Opinion By Carl Niehaus
DR. NEIL Aggett died on the February 5, 1982 in detention, at the hands of the apartheid security police. The day after his death there was a protest gathering at the Johannesburg City Hall. I was a young student at the University of the Witwatersrand, and as I came out of the hall the apartheid police pounced on us.
An elderly African woman in front of me was pushed down to the ground, and kicked by a white policeman. I lost my cool and shouted at the policeman to stop, this attracted the attention of other police officers who started punching me, and then dragged me to a nearby police van.
As I was forced into the back of the police van, a police officer deliberately bashed my head into the sharp steel edge of the door of the enclosed canopy. It caused a deep gash, and blood was running down my face and neck. Up to this day I have a scar on the top of my head, fortunately covered by my hair, from that injury.
I was taken to the holding cells at John Vorster Square police station, slapped around and told that our peaceful protest gathering was somehow related to violence in the townships. My protestations that the gathering was peaceful was simply screamed down and rejected. Eventually three days later I was released. That was my first experience of detention without trial. The next hear, in 1983, I was arrested again and held for a couple of months in solitary confinement, and badly tortured, before I was charged with High Treason.
These experiences flooded back when on July 8 I was arrested in front of the Escourt prison where President Jacob Zuma is being incarcerated, while I was doing an interview with SABC TV. The manner in which I was arrested live on television, taken under my arms and force marched to the police van, had many similarities to my arrest 38 years earlier.
Also similar was the tone of the voice of the police captain who arrested me, and the manner in which he swore at me when I was driven to the police station. Nor could I help but notice that the cold and bare holding cell where I was locked up in the charge office, had a similar smell to the cell where I was detained so many years ago at John Vorster Square.
None of this was pleasant at all. The memories of abuse of the law, and police brutality, which I thought had almost been erased in the intervening years, were suddenly awfully clear, as if they had only happened yesterday.
Thinking about it now three weeks later, it is actually not so strange, because those experiences, and what was done to me, were similar to what had been done so many years ago under apartheid. In fact, to call it similar, is to be too generous. It is actually exactly the same mentality. The very same old repressive apartheid mentality.
This same mentality and conduct is also what struck me about how the peaceful and lawful protest action of the #FreeJacobZuma campaign is deliberately being framed as if being part of the terrible recent violence and looting.
No matter that the #FreeJacobZuma campaign always called for peaceful and lawful protest action, a malicious narrative is being pushed and we are being framed, despite the fact that not a single shred of credible evidence has been presented, that we were among those who egged on the violence and looting. Even worse, that we were somehow part of the ‘instigators’ of the ill-conceived description of these sad events as an ‘insurrection’.
Those who peddle these blatant lies – which is nothing less than malicious scapegoating – know very well that it is not true, but it suits them in order to avoid having to face the roots, and real harsh realities, of the violence and looting which stem from desperate poverty, hunger to the point of people dying, and the dismal failure of the ANC government to address the ever-growing inequality gap.
South Africa is the most unequal society in the world, not to mention the maladministration, and whole scale looting of Covid-19 relief funds.
Myself, and others, who have taken the lead in the #FreeJacobZuma campaign, have never tried to condone the violence and looting. In fact we have condemned it, and are on record to have called for it to stop. However, we have also, on a matter of principle, refused to simply vilify and criminalise those who participated, because of the very real conditions of socio-economic deprivation and severe suffering that I have referred to.
We have been very clear that in order to find a lasting solution to the tragedy that had befallen our country, the legitimate needs and hopes of the majority of black (especially African) South Africans need to be addressed, and that it cannot be done without urgently implementing radical socio-economic transformation.
Thus, we have petitioned President Ramaphosa with a set of demands for Radical Economic Transformation (RET), which he has unfortunately arrogantly ignored.
Instead of taking these very real concerns that the #FreeJacobZuma campaign raises, seriously, the ANC leadership has apparently decided – just like the apartheid regime of old – to rather vilify and frame us as ‘vigilantes’, and promoters of violence. I have never thought that I would have to compare the conduct of the leadership of the ANC with that of the evil apartheid regime, but sadly that awful day has now arrived.
