Arrests over political assassinations have escalated sharply, and Police Minister Bheki Cele said on Thursday he was unapologetic about the arrest of Harry Gwala District Municipality Mayor Mluleki Ndobe, even though murder charges against him have been provisionally withdrawn.Briefing the media in Durban on sweeping arrests by the political killings task team in the province, Cele said the provisional withdrawal of charges against Ndobe, who had been charged with the murder of former ANC Youth League secretary general Sindiso Magaqa, did not mean there was no case against the mayor.“They said there is insufficient evidence; they did not say there was no evidence. It is only the charges that were withdrawn, not the case,” he said.The murder charges against Ndobe were withdrawn by the Umzimkhulu Magistrate’s Court after he had already spent eight days in police custody following his arrest a fortnight ago. Ndobe, who indicated that he was considering his legal options with regard to his detention, is on record as saying he was angry about his arrest, as it had tarnished his image.However, Cele said the withdrawal of charges against suspects was a common occurrence within the justice system. “Even in respect of the task team, charges had been withdrawn in six of the cases.“However, there are also instances where charges that had been provisionally withdrawn were later reinstated,” he said.While charges against Ndobe had been provisionally withdrawn, another four accused in the Magaqa murder case are still on trial.The task team, whose members were drawn from the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), the Hawks and the State Security Agency (SSA), was established by President Cyril Ramaphosa in July following a spike in political murders in the province.Two weeks ago Cele announced that the task team had made 100 arrests, but on Thursday he said the figure had gone up to 161.Of the 161 people who had been arrested by the task team, 136 had been charged, 66 were in custody, 32 were out on bail, 27 have already been convicted, while two have since died.Apart from Ndobe, ANC leaders that had been arrested in connection with political killings in the province include Newcastle Mayor Ntuthuko Mhlaba and Msunduzi Municipality councillor Nkosinathi TK Gambu.Mhlaba — who has been charged with the murder of ANCYL eMalahleni leader Wandile Ngobeni, and Gambu — who has been charged with the murder of ANC Pietermaritzburg activist Musawenkosi “Maqatha” Mchunu, are currently in custody.Cele said the task team has also arrested several people within the private security industry after establishing that they had been involved in some of the political killings. Security companies that have been implicated include Vuco Security Solutions, LK Security Solutions and Inkuzi Security. “A total of 13 cases have been opened and 14 suspects arrested and charged in terms of the Firearms Control Act,” Cele said.On claims that the task team was being used to settle political scores within the ANC, which is currently riddled with factions, Cele said members of the task team were only focusing on political killings and not on internal party politics.“Unfortunately this has been misconstrued as being meddling in political factionalism of political parties using state apparatus.“It must be emphasised that the investigation and subsequent prosecution of these cases are done in accordance with the rule of law,” he said.