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UMZIMKHULU, South Africa: Their fears faded as they raced back home, the bottle of Johnnie Walker getting lighter with each turn of the road. Soon, Sindiso Magaqa was clapping and bouncing behind the wheel of his V8 Mercedes-Benz, pulling into familiar territory just before dark.

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Men closed in with assault rifles. Mr. Magaqa reached for the gun under his seat but it was too late. One of his passengers saw flashes of light, dozens of them, from the spray of bullets pockmarking the doors.

The ambush was exactly what Magaqa had feared. A few months before, a friend had been killed by gunmen in his front yard. Then, as another friend tried to open his front gate at night, a hit man crept out of the dark, shooting him dead. Next to come was Magaqa, 34. Struck half a dozen times, he hung on for weeks in a hospital before dying last year.


The funeral for Sindiso Magaqa, the most prominent African National Congress politician assassinated so far, in Umzimkhulu last September.

All of the assassination targets had one thing in common: They were members of the African National Congress who had spoken out against corruption in the party that defined their lives.

“If you understand the Cosa Nostra, you don’t only kill the person, but you also send a strong message,” said Thabiso Zulu, another ANC whistle-blower who, fearing for his life, is now in hiding. “We broke the rule of omertà,” he added, saying that the party of Nelson Mandela had become like the Mafia.


President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa, center, waving to supporters at an A.N.C. event near Durban this month.

Political assassinations are rising sharply in South Africa, threatening the stability of hard-hit parts of the country. In most cases, ANC officials slaughter one another, hiring professional hit men to eliminate fellow party members in an all-or-nothing fight over money, turf, and power, ANC officials say.

Corruption and divisions flourish within the ANC. After nearly 25 years in power, ANC party members have increasingly turned to fighting over influential positions and the spoils that go with them.


The Memorial Hall in Umzimkhulu. After five years and more than $2 million in public money, there is little to show for the project.

The death toll is climbing quickly. About 90 politicians have been shot or hacked to death since the start of 2016, more than twice the annual rate in the 16 years before that, according to researchers at the University of Cape Town. The murders have swelled into such a national crisis that the police began releasing data on political killings for the first time this year.


A.N.C. politicians, from left, Floyd Shivambu, Pule Mabe, Mr. Magaqa and Ronald Lamola in Johannesburg in 2011, when Mr. Magaqa held the No. 3 position in the party’s youth league.

President Cyril Ramaphosa was recently welcomed by Prime Minister Theresa May and celebrated by the UK’s pro-regime media. Ramaphosa struggles to unite his collapsing party before elections next year but has done little to stem the violence. His administration has even resisted official demands to provide police protection for ANC whistle-blowers.


Thabiso Zulu, left, an anticorruption activist and A.N.C. member, heard complaints from locals during a visit to KwaZulu-Natal Province.

The recent assassinations cover a wide range of personal and political feuds. Some victims were ANC officials who became targets after exposing or denouncing corruption within the party. Others fell in internal battles for lucrative posts. In rural areas, where the party has a near-total grip on the economy, jobs and government contracts, the conflict is particularly intense, with officials constantly looking over their shoulders.


Relatives of Mr. Magaqa — including his mother, Khethiwe Dlamini, right — mourning his death, at his house in Ibisi.


Zweliphansi Skhosana, the municipal manager of Umzimkhulu, accused Mr. Magaqa of trying to stir up trouble to gain power.

MICHAEL WALSH is an internationally acclaimed journalist, author, poet and broadcaster shunned by liberal-left corporate media. He is the author of Africa’s Killing Fields, Rhodesia’s Dearth Europe’s Funeral, and The Last Gladiators.

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