Category Archives: repression

Toward Freedom – South Africa: The Politics of Blood

Richard Pithouse, Toward Freedom

It has been just over five years since the South African state massacred thirty-four striking miners under the washed out blue of a winter afternoon. That event has come to mark a decisive rupture in the standing of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) in South Africa and abroad.

During the mass struggles of the 1980s the ANC came, for many people, to be entwined with the very idea of the nation and its aspirations. But five years after the massacre there is a general sense that the vision of collective emancipation that was once widely thought to animate the ANC has collapsed. It has been replaced with a politics of brazen venality undergirded with organized dishonesty, slander and violence. The party, and the state it manages, are increasingly seen as more of a predatory excrescence on society than an expression of society – as a route to personal enrichment and a mechanism for exercising social control in a context of mass impoverishment and escalating dissent.  Continue reading

S. Africa accused of spying on civil society groups

South African intelligence agencies have been accused of illegally spying on civil society groups and community leaders in the country.

“Intelligence officials are reportedly calling people working for civil society groups and asking them for information about the groups in exchange for money,” Murray Hunter, a spokesperson for the Right2know campaign, told.

He said that, although intelligence agencies had a legitimate role to play, they also at times viewed certain activists as threats to the state.

“Our report primarily looks at physical surveillance, for example, where officials call and ask activists when they will be attending their meetings,” he said. Continue reading

Daily Maverick: Marikana murders: The world now believes.

Marikana murders: The world now believes.

by Greg Marinovich

As survivors of the violence at Small Koppie and the veld around it give their eyewitness accounts, there is no longer doubt: Among the policemen deployed at Marikana on 16 August, some intended murder.

We are willing to believe that the televised police shooting at the crowd which reacted to being penned in and tear-gassed, was the result of fear, bad organisation and poor intelligence. Once those policemen are on the stand, we will have some idea as to what their orders were and what they intended to do.

Yet the miners who were there do not see it that way at all. They believe they – and especially their leadership – were being targeted.

Analysis of the footage certainly lends credence to both points of view.

But what happened afterwards is where the forces of law and order degenerate into another force altogether. One that breaks down the very fabric of trust between a citizenry and the instruments of state that are meant to ensure those citizens’ rights and freedoms.

In Marikana, the state has pitted itself against the very citizens it is created by and is intended to serve. Our elected politicians seem to have taken on the role of defenders of a police action. We are, without exaggeration, seeing the emergence of a police state.

As one of the survivors of the massacre, Zeakes*, recalled, “I was so afraid. It was the first time I am hearing the sound of a lot of bullets like that. Other splinters were coming on my head. As the cops approached through the bush I said to myself, I am going to die now.”

Zeakes was afraid because he had just seen two fellow miners stand up with their arms in the air, trying to surrender. They were both shot down.

Speaking about what happened after they had been arrested at Small Koppie, “Another policeman was holding a kierrie, and hitting anyone while we were lying down, he was saying, ‘Ja, you cop killers, you cop killers, you think that you are going to survive by doing this?’”

Zeakes recalled another policeman saying, “You are useless people … if it was in Zimbabwe, we could just set … petrol on top of you; and set fire on top of you while you are still lying down there. Because you are cop killers. You are killing government people. Innocent cops are killed by you.”

Jackson*, another miner, said, “I saw that the hippo that running over a man, until his head was… fucked up. He was one of those dying down here. “

While he was hiding in bushes, Jackson said he heard police yelling, “’You are in the shit, we are going to kill you here.’ Those guys were Xhosa, I hear from the language, pure Xhosa from the Eastern Cape.”

While on the ground in the aftermath, Zeakes said he hard two policemen bragging in SeSotho about shooting the miners, like it was a competition. “I wanted to take him from my angle with my 9mm, but you already took him down with your R4 (sic).”

We know that at least 34 people died that day. We known that most were not killed in the initial incident. They were killed subsequently, over time. Hunted across the veld and in the boulders like animals.

Other journalists have unearthed more survivors, witnesses to cold-blooded murder. Their accounts match the accounts of the Daily Maverick witnesses.

That this occurred is no longer debatable. It happened.

As did the torture of the survivors in prison. There are at least 94 cases opened against the police.

What we do know:

There were indeed 14 murdered at Small Koppie. Let us take the upper estimate for how many died at Wonderkop – 12. That means a further 10, at least, were killed in the veld, some chased by police on horseback, others fired on by policemen in helicopters.

