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Sunday, 30 December 2012

Searching for Sugarman

Searching for Sugarman is a documentary I've just seen and would recommend, if just to tear up to the inner city troubadour lost to his home audience while unbeknownst to him, his first album sells hundreds of thousands in apartheid South Africa. This is the documentary's weakest part, making a meal of how Rodriguez, the subject of the film, was the 'first voice of dissent to overthrow apartheid' (paraphrasing one of the SA musos interviewed). And to represent the militants so inspired by Cold Fact, there's a montage of UCT student demonstrations, anti-apartheid and more explicitly to the alternative Afrikaner, Voelvry movement. Even that is a stretch of the imagination, but it's not too far for the constitution of a white iconoclasm. It is a shame that an artist of Rodriguez's quality should have this following, but his icon status is held in almost exclusively white heads. Every single face at the Bellville velodrome where his first concert was held in 1998 is white and there's not a single black person in the documentary. There's zero recognition by the documentary of this anomaly; just a satisfaction in the package of a dissident voice. That only whites understood it only goes to show who really overthrew the apartheid regime. eh?

The only reason so many white South Africans could listen to Rodriguez is for their uncanny ability to profess one thing and be another, a proverbial not-racist-but sort. It's a cognitive dissonance I've seen in the highschools peers of mine that listened to Rage Against the Machine and Sepultura. The music they identified with was writ on their satchels and pencil cases, as is the habit of highschool learners to distinguish themselves. Metalheads by the highchool typology at that time, they were blatant racists who could not have been receiving the messages of these bands clearly. Sepultura's Brazilian and anti-racist? - I was surprised to find this out only after highschool, and that Rage_ was not just against conformity.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

'Anarchy' in the ANC

The big news of this week - be it the first that I come to present in an immanent archive - has been the split in the ANC's Tshwane region. A dissident congress was held by a cluster of 40 branches as opposed to the 89 that filled the official congress in Midrand on the weekend of 1-2 October.  The splinter group is according to the chairperson it elected, Mafika Mahlangu, has legitimate grievances related to how the party drew up the lists of local government councillors. Mayor of Tshwane, Kgosientso Ramokgopa, who was re-elected chairperson of the region at the official congress, pronounced after the congress ended this past Sunday his first priority to be to clamp down on the ill-discipline in the party's regional structures. The stick he was to haul out this week was a truncheon. Gauteng ANC secretary, David Makhura, on Wednesday convened a press conference announcing an investigation into the 'gang of anarchists' behind the dissident congress. What stunned the country, seated dolefully for the nightly SABC news, was the allegation that the dissidents were funded by 'dirty money' from cash-in-transit heists.

The reference to heists must be to Mafika Mahlangu's checkered connections to the armed gangs taking aim at the banking industry. He was an associate of Colin Chauke, the kingpin nailed for the first wave of heists, and both were councillors for Winterveld outside Pretoria. It's without a sense of irony, then, that Mafika Mahlangu was reported to be a member of a gang of ex-soldiers dubbed ‘Government’.‘Known’ for their sophistication and military training, their reach was international with Mahlangu, having both trained in Zimbabwe and been captured in Botswana. He and Chauke were co-accused in the case of a heist in 1997 that reportedly copied the tactics of Robert de Niro’s gang in a Hollywood blockbuster to crash a cash-in-transit vehicle carrying R17-million and executing the guards. Both were acquitted of involvement in this especially ruthless heist. The two also faced charges related to another, R12.6-million heist, but while Mahlangu was cleared, Chauke and five others shot their way out of Pretoria Central Prison in December 1997 before the verdict could be read. An enthralled media divulged the exploits of Colin Chauke over the course of the 410-day cat-and-mouse game he played with his pursuers. Newspaper articles burnished his struggle credentials, even reporting an allegation that he had been seen at the birthday party of Peter Mokaba, the then Deputy Minister of Environmental Affairs. The notoriety this lent Chauke as the chief suspect led the national police commissioner to declare him the most wanted man in South Africa and that he would be captured by Christmas. Instead, as the media gleefully reported, the commissioner received a Christmas card from Chauke. He appeared to enjoy the media attention, even calling into a Johannesburg radio station to profess his innocence. His most brazen media stunt was to initiate a covert interview with City Press, a Sunday newspaper that published a series of articles about him in February 1998. In this interview, Chauke alleged that senior white detectives in cahoots with private security companies were behind the spate of cash-in-transit heists and were trying to pin them on former Mkhonto weSizwe members who had not been integrated into the army. When he was finally apprehended in January 1999, the Minister of Safety and Security sent his message of relief from London where he was on an official visit and President Mandela issued a statement congratulating the police. His lengthy trial saw throngs of curious onlookers jostling to get a glimpse of the heist mastermind who, with some political training and media savvy, became a cause célèbre. Their fascination with him bore no sentiment supporting his protestations of innocence and if anything, the public’s curiosity was fuelled by his presumed guilt. From then on until his death from an illness in 2003, Chauke was locked away in C-Max, the super-maximum security section of Pretoria Central prison for inmates considered beyond rehabilitation.

