Canalise and Control, a South African legacy
It’s 21 years to the day that the Mmkhonto weSizwe (MK) unit in which I dabbled assembled to discuss what to do about Chris Hani’s assassination. It was obvious that it was not a hit by the state. There was going to be groot kak raining down that did not suit the Nats (National party). This left two options, rogue cops or the white right. The climate for Hani’s assassination was just right.
those heady days when feelings lodged so impetuously in a boy’s heart and gave such powerful reasons for such heedless action
With election talks stalled, the ANC needed a bad cop to whip up the spectre of insurrection again. Hani and Winnie were rumoured to have resuscitated some sort of military capacity across the border in Zim. Someone might just have believed that propaganda.
What I now know about our MK parent body, as a threat, a Zim brigade, even if it existed, would have been comical. However, if one person embodied the idea that the ANC might achieve greater socializing range in its nationalist leap forward, it was Hani. He symbolized the fantasy of ‘no surrender’.
This was captured in the fond hope that heaving crowds of skinny youths, which the ANC switched on and off like taps during the struggle’s constitutionalisation at Codesa, might escape these cynical uses and let flood the cities in redistributive righteousness.
Fantasy, as I say, because I doubt very much the ANC as a whole, including Hani, were at any point really up for that.
On a Sunday, the Sunday Times reported that Clive Derby-Lewis was involved in Hani’s death.
To cut a long story short, four of us chucked hand grenades at Derby-Lewis’ Conservative Party offices. A RGD5 (hand grenade), alarmingly, bounced off a window. Despite this, the results were satisfying although not dramatic.
The mission got a few minutes mention on CNN and, later, we all got a taste of the Internal Security Act. I was put in solitary in Magaliesburg, Tefo in Britz and an unpleasant lieutenant, called Duppie, set about trying to get us to confirm that we were part of the Zim thing. What a farce.
By the time we came out of detention, the ANC supremo, Oliver Tambo, was dead and so was the leader of the Conservative Party, Andre Treurnicht. Dead, not of each others’ supporters, but natural causes.
For Nelson Mandela got off a plane from Transkei, I think, and forbade retaliation. The nation was at a precipice.
At Derby-Lewis’ subsequent trial it emerged that his plan relied on actions exactly like ours. Mass, violent reaction by ANC supporters targeting the suburbs would lead the fence-sitting colonels in the security services to break with De Klerk. A decisive civil war for custody of the land would erupt.
Our idea was related: let us show the white right that the fight would and could be taken directly to them, if that is what they wanted. No more killing our leaders.
Ah, those heady days when feelings lodged so impetuously in a boy’s heart and gave such powerful reasons for such heedless action.
I’ve been following a debate about whether Mandela was a communist and whether the white-dominated SACP called the armed struggle or not. My feelings about the importance of this issue have waxed and waned. For obvious reasons, I do not approach the issue as an anti-communist.
I became deracinated for twenty years and approach my race and ‘people’ as an essentialism sort of forced upon me. I embrace being a Boer in a don’t give a damn gesture. For I am not prepared to go through life as a whinnying liberal, with no biopolitical claims to the land I inhabit.
I loathe the communists of the 1940s – 1970s as posers, adventurists and simpletons more than really effective Stalinists. What ennobled their quest to be famous alone was the oppression they attracted. They were often brave but I cannot escape the feeling that they took history for a ride. They wrote the ANC up as something that it was not. They did it to control. The Party was a white organization.
Marxifying the ANC was a means to their end: a dictatorship by a Politburo of which white Communists were leading members. I cannot pinpoint exactly when they stopped cultivating useful idiots and became the cultivar. But I pity their end as apologists for kleptocractic African capitalism.
The survivors like Kasrils and Turok, (only the most mediocre made it), lack even the discipline to suffer through their mistakes quietly. They join liberals in empty moral gestures about government corruption.
Today, I spoke with an old comrade and he said something about the armed struggle that shocked me. I offer this idea about the function of the armed struggle, whether engineered by a coterie of white commies or not, not in opposition to the idea that the reds were under the ANC bed, although it might seem so, but because sometimes, something can be two things at once. Like Mbeki.
Mbeki was right about how AIDS was about big-pharma marketing pills, fanned by white notions of hyper-sexual Blacks. But he was wrong that, notwithstanding all this, HIV did kill. Or Republicans kind of hate Obama unfairly because he’s black. But because he’s Black, Republican criticism of him is unfairly silenced. Contradictions, both holding true.
At his trial, on the reason for armed struggle, Mandela said:
“Firstly, we believed that as a result of Government policy, violence by the African people had become inevitable, and that unless responsible leadership was given to canalize and control the feelings of our people, there would be outbreaks of terrorism which would produce an intensity of bitterness and hostility between the various races of this country which is not produced even by war.
God, this has managed to escape me. Armed struggle as control of popular insurrection and violence. I have my doubts about whether the masses of the African population in the 1950s and 1960s were widely confident enough or politicized enough, to start terrorizing. But the spontaneous upsurge against pass laws around 1960 of 30000 Black people made the Boers wet their pants.
A panicked crackdown ensued. It was enough also to trigger containment strategies, of the same social forces, from white communists. This sort of containment from within a struggle, through organized displays of militance, works well. I’ve seen it happen many times in strikes and protests of which I have been a part.
Indeed, the idea that ‘armed’ struggle demobilizes ‘the oppressed’ is almost a truism these days.
So, could it be that the commies did engineer a move to armed struggle in their cabals in 1961? But could it also be that this retarded ‘the struggle’ in objective, temporal terms?
Did it not make it so much more difficult for the Nats to give in, now that Black, Green and Gold had a hammer and sickle and AK47 fluttering alongside it in tawdry camps in Zambia and Tanzania?
Would Bantu and Boer not have come to terms far quicker without Bolshies in the mix? In addition, did the Red-Turn not guarantee the Nats decades of Cold War support from the West?
What are the consequences of this retardation of insurrection? And militarization of resistance? Was Luthuli right about the long-term dividends of non-violence?
Twenty years is a long time. The Party vociferously opposes parole for Derby-Lewis, in for 20 of his 25 year sentence. They do this less in spite than to protect custody of Hani’s legacy. Containment, as ever.
Twenty years later, I am now more Boer than comrade myself, positioned thus by events, choices and temperament.
Was ‘bombing’ the CP offices righteous or mad? Or just another armed adventure at the expense of peoples who, inevitably, had to arrive at a settlement?
And what of that settlement? And what of Mandela’s terror of an impatient mass? And how, these days are ‘our people’s’ attitudes towards terror, being canalized and controlled?
The author, Heinrich Bohmke is a writer based in South Africa