Whatever threat the policemen on the ground believed the crowd posed when they surged forward off the mountain, after the initial fusillade the miners trying to run away posed no threat.

This begs the big question:

Why were deadly Tactical Response Teams deployed in such numbers?

Why were so few crowd control weapons on display?

Who issued the deployment instructions?

Who gave the police commanders approval to go “to tactical phase”? (According to still-circumstantial evidence, the authorisation to use full force, including live ammunition, was issued a day before.)

The workers gathered at Marikana live in shacks they have built for themselves, or rent from shacklords. Their tin rooms lack insulation, water, toilets or electricity. Others live in the hostel compounds the mine provides. Callers to a radio show told a Lonmin spokesperson that the hostels are squalid and not even waterproof. Indeed, from the outside one can see the roofs are rusted through.

The miners in the shacks choose not to invest in their Marikana dwellings. They want to use the majority of their earnings to support their families back home, whether in the Eastern Cape, Lesotho or Mozambique. They know their time at the mines will not be long – they age quickly, mostly from silicosis and other dust-related disease that enfeeble these once strong men.

They live and work under conditions of grave institutional violence. And when they protested that they were not being paid enough for this, the state unleashed paramilitary units against them.

We have yet to hear from our politicians that the police are wrong. We have not heard anything, except that Marikana was a tragedy.

Let us be clear: It was no tragedy; it was murder, murder of the underclass at the behest of those in power, be that power economic or political, or both.

And we believe there is a cover-up of the events underway. The Inter Ministerial work is a sop. Something to soak up time before Mangaung, to allow the current ruling elite to get through this little difficulty.

There is an entire chain of policemen who will have to be fired or resign.

There are ministers who have to resign or be fired.

There are people in the NPA who have to resign or be fired.

And there are those who have to be brought before a court of law for what they did, and what they ordered others to do.

And no, this country cannot wait any longer. No matter how fair and thorough, the Farlam commission will take well into 2013.

This nation needs the individuals who authorised the violence and who executed the miners on Small Koppie known. Now. They need to be ring-fenced from positions of power with greatest urgency.

Miners and their families need to be protected from the police and others in power who stand to lose massively should the full truth become known.

President Zuma needs to personally be involved in settling the dispute between miners and Lonmin. The future of SA’s mining, its revenues, hundreds of thousand of jobs and the wellbeing of the country can spiral down to an abyss in a matter of weeks. This is not the local Rustenburg mining issue anymore; this is a national emergency. President Zuma has no greater task than that, Mangaung included.

In the wake of Marikana, we need ask our selves what kind of society we want to be: a police state, a populist haven or a country that became much better after the horrors of killing its own people made us all wake up.

The choice is ours alone.

*Not their real names.

The South African Police Service and the Public Order War

Please visit the original article at Think Africa Press to follow the hyperlinks in the original version

The South African Police Service and the Public Order War

by Chris McMichael

In early 2010, the South African Police Service (SAPS) began a formal process of remilitarisation. At the time this was depicted as a necessary project of reasserting ‘command and control’ and ‘discipline’ within the service to better enable the police to fight violent criminals.

However, in the last two years the SAPS has become more associated with a war on the wider public. The Independent Police Investigations Directorate has seen a substantial increase of deaths in police custody and reports of abuse and torture by officers. Last year, the killing of protester Andries Tatane brought national attention to the increased lethality of police crowd control tactics. In the province of KwaZulu-Natal this year alone, there has already been the trial of the Cato Manor Organised Crime Unit for extrajudicial killings and the shooting of unarmed demonstrators in Umlazi.

The cumulative effect is to suggest that the SAPS is reverting back to its apartheid role as the brute enforcer of state power.

Last resort or matter of course?

This appears to have reached a new nadir in the killing of 34 miners at the Lonmin Mine in Marikana on August 16. By the time of the shootings, the strike had already led to fatalities with ten people, including two policemen, dying in clashes between members of the government-affiliated National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and the breakaway Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU).

The SAPS have maintained that the shootings only happened after the strikers refused to peacefully dissemble and that lethal force was approved as a last resort as armed strikers attempted to swarm police lines. This has been reiterated by President Jacob Zuma and much of the South African media which has presented the killings as an unavoidable tragedy in which law enforcement was forced to take deplorable measures. Despite this and despite the fact the national police command acknowledged that its officers killed the strikers, the National Prosecuting Authority originally charged the arrested miners with the murder of their colleagues, only dropping the charges and beginning to release the workers today.

