Letters to the editor: May 22 to 28 2015

Hard labour: The ongoing colonial socioeconomic structure keeps black people's wounds raw. (AFP)

Hard labour: The ongoing colonial socioeconomic structure keeps black people's wounds raw. (AFP)

The roots of black pain

Diane Salter’s insightful contribution (“Recall Biko’s words”) shone a light on the crucial difference between black people in South Africa and those from the rest of the continent. She correctly points out that we locals generally lack the self-assurance that these other black people demonstrate, and puts it down to the “unusually deep wounds” of apartheid.

The fact that these wounds remain fresh after apartheid formally ended two decades ago suggests a need to look for a different interplay of issues on this topic. For me, the problem is the master/servant role playing that predated the 1948 onset of formal apartheid by more than a century.

Apartheid is no longer the primary cause of malfunction in South Africa’s population.
It’s just being used as a handy scapegoat. The drivers of our socioeconomic dysfunction were the needs of the then settlers for black labour to work their farms – a kind of serfdom. Then the wider economy, following the discovery of diamonds and later gold in the late 1800s, followed suit. These drivers remain intact to this day.

The beginning of the problem was when the migrant labour system’s us-and-them structure was shepherded into being when South Africa was under British rule.

Black people’s deep wounds are not healing largely because the ongoing colonial socioeconomic structure keeps them raw and fresh, throughout the land, in every workplace, home, mine, courthouse, school, university, restaurant, factory, office and hotel where interactions, based on master/servant roles, occur.

We should all love our black brothers and sisters from outside our borders for their powerful demonstration of continuous self-assurance, dignity and lack of apology for being black, however humble their station.

Strangely, we all show these traits when among our own, but we South Africans suspend them in favour of ingrained master/servant role playing the minute a white person appears.

And that brings us to the words of the revered Steve Bantu Biko. I do not share Salter’s suggestion that we should act on Biko’s words to make “whites realise that they are also human, not superior”. If that happens, it must do so on its own, without any ingratiation or other activity on our part as black people.

  If South Africa’s black people learned sustained self-assurance and dignity, and rejected our instinctive role in this country’s master/servant tradition, we would have half the key. The other half of the key is to carefully dismantle our centuries-old colonial socioeconomic system. Doing so would begin the birth of the elusive South African nation, a nation finally based on the equal dignity of all within its borders. – Thabo Seseane, Johannesburg


Top policeman touts his own agenda

  Major General Johan Booysen’s response (“Lies, damned lies, and statistics”) to my article (“Why does KZN lead in police killings?”) may be worthwhile on two points (the withdrawal of charges against him and the location of the KwaZulu-Natal serious crime units), but not on any other issues.

The restructuring of the detective units was announced (I didn’t say “took place”) in 2000. My use of the word “militarisation” was shorthand for the ascendancy in South Africa of a political leadership with an orientation towards more aggressive use of force. The event sometimes cited as the first overt expression of this agenda, Susan Shabangu’s “shoot the bastards” speech, was in April 2008, at the beginning of the April 2008 to March 2012 period, statistics for which I highlighted in my article.

The militarisation of police ranks in 2010 was only one manifestation of this agenda, which was also promoted by encouraging more aggressive force, amending Section 49 of the Criminal Procedure Act, creating the tactical response teams and increasing the use of “tactical units” in public-order policing.

The fact that four members of the Cato Manor unit were members of the Durban murder and robbery unit confirms the continuity between the units. My article was about the continuity of an institutional culture of killings in “suspicious circumstances”, associated with several of the KwaZulu-Natal detective units inherited from the apartheid period.

Between April 2008 and March 2011, there were a large number of killings of police in the province. These killings are typically relied on by apologists to justify excessive force and unlawful killings in response. But police forces that have been effective in reducing the killings of their own members have done so by better controlling their own use of force rather than by using unlawful methods.

The 19 cases of murder against members of the unit represent 40% of the 51 killings with which it was associated in less than four years; but the evidence against the unit goes far beyond the number of killings. However, with the leadership of the Independent Police Investigative Directorate, the Hawks and the National Prosecuting Authority in disarray, there are concerns as to whether evidence against the unit will be effectively presented in court.

As early as June 2010 an internal complaints directorate investigator indicated to me that unit members used a modus operandi, including the removal of potential witnesses from the scene prior to a killing, intended to guarantee they were never held to account before the law. Booysen’s letter is another attempt to promote this agenda. – David Bruce

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