Massacre at Marikana
19 August 2012
RW Johnson on the political context of, and reaction to, the killings
The leader of the breakaway Associated Mine and Construction Workers Union, Joseph Mathunjwa, was in tears as he related how he had pleaded with the thousands of striking miners who had been squatting on the Wonderkop hill for a week at Lonmin's Marikana mine in South Africa's dry North West. "I pleaded with them - (I told them) the writing is on the wall, they are going to kill you." For there was no doubt that the police meant business.
Earlier in the week two policemen had been slashed to death, another hospitalized and seven other people killed. The police were in a grim mood, wore bulletproof vests and metal helmets, were armed to the teeth with automatic weapons and had brought a whole fleet of Nyala armoured cars with them. They had announced that Thursday was D-day, that whatever happened the protest would be forcibly ended that day. In the end about 200 of the men rushed down at the police who fired indiscriminately at them, killing 34, injuring 78. Another 259 were arrested.
The director of the South African Institute of Race Relations, John Kane-Burman immediately compared the event to the Sharpeville massacre in 1960. There was, he said, "clear evidence that policemen shot randomly into the crowd. There is also clear evidence of their continuing to shoot after a number of bodies can be seen dropping and others turning to run." But this time the Left was in favour of the massacre.
Dominic Tweedie of the Communist University, Johannesburg, commented "This was no massacre, this was a battle. The police used their weapons in exactly the way they were supposed to. That's what they have them for. The people they shot didn't look like workers to me. We should be happy. The police were admirable." The Communist Party's North West section demanded the arrest of AMCWU's Muthunjwa and his deputy, James Kholelile.
"The troubles at the mine have their root in the ongoing disintegration of the National Union of Mineworkers", says Charles Van Onselen, a leading labour historian."The NUM is the biggest union and its leaders provide the labour federation, Cosatu, the Communist Party and the African National Congress with many of their leaders. So this is the entire spinal column of the ANC alliance which is fragmenting. The police have been quite routinely tolerant of violence - as during the xenophobic riots when over 60 were killed - but this time they drew a line in the sand because that is what the NUM and the ANC wanted. You'll note the complete absence of modern police methods of riot control."
The last time a NUM leader attempted to address the Marikana workers he was stoned and lost an eye. Thus this time the NUM leader was only willing to speak through a megaphone from the safety of a police armoured car. He spoke somewhat disparagingly of the workers, saying they were mainly uneducated and backward tribesmen from Lesotho and the Transkei because "township boys" were unwilling to do the dreadfully hard and dangerous work of rock-diggers miles beneath the ground.
"The fact that the locals don't want the mine jobs mean the mines depend on migrant workers", says Van Onselen. "That means mining hostels, which greatly reinforce the system of age cohorts and impi-like tribal behaviour. It's also very striking that they were demanding an increase of over 300% - a clearly millenarian demand. And there were a lot of sangomas (witchdoctors) up there on that hill for the last few days and you can see on film that many of the workers were wearing muti (magic charms) of one kind or another. Typically, the idea behind such muti is that it makes you invincible against your enemies."
South Africa's President Jacob Zuma cut short his visit to Mozambique to fly back to face the crisis. The clear similarity of Thursday's events to the notorious Sharpeville massacre is hugely embarrassing to the ANC. The furious attempts by the Left to suggest that the striking workers were themselves the villains of the piece will, moreover, merely strengthen the impression that this was a massacre carried out at the Left's behest.
The North West SACP claimed that "the chaos and anarchy we see is being used as the entry point for recruitment for AMCWU" and argued that the AMCWU leaders were "the planners and leaders of this anarchic and worker to worker violence", thus echoing almost word for word the rationalisations once used by Afrikaner Nationalists for the similar actions of the apartheid police.
The Solidarity trade union organizer Gideon Du Plessis, speaking from Marikana, told the Sunday Times "The ironic thing is that the NUM and the ANC would clearly like to see Lonmin sack all 3,000 of the strikers and recruit a whole new labour force because that would smash AMCWU at the mine. That would mean closing down one of the world's biggest platinum mines for quite a while, but it's probably what will happen."
President Zuma's statement that he was "saddened and dismayed" by the Marikana deaths (the police and government are very touchy at any use of the word "massacre") is echoed by most opinion-leaders here. There is a palpable sense of shock that South Africa has not escaped its history: after the abandonment of apartheid, the introduction of democracy, a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to deal with the crimes of the bad old days, after all Mandela's grace and forgiveness, the country finds itself back in a situation where armed police mow down protesting Africans - on camera.
The most striking thing about the reaction is the lack of it. The day after the shootings neither the ANC, the trade union federation Cosatu nor the Communist Party had any comment at all in their daily bulletins. The state broadcaster, the SABC, is equally reserved and even the private e-TV station is extremely guarded and careful. A number of NGOs have issued statements deploring the shootings and calling for an enquiry, as has the opposition Democratic Alliance. Press editorials are also extremely cautious.
