As the violence escalates to a kill a week – sometimes more - illegal evictions continue unabated, women are are raped by gun-toting triggermen, and freedom of movement and association has ground to a halt in this poor South African neighbourhood, anyone who suggests ‘bringing warring factions together at the ‘negotiation table’ has clearly been drinking Molotov cocktails, or they are on the thugs’ payroll.
According to a statement issued by the Presidency yesterday, the theme of this year’s Day of Reconciliation celebrations will be: “Bridging the Divide: Building a Common South African Nationhood towards a National Developmental State.” It goes on to claim the day “promotes and is entrenched on constitutional democracy, unity in diversity, inclusive and social justice, as well as non-racialism, non-tribalism and non-sexism [sic">,” and is “observed to unify formerly segregated communities and to build a socially coherent society.”
Twenty-one years down the line, with Marikana, Mido Macia and a string of other state atrocities under our belt, if one more political leader, community group, civil society organization or church leader urges ‘negotiation’, ‘round table discussion,’ or ‘peace talks’ in the context of the Glebelands Hostel violence again, I shall vomit. Or shoot them. Or myself.
In 2013, when Glebelands residents and surrounding communities passed a vote of no confidence in the ANC branch executive committee and called for the local ward councilor to stand down amid widespread dissatisfaction and allegations of corruption, negotiation and round-table discussion would have been possible. In fact the leaders of the disaffected – incidentally mostly former COPE and block committee structure members who hail from the Eastern Cape or KZN south coast – pleaded with regional party representatives to engage with them about their service delivery concerns. Response from the regional secretary at the time was reportedly: “stop bringing the ANC into disrepute or you’ll see what happens.”
Since then, of the 55 people killed at Glebelands since March last year, an overwhelming 42 victims were associated in some way with formerly disaffected parties. Of the remaining 13 who were not associated with those who previously mobilized against local ANC structures, 4 were believed to have been killed during internal thug battles; 3 appeared to be simply in the wrong place at the wrong time; 1 was caught in crossfire between police and thugs; 1 was the contract killing of a taxi boss; and the remaining 4 were hijackers, hitmen and known criminals who could have been taken out by any number of hostile parties, including the police. Incidentally, 16 December is also the anniversary of the 1961 founding of Umkhonto we Sizwe. Ironically many of the Glebelands deceased were former MK members or sympathisers.
So what do these figures conclusively tell us about who is doing the killing, and who is doing the dying?
With such disproportionate statistics, these are clearly not ‘warring factions’ as has been disingenuously claimed by the MEC for Community Safety and Liaison and others with seemingly vested political interests. This is not about former block committees ‘selling beds’ as has been claimed in court papers by the city manager and ruling party sycophants. If this corruption existed previously then it should have been properly investigated and resolved by a police force that was impervious to financial incentive. This is instead very obviously the systematic elimination of a segment of a community, now mostly centred around Block R, who have been deemed ‘troublesome’ to the increasingly powerful local faction of the ruling elite.
So do not speak to me of reconciliation while systematic political assassination exists. And when more than 75% of those killed belong to a particular ethnic group, do not mention ‘social coherence.’
Furthermore, frequent ‘collections’ by thugs aligned to the same unpopular ward councilor and formerly discredited BEC, see poor residents from about 14 blocks (about 6000 people) squeezed for ‘donations’ which are used to pay for – according to police sources – hitmen, guns, ammunition, and bribe investigating officers, prosecutors and even magistrates - or face eviction or death. The police and eThekwini Municipality have consistently failed to stop these meetings and collections, or take action against the conveners despite having received tipoffs within sufficient time to take conclusive remedial action. The community who previously mobilized against local ANC structures in 2013 also hold collections – to pay funeral costs and help support the numerous families left destitute in the rural areas after their breadwinners were assassinated.
So do not speak to me of reconciliation while poor communities are ground under the jackboot of the politically powerful and corrupt.
What now does the future hold for the affected community – those who formerly mobilized against members of the very faction that has recently risen to take the eThekwini region (and the almost R40 billion city’s budget) amid highly questionable processes? It is said whoever controls the eThekwini region, controls KZN, and whoever controls KZN, controls the ANC and thus South Africa.
And do not speak to me of reconciliation when the unilateral decisions of our deeply discredited president – to whom the powerful local ANC structure is aligned - resulted in the loss of R190 billion from our national budget in just under a week when he fired his finance minister in a seeming attempt to conceal his soiled laundry. Do not speak to me of reconciliation when political leaders do their damnedest to conceal the truth and discredit and even kill those who expose systemic corruption, as did some of the Glebelands dead.
