In a recently-written and much-reprinted article, Richard Pithouse says that “the ANC is willing to use murder, along with a set of ancillary practices such as torture, to contain popular struggle”.
That’s a fairly unambiguous statement. The ANC are murderers and torturers, and the goal of this murder and torture is to suppress the people of the country. (What Pithouse means by “ancillary practices” is less obvious — writing obnoxious letters to the newspapers? Auditing tax returns? Anyway, it sounds nasty.)
So, assuming that the ANC’s modus operandi is to murder and torture people into silence, that means that they are the same as Pinochet or Assad or, er, George W Bush and Barack Obama (no, wait a minute) well, anyway, they are very bad. This is, essentially, the same argument which you will find on websites like thetruthaboutsouthafrica and stormfront and genocidewatch; that the ANC must be destroyed because they are evil murderers. Which was also, of course, what the apartheid regime said. Now, this does not prove Pithouse wrong, but it is a bit instructive. Why is Pithouse’s discourse so remarkably similar to the discourse of racists, fascists and bloody agents of Western imperialism? Also, given that the ANC is so bad, why is it that they got nearly 63% of the vote in the last election? Is everybody terrified of that torture and murder? And why haven’t the other 37% been tortured or murdered yet?
Perhaps we should take a step back a moment. Political murder is undesirable. Is it commonplace in South Africa, and if so, is it conducted primarily by the ANC?
The short answer to the first question is no, but it has been becoming more common in recent years. The 1980s and early 1990s, as has been forgotten or suppressed, was a time of frequent political murder, most often carried out by agents of the state or its corrupt lackeys such as Inkatha. Revenge killings against such agents also took place, sometimes (though not often) carried out by ANC members with the express authority of the organisation. (A good depiction of ANC murderers is presented in Peter Harris’ In A Different Time.) However, after the collapse of the apartheid regime, the ANC worked very hard to discourage political murder, both from within its ranks and from anywhere else. There’s no real doubt about that.
Have things changed? Has the ANC decided, for no obvious reason, to become murderously totalitarian despite its absolutely overwhelming political dominance in South Africa? Or, assuming that there are more political murders now than there were, say, ten years ago, and that these are carried out predominantly or exclusively by the ANC, is there some other reason for this to be happening?
What kinds of murders are we talking about? There are murders carried out by policemen supposed to control the behaviour of riotous or merely unruly people, who think that the best way to fulfil this purpose is to shoot rubber shotgun rounds into their chests, or drag them behind police cars at speed, or fire semi-automatic rifles at them until told to stop. It is not clear that this state violence can exactly be called ANC murders, except for rhetorical purposes.
What it seems to represent, rather, is a breakdown of governmental control over the instruments of the state; nobody could seriously claim that Ficksburg teachers or Mozambican taxi-drivers represent a menace to the Zuma regime which keeps the ANC NEC awake at night. But it is easy to see how badly led, badly-trained and foolishly motivated police officers could do exceptionally stupid things, sometimes doing it to people who are, or at the time appear to be, opponents of the ANC. And it is also easy to see that the ANC will protect such people, partly because that’s what the state always does. Especially since the ANC isn’t going to admit that it made a big mistake installing incompetent cowboy-brained yahoos in charge of the security forces.
Of course this situation of police murder is a massive, Latin-American-style problem. But it resembles the escadrons de muerte of Rio de Janeiro in the early 1960s much more than it resembles the escadrons de muerte of Buenos Aires in the late 1970s. It is not in itself a sign of a terrorist state.
Then there are the murders carried out by people for party political gains of some kind. The most famous such murder is probably the murder of a leading light in the Cato Crest (Durban) land invasion movement in 2013, whom some person or persons unknown shot. We can assume that this person could well have been murdered by a political opponent, in which case the finger of suspicion must point at an ANC person simply because the Cato Crest land invasion movement is noisily anti-ANC.
So, was this the only such murder in Durban, or in KwaZulu-Natal, in the last few years? Sadly, no. If it were the case that it was the only such murder, of course, this would not mean very much. However, there have been literally dozens of political murders in the region, to say nothing of numerous failed assassination attempts on political leaders.