The problem is simply that to denounce the police is to say in effect that the government are murderers, while to say that the police were justified is tantamount to saying that some of one's fellow countrymen deserved to get shot en masse. The Star (Johannesburg) publishes an opinion piece applauding the police - "A very powerful message has been sent out and it is about time a little discipline was restored into the mind-set of South Africans", which echoes some right-wing white opinion which feels that the apartheid police were perhaps unjustly criticised for their forceful implementation of law and order. For such thoughts become thinkable again now.
There is a strong popular sense that Zuma's South Africa is effectively leaderless. Zuma is widely viewed as a do-nothing President, anxious only to keep his balance among the ANC factions and more interested in his harem of wives and accumulating vast wealth for his family. When Trevor Manuel, the Planning Minister, introduced his Plan to Parliament last week he warned that if it was not forcefully implemented the country "could slide backwards", which many took to mean that he thought that was already happening. When an Opposition leader stood up and said "This is a fine Plan but who exactly is going to implement it?" there was simply a roar of laughter from the whole assembly.
Reuel Khoza, the black head of Nedbank, has criticised South Africa's "strange breed of leaders" who are, he says, completely incapable of managing a modern state. He has also warned that under Zuma the criminalization of the state is proceeding apace. The influential Afrikaans daily Die Burger suggests that the mine shootings are another example of how the Zuma government is merely blundering about and is "losing its grip".
The Afrikaner historian Hermann Giliomee says "The ANC has created its own culture of violence and impunity. It allows all manner of violent behaviour within its own ranks. The assassination of ANC leaders by their rivals within the party has become a commonplace. Almost never is anyone punished. So it's hardly surprising that other people feel free to take up arms. The whole country is not very far from anarchy."
The official commission of enquiry will face all these conundrums. It is in the highest degree unlikely that it will conclude that the Marikana miners were shot because the National Union of Mineworkers is desperate to prevent the further erosion of the labour movement on which the ANC depends.
It is also most unlikely to denounce the police. But even if the commission confines itself to technical issues about police tactics it will not be able to contain the immense shock wave caused by the shootings. Julius Malema, the expelled ANC youth leader, was quickly on the scene at Marikana yesterday and he will only be the first to begin translating this shock into a political dynamic which will, inevitably, be aimed at toppling Jacob Zuma.
On massacres forgotten and remembered
23 October 2012
Piet Swanepoel says no doubt Marikana will eventually be blamed on the Afrikaners as well
OF MASSACRES AND HOW SOME ARE (not) REMEMBERED.
Mr. R.W. Johnson's article on Marikana, Sharpeville and the Pondo uprisings was very interesting and deserves to be read by anyone trying to make sense of events in Africa.
Like Johnson I also trace my involvement or interest in African political developments to Durban. Unfortunately we were not contemporaries there - I arrived in Durban in 1948 and was transferred to South West Africa in January 1961, whereas it seems that his involvement only started in 1960.
We were in different camps as well. He was a budding Marxist and I was a Special Branch detective. Our backgrounds also differed completely. He was English, (albeit our local branch of the species), whereas I was (still am) an Afrikaner.
We seem to have known the same people, for example the Arensteins, but when I came to know Rowley and Jacqueline they were living in a block of flats where there would have been no room for visiting Pondo chiefs.
Their neighbours, I remember, were Errol and Dorothy Shanley, both also listed communists like the Arensteins. What I heard only recently was that Ronnie Kasrils, our former Minister of Intelligence, and Jacqueline Arenstein, were cousins.
We also knew the same places. Like Lakhani Chambers, where the ANC had a small little office, sometimes unoccupied for weeks, whereas the Natal Indian Congress (NIC) offices in the same building were spacious with a big staff under M.P.Naicker, a very committed communist.
Some time in the early fifties I had been one of a small party of detectives, led by a visiting American intelligence officer, who entered Lakhani Hall late one night and planted a then state of the art bug in the ceiling..
Unfortunately the bug was never very effective because of the long distance to our wire recorder at the Smith Street Police station.
This article is about the massacres Mr. Johnson did not deal with, but his references to Durban in the sixties make me remember so many names which white people never knew, but to us in the Special Branch were household names.
Names like Albert John Luthuli, Massabalala Bonny Yengwa, Pitness Humphry Simelane and Wilson Zamindlela Conco. This latter fellow was a pain in the neck to me. He was the treasurer of the ANC in Natal. His father, Harry Conco, was a successful bus owner who operated a fleet of busses which passed Highflats in Southern Natal every day when I was stationed there in 1947.
Why, I asked myself, was my father a poor unschooled Boer, whose son had to start life as a labourer on the Railways, and this smart Aleck's father a rich businessman who could send his kid to varsity to become a doctor?
But enough of that. This is about the massacres you never talk about. First of all you need to know what I call a massacre. I take my cue from Funk and Wagnells which defines a massacre as the indiscriminate killing in numbers of the unresisting or defenceless.