As the violence escalates to a kill a week – sometimes more, illegal evictions continue unabated, women are forced to submit to the sexual attentions of gun-toting triggermen, and freedom of movement and association has ground to a halt, anyone who suggests ‘bringing warring factions together at the ‘negotiation table’ has clearly been drinking Molotov cocktails, or they are on the thugs payroll.
Do not mention reconciliation with those who want us dead, who have our names on their list, who kill our brothers and evict and rape our sisters.
At Glebelands the past weekend kicked off with the assassination of Makhosi, the niece of Mlinyelwa Majola Gobidolo – who was gunned down on 1 December outside Chief’s Tavern in Reunion. Makhosi was shot dead on her way home, it is said because she was a former Glebelands resident and could identify Gobidolo’s killers. Others claim she was killed because she (understandably) showed grief at her uncle’s murder. It is said her tears betrayed her allegiance to the Block R community, residents with whom her uncle had associated.
So do not speak to me of reconciliation when tears are enough to get you killed.
This most recent killing was followed on Saturday by the greatest mockery of any peace process so far – a so called ‘march for peace’ convened by the Block 42 alleged hitman / hijacker / bodyguard of the Glebelands renegade cop who is said to supply killers’ hardware. Before the march kicked off from Glebelands Block 52 – killers’ Ground Zero – sources reported thugs armed themselves and vowed they would overrun Block R. Police who escorted the thug march attempted to force the Block R community to allow the killers access. Their backs against the wall, the community threatened another Marikana if the police forced the issue.
Do not speak to me of reconciliation when so called ‘independent’ enforcers of the law apply the law selectively to benefit the economically powerful or politically aligned. Do not speak to me of reconciliation when torture is used regularly by the police – even on female Glebelands residents.
And to those in civil society who – like the politicians - push continually for negotiation and round table discussion; do not claim to be concerned about the killing when you will not step beyond your comfort zone and fall back instead on a compromised police force to escort you into the Glebelands warzone. What double standards are these that you expect us to negotiate with those who you will not face without state soldiers?
And do not claim to be ‘working’ with the affected Glebelands community if you have only visited the people once and promised – and failed – to help provide material support this community so desperately needs. Do not offer yet another empty ‘platform for discussion and / or engagement’ with the very officials who are calling the hits, while people are still dying, being evicted, and are starving. It is just disrespectful and insulting.
With around 2000 people dispossessed and displaced on top of all the killing, do not jump on the bandwagon of others’ suffering. I can assure you the suffering is all too real. During daylight hours it lurks jibbering softly at the edges of your consciousness, until you awake at night, screaming and sweating as you teeter at the edge of the gaping oblivion of the general public’s sheer indifference to the evil of it all. The fear has your back like a best friend and governs your every move in our now deeply discredited democracy. If the killers don’t get you, the killer cops will.
Do not believe I do not want peace at Glebelands. I have seen too many people I have come to regard as friends killed by a bullet to the brain. I have seen too many lives utterly destroyed by the aspirations of the rich and politically powerful. Unfortunately rather than deal with reality, like the superpowers that have labeled our most unequal society a middle-income economy and our emergence from apartheid a ‘rainbow success’, most of us would rather ignore the dark clouds that threaten to engulf our future. Thus our socioeconomic schizophrenia is perpetuated at the expense of the most disadvantaged, those at the coalface of an increasingly authoritarian and brutal regime.
So do not condemn me when I say it is too late for reconciliation. Do not condemn me because I refuse to sit at your round table with people who are killing our people. Do not condemn me when I criticize those who claim so much but do so little. Do not condemn me when what I say makes you uncomfortable. I am not here to make you comfortable.
Glebelands is no longer a problem that can be solved by round table negotiation. Glebelands is at the heart of everything that is wrong in our country. Where everything has become about the money – screw unto others before they screw unto you. This holds true across the board, from those who wish to retain their political connectivity, to industry that relies on government contracts, to civil society and church leaders who do not want to shout too loud in case they are heard. We do this at our peril.
Glebelands can no longer be reconciled. It has been allowed to go too far. Glebelands is now simply a matter of right and wrong. Good and evil cannot be reconciled. Just like the evil of apartheid. As Nelson Mandela once told us, “Where you stand depends on where you sit.” We have been sitting for too long.
There must have been a moment at the beginning, where we could have said – no. But somehow we missed it. It will be some time before we get another opportunity. In the meantime, do not speak to me of reconciliation and forgive me when I do not join your celebrations. I see nothing to celebrate in a nation that has come full circle in the resurrection of its own oppression.
* Vanessa Burger is an independent community activist for Human Rights & Social Justice in South Africa. Cell: 082 847 7766 / Email: [email protected]
* THE VIEWS OF THE ABOVE ARTICLE ARE THOSE OF THE AUTHOR AND DO NOT NECESSARILY REFLECT THE VIEWS OF THE PAMBAZUKA NEWS EDITORIAL TEAM
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