Home to President Jacob Zuma, Zulu-dominated and a stronghold of the ruling African National Congress (ANC), the south-eastern province of KZN, as it is popularly known, is also the epicentre of South African political violence.
More than 50 district and grassroots politicians have been assassinated in the area in just the last three years, in crimes involving three main political parties, according to monitors.
The latest attack was a brazen, movie-style shooting outside a courthouse and in full view of the police and media cameras last week. The victim was opposition and Zulu-dominated Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), member Siya Dlamini.
He was gunned down as a trial got underway in the killing — a few weeks earlier — of yet another IFP politician.
Historically the province has been notorious for raging political violence, with Inkatha regularly pitted against the ANC in the early 1990s as the edifice of apartheid collapsed.
But the past year has seen a spike with the emergence of the upstart National Freedom Party — an Inkatha splinter.
“What seem to be happening is that there is a struggle to get into position of power which then will give people access to money,” Georgina Alexander, a research with South Africa‘s Institute for Race Relations.
Political power has become the passport to easy wealth.
“It’s around issues of greed especially in the context of rising inequality in South Africa and the rate of unemployment… and people see (former ANC Youth leader) Julius Malema, who has very little education, but has lots of money because he got into political office,” added Alexander.
Observers point to the spike in murders since Zuma rose to power in 2009.
“Since the start of 2009 which coincided with Zuma’s ascension to the presidency… you get a radical increase in political killings in KZN,” said independent researcher David Bruce, pointing to a culture of militarism in the country’s second most populous province.
While white Afrikaners had a “very militaristic culture,” according to Bruce, Zulu politics has combined this with “a kind of Stalinist approach to the exercise of political power. I think in some way they see Robert Mugabe as some kind of role model.”
ANC’s officials in the province admit to a rise in violence in recent months, saying at least six of their senior party leaders at branch levels have been murdered this year — most of them in what appeared to be internal feuds for power.
“Individuals kill in order to secure… position,” said ANC provincial spokesman for KZN Senzo Mkhize.
“People think if they kill those occupying certain positions (such as councillors) they will be the ones who will the suitable candidates. Others it’s just criminal issue where people just decide to kill because one is a member of the ANC. The others it’s more an internal fight within the party structures,” said Mkhize.
Political intolerance has been blamed too, especially after a breakaway group left the main opposition in the province, the Inkatha.
Both the Inkatha (IFP) and NFP claim they have each lost 27 members since last year, but these have not be independently verified.
Inkatha blames the ANC for creating the NFP as a proxy.
“The tension between the IFP and NFP is caused by the (ruling) ANC. They move around invisibly, instructing their surrogate (NFP) to attempt to destroy us. They want to wipe us off the political map,” said IFP’s provincial legislature caucus leader Blessed Gwala.
NFP and the ANC reject the allegation.
NFP’s secretary general Nhlanhla Khubisa, blames the violence on “greed, political intolerance and political patronage. The violence is rooted in criminality and opportunism.”
Mary de Haas, who has documented political violence in KZN since the 1980s, says graft whistle blowers have become the newest addition to the targets for elimination.
“The motives for the intra-ANC violence may be killing people who are trying to expose corruption within the organisation, competition over party positions and, or nomination to stand for elected office or (could be) tensions or factionalism relating to the upcoming ANC conference in Mangaung,” said de Haas.