Friday, 25 Sep 2020

South Africa Killings Should Be Investigated, Anti-Corruption Agency Says

JOHANNESBURG — A South African anti-corruption agency has called for a police investigation into the killings of three political figures who had accused their rivals of corruptly diverting money intended for the renovation of a community hall.

The public protector’s office said in a report released Thursday that the police should investigate “the root causes” and “motivations” behind the gangland-style killings of the politicians from the governing African National Congress, who had denounced the project as a vehicle to funnel money to local officials and business allies.

The public protector also called for an investigation into leaders of the rural town of Umzimkhulu who were involved in the project, which contractors have failed to complete despite spending millions of dollars.

The town improperly awarded the contract to renovate the historic hall, even failing to obtain the proper permits to work on a heritage building, according to the public protector, the government agency responsible for investigating official misconduct and corruption.

The killings, which were the focus of an article in The New York Times in September, gained national attention because one of the victims was Sindiso Magaqa, a nationally known political figure.

In recent years political assassinations have skyrocketed as corruption became endemic in the A.N.C., by far the dominant political party in post-apartheid South Africa.

Anti-corruption whistle-blowers inside the A.N.C. have been assassinated by hit men hired by party rivals, and members of opposing factions have been killed in fights over positions that give access to lucrative government contracts.

In the Times article, local officials said that Mr. Magaqa and his allies were locked in a battle with the dominant A.N.C. faction in Umzimkhulu. Mr. Magaqa had accused the town leaders of failing to follow proper procedures in awarding the contract and failing to obtain the proper permits from heritage officials.

He also leaked official documents that showed that the municipality had continued to pay a contractor and its subcontractor even though the project was far behind schedule and was making little progress.

Town leaders denied any impropriety.

After the release of the public protector’s report, Zweliphansi Skhosana, the municipal manager and a rival of Mr. Magaqa, reiterated that he had not benefited directly from the project. He said he welcomed the investigation into political killings because of “perceptions” that they were linked to the project.

A.N.C. leaders have shown little appetite to investigate political killings — they are fearful, critics say, that fresh revelations would harm the party’s image with national elections approaching next year.

President Cyril Ramaphosa’s police minister rejected an earlier recommendation by the public protector’s office to provide police protection for two A.N.C. whistle-blowers who came forward with information about the killings in Umzimkhulu. Oupa Segalwe, a spokesman for the public protector, said his office lacks the resources to legally challenge the police.

The current head of the public protector’s office, Busisiwe Mkhwebane, is considered weak, especially compared to her immediate predecessor, Thulisile Madonsela, who led efforts to expose corruption inside the governing party under the previous president, Jacob Zuma.

“She’s being very careful,” Mary de Haas, an expert on political killings said of the current public protector, adding that the whistle-blowers have made “life too embarrassing for the A.N.C.”

One of the two whistle-blowers, Thabiso Zulu, an A.N.C. anti-corruption activist, has faced death threats and has been living in hiding for months. Mr. Zulu said he wanted to sue the police to get protection but lacked the resources.

“I’m cornered, running out of cash, running out of support,” Mr. Zulu said. “I’m at a level where I say, ‘Come what may.’”

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