Murder in the municipalities: 21 councillors killed in 22 months

In South Africa, the murder rate among municipal ward councillors is six times higher than the national rate of 45 murders per 100,000 people

By Gemma Ritchie
Friday, July 21, 2023

Photo: Ashraf Hendricks/GroundUp

  • Since October 2021, 73 councillors who sit on the country’s municipalities have died. Almost a third of them were shot dead
  • The murder rate in South Africa is 45 per 100,000 people, it’s six times higher among ward councillors
  • Nearly half of the murdered councillors were in KwaZulu-Natal municipalities

There are just over 4,500 councillors (including mayors) working in South Africa’s 257 municipalities. They are elected in municipal elections held every five years and their job is to ensure the delivery of services. Since just before the last election, which was held on 1 November 2021, 73 councillors have died – almost a third of them were shot dead.

South Africa’s national murder rate for the year ending March 2023 was around 45 per 100,000 people. For ward councillors the murder rate is nearly six times higher: it’s closer to 260 murders per 100,000 for the same time period.

In the first half of 2023, seven councillors were murdered. In June and July: 

  • Umhlathuze Local Municipality councillor and pastor, John Myaka (57), a member of the African Christian Democratic Party, was shot dead during a sermon at his home in Richards Bay, KwaZulu-Natal
  • Mkhanyakude District Municipality councillor Innocent ‘Killer’ Mkhwanazi (43), an Inkatha Freedom Party member, was shot and killed while travelling from Mtubatuba to St Lucia in KwaZulu-Natal
  • National Freedom Party councillor Ntombenhle Mchunu (75) was shot dead in her home in Nongoma, KwaZulu-Natal. She was the municipality’s longest-serving member

Municipalities with multiple murders

Almost half of the murders reported since October 2021 happened in KwaZulu-Natal (10), followed by the Eastern Cape (4) and Mpumalanga (3). 

Three of the councillors killed in KwaZulu-Natal were in eThekwini Metro Municipality.

Mkhondo Local Municipality in Mpumalanga recorded three murders.

  • November 2022 – ANC councillor Muzi Manyathi (41) was shot dead outside a fuel station. His name was allegedly on a hit list
  • January 2023 – ANC councillor Sibonelo Ntshangase (31) was shot dead after leaving a house with friends
  • January 2023 – ANC councillor Sbonelo Mthembu (36) was shot and killed after he and his mechanic were dropped off at a private home

In Nelson Mandela Bay Metro Municipality two councillors were killed.

In Nongoma Local Municipality two councillors were killed.

  • October 2021 – The body of the NFP’s Dumisani Qwabe was found shot and burnt in his bakkie a few days before the 2021 local goverment elections
  • July 2023 – NFP councillor Ntombenhle Mchunu was shot dead

Political parties hit

Most of the 21 murdered councillors were from the ANC

  • 15 ANC councillors
  • 2 Inkatha Freedom Party councillors
  • 2 National Freedom Party councillors (Nongoma, KwaZulu-Natal)
  • 1 independent candidate (Merafong City, Gauteng)
  • 1 African Christian Democratic Party councillor (uMhlathuze, KwaZulu-Natal)

All of the councillors in our dataset who were murdered were shot dead.

Read more: How many bodyguards does a mayor need? 

Keeping count

The Outlier was able to confirm that 21 councillors were murdered, 10 in KwaZulu-Natal, but the number may be higher. 

In July 2023, Thami Ntuli, the chair of the South African Local Government Association (Salga), said 17 councillors had been murdered in KwaZulu-Natal since September 2022. 

When we asked Salga for information on the murdered councillors, its spokesperson, Constance Shabalala, responded: ‘Unfortunately, I won’t be able to share [the list] as that would be against the POPIA act. It would seem a bit insensitive as us [sic], as an association, to avail such information to you.’ 

Our methodology

The Outlier tracks the status of municipal councillors daily by collecting news articles and media releases with a Google News Alert. Information sources include:

  • Media releases from the Independent Electoral Commission. These only indicate whether a councillor has died, had their party membership terminated, resigned or was removed through court action
  • Media releases from other sources, news articles and memorial notices

If details are not available, we contact the municipality directly.

We started collecting the data from the 1 November 2021 local government elections. Two councillors (Siyabonga Mkhize and Dumisani Qwabe) won their wards posthumously and have been included in the data for this story.

Our data shows that of the 73 councillors: 

  • 21 were murdered
  • 22 died from an illness
  • 7 were killed in accidents
  • 1 died by suicide

The cause of 22 of the deaths is listed as ‘unknown’. 

Municipalities can only comment on the unfortunate event of a councillor’s death or cite a cause of death on an official police report or authorised investigation in the event of:

  • Motor vehicle accident
  • Hijacking
  • Murder 

The Outlier could not find obituaries or press statements on two councillor deaths reported as a reason for a by-election:

  • King Sabata Dalindyebo municipality confirmed the cause of death of one its councillors as illness, but it did not confirm the month or year or the death. 
  • We were unable to reach Enoch Mgijima municipality to confirm the cause of death of a councillor.

This story was updated on 4 August 2023 to include the deaths of two councillors: the NFP’s Ntombenhle Mchunu (murder) and the DA’s Nonsikelelo Pearl Msomi (illness).