Last year, KwaZulu-Natal Premier Willies Mchunu established a commission of inquiry into political killings. It had a hefty R15 million budget.
The commission, chaired by Advocate Marumo Moerane, is expected to complete its work at the end of this year. However, Mchunu says the campaign to disarm civilians is crucial to restoring peace in the province. It will only succeed if society adopts a new mind-set and reports illegal firearms.
Defending what has appeared to be inaction from government, Mchunu says there have been numerous calls to hand in illegal firearms, along with offers of amnesty. Despite a number of raids in homes and hostels, there are many unrecovered firearms in the province.
Mchunu expressed a sense of helplessness about efforts to police the violence. There had so far been no successful long-term interventions. “We have had assistance from national ministers of police time and again. As soon as you get reinforcements from national police, it is quiet. We have been blamed at times that we have police deployed in an area until they get used to people and the people get used to them. The police become coopted. As soon as you remove those police, because they cannot be permanent, you start from scratch.”
He said there were grave cost implications for bringing in police officers from other provinces on a rotational basis. “I wouldn’t say it is that easy. Every police task is budgeted for. Now there are things you would not be able to budget for. Everybody works within that budget,” he said. “Our laws are so labour friendly that you must take into account the labour rights of those people. It is a plan that takes you time to master before you can put it into place.”
Mchunu acknowledged that killings in the province peaked during election time. While killings of a political nature were under the spotlight, Mchunu said the province’s residents had grown accustomed to using violence and murder to settle scores. He said this extended beyond politics to personal relationships.
“We are the only ones who have people from amakhosi fighting for one reason or another. One day people go to umemulo [the right-of-passage ceremony]. They kill one another there. When you trace what the real problem is, you find that it can be a girl. That is how our society in this province has grown up.
“Sometimes, we just fight over a woman and maybe she doesn’t like both of us, but for some reason we fight over her. At times, even building a homestead or getting a plot of land has led to killing. The effect of this is that it has left people armed.”
He traces the problem back to years of violence between the members of the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) and the United Democratic Front, which led to communities being trained and armed. “There were self-protection units [IFP-aligned defence units] that we know of, but, at the same time, that also attracted ANC self-defence units. All these wars were not fought with fists and stones, they were fought with arms.
“I am not aware of any successful operation that has disarmed the province. Our communities still remain very much armed,” he said.