THERE is a grave question – how long can President Jacob Zuma, his administration and the ANC escape comparison among the black electorate of the killings of black mineworkers by the police at Marikana on August 16 last year with the Sharpeville massacre, carried out by white police in March 1960?
If that were to happen, South Africa’s political milieu since the first democratic elections in April 1994 would suffer irreversible change.
Sharpeville … Marikana. These two events of mass bloodletting by the forces of the state cannot avoid comparison: both what binds them together, and how they should be discriminated from each other.
The most obvious fact that discriminates them relates to time. The nuclear fallout from the massacre at Sharpeville near Vereeniging on the morning of March 21 1960 was instantaneous. True, that mass killing of 69 black political demonstrators in a few seconds took over 30 years to kill off the white minority dictatorship. But kill it, it did.
Instantly, the landscape of black political life in SA was “changed, changed utterly”, as the poet WB Yeats wrote about another violent event in his native Ireland at Easter 1916, in one of the greatest poems in the English language from the last century.
The peaceful, non-violent philosophy of political protest inherited by the ANC from the philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi, which had brought independence to Gandhi’s native India in 1947, was shot to pieces on that one day in South Africa.
The “winds of change” (in fact a hurricane) had blown.
In the state of emergency which followed soon after the dead of Sharpeville were taken to the mortuary, mass arrests took place, and in this great convocation of the political activists within prison walls, uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK) was born – conceived in a political marriage between the SACP and the ANC – and so too Poqo (later to be called the Azanian National Liberation Army, AZANLA), the insurrectionary wing of the PAC, which had called and organised the demonstration at Sharpeville.
“All changed, changed utterly . . . ” And to this Yeats adds the stark and shocking phrase: “A terrible beauty is born.” Violence begat violence begat violence. With those bullets the ANC and PAC were changed, and with them the fabric of South African history.
Now bullets come from guns under the political control of the ANC.
Zuma was himself baptised metaphorically in the blood of Sharpeville. Arrested in June 1963 as a member of MK and jailed for 10 years on August 12 for “conspiring to overthrow the government”, his presidency could be said to have had its birth in that mass shooting.
What is very different, however, between the shootings of August 2012 and March 1960 is that there has not been any such instantaneous transformation of the political culture.
What is likely, however, is the drip, drip, drip of change in political consciousness.
How many ANC members who canvassed for Zuma before the general election in April 2009 will find they cannot find the same commitment next year?
What effect will there be of public disgust at the blatant corruption and conspicuous consumption of public funds – often associated directly with him, his associates and his tenure of office in general? And how will the shootings at Marikana and the mounting evidence presented to the Farlam Commission find a register in voters’ intentions?
Will fear, or political habit, simply register a tedious roll-over of the past, arising from lack of any single definite mass opposition alternative?
What is significant is that the killings of August 16 last year followed two days after a highly political meeting between the North West Police Commissioner Zukiswa Mbombo and Barnard Mokoena, the executive vice president of human relations and external affairs of the international mining company Lonmin, at whose mine near Rustenburg the striking miners were employed.
This meeting is described as “chilling, in many ways” in an article headed “Marikana massacre: SAPS, Lonmin and time for blood. Miners’ blood” on the Daily Maverick (October 24) by Greg Marinovich, the veteran photojournalist whose investigation at Marikana immediately after the shootings was the first to establish securely the deliberate killing by police of striking miners who were wounded, in hiding or attempting to surrender.
As related by Marinovich and Greg Nicolson, this meeting between Mbombo and Lonmin vice president Mokoena was “recorded and transcribed by Lonmin, and it was discovered on a hard drive along with other bits of evidence that police have chosen to ignore in their representation”.
They report that the transcript contains “unnerving insights into the meeting of minds between the police and Lonmin, and elaborates on the political game at play”.
They describe it as a “dialogue on political influence and the need to curtail political opportunism”.