Before garnering the support of the 'anarchists' in the ANC, Mahlangu re-surfaced after his release from prison as the representative of a company registered in Chauke’s name in an eviction dispute with shack dwellers. This Friday evening's newscast brought him for the first time to our TV screens. A slightly built man in a suit insisting he and his comrades are not anarchists, he spoke with the timbre and conviction more befitting a cleric than a heist gang leader. So I've been led to doubt whether the would-be chairperson of the ANC in Tshwane is the same Mafika Mahlangu who was Colin Chauke's comrade. As this knot of crime and politics unravels, I look forward to finding out.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

9/11/11 - Liberation Friday in Swaziland

Manzini, 6 September 2011 - 

Democracy protestors burn the image of King Mswati. Still from youtube/jintyjackson

Spring has seen a resurgence of the democracy movement in Swaziland after. This past week's been the Global Day of Action on the teetering regime that as the statement copied below from the South African solidarity campaign says, rocked the state. Mario Masuku, the persecuted leader of the People's United Democratic Movement, writes here of the momentous day when the movement held the street against the police. From the vainglorious trope of national liberation in composition, Masuku is the most Swazi movement's most prominent leader to emerge. He's been the PUDEMO president since 1986 and has canvassed the US and England for support, so we're talking here of a Mandela more than a Machel.

Swaziland Democracy Campaign
All Hell Breaks Loose in Mbabane, Swaziland : Security Forces Attack Peaceful Demonstration,  Democracy Activists Take Back the Streets on ‘Liberation Friday!’ 09 September 2011
Today, Friday 9th September marked the last day in the second Global Week of Action on Swaziland, culminating in a large protest march in Mbabane that has resulted in pitched battles between a heavily armed and aggressive security detachment, and mostly poor workers, students and the unemployed, who gathered legally and peacefully as they have done all week.

On Monday and Tuesday only minor skirmishes took place, and the security services were restrained and largely non-provocative. This is as it should be. The marches were legal, and the organisers made it clear that they wanted to exercise the few rights that they have.

There have been more than twenty protests across the world, and seven inside South Africa. These took place outside of the various offices of the Reserve Bank in order to draw attention to the ill advised bailout of R2.4bn that is being offered to the Swazi regime through the Reserve Bank, ‘facilitated’ by the South African Government. The protests were also about the need for solidarity with the democratic forces inside Swaziland.

Throughout the week in Swaziland itself there has been rolling mass action throughout the country. On Monday and Tuesday large demonstrations took place first in Mbabane, and then in Manzini. Given the reaction of the security forces this time last year that resulted in mass arrests, beatings, detention and forced deportations of invited foreign visitors, there was serious concerns about how the security services would respond this time around.

In fact on Monday and Tuesday security forces were remarkably restrained. There were a number of reasons for this. First, was the actual size of the mobilisations themselves. More than four thousand came to each of the demonstrations, which in Swazi terms is very significant indeed. Secondly, there was much global media interest both inside and outside Swaziland, and bad publicity is definitely not what the regime needs at this time. Thirdly, there are a number of cases pending against the Swazi regime at the ILO and through the UN Human Rights Commission where the regime was cited earlier this year for non-compliance of basic human and civil rights. Fourthly, the ‘bailout’ from South Africa had still to be paid over, and any repressive action which might imperil it was clearly held back.

