Afrikaners will be blamed for Marikana too

Piet Swanepoel responds to R.W. Johnson’s article on the Marikana, Sharpeville and the Pondo uprisings.

Johnson’s article was very interesting and deserves to be read by anyone trying to make sense of events in Africa.

Like Johnson I also trace my involvement or interest in African political developments to Durban. Unfortunately we were not contemporaries there – I arrived in Durban in 1948 and was transferred to South West Africa in January 1961, whereas it seems that his involvement only started in 1960.

We were in different camps as well. He was a budding Marxist and I was a Special Branch detective. Our backgrounds also differed completely. He was English, (albeit our local branch of the species), whereas I was (still am) an Afrikaner.

We seem to have known the same people, for example the Arensteins, but when I came to know Rowley and Jacqueline they were living in a block of flats where there would have been no room for visiting Pondo chiefs.

Their neighbours, I remember, were Errol and Dorothy Shanley, both also listed communists like the Arensteins. What I heard only recently was that Ronnie Kasrils, our former Minister of Intelligence, and Jacqueline Arenstein, were cousins.

We also knew the same places. Like Lakhani Chambers, where the ANC had a small little office, sometimes unoccupied for weeks, whereas the Natal Indian Congress (NIC) offices in the same building were spacious with a big staff under M.P.Naicker, a very committed communist.

Some time in the early fifties I had been one of a small party of detectives, led by a visiting American intelligence officer, who entered Lakhani Hall late one night and planted a then state of the art bug in the ceiling..

Unfortunately the bug was never very effective because of the long distance to our wire recorder at the Smith Street Police station.

This article is about the massacres Mr. Johnson did not deal with, but his references to Durban in the sixties make me remember so many names which white people never knew, but to us in the Special Branch were household names.

Names like Albert John Luthuli, Massabalala Bonny Yengwa, Pitness Humphry Simelane and Wilson Zamindlela Conco. This latter fellow was a pain in the neck to me. He was the treasurer of the ANC in Natal. His father, Harry Conco, was a successful bus owner who operated a fleet of busses which passed Highflats in Southern Natal every day when I was stationed there in 1947.

Why, I asked myself, was my father a poor unschooled Boer, whose son had to start life as a labourer on the Railways, and this smart Aleck’s father a rich businessman who could send his kid to varsity to become a doctor?

But enough of that. This is about the massacres you never talk about. First of all you need to know what I call a massacre. I take my cue from Funk and Wagnells which defines a massacre as the indiscriminate killing in numbers of the unresisting or defenceless.

Johnson, as to be expected, does not deal with the most terrible massacre in the history of South Africa. English-speaking people do not share with Afrikaners, the grief and pain at the remembrance of the murders of Piet Retief and his party of some hundred Voortrekkers and their non-white grooms at King Dingane’s kraal on February 6th, 1838.

They had been invited into the kraal by the King and requested to leave their firearms with their horses, so they were absolutely defenceless when the King gave the order to have them killed.

The killing of Retief and his men was only the lesser part of the brutal murders of that week. Immediately after they had clubbed their victims to death, Dingane’s impis were dispatched to attack the old men, women and children and servants who were waiting for Retief and his party’s return.

41 Boer men, 56 Boer women, 185 Boer children and 200 Coloured and African servants were killed in the vicinity of where the town of Weenen (Weeping) stands today.

What saddens an Afrikaner like me is how a modern liberal English writer deals with the massacre I’ve described here. Anthony Sampson, in his Mandela – the authorized Biography, appears never to have heard of them.

Instead he writes “16 December was Dingane’s day, which commemorated the Afrikaners’ massacre of Zulus in 1838”. It It is unbelievable, but the Battle of Blood River has now become an Afrikaner massacre of Zulus!

Thousands of well-armed Zulu warriors attacked a laager in which some 300 Afrikaners were determined to defend themselves. Their primitive front-loader rifles enabled them to fight off the Zulus but that now becomes a massacre!

Another series of events which have been described by some people as massacres took place in Durban in January 1949. These events, like the Weenen massacres, are not frequently mentioned any more, but being one of the few remaining witnesses to the first act in that drama, I think people might be interested in what I remember of it.

As I said, it was January 1949. I had just progressed from being a detective probationer to a fully fledged detective constable. I was not yet 21 years old so I could not be issued with a firearm. (In those years detectives were issued with .38 pistols). I was on the Theft from Motor cars squad, a small unit and had just completed a motor cycle with side-car course and been issued a licence to drive a Harley Davidson.

We, child detectives, were tutored by older hands and Zulu colleagues. We knew absolutely nothing about politics or race relations or Marxism. We lived as we’d grown up. Zulu colleagues told you stories of what was going on in their communities and you told them what white people were saying.

The big story on the Zulu side was that some wealthy Indian young men were taking advantage of young Zulu girls, getting them pregnant, but refusing to marry them or pay maintenance for the children.

Only a small number of such misdeeds had apparently been committed, but it was a nice juicy type of story. None of us regarded it as anything serious, until one morning the Zulu detectives insisted on seeing the chief of the CID. There was going to be something terribly serious happening near the Bus Centre at the Indian market, they reported.

A group of men were preventing bus drivers from departing from the centre, leaving thousands of African passengers stranded in the centre. Many of them were dock workers who depended on busses to take them to the docks in Point Road. And agitators were busy among the passengers. The talk was that the time had come to rid the country of the Indians.

There was not much the CID chief and the District Commandant could do. They verified the fact that all the busses arriving at the Bus Centre near the Indian market were prevented from departing and that thousands of people were consequently massing up in the Centre. For some reason which I never really understood they decided that all the detectives at the Smith Street Police station were to be deployed in the Indian business quarter to observe what was happening. We were loaded into a few Black Marias.

If I remember correctly, I was dropped in Leopold Street, which led off from the Bus Centre to Grey Street, the heart of the Indian business centre. I stood on the pavement feeling very lonely.

We were all instructed to take up positions about 50 yards apart. The street had become eerily quiet. All the Indian shopkeepers and their families had retreated to their flats above their shops which were all locked, but in those days, unprotected by burglar fencing.

From the Bus Centre, which was approximately 300 yards from where I was standing, roars could be heard and suddenly what I thought were a million people filled the street in a mad rush in my direction.

They screamed and ululated and I knew the end of the world had come. Most of them had wooden “kieries” and these they used to smash every shop window in their way. At this stage they were not looting the contents of the shop windows. They were content to destroy the windows and did not attempt to enter further into the shops.

They were clearly in a hurry to destroy the shop window of every one of the hundreds of Indian shops in the area. And in the next hour or two they did that. Not a singleshot was fired at them. It would have been suicidal to interfere with them.

The weird thing was that they never even threatened me or any of my colleagues as I later established. Many of them stopped next to me for a few seconds and advised me to arrange that the ships in the harbour were to be instructed to receive all the Indians in Natal to take them back to their Motherland!

In the days which followed the mood changed and the rioting became very serious. Many innocent Indian people were killed and their shops looted.

Policemen were flown in from the Rand to try and restore order and eventually even Marines from the Navy with machine guns were deployed. Curfews were enforced and people ignoring them were shot.

It was a sad time. For me the saddest part came afterwards. It was an article I read years later in an American magazine. The real cause of these tragedies, it claimed, were the policies of the Afrikaners who had taken over the country the year before! In Durban, at that time, there was not a single Afrikaner councilor.

I have no doubt that eventually Marikana will be blamed on us, the Afrikaners, also.