Opening shots

2008-08-19 00:00

THE opening shots of the 2009 election campaign were fired this past weekend, shots both figurative and, unfortunately, literal. The African National Congress (ANC) held a rally at the King Goodwill Zwelithini stadium in Umlazi on Saturday. As the crowd dispersed afterwards, shots were fired, one of which struck a Pietermaritzburg teenager, Wanda Phelakho, in the head as he tried to take cover behind a bus. On the other side of the political divide, Bhekisisa Mthethwa, chairperson of the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) branch at Jacobs Hostel, was shot three times in the head and body at 4.30 am at Montclair Railway Station in Durban as he was on his way to work.

Even in the most stable of democracies, elections are times of agitation and volatility. South Africa is no exception and KwaZulu-Natal is a particularly dangerous place. Indeed, the run-up to the 1994 election saw what was in effect a low-grade civil war between the ANC and the IFP with thousands of people being killed in political violence.

The 2009 election is likely to be especially dangerous. On the one hand, the IFP is likely to go all out to recapture the province it lost in 2004. The forthcoming election will also be complicated by having the fate of Jacob Zuma, leader of the ANC and potential president of South Africa, in the balance. With the chairman of the ANC Youth League having already urged his followers to “kill for Zuma”, whatever happens to Zuma could well be a catalyst for further political mayhem.

In this situation, there is a need for responsible political leadership of the highest calibre. Zuma has earned great kudos in the past by proving a major peacemaker in this province. Now, as then, he needs to separate his personal legal problems from other issues, to speak out firmly against allowing political disagreements to degenerate into violence and keep his hot-blooded adherents firmly in check. The IFP leadership, for its part, needs to be equally unequivocal in asserting that democracy is a process of counting heads, not breaking them, and that thuggery should have no place in it.

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