'South Africa and the ANC - Pallo Jordan Speaks Out
Pallo Jordan on the Massacres at Bisho (1992) and Marikana
Action for Southern Africa - Peace, Justice, Solidarity
September 13, 2012
[Moderator's Note: Pallo Jordan's speech at the Bisho massacre
memorial lecture in King William's Town, Eastern Cape, on
September 7, 2012]
Like so many of the landmarks along our long walk to freedom,
September 7th 1992 does not mark a happy occasion. It was day
on which the political and social forces striving to give
birth to a democratic South Africa, clashed head-on with the
joint forces of reaction represented by the tin-pot military
strongman, Brigadier Oupa Gqozo and the die-hards of the
apartheid regime. Twenty-eight people were mowed down in a
desperate act of repression.
On the 8th September 1992, then President of the ANC, Comrade
Nelson Mandela's issued a public statement on the Bhisho
Massacre. The message read in part:
"Each one of the people who lost their lives at Bisho
yesterday, 7th September, was a unique human being. The
daughter or the son of some mother; the father or mother to
some child; a person linked to a home, to a community of
relatives and friends who had loved, cherished and nurtured
her or him for many years in the hope of a continuing and
Thousands marched full of hope for a better tomorrow. Dozens
did not return.
Those fateful four minutes of gunfire, that reverberated
through the length and breadth of South Africa, snuffed out
those lives as if they were of no consequence. The staccatto
of those automatic weapons added one more grisly episode to
the already bloodstained annals of twentieth century South
The facts of what occurred have been established by the
international media and eyewitnesses representing local and
international agencies whose reputations are beyond reproach.
The shootings were unprovoked and were not preceded by any
warning. Lethal force was employed as the first option of the
Ciskei Security Forces in circumstances that did not even
remotely warrant its use.
We condemn these killings in the strongest possible terms!
To the bereaved families; to the relatives and friends who
have lost their loved ones we offer our heartfelt condolences.
The words of comfort and sympathy we pronounce can however do
nothing to restore the lives that have been so brutally cut
short . We can but hope that these few tokens of our deep
concern will lend them the support to alleviate their sorrow.
We mourn with the communities of the Border region that
continue to bleed even while our country makes its troubled
transition from the autocracy of apartheid to democracy.
From this day, Bhisho will rank alongside Boipatong on that
roll call of infamy that recounts the past two years of F.W.
de Klerk's incumbency. The authors of yesterday's massacre
already stand condemned in the eyes of the nation and the
world for their criminal actions."
Twenty eight people were killed on September 7th 1992, two
years before South Africa's first democratic elections. 200
more were wounded in a fusillade that lasted more than 1
minute. The massacre at Bhisho followed close on the heels of
the Boipatong Massacre of 17th June 1992, when armed
assailants organised by the Third Force attacked a small
township, killing 45 people and injuring scores. It was later
revealed that the attack was an aspect of "Operation Marion",
a destabilisation campaign run by the generals of military
intelligence to thwart progress to democratic elections.
Though Dr Mangosutho Buthelezi strenuously denied any
involvement by his party or supporters in that murderous
incident, at the TRC six members of the IFP applied for
amnesty for their involvement in the Boipatong massacre!
During the centenary year of the ANC, on 16th August 2012,
thirty four mineworkers were killed. Eighteen years into South
African democracy, the first post-democracy state massacre
occurred under circumstances that still need to be unpacked
and closely investigated by a judicial enquiry.
The circumstances and the environment in which these two
massacres took place does make them vastly different events.
* Who is here so bold as to say the tears shed for those who
died on August 16th 2012 are less bitter than those shed for
the fallen of September 7th 1992?
* Who is here so callous as to suggest that the death of a
father, a husband, a brother, a son, a relative, a neighbour -
is less painful because those who fired the shots were
employed by a different government?
* Who is here, so heartless as to suggest that the lives lost
at Marikana are less valued, less precious, less important
than those of the victims of Boipatong and Bisho?
* Who is here so hard-hearted, insensitive and cold as to
suggest that our humanity; the humanity of our community; the
humanity of our people, of all South Africans was not violated
when the live ammunition was fired into a crowd of protesting
* Who is here so unfeeling as not to recognise that this
massacre and the blood of the fallen cry out for a thorough
and intense investigation to get to the root causes of this
terrible tragedy and to hold to account those responsible?