Rural Communities Want Democracy Too!

On Wednesday and Thursday, attention shifted to the rural areas, and protest meeting and marches, much larger than expected took place, proving once and for all that people from all walks of life want to see a democratic Swaziland, despite the mythologizing about the ‘loyalty to the King’ of people living in rural areas that is peddled by the Royal Elite and its apologists.

After Monday and Tuesdays actions, it was clear that the regime was getting nervous. The state sponsored media started peddling hysterical stories about an ‘invasion’ by COSATU delegates, who had taken up the invitation of their Swazi counterparts to be part of the protest, and to observe the proceedings, and bring messages of solidarity. It was also clear that by Wednesday, the regime had decided that it was worth moving against the democratic forces, regardless of what the impact might be on the regimes reputation and international standing.

On Wednesday, those travelling to the rural areas for meetings were met with aggressive road blocks and endless searches. Nothing of course was found. And then in Siteki, a small regional centre, the security services tried to prevent the COSATU Deputy President from giving a solidarity address to the large gathering there, and opened fire with live rounds, rubber bullets and tear gas.

It was completely unnecessary’ said one of the organisers ‘It was clear that they were trying to cause conflict and were being very provocative and threatening, and when we ignored them and carried on our peaceful protest, they simply attacked the gathering.  They demanded that our international guests be excluded from the platform, and we of course refused. It was our right to have speak whoever we wanted. It was shocking and a reminder that this elite is scared but not yet prepared to change.'

The attacks culminated in the arrest and forceful deportation of COSATU’s Deputy President Comrade Zingiswa Losi  and Deputy head of COSATU’s International Department Comrade Zanele Mathebula, who are registering a complaint to the ILO and other authorities.

Three protesters were badly injured and one was admitted to hospital with serious head wounds. Others were beaten and pushed to the ground, but the protesters refused to give way until their meeting had been completed. This set the tone for the next phase of mass action.

Unjust Laws and a Compliant Discredited Judiciary

It is worth reminding readers that all of the actions of the democracy activists were legal, even under the stringent anti-democratic laws of Swaziland. The regime had returned to the courts no less than three times in the past week to try and win injunctions to derail the popular protests. They have been hampered by a boycott of the judicial system by almost the entire legal fraternity over the last two weeks, many of whom have thrown in their lot with the democracy movement.  The regime however, woefully underestimated the capacity of leading trade unionists to out argue them, and though clearly reluctant, the remains of a discredited judiciary had no choice but to agree, that the government  did not have sufficient legal grounds to curtail the limited rights of the trade union movement.

It was within the context of these unprovoked attacks in the regions, and the failure of the regime to utilise its own draconian legislation, that attention turned today to Mbabane and the last protest of the Global Week of Action.

Mbabane Under Military Occupation

An SDC leader in Swaziland noted  earlier today :

Mbabane looked like a city under military siege. On every corner of every street stood fully armed and equipped security personnel.  They were clearly very jumpy, and the tension was palpable. Having lost in the courts, the security apparatus was going to try and win on the streets. And they had all of their hardware on display including water cannon, armoured vehicles, tear gas dispensers, truncheons and perspex shields. At least we could see what the regime was spending our taxes on.

Despite the violence that had taken place in Siteki, the numbers today attending far exceeded expectations and more than 5,700 at the last count were noted and accounted for. In Swazi terms this is among the largest mobilisations for many years, and it virtually paralysed the streets of Mbabane.

The marchers started on time, and they were warmly greeted by passersby and shop keepers, many of whom gave fruit and refreshment to the marchers. There was an almost carnival atmosphere in the air, but not for long. At the rallying point where a range of speakers had been scheduled to speak, the authorities said that no ‘political’ speakers could take the platform. This was clearly aimed at Comrade Mario Musuku, the President of the popular liberation movement PUDEMO. Comrade Mario has experienced many years of hardship, including years of penal servitude at the hands of the regime, and had given thoughtful and decisive speeches to the rallies on Monday and Tuesday, to great popular acclaim.

