 months between January 1990 and June 1991 – to take just one period. Councillors were seen as instruments of white minority rule, and, as Chris Hani, secretary general of the SACP and one-time chief of staff of Umkhonto, put it, "many councillors were killed". Several hundred resigned lest they and their families also get killed.
The ANC declared war on the police as well. According to some calculations, 963 policemen were killed countrywide between 1983 and 1993, though not necessarily all in targeted assassinations. Black policemen were particular targets of attack. "Necklace" executions of supposed collaborators, which some influential ANC leaders endorsed, claimed more than 500 lives.
Targets for attack also included rivals in other organisations, especially the largest, the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP). According to the IFP, some 420 of its office-bearers and officials were killed during the people's war "in a systematic plan of mass assassination which targeted them in their homes, offices, cars, and at taxi ranks." How many of the assassinations of its rivals in the IFP were actually the handiwork of the ANC is unknown. They were never properly probed by anybody.
They were also downplayed by the press in its habitually sycophantic approach to the ANC. They were largely ignored by monitoring agencies, embassies reporting to their governments, and religious leaders who had thrown in their lot with the ANC. Murders of black councillors were also downplayed by the media – although the much smaller numbers of attacks on white councillors were prominently reported.
Ironically, one of the organisations bewailing the "resurgence" of political assassinations is the SACP itself, fountainhead of the people's war. "Scores of comrades" have been "cold-bloodedly murdered", it says, in "anti-communist assassinations". There have also been reports of an "ongoing war between the ANC and the SACP" in parts of KZN. What made these foolish people think that they could promote a culture of murdering their opponents without one day reaping the whirlwind?
* John Kane-Berman is a policy fellow at the IRR, a think-tank that promotes political and economic freedom. His memoirs, Between Two Fires - Holding the Liberal Centre in South African Politics, were published earlier this year by Jonathan Ball.