Unarmed people are dying at the hands of police while corruption abounds, writes Richard Pithouse.
Jan Rivombo, Mike Tshele, Osia Rahube, Lerato Seema. Here we are, not even a month into the new year, and the police have already killed four unarmed people during protests.
Jan Rivombo sold fruit on the streets of Pretoria. He was killed by the police in Bosman Street as street traders tried to defend their livelihoods against an increasingly brutal and predatory state.
He was a young man who had been a father for three months. He was not the first person to be killed by the state in its ongoing attempt to drive poor people off the streets of our cities. It would be naive, culpably naive, to imagine that he will be the last.
Mike Tshele, Osia Rahube and Lerato Seema were killed in Mothutlung, Brits, during a protest demanding the restoration of the water supply. A resident, Chris Sebea, told a newspaper they were “armed only with songs”.
Mike Tshele was a photographer in his early 60s. He was a prominent figure in the area who moved around on an old bicycle. He was taking pictures when he was killed. Residents say his camera was taken after he was killed.
Osia Rahube was known as “Mokokotelo” to his neighbours and friends. He was working on contract at an opencast mine at Marikana. He had been an activist and was a Christian.
Lerato Seema was an engineering student. He played the guitar in his church.
It has been reported that in a recent audit the local municipality was unable to account for around R1 billion in assets. The usual allegations of corruption and patronage abound.
When Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa arrived to offer the usual pieties he was booed and sworn at. When Julius Malema arrived with a legal arsenal and an offer to help with the funeral costs he was received with considerably more warmth.
While the state was killing people asking for the most basic rights, popular mobilisation was moving in equally grim directions. In Durban two crudely anti-Indian organisations, both seeking to exploit popular suffering to advance elite interests, were speaking the language of the kind of nationalism that descends into fascism.
Up the road in Pietermaritzburg a mob, said to be 400-strong, gathered in the Ash Road settlement and hounded everyone they deemed not be South African out of the settlement, beating people and looting their homes and businesses as they went. This settlement has been run, for years, by a local shack lord with an IFP history and gangster connections who extracts rent, enforces obedience to an array of local politicians and uses thuggery to prevent independent organisation.
Last week, fraud charges against Shauwn Mpisane, the tenderpreneur who has made most of her fortune from the housing budget in Durban, were withdrawn after the State failed to present any evidence. In the same city, no one has been arrested for the murder last year of three activists in Cato Manor, where opposition to corruption has been at the heart of recent protests.
The ANC’s manifesto for the coming election is framed in a very different language to the crudities that we’ve come to expect from people like Blade Nzimande, Marius Fransman and, of course, Number One himself. It promises that the party will “intensify the fight against corruption” and develop “participatory democracy” in the “new and far-reaching phase” of our “democratic transition”. These words must be weighed against the lives of Jan Rivombo, Mike Tshele, Osia Rahube and Lerato Seema.
They must also be weighed against the impunity with which people with the right connections can loot the state.
They must be weighed against the violent destruction of people’s homes, whether by the state or a xenophobic mob. The logic of that calculus is as clear as the scarlet brightness of blood pooling on a dusty street.
The ANC is not entirely rotten. Pallo Jordan is light years ahead of any other politician in terms of his personal contribution to our national debate. Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi might not be able to successfully take on the predatory interests that have captured the health system in the Eastern Cape, but he has certainly taken an impressively strong and principled position against the multinational pharmaceutical companies that are trying to enclose medical knowledge for private profit.
Trevor Manuel’s commitment to the economic arrangements that have devastated our society is inexcusable. But he does have the merit of being willing to speak out against some of the excesses of the self-serving and sometimes simply poisonous cant that increasingly characterises the ANC’s contribution to our public sphere.
But people like Jordan, Motsoaledi and Manuel are the exceptions that justify the rule. And in situations like these there is always a point, usually imprecise without the benefit of hindsight, at which holding out for better days as the rot spreads starts to shade into unintended complicity. The fact is that the party is rotten at its core. It continues to attract the support of many good people but bitter experience has shown that its constant assurances of a return to its highest ideals cannot be trusted.
This year, loyalty to the idea of the ANC, to what it has stood for in the past, and to what it has meant to people, can be an entirely decent political position. But that ANC is well lost. Loyalty to the party as it actually exists is a form of complicity with the accumulation of bodies at the hands of a predatory state.