Johnson, as to be expected, does not deal with the most terrible massacre in the history of South Africa. English-speaking people do not share with Afrikaners, the grief and pain at the remembrance of the murders of Piet Retief and his party of some hundred Voortrekkers and their non-white grooms at King Dingane's kraal on February 6th, 1838.
They had been invited into the kraal by the King and requested to leave their firearms with their horses, so they were absolutely defenceless when the King gave the order to have them killed.
The killing of Retief and his men was only the lesser part of the brutal murders of that week. Immediately after they had clubbed their victims to death, Dingane's impis were dispatched to attack the old men, women and children and servants who were waiting for Retief and his party's return.
41 Boer men, 56 Boer women, 185 Boer children and 200 Coloured and African servants were killed in the vicinity of where the town of Weenen (Weeping) stands today.
What saddens an Afrikaner like me is how a modern liberal English writer deals with the massacre I've described here. Anthony Sampson, in his Mandela - the authorized Biography, appears never to have heard of them.
Instead he writes "16 December was Dingane's day, which commemorated the Afrikaners' massacre of Zulus in 1838". It It is unbelievable, but the Battle of Blood River has now become an Afrikaner massacre of Zulus!
Thousands of well-armed Zulu warriors attacked a laager in which some 300 Afrikaners were determined to defend themselves. Their primitive front-loader rifles enabled them to fight off the Zulus but that now becomes a massacre!
Another series of events which have been described by some people as massacres took place in Durban in January 1949. These events, like the Weenen massacres, are not frequently mentioned any more, but being one of the few remaining witnesses to the first act in that drama, I think people might be interested in what I remember of it.
As I said, it was January 1949. I had just progressed from being a detective probationer to a fully fledged detective constable. I was not yet 21 years old so I could not be issued with a firearm. (In those years detectives were issued with .38 pistols). I was on the Theft from Motor cars squad, a small unit and had just completed a motor cycle with side-car course and been issued a licence to drive a Harley Davidson.
We, child detectives, were tutored by older hands and Zulu colleagues. We knew absolutely nothing about politics or race relations or Marxism. We lived as we'd grown up. Zulu colleagues told you stories of what was going on in their communities and you told them what white people were saying.
The big story on the Zulu side was that some wealthy Indian young men were taking advantage of young Zulu girls, getting them pregnant, but refusing to marry them or pay maintenance for the children.
Only a small number of such misdeeds had apparently been committed, but it was a nice juicy type of story. None of us regarded it as anything serious, until one morning the Zulu detectives insisted on seeing the chief of the CID. There was going to be something terribly serious happening near the Bus Centre at the Indian market, they reported.
A group of men were preventing bus drivers from departing from the centre, leaving thousands of African passengers stranded in the centre. Many of them were dock workers who depended on busses to take them to the docks in Point Road. And agitators were busy among the passengers. The talk was that the time had come to rid the country of the Indians.
There was not much the CID chief and the District Commandant could do. They verified the fact that all the busses arriving at the Bus Centre near the Indian market were prevented from departing and that thousands of people were consequently massing up in the Centre. For some reason which I never really understood they decided that all the detectives at the Smith Street Police station were to be deployed in the Indian business quarter to observe what was happening. We were loaded into a few Black Marias.
If I remember correctly, I was dropped in Leopold Street, which led off from the Bus Centre to Grey Street, the heart of the Indian business centre. I stood on the pavement feeling very lonely.
We were all instructed to take up positions about 50 yards apart. The street had become eerily quiet. All the Indian shopkeepers and their families had retreated to their flats above their shops which were all locked, but in those days, unprotected by burglar fencing.
From the Bus Centre, which was approximately 300 yards from where I was standing, roars could be heard and suddenly what I thought were a million people filled the street in a mad rush in my direction.
They screamed and ululated and I knew the end of the world had come. Most of them had wooden "kieries" and these they used to smash every shop window in their way. At this stage they were not looting the contents of the shop windows. They were content to destroy the windows and did not attempt to enter further into the shops.
They were clearly in a hurry to destroy the shop window of every one of the hundreds of Indian shops in the area. And in the next hour or two they did that. Not a singleshot was fired at them. It would have been suicidal to interfere with them.
The weird thing was that they never even threatened me or any of my colleagues as I later established. Many of them stopped next to me for a few seconds and advised me to arrange that the ships in the harbour were to be instructed to receive all the Indians in Natal to take them back to their Motherland!
In the days which followed the mood changed and the rioting became very serious. Many innocent Indian people were killed and their shops looted.
Policemen were flown in from the Rand to try and restore order and eventually even Marines from the Navy with machine guns were deployed. Curfews were enforced and people ignoring them were shot.
It was a sad time. For me the saddest part came afterwards. It was an article I read years later in an American magazine. The real cause of these tragedies, it claimed, were the policies of the Afrikaners who had taken over the country the year before! In Durban, at that time, there was not a single Afrikaner councilor.
I have no doubt that eventually Marikana will be blamed on us also.