GUILTY: The sentencing of former Rustenburg mayor Matthew Wolmarans and his co-accused Enoch Matshaba. Picture: THE SOWETAN

TWENTY-SEVEN year-old Tlholo "Papiki" Phakoe, says his father - the slain former Rustenburg municipal councillor Moss Phakoe - "died for the ANC".

Mr Phakoe was murdered by his rivals in the African National Congress (ANC), whom he had accused of corruption.

The murder, which a court this week described as a political act, has rattled the ANC.

Reports of political assass-inations in the ANC are not new. Similar acts were reported in KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga with links to tenders related to the 2010 Soccer World Cup.

But Mr Phakoe's death has taken factional infighting in North West to a new level.

Divisions continue to deepen, and speculation is rife that there is a bid to oust Premier Thandi Modise by supporters of provincial chairman Supra Mahumapelo. The latest battle is seen as part of the struggle for the control of government resources ahead the party's national electoral conference in Mangaung in December.

Mr Phakoe's murder could also illustrate that many ANC members interested in the matter were increasingly unable to differentiate between individual actions of criminality and the prescribed code of conduct outlined in the party's constitution. Insiders say party members supporting those accused of the murder - gathered outside the court on Tuesday - rejected the court verdict.

Speaking on Wednesday, the day after his father's killers were convicted, Papiki recounts how Mr Phakoe, "bravely" took an effort to meet President Jacob Zuma in Nkandla, KwaZulu-Natal, "to blow a whistle against corrupt activities" at the Rustenburg Local Municipality in North West province.

"I'm very disappointed with the reluctance of the ANC at all levels, because they dragged their feet," he says. "Officials in the ANC should have said something, but they kept quiet and remained distant".

Three years since the murder of Mr Phakoe, the Rustenburg High Court convicted and sentenced former ANC mayor Matthew Wolmarans and his driver, Enoch Matshaba to 20 years and a life sentence in jail, respectively.

Mr Wolmarans is the former executive mayor of Rustenburg Local Municipality, where he is currently the council speaker, which is an indication of his popularity among political circles in the North West's biggest region, Bojanala. He also serves in the ANC provincial executive committee and is a close ally of Mr Mahumapelo.

According to a police report, the presiding judge, Justice Hendricks, said citizens must learn to tolerate different political views, as the deceased was killed because of his opinions. The judge said the court had proved that the murder was premeditated and planned by the accused Mr Wolmarans hiring Mr Matshaba to do the dirty job.

The case changed hands between elite crime investigation teams, who failed to crack it, raising suspicions of political meddling among the sympathisers of the Phakoe family, who accused the police of not being "keen to investigate". The charge against the police was led by the North West Congress of South African Trade Unions, raising tensions on the ground between the party and its alliance partners. Outside court, sessions often turned into political rallies, pitting ANC members supporting the victim against those who sympathised with the suspects against each other.

"Looking at the level of the person who was arrested," says Brig Thulani Ngubane, police spokes-man in North West, "there were always concerns over possibilities of high levels of interference".

But Papiki says he is disappointed with the ANC.

He says the family approached Mr Zuma for help last year, but to no avail. "We went direct to his office with a letter asking for help. But there was not even a reply to our letter."

However, an official in the Presidency who did not want to be named says the letter was received but never reached Mr Zuma because there was not much the president could have done as the matter was still in court.

ANC spokesman Jackson Mthembu says he was not aware of the reported corruption dossier.

stones@bdfm.co.za