Against the narrative of the police using force only as a last resort, however, a growing body of evidence suggests that rather than being an act of self-defence, the killings were part of a premeditated plan to stop the strike. Interviews with miners point to the police using barbed wire to ‘kettle’ the strikers, who were then hunted down and shot as they attempted to escape from police gunfire and teargas, while wounded survivors were run over by armoured vehicles. Additionally, allegations have emerged which suggest that the autopsies of the dead prove that most were killed while fleeing. There is also recent evidence, found by The Daily Maverick, that 14 of the miners may have been murdered by police 300 metres away from the main site of the clashes at close range and with little sign of struggle. Furthermore, evidence of systematic police torture against detained strikers in the last week hardly portrays the SAPS as an institution which only uses violence as a last resort.

According to an official statement from the National Education, Health, and Allied Workers’ Union, “Our police service has adopted and perfected the apartheid tactics and the militarisation of the service, and encouraged the use of force to resolve disputes and conflicts…. all police officers who deal with protests must be taught…disciplined ways of controlling…the protesters because we cannot afford to have a police force that is slaughtering protesters in the new dispensation.”

Echoing this sentiment, security analysts described the shootings as the product of a poor training regime in which public order expertise has been replaced by a focus on maximum force and crime-fighting. Instead of using specialised forms of containment and negotiation, police take the combative stance of aggressively breaking up gatherings and demonstrations. In one particularly bizarre intervention, the former commander of an apartheid riot squad claimed that the police should have used the ‘less’ confrontational tactic of “popping” individual miners with snipers.

Friends and foes

However, in focusing exclusively on the issues of tactics and training, many of the commentaries portray the police as an apolitical organisation whose role is simply to adjudicate in social disputes and who can be made less violent by the correct technocratic fixes. As Jane Duncan argues, this ignores the role of the SAPS as an intrinsically political institution which is in the business of “suppressing dissenting voices, especially (but not exclusively) those outside the [ruling] ANC-SACP-COSATU [African National Congress-South Africa Communist Party-Congress of South African Trade Unions] alliance. The problem predates the remilitarisation of the police, although remilitarisation has undoubtedly intensified it.”

These tactics have ranged from ‘invisible’ forms of repression such as abuse of the legal system to deny permits to demonstrate and heightened surveillance, all the way to the use of live ammunition and torture. This starkly contrasts with how the police treat protests organised from within the governing tripartite alliance. Public disturbances and violence at COSATU and ANC strikes and marches are for the most part treated with kid gloves. A recent strike by Metro Police in Durban, in which officers blockaded roads, assaulted motorists and allegedly threatened to “burn down” the city hall, for example, was met only with warnings of disciplinary action.

However, the authoritarian response to political movements which attempt to organise outside the state is not exclusive to the ANC. The Democratic Alliance party (DA) has exhibited comparable tactics in its governance of the Western Cape, ranging from the violence which accompanied its attempts to evict residents from Hangburg to the almost farcically draconian clampdown of the small “Take back the commons” event in Cape Town.

A war on the poor?

This violence against political dissent can be considered as a front in what many independent social movements are calling the “war on the poor” in which the police, often aided by South Africa’s sprawling private security sector, “are here to drive the poor out of the cities, contain us in the human dumping grounds and repress our struggles.”

In many respects, this repression appears to repeat the work of colonial and apartheid authorities under a new guise. For instance, the Lonmin massacre joins many other historical incidents of the state using force to protect the property and power of South Africa’s mining sector. But while interpreting the recent upsurge in state violence through these historical continuities is inevitable given the horrors of South Africa’s recent past, the remilitarisation of law enforcement has taken place under a very different context than the police state of the apartheid decades.

South Africa is now formally a constitutional democracy even though, as the ‘war on the poor’ demonstrates, the enjoyment of these rights is still circumscribed by class and race. And whereas aggressive crowd control in the apartheid years was the response of a white supremacist state trying to crush insurrection, state violence today emerges from a democratically-elected government attempting to contain localised community protests and revolts. But, like their apartheid predecessors, state officials often rely on paranoid claims about mysterious ‘forces’ provoking violence rather than acknowledging it as the result of frustration around South Africa’s obscene levels of inequality, the failure of government to deliver meaningful socio-economic emancipation to the country’s poor and black majority, and the arrogance and cruelty of the state and big business.

