South African police move in on protesting Marikana miner
South African police move in on protesting Marikana miner (Reuters)

On Monday 12 August, Nora Madolo was shot in the middle of the morning while walking with colleagues at the Marikana mine in Rustenburg, South Africa. The killing of the union shopsteward came shortly before the tense anniversary of the Marikana mine massacre on 16 August, 2012.

Last year, the mine was the site of a violent strike. It escalated when police fired into thousands of protesters, killing 34. The strike then spread to other platinum, gold and iron-ore mines, costing the key mining sector billions of rand in revenue.

Since then, a fragile order has existed in the mining sector. However, an even more ominous political and reputational risk looms for foreign business in South Africa over the next few years.

Police are investigating a plot to murder parliamentary ethics committee chairman Ben Turok and the registrar of members' interests, Fazela Mohamed. Both are members of the committee investigating former communications minister Dina Pule. In the northwest, the African National Congress (ANC) is investigating an alleged plot to kill former premier Thandi Modise. The politics of the ANC has become fused with intimidation and even assassinations, often factional struggles about patronage and wealth.

As the Economist explained a year ago: "Jobs in national and local politics provide access to public funds and cash from firms eager to buy political influence. Because the stakes are so high, competition for power is bitter and sometimes bloody, particularly at the local level.

"In the past five years over 40 politicians have been killed in KwaZulu-Natal, a province with a history of political violence, and at least five more in Mpumalanga, a province in the northeast of the country. The killing is often about money. Sometimes whistleblowers are murdered to stop them revealing corruption; sometimes rivals are disposed of."

Under the ANC of President Jacob Zuma there have been advances in building houses for the poor and increased access to electricity and water. However, power corrupts. And after 19 years, power in a one-party dominant state is corrupting democracy.

Below the surface, social tensions and factional dissent simmer. In November 2012, the Washington Post said:" In newspaper columns, on radio talk shows, blogs and social media, the ANC is facing a public outcry, accused of corruption, being ineffective, wasteful and out of touch with South Africa's impoverished masses. Even prominent anti-apartheid figures are publicly disparaging the ANC leadership, calling its credibility into question."

Among the critics are retired Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a fervent anti-apartheid activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner. Tutu indicated in May 2013 that he would "very sadly not be able to vote for the ANC after the way things have gone". He referred to pervasive state corruption, mismanagement and the intimidation of political opponents.

Political intimidation and assassinations are not exactly the mainstay of democracies. The Economist warned against crony capitalism, citing the example of business people such as Cyril Ramaphosa in South Africa becoming too close to the ANC government.

There are clear political, labour and reputational risks for the 554 major international firms in South Africa, especially if they become too close to the ANC. As ANC factions and opponents compete, these risks are likely to increase during the next few years.

Victims of political assassinations

  • Thandi Mtsweni, deputy mayor, Secunda, Mpumalanga, 2007 (shot dead by two gunmen when she arrived home with her husband and 14-year-old son)
  • Moss Phakoe, ANC councillor, Rustenburg, North West, 2009 (gunned down in his car as he came home after putting up posters for the ANC election campaign)
  • Jimmy Mtolo, local ANC leader, Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, 2009 (assailant engaged Mtolo in a conversation before drawing a gun and firing two shots into him at close range)
  • S'thembiso Cele, the chairman of the ANC Youth League in KwaZulu-Natal's Umgababa on the south coast, 2009 (gunned down in his Nelspruit home)
  • Bongani Ngcobo, ANC leader, Nongoma, KwaZulu-Natal, 2009 (shot through the window of his home)
  • Jabulani Khumalo, ANC leader, Nongoma, KwaZulu-Natal, 2009 (shot outside St Benedictine Hospital where he worked)
  • Jimmy Mohlala, ANC leader, Mbombela, Mpumalanga, 2010 (shot dead at his house after two men attacked him and his son, who was shot in the leg)
  • James Nkambule, senior ANC politician, Mpumalanga, 2010 (poisoned)
  • Sammy Mpatlanyane, senior ANC politician, Mpumalanga, 2010 (shot dead in his bedroom)
  • John Ndlovu, ANC politician, Thulamasha, Mpumalanga, 2011 (shot dead and body dumped 20km away)
  • S'bu Sibiya, ANC regional secretary, Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, 2011 (shot dead in the driveway of his home in Inanda)
  • Wiseman Mshibe, ANC councillor, Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, 2011 (shot four times in his driveway at Congo informal settlement in Inanda)
  • Wandile Mkhize, ANC chief whip, South Coast, KwaZulu-Natal, 2012 (shot dead in a drive-by shooting near his home in Manaba)
  • Nhlakanipho Shabane, ANC member, South Coast, KwaZulu-Natal, 2012 (fatally shot with Mkhize)
  • Dumisani Malunga, ANC member, South Coast, KwaZulu-Natal, 2012 (ambushed and shot dead while travelling in a car)
  • Bheki Chiliza, ANC member, South Coast, KwaZulu-Natal, 2012 (ambushed and shot dead with Malunga)
  • Mthembeni Shezi, ANC councillor, Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, 2012 (died in a hail of bullets fired on an ANC meeting, two other ANC members were critically wounded)
  • David Mosiane Chika, ANC Leader, North West 2012 (shot in the stomach outside his home)
  • S'bu Majola, ANC branch chairperson, Wembezi, Estcourt, 2013 (shot dead)
  • Nkululeko Gwala, ANC member, Cato Crest, Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, 2013 (shot dead in a hail of 12 bullets).

This list is not exhaustive.

Dr Heinrich Matthee is a Europe-based political risk analyst and a research associate at Free State University, South Africa