Political Assassinations: Killing the Watchdogs
Issued By the FW de Klerk Foundation on 05/04/2023


The cold-blooded assassination of insolvency practitioner Cloete Murray and his son, Thomas, whose vehicle was forced off the road before the pair were brutally gunned down on the N1 highway, is a dire warning of the lengths that organised criminals and corrupt politicians will go to, to avoid accountability.

Murray and his son had been primarily involved in investigating matters relating to state capture and corruption. Their activities included high profile cases such as the liquidation of African Global Holdings (formerly Bosasa) – which the Zondo Commission found had extensively bribed politicians and government officials to obtain government contracts during the presidency of Mr Jacob Zuma. They were also involved in the investigation of other companies, including Trillian Capital and Comair.

During his illustrious career, Murray was also responsible for issuing subpoenas to numerous high-profile politicians and personalities. They included former ministers Zweli Mkhize and Nomvula Mokonyane, Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe and President Cyril Ramaphosa’s son.

The assassination of Murray and his son is unfortunately not an isolated incident. South Africa is ranked 19 out of 193 countries by the Global Organised Crime Index with regard to politically motivated killings. Similarly, the Global Initiative on Transnational Organised Crime (GITOC) reported in September 2022, that South Africa has increasingly become a centre for organised crime, operating both inside and outside of the State, “that enables, facilitates and exploits opportunities for private gain.”

The GITOC reports a marked increase in political assassinations in South Africa after 2000 – and especially since 2015. During this period, 418 of the 1 971 assassinations (21%) were politically motivated.

Many of the assassinations have involved the elimination of political opponents or whistleblowers. This type of violence inevitably has a corrosive impact on democratic politics and the integrity of law enforcement: in the words of former President FW de Klerk at his February 1994 SONA address, “Political violence…is an assault on democracy and the rule of law.”

The FW de Klerk Foundation’s annual Human Rights Report Card for 2022 lists, as one of the top threats to human rights in South Africa, “the failure of the state to protect lives, bodily integrity and property evidenced by unacceptable rape and robbery statistics and a disturbing increase in the number of murders”.

The South African Police Force has come under fire for its failure to respond effectively to assassinations, including, most recently, the killing of famed rapper Kiernan “AKA” Forbes and whistleblower Babita Deokaran. In February 2022, Mr Bheki Cele, the Minister of Police, announced that a “special state task team probing political murders since 2018 had investigated 258 dockets, resulting in 289 arrests.” The police must be commended for this initiative. However, unless the arrests result in speedy convictions and effective punishment, politicians, whistleblowers and other law-abiding citizens exposing and investigating corruption will continue to live in fear.

Failure to deal effectively with political assassinations and unbridled intimidation will make it very difficult for South Africa to combat political corruption and fraud. These crimes are difficult to detect and prosecute. Evidence is often hidden by a complicated web of transactions, misleading corporate records and convoluted company structures which can often be exposed only with the assistance of whistleblowers and private investigators.

These courageous South Africans must be protected. We must heed the warning of Cheryl Potgieter, Head of Justice, Gender Health and Human Development at Durban University of Technology, that “political violence – a result of power, patronage, and systematic corruption – is leading to a fractured state becoming a failed state”.