Among much else, the tape reveals this discussion by the police of the political role of the former head of the ANC Youth League, Julius Malema, now an active opponent of Zuma and the ANC:
Mbombo: “Now our discussion with the national commissioner [National Police Commissioner Riah Phiyega] was around this thing, that say is this thing now happening such that again Malema come and defuse this thing, so that it becomes as if Malema has taken charge of the mining – the mine.”
As Marinovich and Nicolson continue, “Mokoena interrupts to talk about political opportunists wanting to capitalise on the Marikana violence. He says the African People’s Convention’s Themba Godi has contacted him wanting to address the workers. Mbombo said she has also received calls from Godi and other political players looking to get involved.” Then comes the following exchange:
Mokoena: “So I agree with you, commissioner, if we can arrest these people, because the longer it goes it is giving all the other opportunists to comment and seize the opportunity and then it will get out of control.”
Mbombo: “That is it.” There is even discussion of the killing in police hands of the activist Andries Tatane in Ficksburg in April 2011. It raises the question: At what point does a constitutional police service mutate into a political police force? And has this mutation already taken place?
That is the question of questions, between democracy and dictatorship.
It is the line between SA’s democratic constitution of 1996, by comparison with Zuma’s previous status as head of the ANC’s political police force in exile, known among the exiles as Mbokodo, the grindstone, with its prison camps such as Quatro, its interrogatory procedures which included torture, and its suspicion of any dissenting opinion which might be accused of causing unrest or the spreading of rumours (“Unruhestiftung” and “Geruchteverbreitung”, in the language of the East German secret police, the Stasi, which taught its methods to Zuma and his colleagues in Mbokodo).
Shortly after arriving back in SA from exile, Zuma justified Mbokodo’s repression of dissenting political opinions in an interview with New Nation in May 1990: “There were people with instructions to sow discord within our forces and our membership, to raise complaints about petty things and to aid a situation of uncertainty, even with specific instructions to organise mutiny.”
In this politics of paranoia, “raising complaints” became . . . “mutiny”.
In the same way, the Shishita report drawn up by Mbokodo included the following extraordinary statement concerning Mark Shope, the former general secretary of the SA Congress of Trade Unions, and his colleague, Albert Dlomo, who had been deported from Mozambique with Thabo Mbeki and Zuma:
“Objectively these comrades are playing the role of enemy agents or provocateurs despite the fact that they were never formally recruited.”
A person disapproved of politically is turned by a phrase, “objectively”, into “enemy agent”.
Allied for 30 years in exile with a totalitarian superpower, the Soviet Union, which taught its ideology and habits of rule to Mbokodo, this is the issue of issues for the ANC. Is it a constitutional, parliamentary party in a civil society governed by the rule of law?
Or the disguised agency of a new form of dictatorial rule in SA, replicating its intolerance of dissent in exile?
This is the issue of “Zanufication”, which Vanessa Hani, the women’s organiser of the new political party, Agang, raised earlier this month, when she said: “We have seen what happened in Zimbabwe, and Agang SA is determined that we shall not let the ANC Zanufy South African politics . . . Keep your eyes wide-open, citizens, because this government is doing it under your noses.”
Like the ANC and PAC, the National Party government was also changed by the mass shootings of March 1960. From the jaws of death at Sharpeville came 90-day detention, torture as routine, political hangings as routine, mass shootings as routine (such as when school kids demonstrated in Soweto on June 16 1976), political assassinations as routine (Ongopotse Tiro, Matthew Goniwe, Victoria Mxenge, Ruth First, Dulcie September, the names go on), invasions into frontline states as routine, war in Angola, death squads, Vlakplaas, Eugene de Kock, Joe Mamasela, Dr Death.
When that line is crossed, there is no turning back. It is crossed forever.
“Marikana massacre” – that is how the event was described across the world by Sky News.
Change is coming, that is certain. What is not certain is whether this will be change towards greater democracy and accountability of politicians, trade unions and civil servants. Or down the headlong fall to dictatorship – again.
* Paul Trewhela was editor of Freedom Fighter, MK’s underground newspaper during the Rivonia Trial. He was a political prisoner between 1964 and 1967. In exile in Britain he was co-editor of the banned journal, Searchlight South Africa.