At least 19 KwaZulu-Natal councillors have been shot dead since September. In Nongoma, only two councillors aren't in hiding and, as a result, service delivery is non-existent.

More than 150 politicians have been shot dead in the province - mostly over power, influence and money - since 2011.

News24 brings you a special assignment on political killings, 'Killing Councillors', which shines the light on political violence, the names of the victims, the voices of the families, the aftermath of the killings, and a police critique, among other things.

'The tournament is done': KZN councillors gunned down to win political fights

By Soyiso Maliti

A councillor was preaching in a church when he was shot dead. Another was sleeping next to her grandson when assailants took her life. 

These are just two of 19 councillors killed in persisting political violence in local councils across KwaZulu-Natal in the last 12 months. 

So frequent are the killings that they are now colloquially referred to as "tournaments" in the northern part of the province where killings are rife. 

"When the hit is out on you, it's called 'a tournament'. You will hear people say 'sebeyikhiphile i-tournament' [IsiZulu for 'the tournament is out/ has been issued']," said one political insider with knowledge of the political killings.

Councillors from the ANC, IFP, NFP, EFF and ACDP are among the victims of increasingly violent political hits. This as fears that political violence is set to be exacerbated as the 2024 elections draw closer. 

The worst of it is in the Nongoma Local Municipality, which has seen councillors turn on each other, eliminating their peers for political gain. 

Police Minister Bheki Cele has sounded alarm bells about the rising political conflict, which has caused councillors to flee from their homes. 

NFP councillor, Ntombenhle Mchunu, 75, was gunned down in her bed while she slept next to her grandson. The NFP blamed the IFP, who pointed the finger of blame back at the NFP. 

Matron Mchunu, Ntombenhle's sister-in-law, told News24:

"It gets lonely for the children because they no longer have a mother. They're the only ones left at home. Although they're a bit old, with the last born being in their 20s, I can see it's lonely. They don't have a father and now they don't have a mother."

Mchunu's colleague, NFP councillor Nonhlanhla Zungu, has survived three attempts on her life and another NFP councillor, Mphathiseni Manqele, was wounded in an attempted assassination in Nongoma in August.

The IFP was toppled from power in July - thanks to the NFP-led coalition with the ANC and the EFF. 

But the political wrestling for power has led to an increase in political hits and as a result, only two councillors in the area remain in their homes. The rest have fled for safety. 

News24 visited the area and found that NFP councillors are being targeted as their party can't contest by-elections on account of a court order obtained by the Electoral Commission of South Africa.

The commission sought to control infighting in the party, but this has now led to further political violence. Ever since then, the coalition councillors have been targets of shootings. 

When an NFP councillor is killed, the party cannot contest that ward in a by-election, giving their political opponents an edge.

When the police minister visited the area in early September in an effort to broker a political solution, councillors told him that they knew who wanted them dead and almost all of them said they feared for their lives.

Getty Images

Getty Images

Nongoma Local Municipality is a municipality in the northeastern part of Zululand in the KwaZulu-Natal province of South Africa.
It is Zululand's second-largest municipality in terms of population and the second-largest in terms of area size.

Police struggle to stop political killings, may rely on grabbers to hamper hits

While KwaZulu-Natal police won't admit they are struggling to cope with the ongoing political violence in KwaZulu-Natal, they are punting extreme measures to get a grip on the situation. 

Police Minister Bheki Cele has suggested that nothing is stopping SAPS from using grabbers - sophisticated surveillance equipment - when investigating KwaZulu-Natal political violence.

This comes as councillors from Nongoma Local Municipality told Cele that they knew who was ordering hits on them. 

Cele, who chairs the inter-ministerial committee on political violence, released statistics that showed some recent arrests, however, questions remained about whether SAPS was winning the war against political killings.

Asked whether police intended to use grabbers to curb police political violence, Cele said:

"It will be very operational to discuss it here. Legally we've been given the greenlight. But wherever it [grabbers] will help us - hence we had to find that permission - it must help us to curb violence, whether it's political or criminal and cash heists."
Bheki Cele, Police Minister

Bertram Malgas, News24

Bertram Malgas, News24

He said Lamola and Parliament had given SAPS permission to use the spy equipment.

This was after the police obtained the go-ahead from Justice and Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamola to use the equipment in their work. 

ACDP councillor John Myaka in uMhlathuze Local Municipality 

"We are suffering as a family. There have been no leads regarding the shooting, and there were no arrests...We were so shocked by the way he died. He died like he was a criminal. They killed him with four bullets. They shot him inside the church while he was praying. Three guys did it. Two were standing outside and one walked in and shot him in front of everyone."
Daughter, Mbali Myaka

NFP councillor Ntombenhle Mchunu in Nongoma

"It gets lonely for the children because they no longer have a mother. They're the only ones left at home. Although they're a bit old, with the last born being in their 20s, I can see it's lonely. They don't have a father and now they don't have a mother."
Sister-in-law, Matron Mchunu 

ANC councillor Thembinkosi Lombo in uMvoti Municipality

"He was the breadwinner for everyone. It's hard to live without him now because he knew how to assist. He is survived by nine children and their mothers are struggling to look after them and they can't afford them. They [government] came to the funeral with all sorts of promises, but none of them have been fulfilled. It pains me to live without him and he's on my mind all the time."
Sister, Ntombenhle Lombo 

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Editing by Qaanitah Hunter, production by Sharlene Rood.