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Last week, yet another ANC councillor was shot dead. Mbuyiselo Dokolwane, of ward 119, was returning from a branch meeting when he was killed in Freedom Park, south of Johannesburg.

An ANC spokesman said: "A man came from a car that was parked for a while and they shot him four times."

Dokolwane was chairman of the ANC Freedom Park branch.

If factionalism is the river that runs through the ANC, its tributaries often flow red with blood.

In October, Muziwendoda Ncwane, ANC councillor for ward 10 in the Vulamehlo Municipality, was shot dead by two gunmen while watching television at his home in Maizeland, KwaZulu-Natal.

He was also a member of the mayoral executive and chief whip at his municipality.

In November, Fundisile Nqinelo, ANC councillor for ward 33 in Nkaneng, was shot seven times by a group of armed men outside Marikana, near Rustenburg. Nqinelo was the chairman of his branch.

In December, Siphiwe Zulu, ANC councillor for ward 51, greater Zola in Soweto, was shot dead in Witpoortjie during what appeared to be a robbery. When Zulu spotted a group of men waiting outside his house, he apparently carried on driving. When he returned, they seemed to have gone, but they reappeared and attacked him. He died in hospital. He was serving his third term as councillor.

In January, two men, pensioner Philip Dlamini and an unidentified man were shot dead in Inchanga, KwaZulu-Natal, following a South African Communist Party (SACP) meeting. It was being held 3km from an ANC meeting to nominate candidates as councillors in ward four in Fredville, KwaZulu-Natal. It was reported that the unidentified man was killed after being suspected of being a hit man.

eThekwini mayor and provincial SACP chairman James Nxumalo, who lives in Inchanga, said: "I heard gunshots, about 50 of them, coming from the soccer field." He then called the police.

In every case, the police have said the motive for the killing is unknown, although politics has not been ruled out. In every case, no arrests have been reported and the police have asked the public to come forward with information.

Wikipedia has a page titled Political Assassinations in Post-Apartheid South Africa. It has three lists — one for politicians killed, one for other political killings (members of trade unions or the SACP) and one for government officials. Starting in 2005, there are 52 entries on the page.

Journalist Genevieve Quintal estimates that 46 people across all political structures were assassinated between 2007 and 2012.

The Daily Maverick estimates there were 59 political assassinations between 2008 and 2013. And a 2013 internal ANC report claimed 38 of its members had been killed in KwaZulu-Natal since the beginning of 2011, as well as 13 Inkatha Freedom Party and National Freedom Party members.

Although there is some overlap between them, it is unlikely any of these lists are definitive. Many of the cases remain unresolved.

Some of the murders might be the product of violent crime, which is rife, but many share common characteristics. One of them is drive-by shooting, or people shot in the driveways of their homes.

A great many victims are shot execution-style or multiple times from close range. Poison also features prominently.

There is a body of evidence suggesting that, on average, there is at least one political assassination a month in SA.

A case before the High Court in Durban holds some explanation as to motive and is a rare example of arrests having been made and a prosecution secured.

Samuel Cele, Alex Mbhele and Sifiso Khumalo (who turned state witness) are charged with planning the murder of Dumisani Malunga, who was running for ward councillor. He was shot dead as he was travelling home on the evening of September 9 2012.

Khumalo had previously been jailed for the murder.

News24 reports the prosecutor claiming that "when Khumalo realised he might not win the election, Cele proposed they kill Malunga. They allegedly enlisted Mbhele to help in the killing."

In response to one apparent assassination, ANC general secretary Gwede Mantashe said: "The reality is that selection of candidates for council is always a life-and-death issue."

That is a stunning admission. For all the pretence the ANC regularly offers up, of SA as a modern, progressive constitutional democracy, it is in truth a far more crude and violent affair.

The ANC, which is neither a revolutionary movement nor a traditional political party, remains caught between the world of armed struggle and formal democracy. A culture of assassination has inculcated itself into its internal political dynamics.

At local government level, democratic choice and death often sit side by side. That is not a picture well-illustrated by the media. It is remarkable how little sustained and meaningful attention this aspect of South African politics receives.

In the past few years, death threats have been reported by, among others, Buffalo City executive mayor Zukiswa Ncitha; North West deputy provincial police commissioner Maj-Gen William Mpembe; former police commissioner Bheki Cele; Passenger Rail Agency of SA chairman Popo Molefe and CEO Lucky Montana; former Congress of South African Trade Unions general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi; Parliament’s ethics committee’s joint chair and registrar, Ben Turok and Fazela Mahomed, respectively, and University of the Free State vice-chancellor Prof Jonathan Jansen.

Last week, Songezo Zibi wrote: "Last year, a former CEO of a state-owned enterprise told me he had quit after receiving death threats so serious that they were delivered to his office." He said they arrived after the advances of "powerful business people who have been in the news lately" had been resisted.

You see this apparition appearing everywhere, from murmurings about poison in the president’s homestead to the office of the Mpumalanga premier.

As the ANC implodes, as factionalism intensifies and as a culture of patronage and nepotism turns in on itself, it is not unreasonable to ask: how long until a senior member of the executive or the national government administration is assassinated?

Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa said this month that SA must not tolerate "no go" zones in the coming election. They are a trifling concern in the face of all the death and violence the ANC visits upon itself. The political environment is a tinderbox.

This year, SA will experience one of the most volatile elections yet. The ANC’s power is diluting and radicalism is growing. The official opposition poses a real threat in some places. And the governing party is in meltdown, as its demagogue turns everything he touches to rubble.

Fear, paranoia, self-interest and the loss of power are the ingredients for death and destruction. When assassination is a part of your political repertoire, in the blink of an eye it can be seen as an ostensible solution to far bigger crises than the prospect of losing a ward election.

This article first appeared in Business Day

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