BBC TV: From Sharpeville To Marikana

Paul Trewhela

BBC television screened a major documentary in Britain on Wednesday night, “South Africa: The massacre that changed a nation”, with a quite exceptional political reach across more than 50 years: from the massacre at Sharpeville in 1960 to the massacre at Marikana last year.

That grim framework from one massacre by armed police to another – from the apartheid state under the rule of the National Party to present-day South Africa, after nearly 20 years of ANC government – from black-and-white to colour, in documentary footage  – received a thread of continuity from its presenter, a former British cabinet minister whose parents had been banned activists of the long defunct Liberal Party of South Africa in Pretoria, where he grew up.

Peter Hain – chairman in 1969 and 1970 of the Stop the Tour campaign in Britain against cricket and rugby matches played against teams from apartheid South Africa, and today a veteran Labour Party MP, with a constituency in a former mining area in Wales – travelled across South Africa’s social, racial and geographical spectrum. He interviewed high and low, from President Jacob Zuma in green official gardens to the mother of a slain Marikana miner, destitute on a hilltop in the Eastern Cape.

Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke affectionately recalled bars of chocolate which Hain’s mother, Adelaine, had brought him every day while he was a youngster awaiting trial, before serving his ten-year term on Robben Island – the site of another interview, with Nelson Mandela’s Rivonia Trial co-accused, Ahmed Kathrada.

A survivor of the shootings at Marikana on 16 August last year was counterposed with a senior executive of Lonmin, and both counterposed with Julius Malema giving forth about poverty and nationalisation on his own luxurious green lawn.

“My husband was killed by the ANC”, said the widow of a Marikana miner.

“The media exaggerates”, said President Zuma, as he explained (and explained away) his Nkandla estate, professing ignorance of its actual costs. The difficulty at Marikana, regrettable as it was, had been “provoked.” (As a journalist explained: the president’s new Secrecy Law, more terrible than anything under apartheid, was his solution to the nuisance caused to him by others).

“White monopoly capital” collaborating with the ANC state, said Julius Malema, adding that the government had no clear idea about how to “resolve the two economies”, of those in the abyss and those enjoying the good life in Sandton.

“It looked like the ANC turned its guns on its own people,” reflected Peter Hain, who 48 years ago as a 15-year-old delivered the memorial address which his parents were barred from giving themselves, after their family friend John Harris was hanged in Pretoria Central prison for the Johannesburg station bomb of the previous July, which killed an old woman and maimed many others. His parents’ friend, Jill Wentzel, author of The Liberal Slideaway and veteran champion of the Black Sash, sitting in the same courtroom, recalled the grim face of the hanging judge on the day of sentencing.

Ferial Haffajee, editor of City Press, spoke of corruption, while Ronnie Kasrils – ex-minister in both Nelson Mandela’s and Thabo Mbeki’s governments, and former head of military intelligence in Umhonto we Sizwe in exile – spoke of a “comprador class” of black tenderpreneurs which had become attached to the structures of white-owned capital, resulting, he said, in “crisis.”

Guided by associate producer Sue Cullinan, the programme provided as sharp and accurate a survey of South Africa’s great historic conflicts and their only very limited resolution as any likely to be seen.

But between the denialism of the President (looking and sounding very uncomfortable) and the demagogic mirage of a statist heaven asserted by a very comfortable Mr Malema, there was no leadership.


South Africa: The Massacre That Changed a Nation, BBC Two, Review


I had assumed that South Africa: the Massacre That Changed a Nation (BBC Two) would be a documentary telling the story of what happened at the Marikana platinum mine, the largest in the world, near Johannesburg, last August. Thirty-four miners were shot dead by police as they protested over poor pay. The shootings were all the more shocking for having taken place in the full view of television news, as if nothing overly untoward was occurring.