We are here today to mark one of those terrible moments in
South Africa's march to democracy, 7th September 1992. In the
euphoria that accompanies much of our celebration of our
democracy we too often forget the price that was exacted from
our people before we arrived at 27th April 1994.
In our enthusiasm for the democratic order, for our
Constitution and the democratic institutions we have today, it
is all too often forgotten that those last four years of
apartheid, between February 2nd 1990 and 27th April 1994,
witnessed some of the worst bloodletting, overt and covert
state sponsored violence South Africa had yet witnessed in a
It is absolutely necessary that we remind ourselves of the
character of the much praised "peaceful transition"; it was
peaceful only in part! The sacrifices of the numerous families
who lost their loved ones during those fateful four years
demand that we acknowledge that our "peaceful transition" was
peaceful in that the ANC and its armed combatants had declared
a unilateral ceasefire in 1990 and did not once retaliate
against the apartheid state apparatus or its agents for the
murders they visited on entire communities, in Natal, in the
Gauteng, in Mpumalanga and in the Free State.
One of the most diabolical aspects of racist repression was
the regime's ability to outsource that repression to puppet
regimes like those of Matanzima, Oupa Gqozo and other
The massacre at Bisho in September 1992 was one such instance.
After de Klerk announced the unbanning of the ANC, PAC the
SACP, BCM and other organisations on 2nd February 1990, it was
very clear to all of us in the liberation movement that his
actions were inspired both by the pressure from below in the
shape of mass struggles and international isolation, as well
as a hard-nosed realism on the part of the NP leadership who
opted to negotiate to avoid total defeat.
We entered negotiations from a position of political
South Africa's transition consequently would have two
features. One was the attempt by the then dominant White
minority to save what they could by accommodating some of the
demands of the oppressed; the other would be continuing
pressure from below, driven by the people's own desire to
realise a freedom that was meaningful and that gave real
content to democracy.
Within the ranks of the liberation movement itself there was
an ongoing debate about the best tactics to employ. I think
comrades will recall what was then called the "tap, the boat
and the Leipzig option" debate - during which some comrades
argued for tactics that treated mass action like a tap that
could be turned on and off, as and when the occasion demanded.
Others at the same time argued that within the NP de Klerk and
his supporters were not necessarily fully in charge, their
position was being challenged by "stand-patters" and for us to
rock the boat might well assist these more intransigent
elements amongst them who opposed change. There was the third
point of view that advocated sustained pressure on the de
Klerk government on all fronts, similar to the mass
demonstrations in Leipzig and other places that finally forced
Erich Honecker and his colleagues to resign as the government
of the GDR in 1990.
The 80,000 (eighty thousands) who marched on Bisho to demand
the dissolution of the puppet state called the Ciskei and its
reincorporation within the official borders of South Africa
were participants in a campaign of mass action, inspired by
the ANC and its allies. We regarded that demonstration as one
of many levers to break the log-jams in the negotiating
process and to maintain popular pressure that was so necessary
to compel the de Klerk government to negotiate in earnest.
The ANC had withdrawn from CODESA in protest against the
Boipatong massacre on 17th June 1992, three months previously.
The March on Bhisho, that resulted in a Massacre was the high-
point in a continuing campaign of mass action. The regime and
its surrogates responded to it with bullets!.
The distressing of this moment, in 2012, when we our people
are once again mourning, is that it throws into very sharp
relief the contradictions arising from those two dimensions of
our democratic transition.
Because the midwives of democratic South Africa were both mass
pressure and elite accommodation, the property relations of
the old South Africa were carried over into the new. Yes, to
be sure, democratic law has makes it illegal to deny any South
African access to or the right to own property on grounds of
race. But those who had in the past acquired their property
precisely on grounds of their race, were allowed to keep it.
One could call it a compromise to the effect that the
beneficiaries of racism would keep their ill-gotten wealth
provided they agreed to political democracy.