The enemy within

The militarisation of police therefore is not about mobilising to win a protracted war against a specific enemy but is reflective of transnationally-floating concepts of ‘asymmetric war’ in which state forces engage in ‘low-intensity’ ( but still very violent) conflicts with a range of non-state actors from ‘terrorists’ and armed gangs to ‘insurgent’ publics.

This is undergirded by a belief in the tactical interchangeability between fighting a war and domestic policing. The last few years has seen increased integration between the police and the South Africa National Defence Force (SANDF), which has included joint ‘security operations’ and the exchange of equipment. Within the SAPS itself, there has been a focus upon training up paramilitary SWAT-type units which bridge the gap between police and military functions. Two of these units, the Special Task Force and the Tactical Response Team, were on site at Lonmin. The Special Task Force predates the remilitarisation of the police and is considered one of the most elite special units in the world and has conducted training missions with the Special Operations Command of the US military. However, they are trained for hostage and terrorist situations, not crowd dispersal or control. It is notable that miners mistook them for soldiers due to their uniforms.

By contrast, the Tactical Response Teams, which are assigned to precincts throughout the country and which are recognisable by their berets, are trained for both urban and rural combat and ‘advanced crowd management’. These units were intended to be a flagship for the remilitarisation of the SAPS and to simultaneously “hunt down criminals” and maintain public order. However, the various teams have gained a reputation for abusive force. Video evidence captured the Gauteng Tactical Response Team engaged in a military-style campaign after civil unrest in a township near Johannesburg, including torture and door-to-door raids, while the media acquired CCTV footage of response team members attacking bar patrons in the city. The Mpumalanga division has also faced a lawsuit for allegations of severe brutality.

While the government’s militarisation of the service has been presented as a response to the dangers posed by armed criminals and terrorists, the evidence suggests that such units are designed to be rapidly targeted inward.

Keeping the order

National Police Minster Mthethwa has suggested that because of historically-rooted “sensitivities”, South Africa’s population are too sceptical of the police’s ability to implement crowd control with ‘‘the human touch”. He says: “People criticise us for using water cannons. We have introduced those techniques because that’s not your maximum force. But you’ll hear people criticising that, saying these things were used under apartheid”.

Conscious of the publicity fallout from Marikana, the state has gone into public relations overdrive and attempted to create a narrative which exonerates and legitimates the actions of the police, partly through presenting the miners as a deranged mob. But there is little indication that the massacre will cause a rethink on the project of treating ‘public order’ as a new form of warfare.

SACSIS: Facing Reality

Facing Reality

by Richard Pithouse

The African National Congress has been captured by a predatory elite that is cynical, corrupt, ruthless and reckless. It is actively reinscribing unbridgeable inequalities into the deep structures of our society. The transit camps and new townships in the cities, the enduring ways in which the former Bantustans remain separate and unequal zones in the countryside, the state of public education and the growth of unemployment and precarious work all mark out this out with undeniable clarity. Workers live in shacks while their bosses gather unimaginable wealth. There is an abundance of land for game farms and golf courses but from Johannesburg to Cape Town the state sends out its men with guns to illegally and violently dispossess people that seize just enough land, often wasteland, to erect a one room shack.

Attempts to find some ground for basic survival in an inhuman society are treated as criminal and consequent to sinister conspiracies. The ANC is violently intolerant of independent thought and organisation amongst the grassroots constituency in whose name it assumes a natural and permanent right to speak and act. It arrests, beats and tortures its grassroots critics. It fabricates criminal cases against them, drives them out of their homes and openly threatens to kill them.

Neither the fact that there are and have been many governments far worse than the ANC nor the reality that progress, sometimes profound progress, has been made in many areas since the end of apartheid are sufficient to redeem the party. After all it itself has, in its better moments, invited us to judge it on the basis of the Freedom Charter, the Constitution and, most of all, the aspirations of our people for dignified lives. The increasing frequency of the suggestion that distance from apartheid rather than proximity to some positive aspiration is the proper metric with which to take the measure of our progress is simply another mark of defeat.