But Labour MP Peter Hain’s outstanding film (part of the BBC’s excellent This World strand) offered much more than just a dab of background to go with a reminder of what took place. Hain, who was brought up in Pretoria and became a staunch anti-apartheid protester once his parents were hounded out of South Africa and moved to the UK, portrayed the Marikana massacre as the fruition of social and economic bad seeds sown when the ANC first came to power.

Hain and film-maker John Thynne had put the legwork in – from trekking up mountain paths to interview family members of miners who’d been killed, to buttonholing the CEO of Lonmin, the British company that runs the mine. From all this he assembled a picture of a South Africa that 20 years after the end of apartheid is still ruinously divided – but along lines of wealth and power now, instead of just race.

What really impressed was that for once the celebrity name in front of the camera had used his contacts and clout to bring the film something it otherwise couldn’t have had. Here, that meant everything from evidence that the massacre was pre-arranged to an interview with President Jacob Zuma. As Zuma smiled and squirmed in the face of an impressive Hain cross-examination, it struck you that whatever new dawn the end of apartheid was meant to bring, this surely wasn’t it.

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Marikana mine massacre casts long shadow


South Africa changed irrevocably when apartheid was abolished and the African National Congress came to power. But in an emotional return to the country of his youth, the British MP and former government minister Peter Hain came face to face with the bitter legacy of last year’s shootings at the Marikana mine.

It was a moving homecoming.

I returned to my old school where in Pretoria, in my day in the early 1960s, apartheid decreed it was for whites only. This time, I witnessed blacks and whites, friends and students together.

I interviewed an old comrade of my anti-apartheid parents in the Supreme Courtroom, where Nelson Mandela had been on trial for his life in 1964 and where that same year a close family friend had been sentenced to death.

The emotional turmoil of those grim apartheid years coming flooding back.

I met Dikgang Moseneke who told me how, as a frightened 15-year-old on a treason charge, my mother Adelaine had comforted him by bringing him a bar of his cherished chocolate every day – until he was sentenced to 10 years on Robben Island.

He is now South Africa’s acclaimed Deputy Chief Justice.

I was thrilled to witness multi-racial cricket played at Cape Town’s international arena, Newlands, Table Mountain majestic behind.

After my parents were forced to leave in 1966 for exile in Britain, I led protests in the UK to disrupt all-white South African rugby and cricket tours.

Then I could only hope and believe that this would bring about change – here at Newlands was the proof, visible all around me.

After Nelson Mandela walked to freedom from 27 years in prison, later to lead his country, he began a process of joyous transformation from evil and bitterness.

South Africa today is an amazing and beautiful country to visit, with an infectious spirit of energy and liberation.

But I was dismayed to find rampant corruption – and bitter resentment directed towards the African National Congress which freed the country but whose leaders are now widely accused, by their own supporters, of self-enrichment.

And one word came up time and again: “Marikana”.

Last August’s terrible police massacre of striking black miners – killing 34 and injuring 78 – symbolises a crisis facing the country.

At Lonmin’s Marikana Platinum mine north-west of Johannesburg, I heard shocking stories of cold-blooded executions and torture – reminiscent of some of the worst atrocities of apartheid.

Lawyers representing families of the dead and injured told me, on the margins of an official Commission of Inquiry, that the massacre seemed pre-planned. This is denied by the police and Lonmin.

At least under the country’s vibrant multi-racial democracy the truth will come out whereas under apartheid, barbarity was invariably covered up.

But it was still shocking to hear a white police ballistics expert confirm to the inquiry that the machine guns used against the defenceless miners were “weapons of war”.

It was equally chilling to read a letter sent on 13 August 2012 – three days before the massacre – from Lonmin to the Minister of Mines, asking for the full force of the state to be brought to bear on the strikers.

I put this to the CEO of Lonmin, Simon Scott, who denied it was an appeal for violence.

The Marikana Commission will have to decide whether the killings were premeditated.

But no wonder the widows and their lawyers saw events as sinister, not simply tragic.