So doesn’t this prove that the ANC is conducting a holocaust against its political opponents? Well, sadly, no again, because most of the victims of these murders and attempted murders have been members of the ANC. Many others have been leading lights in the National Freedom Party, which is a breakaway group from the Inkatha Freedom Party and which was aligned with the ANC in various municipalities. In other words, there is indeed a culture of political violence, but it is impossible to honestly claim that it is simply a culture of political violence directed by the ANC against political dissidents; rather, it is a culture of violent political intolerance of opposition parties, including even opposition members within the same party.
Which raises one minor question; can we be sure, in the absence of any actual knowledge, that the Cato Crest murder was carried out by the ANC and not by someone from the land-invasion community jealous of the victim’s position? Such things have been known to happen in the Durban ANC, so why not in the land-invasion movement? Of course it is impossible for Pithouse to acknowledge such things, because until they defected to the DA the land-invasion movement was aligned with the Durban academic Trotskyite movement, but the rest of us are under no such constraints.
There are other places where political murders take place, of course. One of the most prominent such places, actually cited by Pithouse, is the so-called platinum belt around Rustenburg in the North-West. In 2012, some ten people were victims of political murders in that area. This year, another seven have been murdered. This cannot be attributed to the residual violence of the Inkatha-ANC wars. Therefore, one would suspect, Pithouse might be correct, and the ANC is operating a murder gang in the area —
Except that all the evidence suggests that the people doing the murders are not doing so out of any allegiance to the ANC. Of the ten murdered in 2012, six were members of the National Union of Mineworkers (associated with the ANC), two were security guards with the Lonmin Corporation (which has Cyril Ramaphosa on its Board of Directors) and two were police officers. Of the seven murdered this year, all were members of the National Union of Mineworkers. It’s almost as if someone who isn’t ANC is murdering ANC supporters. And that’s exactly what is happening, because the murderers are almost certainly members of the Associated Mineworkers and Construction workers’ Union. Which happens to be on strike, and to be fighting against the NUM, and therefore the Trotskyites support it, and therefore Pithouse cannot mention that one of the most prominent sources of political murder is an entity which he supports, and the murders committed by which he presumably exonerates or applauds.
The point here is not that the ANC is innocent and AMCU evil. Rather, what Pithouse is doing is very much what the ANC’s leadership are almost certainly doing, in glossing over murders committed by people whom he supports, and the fact that he does not scruple to accuse his opponents of murders which they may not have committed is a fault of much the same kind. This helps to clarify the problem, which is that political murder is ceasing to become something which is absolutely wrong, and is instead becoming something the merits of which depend entirely on the political allegiances of the victim and the perpetrator. Even in a revolutionary situation this is a deeply problematic standpoint, and even Pithouse has come to realise that we are not in a revolutionary situation. (It is, incidentally, possible that the desperate attempts of the Zumatics to foster the idea that the ANC is both under relentless attack and also a revolutionary organisation, are aimed at making such political violence acceptable to their constituents.)
The other source of political murder is the murder of whistleblowers by corrupt politicians. This is not at all uncommon; it happens in various provinces, most notably in some of the most corrupt ones, Mpumalanga, North-West and Free State. Possibly, also, some of the murders committed in KwaZulu-Natal are murders committed to cover up corruption — there is too little investigation, and the local journalists are too suborned by the local politicians, to be able to tell. But these political murders are not in any way aimed at suppressing dissent; they are aimed at defending greed. This is the kind of murder which the Zumatics would be most likely to condone and conceal. It is, however, probably the least common murder, partly because whistleblowers are so uncommon, and partly because corruption so often goes completely unnoticed by everybody. Also, because ultimately everybody pretends to be against corruption, and this is why this is the kind of political murder which most often faces actual punishment — at least when the guilty people don’t have the highest political connections.
So, yes, political murder is on the rise. And, yes, it is important to challenge it. However, it is also important to understand it. Appropriating it for your own purposes, and exploiting it as part of a political mythology, is no more helpful a way of addressing political murder than Peter Alexander’s treatment of service delivery protests as a nascent sign of revolution because he wishes that it were. Political murder is most often something which arises out of incompetence — incompetent policing, incompetent and intellectually stagnant politics, incompetent corruption which becomes too blatant to conceal by any means other than murder. It is a sign of the degeneracy of our political culture. As such, we need to revitalise our political culture, and then it will be much easier to deal with political murder. But that kind of revitalisation is beyond the capacity of people like Pithouse.