Jacob Zuma and Julius Malema, both evidently corrupt and authoritarian men, present us with deeply masculinised, and at times even militarised, images of a mode of personal power that seeks to ground itself in the symbolic economy of violence rather than democratic organisation and debate and to legitimate and express itself outside of both liberal democratic institutions and popular democratic practices. Of course its true that the ANC retains the supports of progressives, liberals and technocrats of various sorts. But while there are prospects for progress in some areas, like health care, the reality is that in most instances bringing these people into various projects within the party is a mode of legitimation and containment rather than sincere engagement.

Different people will, on the basis of both their principles and experiences, call the precise moment at which the ANC became indefensible differently. But now that the very public massacre in Marikana has followed the very public murder of Andries Tatane – and now that the grotesque authoritarianism within the police, the union movement and the Communist Party has been openly laid out in our public sphere – only the wilfully naïve and the cynical can sustain their professions of faith in the democratic aspirations of the ANC.

Neither the fact that some among the striking miners had killed nor the fact that as a group they had prepared themselves for battle justifies their slaughter. The strikers were certainly not killed to defend the sanctity of life or to contain political engagement in liberal democratic institutions. The ANC, from Zuma to the trade unions, routinely acts outside of those institutions. And when people have been killed in xenophobic attacks, or in the midst of COSATU strikes, the state does not respond with mass slaughter. A trade union federation aligned to the ANC can destroy property, intimidate people and beat people up in public without a violent response from the state. Yet a poor people’s movement that organises independently of the ANC and engages in protest action that results in no harm to any person, makes no threats of harm against any person and does no damage to property is quite likely to be subject to serious police violence. This reality is at the heart of the matter. The ANC’s support is fracturing amongst both organised workers and communities and its response is typically characterised by recourse to conspiracy theory and then slander and violence rather than self-reflection and dialogue.

There is no doubt that this massacre marks a historic turning point. But while it is essential that
we take full and collective measure of the ANC’s failures it is equally essential that we do not take the easy option of only ascribing the distance between our faltering aspirations for a democratic and just society and the altogether more bleak and brutal realities of South African life to the ANC.

Party politics is a farce in which different factions of the elite pretend to represent the people as a whole. There is no party that seriously speaks to, let alone for, the aspirations of the majority. And civil society also has a lot to account for. The arrogance that undergirds its habitual conflation of NGO power with popular power and the routine and often racialised paternalism with which it frequently engages or presumes to speak for poor people is predicated on a simple contempt for the equal humanity of people who are poor. Its widespread reliance on technocratic and legal solutions to deeply political problems has proven to be both culpably naïve and complicit with the professionalisation of certain modes of political engagement that has entrenched the expulsion of ordinary people from our public sphere.

The media, with its systemic disregard for the equal humanity of poor people, also shares some of the responsibility for bringing us to this point. The academy, in which the elitism and personal ambition that undergirds much of the attraction to the constituted power of international institutions, the state, donors and NGOs rather than attempts to develop solidarity with the oppressed, and especially solidarity that can contribute to the constitution of nodes of popular and democratic counter-power, is also culpable. Religious leaders have often preferred to share the stage with politicians rather than to be present amidst the day to day suffering and struggles of their congregations.

The left has often been far more committed to building a base on the NGO and donor terrain than to building solidarity with actually existing popular struggles. When it has engaged popular struggles it has often done so in a manner that is profoundly patronising and, in some cases, more about legitimating its own donor backed projects rather than building real solidarity. It has also failed to mark a clear distance from the real authoritarianism and, in some cases outright thuggery, that it has long sheltered and sometimes even celebrated.

Business, which has been corrupt at the highest levels and which is often ruthlessly predatory, is deeply implicated in the morass into which we have descended. Middle class South Africa likes to think of itself as virtuous, hard-working and untainted by the excesses and corruption of the really powerful people in our society. But when the fear of the poor and contempt for the poor that often swirls just beneath the surface is masked that mask is seldom firmly fixed.

This massacre is no tragedy. It is an outrage that will leave a permanent stain on our society. It is also an outrage that was perpetrated by an increasingly predatory and repressive regime. But while it is essential to face up to the reality of what the ANC has become it is equally essential to acknowledge that the ANC is not solely responsible for the situation in which we find ourselves. It is time for a collective facing up to the broader realities of our society and a collective rethinking of a way forward.