It was at this point that the organisers,  backed by the marchers rejected the advice of the authorities and insisted that it was within their rights to have whoever they wished to speak, and the programme was to proceed. At this point the security forces were given the green light by their masters to attack all and sundry in an attempt to break up the protest march. Tear gas canisters were thrown into the crowd, and armed security officers bludgeoned their way into the outer ranks of the march, hitting out indiscriminately, and punching and kicking at will. For a moment it looked as though they might succeed, but what they had not banked on was the capacity of the protesters to regroup, link arms, and defend themselves by forming strong lines that could move swiftly to defend those who had been injured and then to secure fresh positions.

When the security forces failed to break through further, the protesters took the advantage, and despite heavy blows to arms, legs, heads and shoulders, forced the uniformed attackers back to their original locations. This was a remarkable feat given that the protesters were unarmed, mostly in tee shirts and casual clothing, and of course were made up of the young and old, men and women, professionals and manual workers.

The Birth of Liberation Friday!

What happened next will be remembered for a long time. Despite continued assaults by the security forces, their attempts at snatching and arresting leaders, throwing of missiles including gas canisters into the crowd, the marchers stood their ground, and even pushed the security forces into still further defensive positions!

As one of the organisers said over the phone
The police and army were completely shocked, and I would say chronically demoralised by our response. They expected us to run away and disperse, but when we regrouped, and then started pushing them back to their positions, they just didn’t know what to do next. They were scared, embarrassed, and even humiliated. Their officers were screaming orders like men gone mad, but it made little difference. They could not contain the mass movement, and we took back the streets of Mbabane! From now on this day of future Global Weeks of Action should be called Liberation Friday!

Eventually, after six arrests and dozens injured but not bowed, the planned march was completed, and then on its own terms, it dispersed peacefully making sure that comrades went home in groups to avoid being picked off and detained.

Film footage of the police attacks exists and will be made available to the media as soon as possible, and will also make up evidence to the ILO, the UN and to SADC, and the AU along with the testimonies of those who were attacked and who witnessed police brutality.

Which Side Are You On?

For the Swaziland Democracy Campaign, Liberation Friday marks another milestone in the democracy struggle. The people of Swaziland have shown that it is possible to mobilise, organise and remain disciplined, supportive  and creative in the face of the most brutal attacks and provocations. They have shown that the years of establishing the Swaziland United Democratic Front of which the SDC is its campaigning wing have not been in vain, and that disciplined mass action can challenge even the most ruthless of dictators.

For the illegitimate regime, their nightmare scenario is coming true. They can no longer call upon tradition and manipulate the culture of the proud Swazi people to justify their greed and opulent lifestyles. They are exposed for what they are. A brutal despotic regime that is imploding in on itself, and that cannot be trusted, even within its own ranks. Furthermore, it can no longer maintain its rule by force.

For the governments of the region and the continent as a whole, this episode has blown a huge credibility gap into any notion of diplomatic persuasion with the Swazi regime. Action must now be taken against the regime to force it into a democratisation process that is not imposed from outside, but established by the democratic forces in Swaziland itself. That is why the demands shared by PUDEMO and all democratic forces, for the unbanning of political parties, the freeing of political prisoners and for a transparent and inclusive democratic transition now, are so compelling.

For the South African Government, the planned ‘bailout’ must now surely be completely reconsidered. The people of Swaziland don’t want it to go to those who have pillaged the national resources of the country for their own private gain.  Why must the South African government  finance those who abuse peoples rights so readily and who have shown themselves incapable of anything that resembles good governance. The bailout must be renegotiated, and not with the kleptocracy of Mswati, but with the democratic forces on the ground.

The democracy movement on the ground is under no illusions about what is now required as a leading trade unionist noted today ;

This is the beginning of the end of the Mswati regime of that there is no doubt, but we doubt he will retire gracefully to one of his many palaces or farms as a rational person would do so. Like so many dictators, he still believes his own infallibility, and he will probably outstay his welcome until he sees no alternative but to take his fortune elsewhere. And we have some major challenges to address ourselves, not least being how we can continue to build the momentum of the democracy movement, and especially the role of the workers movement within it.  We have to both keep up the mobilising but also take some time to decide what type of society we want to see emerge from the ruins Mswati and his cohorts have left behind, but we are confident. We can do it. We have started and we are not going to stop now.
The SDC will be making a detailed analysis of the outcomes of the Global Week of Action and start to put in place the programme of action agreed with our comrades of the Swaziland United Democratic Front, including a Global Solidarity Conference, the escalation of the sanctions campaign including the sports and cultural boycott, the naming and shaming of all those who profit from the maintenance of the Swazi dictatorship, the freeing of political prisoners and of course further mobilisations to demand democratic reforms. We urge all those who want to contribute to join the campaign and help make a difference. Be part of a winning side!

