Zuma propaganda and the ANC’s war against Biko’s BC Movement - BizNews, 20 September 2017

n a speech last week, Zuma identified Biko as a ‘martyr of our liberation struggle’, so implying that Biko had been the ANC’s ally in a common endeavour. In another address, Zuma went so far as to liken himself to Biko, on the basis that both had faced an unwarranted ‘hatred’.


By Anthea Jeffery 

In a week in which Jacob Zuma finally admitted it was irrational for the National Prosecuting Authority to withdraw 783 counts of fraud and corruption against him back in 2009, the president also tried to assume the mantle of Steve Biko – the iconic Black Consciousness (BC) leader who died in detention on 12th September 1977, some 40 years ago.

In a speech last week, Zuma identified Biko as a ‘martyr of our liberation struggle’, so implying that Biko had been the ANC’s ally in a common endeavour. In another address, Zuma went so far as to liken himself to Biko, on the basis that both had faced an unwarranted ‘hatred’.

These claims are partly, of course, an opportunistic attempt to polish up Zuma’s own tarnished credentials. But they also (yet again) confine to George Orwell’s ‘memory hole’ the truth about how the ANC saw Biko and the BC movement in the crucial years from 1976 to 1994.

From the start of the 1976 Soweto revolt, which BC had been instrumental in sparking, the ANC in exile identified the BC movement as a significant black rival which had to be wooed into submission and/or weakened through attacks.

With Soviet help, the ANC began by recruiting most of the 10 000 or black youths who had left South Africa in the course of the Soweto revolt. Most of these BC youngsters had little choice but to join Umkhonto we Sizwe, as the BC-oriented Pan-Africanist Congress (PAC) could not absorb them and they had nowhere else to go. 

Those who were admitted to the ANC’s camps in exile soon found that any attempt to leave was punishable by death. Some who tried to remain loyal to BC, like Nokonono Delphine Kave, a close associate of Biko, were accused of being CIA agents (as Biko was too) and tortured for their intransigence.

The ANC’s next step was to start recruiting BC leaders inside the country and drawing them into what became known as the ‘Charterist’ camp (named after the Freedom Charter). Many prominent BC leaders made this switch, as did various student and civic organisations.

The BC movement nevertheless remained an important black rival to the ANC when the latter’s people’s war began in 1984. The people’s war was, of course, partially aimed at robbing the National Party (NP) government of its remaining will to rule, but its main objective was to weaken or destroy the ANC’s black rivals inside the country. This latter goal was vital if the ANC was to dominate the new South Africa and use its hegemony to push forward with its national democratic revolution (NDR).

In 1984 the most important BC organisation was the Azanian People’s Organisation (Azapo), which had successfully resisted various attempts to bring it within the ANC fold. From 1985 attacks on Azapo accelerated, beginning in the eastern Cape and spreading to Soweto, where a pamphlet headed ‘Mayihlome’ (‘A Call to War’) was found circulating in 1986. The pamphlet called Azapo a ‘reactionary third force’, urged ‘the young lions’ to assist in its destruction, and said: ‘We must not rest until we have hunted down each and every member of Azapo from Sekhukhuneland through Port Elizabeth to Langa’ (in the Western Cape).

The United Democratic Front (UDF), the ANC’s internal wing in the 1980s, blamed the NP government both for this pamphlet and for the wider UDF/Azapo conflict. But township residents knew better who was responsible, according to Azapo secretary general George Wauchope. However, both they and the journalists who could have named the perpetrators were too ‘paralysed by fear’ to do so, he said.

Hence, when Azapo supporters were necklaced, when Wauchope’s Soweto home was torched in a fusillade of petrol bombs, and when Azapo supporter Fana Mhlongo (14) was abducted, tortured, and shot through the head, terror prevented people from speaking out. It also encouraged township residents to join the UDF, prompting another Azapo activist to say, ‘The UDF’s game is fear and that’s why they’re in the majority.’

Azapo had thus been greatly weakened by February 1990, when the ANC was unbanned and was able to secure (this time with the NP government’s help) the return of some 13 000 Umkhonto cadres whom it then refused either to disband or to disarm.

From early in 1990 political killings began to surge. Some of these attacks were directed at Azapo and the PAC, which had also been unbanned in February 1990. In the first seven months of 1990, no fewer than five Azapo or PAC activists were killed in unexplained car accidents, prompting an Azapo spokesman to ask: ‘We need to know what has suddenly gone wrong with the cars in this country that they are killing all the activists.’

Azapo and PAC supporters were also attacked and killed in various townships, particularly Bekkersdal and Munsieville on the West Rand. Survivors were given the choice of joining the ANC or leaving the area for good, as the ANC had to be accepted as ‘the sole operational party’.

BC resistance soon petered out, with neither Azapo nor the PAC posing any threat to the ANC’s dominance by the time of the first all-race election in 1994. Yet such is the power of ANC propaganda that the organisation’s vendetta against the BC movement has never been understood – and has now largely been forgotten.

In the course of the people’s war, whenever the UDF or ANC role in violence was becoming too obvious to conceal, the movement’s response was always to blame the NP government and/or its surrogates. This is what the UDF did in the mid 1980s when the attacks on Wauchope and other Azapo activists were accelerating. This is what the ANC repeatedly did in the early 1990s, when it used the ‘Third Force’ accusation against the NP government and the IFP to distract attention from Umkhonto’s role in the killing of some 15 000 black civilians, many of whom had links to either BC or Inkatha.

More than 23 years after the people’s war that brought the ANC to power, some in the organisation still seem to think that they can play the ‘Third Force’ card to distract attention from the reasons for political killings.

In recent years, an increasing number of ANC activists in KwaZulu-Natal have been ambushed and shot dead in precisely the ways that Umkhonto cadres were taught to use. The motives for these killings are now different – ranging from competition over the spoils of political office to attempts to conceal corruption – but the methods being used are much the same. However, lest too many awkward questions be asked, the ANC’s secretary general in the province, Super Zuma, has suggested that a ‘sponsored Third Force’ might be behind these murders.

The ANC’s responsibility for poor governance, malfeasance, and corruption is becoming ever more apparent. However, South Africans also need to start cutting through decades of ANC propaganda so that they can grasp the real nature of the ANC’s ‘struggle’ – and understand just how ruthless the organisation was in waging war on its black rivals.

Various commentators have picked up on the absurdity of Zuma’s likening himself to Biko. What too few understand, however, is the role that all key ANC leaders played in destroying the BC movement so as to help secure their own hegemony.

*Anthea Jeffery, Head of Policy Research, IRR, a think-tank that promotes political and economic freedom. Jeffery is also the author of People’s War: New Light on the Struggle for South Africa. 

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