The outcome has been is that we de-racialised property-
ownership, but at the same time we racialised poverty ! What's
more we racially gendered poverty! Using any index one might
want, poverty in South Africa is a condition suffered by
Blacks in general, the Africans in particular, and is
concentrated specifically amongst African women!
The arrival of democracy has opened the path to property-
acquisition and capital accumulation to a small minority of
Africans who have since become capitalists engaged in mining,
agriculture, secondary industry, finance management and
banking. But it has left un-changed the large pockets of
poverty that compel thousands of other Africans to descend
into the bowls of the earth to extract the minerals that go to
enrich a few.
The system of "bantu homelands" stood at the centre of a
migrant labour system devised in 1905 specifically to produce
and reproduce an easily exploitable labour force from amongst
landless peasants forced to join the working class. After
1948, when the NP first won a majority in Parliament, the
system was further refined by delegating a number of policing
functions to "homeland governments", four of whom even opted
for the cynical "independence" that the NP foisted on them.
From the inception of mining in this country, the eastern
Cape, like many of our impoverished rural areas and those of
South Africa's immediate neighbours, have annually supplied
thousands of men to work on the mines. We need not detain
ourselves here recounting the palling, concentration-camp-like
conditions under which African mineworkers were forced to live
Our campaigns to improve the lot of the African miners
declaimed to our country and to the world, that :
* It is a crime to place the African peasant in circumstances
compelling him to seek work on the mines!
* It is a crime to monitor, control and oppress African miners
with dompasses and permits;
* It is crime to house African miners in unhealthy compounds
under prison-like conditions!
* It is a crime to pay African miners starvation wages while
mining corporations and bosses got rich;
What words shall we pronounce today?
What words can express the criminality of actually shooting
African miners during a protest ??!!
The massacre here at Bhisho, on 7th September 1992 was an
unprovoked act of repression perpetrated by a desperate puppet
regime, run by a drunken maniac and sustained by mercenaries
and a repressive police force.
How will future generations account for this first post-
How do we, as the militants of the liberation movement
* that brought this country democracy;
* that helped craft a much-envied democratic Constitution;
* that has created the Constitutional framework enabling
thousands of those previously held down beneath an iron
ceiling to become socially mobile;
* that transformed South Africa into a land of hope by casting
open the doors of opportunity for millions :
What meaning do we read in this post-democratic massacre??
How do we account for this post democracy state massacre?
If ever there was a moment for us all to take stock, it is
Marikana is a terrible tragedy as the first post democracy
massacre, but we can also turn it into a moment for collective
introspection as a nation. I consider this one of those
moments of that represent a crisis of conscience : A crisis of
conscience especially for the liberation movement , but also
for South African democracy.
It raises serious questions about the quality of our police
service that in 2012, it responds to public manifestations
with live ammunition.
It raises serious questions about the quality of our
democratic state that, after eighteen years, we have not been
able to train our police service to handle crown control other
than by repressive means.
It raises serious questions, especially after the death of
Andries Tatane at the hands of the police , about the standing
orders on public order policing within the SAPS.
On coming into office in 1994, the democratic government set
about reforming what had in the past been a repressive
apparatus into a police service. We demilitarised the Police
as one means of re-orienting them to serving the people of the
country. Perhaps such reform has not proceeded far enough? Or
have they been arrested too soon by the exigencies of the
Notwithstanding the unfavourable international economic
climate, the democratic government has kept the ship of the
South African state on course. It is only those who are
wilfully blind who can deny that our government has delivered
a democracy dividend to the people of this country.
* The democratic government has restored and given rights to a
host of communities, defined by faith and by chosen lifestyle.
* Since 1994, the democratic government has delivered new
housing units at a rate of over 1000 units per day.
* The democratic government has multiplied the number of South
Africans who cook with electricity by 130%
* The democratic government has multiplied the number of South
Africans who have clean running water in their homes by 71%
* The democratic government has multiplied the number of South
Africans who have access to schooling
* The democratic government has brought health and social
services to all South Africans. These are undeniable
Our un-deniable successes, I think, have led to an attitude of
complacency and postures within the movement itself of "let's
go along, to get along" . Or worse yet "let's go along, to get
We have in the past observed the leadership of the ANC, in and
out of government, go along quietly as the denialism of a
President played havoc with the health and the lives of
It is at moments such as these that the mettle of our
leadership and the quality of our movement are tested.