The Swaziland Democracy Campaign extends its solidarity greetings  and thanks to all those who have made this Global Week of Action such a success, and especially those forces across the world who have taken the time to picket and march and protest for democracy in Swaziland . We would especially like to thank all of those brave and committed comrades in Swaziland itself, who against seemingly insurmountable odds, have taken the first vital steps towards national self determination.

Long live the Democratic aspirations of the Swazi people long live!

Details from Stephen Faulkner Co-Coordinator SDC and SAMWU International Officer

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Swazi Times

For three haloed years in the middle of the 80s I grew up in Swaziland, from my ninth year til the onset of highschool back in South Africa. Multiracial schooling was then a first for me but there was no need for trepidation. In the separation of the black township from the village where the white managers and technicians of the paper pulp industry resided, its spatial design and economy followed a familiar apartheid logic. Our neighbours were for a novelty black, but I never played with children outside of the school I attended, which was an exclusive primary school serving the white community of South African, British, Rhodesian, Portuguese and German ex-pats. There were just 3 Swazis in my class of 20-odd learners; the children of the black working class crowded instead the prefab classrooms of the public school in the township. The school offered the best primary education in the country and ex-pats in the capital, Mbabane, the industrial city of Manzini and those managing the pineapple plantations at the foot of the forested mountains sent their children on daily commutes to attend the school. It was an undeclared apartheid that was practiced at all the agro-industrial plants around the kingdom against whose privileged children we'd compete in the 'independent' schools sports competitions. 

It's only in retrospect that I realise this white idyll was incubated by an autocratic monarchy who smiled down at us in classrooms. My parents took me and my sisters to the annual reed dance once where the then newly crowned King Mswati selected a new wife from amongst the dancing maidens. The monarchy and institutions of government were otherwise distant from the village, only ever reminded to us by the teaching of Swazi history and by the trinkets given to all school children on the royal occasions of Mswati's coronation and his deceased father's golden jubilee. Both monarchs were complicit in apartheid, at least to the extent that Mbeki and Zuma shared a cell for their 'protective custody' in 1976. Protection of liberation cadre was not guaranteed, however: as late as 1989, the kingdom did very little to prevent incursions into the country by SA security forces to assassinate student activists in the forest not far from the village of these reminisces.

The ambivalence of the Swazi state towards the liberation of South Africa was rooted in the economic relations between the two countries. Experiencing a severe labour shortage in the post-World War II economic boom, the Native Recruiting Commission for the Rand mines lured and coerced Swazi labour  with a dividend per worker sent to the rockface for the tinkundla system of traditional rule. The close relationship between Native Recruiting and the kingdom was a formative relationship for what is now no less one of Swazi dependence. Since the financial crisis had taken nearly 25% out of the kingdom's revenue from custom dues, nearly all derived from South Africa, the IMF early this yeaapproved of spending cuts. The democracy movement immediately quickened its pace with students and the unions  taking the lead. Their mass march on April 12 was snuffed out by police repression before the movement could find its Tahrir. Below are just two statements of the revolution en cued.


Swaziland Democracy Campaign in South African condemns the barbaric act of the Swazi police on ordinary people, activists, and leadership of progressive forces in Swaziland. We just received news from inside Swaziland that the Police has surrounded the Swaziland Federation of Labour (SFL) preventing them from moving out of the offices ahead of the mass protest starting tommorrow. We strongly condemn such acts and call upon the police to dissist from being used by Mswati to suppress the people of Swaziland . Instead ,they must join the masses in protests from freedom and Democracy.