Walking amid rows of macabre white crosses to mark the dead, I concluded that Marikana was indeed a turning point, as former ANC government minister and struggle leader Ronnie Kasrils told me.

“I believe it’s an actual watershed which the ruling party needs to understand. I feel that we have lost our way to quite a degree,” he said.

“South Africa’s got to re-think its economic position. If we can’t find a way to deal with the needs of the workers of this country we are… facing [a] crisis.”

Not only was it horrific, but the clash between the London Stock Exchange-listed company and its poor black workers suggests that – although democracy came with human rights entrenched for all – the inequalities of apartheid are unchanged.

A new, black elite has been co-opted into the white business establishment – a few even becoming billionaires.

Lonmin has just appointed a black African Chief Executive, Ben Magara. But the fundamentals of an economy run for a 9% white minority seem unreformed.

The ANC government of President Zuma has a mountain to climb – apartheid bequeathed to Mandela and his followers a harsh inheritance.

Insatiable demand for new housing means nobody could have expected enough homes to be built – though fully three million have been.

Nobody could have imagined that education could have been totally transformed from serving whites only – though the number of black children at school has doubled.

Millions have also received running water and electricity under the ANC.

Yet so much more could have been achieved if corruption hadn’t become almost institutionalised, blocking proper delivery of vital services.

And this, I discovered, is what is breeding daily and country-wide community protests, in which two million people were involved last year.

Frustration recently erupted into violence at Marikana and in the stunning wine-producing valleys of the Western Cape where I also travelled.

But despite everything, I am optimistic. This is still a country with enormous natural resources, good infrastructure and long established administrative mechanisms.

Whatever the failings of its local and national leaders, most ANC policies remain admirable.

The spirit of Mandela remains strong despite his grave frailty. There is a fine constitution entrenching freedoms. Importantly, there is a vociferous parliamentary opposition and independent pressure groups demanding civil liberties, transparency and honest government.

And above all for me personally, the rainbow nation is still an inspirational star compared with the depravity and brutality of apartheid.


My South Africa, riven by self-interest


The head teacher at one of the many new schools built by Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress held out his hands in anguish. “I don’t have enough textbooks, and the president is spending all our money [£23 million] on his personal palace?”

A loyal ANC voter, he feels betrayed. As do millions of others – but not with the fact that the government of South African President Jacob Zuma hasn’t solved all the country’s problems. The head teacher knew only too well that the awful legacy of apartheid – mass poverty, homelessness and, above all, the deliberate policy by ruling whites to ensure blacks had no skills – could never be overturned in 19 years of democracy. That wasn’t his gripe. He was proud that the ANC had doubled the number of children at school and was now spending more per head on education than almost any other country in the world.

What pained him most was that ANC leaders now seemed to be preoccupied with corruptly enriching themselves at the taxpayers’ expense, not sticking true to Mandela’s values. “They are looting the country,” ANC members told me time and again as I travelled around this amazing and beautiful country.

For me, it was a moving homecoming, going back to my old school in Pretoria to see it transformed into a vibrant symbol of the country’s rainbow multi-racialism; in my day in the early 1960s, apartheid decreed it was strictly whites-only.

I met Dikgang Moseneke, South Africa’s deputy chief justice, in his chambers in the Constitutional Court that guards perhaps the most impressive constitution in the world. He emotionally recalled how, as a 15-year-old, he had been bolstered by the supportive presence in court of my anti-apartheid activist mother, Adelaine, who daily brought him a favourite bar of chocolate before he was despatched to Robben Island for 10 years’ imprisonment.

Standing on the hallowed turf of the world’s most beautiful cricket ground, Newlands, with Table Mountain dreamily lording it above, were cricketers, black and white, warming up before a top match. This is what I had fought for in physically stopping whites-only South African cricket and rugby teams touring Britain from the late 1960s.

The country remains joyously transformed from dark and evil apartheid times. And yet the persistent, embittered sense of betrayal goes well beyond what I know only too well from my own 12 years as a British government minister: seemingly inevitable voter disappointment and disaffection with all parties in all governments.

