JOHANNESBURG: South Africa's municipal election season has been deadly for candidates and party activists, with more than 12 killed ahead of Wednesday's vote.
National police have determined it a serious enough problem to create a task force to investigate the deaths, most of them occurring in eastern KwaZulu-Natal province.
One motivation behind the killings is the chance of a steady job as a councillor in a country where more than 25 percent of people are unemployed, said Gareth Newham, head of the governance, crime and justice division of the local Institute for Security Studies.
"These are people who go from literally being unemployed to suddenly being able to afford a much better lifestyle. So there is intense competition for those positions," Newham said. Even the lowest-grade part-time councillor was making up to 16,300 rand ($1,110) a month last year . The posts also come with the chance to control local resources and patronage.
Newham said another factor in the recent killings is the relative impunity of such attacks in the past. "Ninety percent of the time, people are getting away with it. It's low-risk," he said.
President Jacob Zuma's office has urged that the municipal elections remain peaceful, and campaigning in many parts of the country has been calm.
The African National Congress party, which has ruled South Africa since the first all-race elections 22 years ago, faces a serious challenge in some of the country's most important cities. Those include the largest city, Johannesburg; the Tshwane metro area around the capital, Pretoria; and even the eastern coastal municipality named after the ANC's star, Nelson Mandela Bay.
Many of the political killings this year have not been in such contested areas, instead occurring in the traditional ANC stronghold of KwaZulu-Natal, which has a history of political violence.
The killings have forced some candidates into hiding, said Nkosikhulule Nyembezi, co-chair of the National Coordinating Forum of community groups that partner with the Electoral Commission on observing and other activities.
One candidate from KwaZulu-Natal told South African media he was shot in the chest last month outside his home and said he had taken refuge about 350 kilometers (217 miles) away in Johannesburg, where he planned to remain until the elections.
David Mazibuko has said he remains a candidate, even in hiding. He told The Associated Press late last week that he "didn't get anything from detectives" yet on resolving his case.