Political violence

2009-01-29 00:00

KwaZulu-Natal carries within it the painful memory of being the bloodiest province in the eighties and nineties in respect of political violence. There has been much healing since then as the new democratic order has bedded down, but the fault lines are still present and the likelihood of a resurgence of open conflict is a real danger, especially in the current climate of rhetoric with fresh elections in the offing.

Not only is there the inherited hostility between the African National Congress (ANC) and the Inkatha Freedom Party but also the advent of the Congress of the People as a provocative breakaway from the ANC.

Political leaders may preach tolerance but there is no guarantee that this will manifest itself on the ground. There is a narrow line between the legitimate robustness of political lobbying and a descent into unacceptable verbal or physical violence.

The killing in Umlazi last week of Inkosi Mbongeleni Zondi of Msinga has brought a high-profile focus of concern, for he was not only a prominent leader in the Bhambatha clan but also a friend and supporter of ANC president Jacob Zuma. Suspicion of a political motive has been inevitable while it is also acknowledged that the assassination could have been related to conflict between rival taxi operators in the Msinga/Muden area. Msinga has for many years been a flashpoint for different brands of violence. The killing of Zondi could be construed as an ominous barometer reading of what might be in store for the province generally.

There is clearly a need for the greatest possible restraint and for a special stature of leadership on all sides of the political spectrum. The Independent Electoral Commission has a key role to play as watchdog and guide.

Leaders in civil society have a responsibility to promote peaceful processes actively. This includes the media. It will be nothing short of tragic if the elections in this province cannot, in the end, be pronounced to have been peaceful, free and fair.

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