Writing this now is one of the hardest, and saddest, things that I have ever had to do. But there we have it: The ANC leadership decided to call the continuing peaceful and lawful protest action that the #FreeJacobZuma campaign announced on Wednesday in our media statement, the “second phase” of protests (as if it is something similar to the second and third waves of the Covid-19 pandemic), falsely but deliberately and maliciously linking it to the violence and looting that had thankfully now subsided. These party leaders went further, and claimed that our announcement of peaceful protest action was “similar to the modus operandi used ahead of the violence in July”, and even went as far as to urge the police to “take action” against us.
For what? For executing our democratic right to freedom of speech? In having done so they have done no less than literally painted us as villains, who are to be targeted. There is now a free for all and sundry to come for us. They have literally taken their red propaganda paint, and painted cross-hair targets on us. This is the stuff of assassinations, and deliberately putting people’s lives at risk. In 1993 a similar smear campaign preceded the assassination of comrade Chris Hani.
God forbid that this may happen again, but those who are complicit in this smear campaign of vilification and character assassination must never be able to say that we have not warned them about the dangerous consequences of their actions. They are playing with fire, and if anything of the kind happens, they will not escape responsibility for their callous behaviour.
Such calls are repressive and undemocratic, and indicative of repressive dictatorship-like tendencies. They are based on shame faced, and blatant, propaganda lies. No different from the Stratcom propaganda lies that the apartheid regime used to vilify legitimate, and peaceful, anti-apartheid protests, and tried to justify and legitimise their vicious – and often violent – oppression of those protests.
Similarly to that apartheid regime of old, we are simply told that despite our expressed commitment to peaceful and lawful protest, the “ANC will not accept that our planned protests will be peaceful”. For comrades who have themselves in the past, under the apartheid regime, been at the receiving end of apartheid repression, and who were the victims of Stratcom propaganda campaigns, to resort to similar tactics is not only disingenuous, it is moral and political bankruptcy. It is downright nauseating and disgusting!
At the risk of becoming repetitive, let me state again: The #FreeJacobZuma campaign has never called, and will never call, for violence and looting. Our campaign does not have a “first” or “second phase”. We have a seamless continuous message, that President Jacob Zuma must be released immediately, and that the successful future of our beloved country depends on addressing the needs and hopes of black (especially African) South Africans, as contained in the Radical Economic Transformation demands in our petition to President Cyril Ramaphosa.
We are patriotic, peace loving, law abiding, democratic South Africans, many of whom have dedicated our lives to the liberation of South Africa. We have fought and sacrificed for our inalienable right to freedom of speech, and our other civil liberties, as contained in the Bill of Rights and our Constitution.
Having faced the violence, torture, and imprisonment of the apartheid regime, we will not be fazed by the lies and undemocratic repression that even some of our own comrades now try to muster against us. We fought apartheid, and despite having had to pay a heavy price, we emerged victoriously. Whatever the price that we may have to pay now again, including the consequences of the Stratcom lies, we know the truth, and we know that we will again emerge victoriously.
Of course there have been those embedded propaganda journalists in the mainstream media who have been enthusiastically pushing this false narrative, of trying to frame those of us who have taken the lead in the #FreeJacobZuma campaign, as involved and responsible for the violence. Foremost among them is the foreign funded Daily Maverick.
On the basis of lies, myself and also comrade Lungisa, are being maligned and targeted. Since this article was published, the number of anonymous death threats that I receive on a daily basis, has multiplied.
We certainly live in dangerous and difficult times where constant vigilance is critical, if we do not want see our hard fought for civil liberties being eroded.
* Carl Niehaus is a former ambassador of South Africa to The Netherlands. He is also a former member of the NEC of the ANC. He is an ANC veteran, whose ANC membership is temporarily suspended. He wrote this article in his personal capacity.
DO YOU HAVE A NEWS STORY OR AN OPINION FOR CENTRAL NEWS: E-mail us : firstname.lastname@example.org or Whatsapp us on 083 398 9119