Meanwhile, yesterday more than 40 activitist who attended the SDC Anniversary Conference and Public Rally over the weeked had the political regalia and campaign material confiscated by the police at the border. We also condemn such. Despite intimidation and harasment, the planned mass actions are going ahead. COSATU, SDC and other progressive forces in South Africa are going ahead with thier 3 km march at Oshoek borders in solidarity with the suffering people Swaziland.


As Swazi’s gear up for the protest march billed for tomorrow (12th April 2011) and the world waits with bated breath to witness this historic event, the Government has conducted itself true to form and in furtherance of the threats uttered by the country’s illegal Prime Minister in his statement on the protest marches.

Yesterday (11th April 2011), comrades returning to Swaziland from the Swaziland Democracy Campaign’s one year anniversary commemoration were intensely searched and questioned at the Oshoek border post. Some of them had their belongings including t-shirts confiscated with no information as to when they would be returned to them. The items confiscated were mainly those that have the COSATU emblem on them.

There are a series of roadblocks along the route from Oshoek to Manzini including the following: at Sidwashini in Mbabane; at Mvutjini in Ezulwini, at Mhlaleni in Matsapha. At one of these roadblocks (Sidwashini), four comrades who were travelling together in the same motor vehicle went missing. They are as follows:

1.      Themba Mabuza: National Organising Secretary of the Swaziland Democratic Front (SUDF).
2.      Sifiso Mabuza: Deputy President SWAYOCO (Youth League of PUDEMO).
3.      Maxwell Dlamini: President of Swaziland National Union of Students (SNUS).
4.      Samkeliso Ginindza: Deputy Secretary General of SUDF and Secretary General of SNUS.

At 2050hrs, Samkeliso telephoned Mary Pais Da Silva (SDC SD Convener) and informed her that they had been stopped and the attitude of the security forces was very hostile. He further stated that they were unsure of their safety because of the conduct of the security forces towards them. It was agreed that they would keep in constant communication, however this was not the case as his mobile number is unavailable on the network (and so are the other comrades’ numbers).

A legal team has been making attempts at tracing the comrades since word of their disappearance arrived at 1130hrs, but so far there is no lead as to where they are. It is generally agreed that the security forces had a hand in their disappearance. Attempts to reach the Police Headquarters have been futile as there is no answer to the telephone calls being made.

Attempts at the Mbabane Police Station have not yielded any fruit, as the Station Commander is reported to be out of office and he is unreachable on his mobile number and this was as soon as attempts to call him thereon were made. At first his phone rang with no response.

The SDC condemns in the harshest terms, the manner in which the regime is attempting to derail the move to democracy. We demand that the comrades be released immediately and that these arbitrary arrests be brought to an immediate end. Arresting and detaining comrades only adds fuel to the fire that is burning in us. We shall not be deterred in flooding to the streets tomorrow.

The day after:
Aluta Continua!!!!

Mary Pais Da Silva  
This below is a personal account of the treatment I received at the hands of police officers today:

1.      Two male comrades and I were at the SFTU offices where we were sending out information to our international friends on the happenings of the protest action billed for today.
2.      At roughly around 1230hrs, an army of male police barged into the offices and whilst I was in the middle of a telephonic, live interview with talk Radio 702 and headed directly to me and began punching and slapping me on my face.
3.      There was SUDF material in the office and I was questioned about it, to which I pleaded ignorance. This did not go down well with them and the same police officer (the most heavyset of them all), then came and continued assaulting me.
4.      This time around, he decided to punch me on the stomach because he then became aware of the damage he was doing to my face. Another officer then decided to assist him in my assault.
5.      I was then bundled into a van with the other two comrades and taken to the Manzini Regional headquarters where we were detained for about two and a half hours. We were questioned individually.
6.      During the whole process, I was being insulted with every vulgar word imaginable in the SiSwati language.
7.      After the interrogation, I was strictly warned to desist from my activism and the Station Commander stated that they would do everything possible to find some incriminating evidence so that I can be arrested and imprisoned because I was proving to be a very painful thorn in their behinds.
8.      I was also given a “friendly” warning that my safety cannot be guaranteed.
9.      I was then released.

This is what I have to say:

I will not be intimidated by these bullish antics of the government. Bashing me only strengthens my resolve in the role that I play in the democratic movement in Swaziland.