On Robben Island, I talked with Ahmed Kathrada, one of the eight ANC leaders imprisoned there for 18 years with Nelson Mandela, and perhaps the closest to him. Kathrada’s sense of let-down was palpable, as was that of Ronnie Kasrils, the hard-man intelligence chief of the ANC in its liberation decades and a minister until Zuma took over.

Lawson Naidoo, who ran the ANC’s office in London until the change, complained that new ANC legislation would give the state “far greater powers than even the apartheid government took upon itself, so the ability of the state to classify information is now actually greater than it was under the old legislation”.

Naidoo added: “The real concern is that given the escalating levels of corruption and maladministration that we have seen over many years now, this legislation will be used to cover up and suppress information about mismanagement and corruption, whether it be at national, provincial or at local government level.”

And as a card-carrying party member, he concluded sadly: “The ANC that is there today is an ANC that I no longer recognise.”

When I interviewed President Zuma, he airily dismissed all these criticisms. On chairs set up on the lawn in front of his state residence overlooking Pretoria – a fine old period piece now called Mahlambandlopfu (“washing the elephant”) – he blamed “negative” media reporting.

Last August’s massacre of striking black miners at Lonmin’s Marikana platinum mine outside Rustenberg for many symbolised all that is wrong with Zuma’s South Africa today: “a watershed for the ANC”, Ronnie Kasrils told me bluntly. Filming at Marikana, I was told by lawyers representing families of the dead miners that the massacre was pre-planned. I saw chilling testimony that 22 of the dead were apparently executed in cold blood (away from the initial clash in front of the media, which had left 12 dead) out of a total of 34 fatalities, with 78 injured. Guns were planted on some of the corpses. I met witnesses who claimed to have been intimidated and even tortured by the police. This was all as bad as anything unleashed by the apartheid police.

Although a new black elite has done well, black workers have not benefited as much as they should have done from the country’s growth and stability since democracy came in 1994. This has to change, especially since South Africa is ranked high in both the UN’s measure of attractiveness for foreign direct investment and the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Index, with strong financial institutions, banks and stock market, and a good corporate governance and regulatory framework.

For the ANC, the political challenges today are momentous. Can it make government a Mandela-like “cause” once again, or has the sheer wear and tear of governing coupled with an “our-time-to-eat” temptation to self-enrich made that impossible?

Mandela’s ANC inspired the world, and although there has since been a collapse in values and integrity by self-interested party leaders locally and nationally, there remain many decent, dedicated and principled ANC members, and its policies are still based upon the original values of the founders.

Cyril Ramaphosa’s recent election as deputy president is potentially hugely significant: a former miners’ leader who remains a struggle hero despite his billionaire status and business credibility. Immensely able, he was Mandela’s personally favoured successor back in the 1990s.

Perhaps we all expected too much of the ANC – for it to be different when, despite its deep moral and constitutionalist traditions, it is just as vulnerable to human frailty as political parties the world over (including Britain) – and with immensely more social inequalities than most to grapple with.

There is furthermore a tendency to see post-apartheid South Africa in black and white terms: either as “Mandela’s miracle” or as going down the pan. It is neither – and never was. I remain optimistic about its future.



Mandela: Icon of Icons

In June 2012, Peter spoke at ‘HowTheLightGetsIn,’ an annual festival held in Hay by The Institute of Art and Ideas, where he gave the talk below, called ‘Mandela: Icon of Icons.’

During the talk, Peter discusses the qualities which make Nelson Mandela one of the world’s most potent symbols of the resilience of the human spirit. Drawing on his own experiences as a committed anti-apartheid campaigner Peter considers the exceptional qualities that make Mandela an icon and presents the point of view that Mandela was uniquely placed to lead South Africa to freedom.

Click on the link below to see the video:

Mandela: Icon of Icons