Those among us who want to close their eyes to reality might
not like facing up to the widely held perception that we live
in an environment of corruption.
* A widely perception that this corruption is sustained and
encouraged by a pervasive attitude of connivance and impunity.
* A widely perception that the ANC, as a movement and as a
government, is very permissive about corruption.
* A widely perception the ANC is permissive because some of
its own leaders and members are implicated in such corruption.
We have seen what denialism, on the part of the ANC and its
leadership, led to in the past.
Over the past eight years have seen the escalation of local
protests over perceived delivery failures and corruption at
local government level. It might well be that many of these
protests are fuelled by rising expectations: There can be no
doubt that in many instances this has led to ANC councillors
losing legitimacy among the people. It is only a matter of
time before that loss of legitimacy percolates upwards - to
the provincial and national leadership.
The successes the democratic government has registered over
the past eighteen years are the direct result of the strategic
vision our movement has pursued over the years. It was that
strategic vision that had enabled the ANC to raise itself from
the near-dismemberment immediately after Rivonia, and over
some years attain the status of effective leader of all the
democratic forces of the country during CODESA.
It was that strategic vision that took us from the doldrums of
Bhisho in September 1992, to April 1994.
The strategy that our movement had devised and tested in the
crucible of struggle, over decades, was to mobilise all those
who could be mobilised against the common enemy. The strategy
of our movement was to isolate the main enemy. And, we did
this by winning to our side all those political and social
forces who sought change in earnest. There were also those
whom we could not organise. If it was possible, we sought to
neutralise such forces rather than drive them into active
Can any of us claim that our movement is applying such a
It is true that we left twenty eight of our fallen in Bhisho
on that bitter September day. But it was Oupa Gqozo, the
collaborationist stratum he led, the de Klerk government, the
third force they claimed they could not control, who were
defeated on that day. On 21st September it was announced that
CODESA would resume. The movement was able to return to CODESA
II having extracted firm commitments to negotiate in good
faith from de Klerk.
How do we assess the he outcomes produced by the actions of
the ANC and the government it leads? They are not
creating/promoting a widening network along which the ANC's
influence radiates. They have rather led to increasing
isolation as the sphere of influence of the movement shrinks.
The credibility of the ANC today is probably the lowest it has
been since 1990! The ANC leadership has been stripped of its
dignity! The best advice one can offer our movement, which
seems caught in a hole is: "Stop digging!"
How we emerge from this terrible tragedy will depend on how
seriously we take and address the challenges it has placed
I commend the speed with which President Zuma acted. It
demonstrates the determination of the government to get at the
truth that the President appointed a Judicial Commission of
Inquiry within days of the shootings. The government has also
assisted bereaved families with burial costs and offered
counselling and comfort. All highly commendable! As
commendable as the appointment of the commission is, its
primary concern will be to establish legal matters of fact
relating to the specific events of that fateful day, August
16th. We are confident that the Judicial Commission of Inquiry
will conduct its investigations with the appropriate rigour
and uncover all the relevant facts.
But Marikana is symptomatic of a much deeper malaise. The all
too easy recourse to lethal violence on the part of the Police
tells its own terrifying tale. Besieged by new forms of
violent crime, often perpetrated by criminals armed with
military hardware, the South African Police Service has been
exhorted to meet fire with fire many times by more than one
minister and National Police Commissioner. This might have had
the unfortunate consequence of encouraging the use of lethal
The sources of the tensions that led to bloodshed on August
16th are far deeper than the specific events that unfolded
that day. I want to use this platform to call upon the
leadership of the Congress of South African Trade Unions
(COSATU) to convene a Workers' Commission of Inquiry into the
Marikana tragedy. COSATU should invite the other two union
federations to participate in such a Workers" Commission. If
international participation is possible that too could be
harnessed. Such a Workers Commission should investigate,
amongst other things, the return to South Africa's mining
industry of the "native labour touts", who pitted workers
against each other yester year. The "outsourcing" of
recruitment through labour brokers was prevalent in Marikana.
Labour brokers and their presence have played a notorious role
in piling up the dry tinder of conflict. A Workers Commisiion
should also shed light on the manner in which the mining
industry is evading its responsibilities to its work force who
live in shanty-towns around the mines. This industry, built by
the robber baron Randlords and corporate giants who battened
on the apartheid system, some claim, should today be
subsidised with the tax rands of ordinary workers to encourage
it to create jobs!
A Workers' Commission should also be tasked with investigating
the shockingly high levels of violence in our society. An
aspect of this violence is the high incidence of private gun
ownership in this country. The close correlation between high
levels of gun ownership and gun-related crime is now well
established. The best way to curb gun related crimes is to
move towards a gun-free society. The police service in a gun-
free society will have less need to carry firearms.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Comrades and friends,
Does it sit easily with the membership of the ANC? Does it sit
easily with the millions of ANC supporters here at home, and
in the world at large that during its centennial year, the
government, led by the ANC presided over the first post-
democracy state massacre?
How do we explain to the shade of Uncle J.B. Marks that today
it is bullets fired from the automatic weapons of our
democratic police service that are creating widows and orphans
in the villages of the eastern Cape, of Lesotho, of the north-
Who will explain to the martyrs of Bhisho that the Police
service of the democracy for which they laid down their lives,
also fires live ammunition at demonstrators?
The tensions that erupted in the ongoing strike that led to
the events of August 16th are in many respects the result of
the compromises the movement made to attain the beach-head of
democracy in 1994. And, make no mistake, attaining the
beachhead of democracy was vitally important and a significant
victory! But it also persuaded us to substitute BEE for wealth
redistribution. And when we find that inadequate we substitute
it with BEEE! Yes, we persuaded ourselves to be content with
less than what we had fought for, because that beachhead gave
us much more than what we had had.
What has unfortunately also been most misunderstood is
Madiba's call for and his own efforts to promote
reconciliation. His call that we leave the past behind us to
build the future together, has been misconstrued to suggest
that no wrong was committed in the past. To suggest that
reconciliation demanded no palpable acts of redress.
In another context, back in 1999, I raised the question: Will
our Black captains of industry behave like the Randlords who
incited the Anglo-Boer War and were ultimately responsible for
the atrocities of the Concentration Camps? Or will they behave
like the latter-day White monopolists who mouthed liberal
sentiments, voted for the UP while they profited handsomely
from collaborating with apartheid? Or would pioneer a new path
of corporate responsibility by promoting better healthier
industrial relations, the skilling and decent remuneration of
Regrettably, it would appear the emergent Black capitalist
class are have bought into and are being incorporated into the
culture of White monopoly capital. How culpable are they in
It might be unpleasant, but the current ANC leadership and the
government it leads must accept that it is probably presiding
over the years of the ANC's most profound post-democracy
crisis. That poses the matter of the quality of the movement's
leadership at this moment.
Every movement for political transformation has arrived at
this moment of truth sooner or later. During the French
Revolution it came on the 18th Brumaire, when a young
artillery officer, named Napoleon Bonaparte fired grapeshot
into the crowd in Paris, The young officer rose to become
Consul, that is military dictator, of France, and ultimately
raised himself to Emperor! During the Russian Revolution that
moment arrived at Kronstadt, when units of the Red Army
suppressed a longstanding stronghold of the revolution.
Has that moment arrived for South Africa in the shape of
Let Marikana be the moment to once again take hold of the
movement of our people and steer it towards the sound and
sober strategies of the past.
The elective conference that the ANC will hold at the end of
this year must rise to the challenge of producing a leadership
corps that has the moral will, the moral courage and moral
standing to take on task of cleaning the Augean stables of
The elective conference of the ANC must rise to the challenge
of producing a leadership corps that will restore the
credibility of the movement amongst supporters, its friends
and even amongst its opponents.
The elective conference of the ANC must rise to the challenge
of producing a leadership corps that will restore the
movement's reputation and record of compassion.
Only by correcting itself in that manner will the ANC regain
the confidence of the democratic forces of this country and
take us all on a higher trajectory to a better life for all
[Dr Pallo Zweledinga Jordan is a South African political
activist, scholar and writer. He served as Minister of Arts
and Culture of the Republic of South Africa from April 2004 to
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