Anthea Jeffery’s People’s War Launched in Johannesburg
Anthea Jeffery’s People’s War: New light on the struggle for South Africa is described thus on the Jonathan Ball website:
“Fifteen years have passed since South Africans were being shot or hacked or burned to death in political conflict; and the memory of the trauma has faded. Some 20 500 people were nevertheless killed between 1984 and 1994. The conventional wisdom is that they died at the hands of a state-backed Third Force, but the more accurate explanation is that they died as a result of the people’s war the ANC unleashed.”
This third book from Anthea Jeffery may prove explosive; guests were left stunned at the Exclusive Books Hyde Park launch on Thursday, 3 September. People’s War challenges the very basis of our understanding of contemporary South Africa.
Introduced by EB’s Maryanne Hancock, John Kane-Berman, President of the South African Institute of Race Relations (which co-hosted the event), spoke about the lawlessness that was originally fomented to make South Africa ungovernable in the death throws of Apartheid; he described it as a “genie that cannot easily be put back in the bottle.” He explained how besides policies and procedure, a wider violent strategy was adopted by the ANC, MK and other allies during this period.
Seeing a change in the temperament of political demonstrations and who was at them in the late 80s and early 90s, analysts starting looking at whether there was a new organized strategy at work – as opposed to spontaneous political protest. Kane-Berman spoke of how broadcasts of Radio Freedom seemed to correlate with, and pre-empt episodes of violence on the ground in South Africa.
In addition, he said, much of what was happening in the townships and throughout SA’s cities wasn’t being written about. Black journalists were not particularly keen to write about the violence they were witnessing, for fear of repercussions. The SAIRR’s 1991 book Mau-mauing the Media documented this “unofficial [self] censorship”.
Kane-Berman articulated how in 1990, within 3 months of the unbanning of the ANC, researchers realized that this period was going to be the most violent in South Africa since the end of World War II. The conventional explanation accepted by South Africans for so long has been the idea of a Third Force in part created by FW de Klerk. But Kane-Berman queried why a man who released political prisoners would orchestrate such violence: “Why would FW take such huge political risks and then shoot himself in the foot?”
Kane-Berman left us to ponder the seemingly imponderable: that South Africa’s 1994 election was not “a miracle” but a planned result of a far-reaching violent political strategy. People’s War is a book about understanding this and getting to grips with a new perspective of the end of Apartheid.
Kane-Berman praised Jeffery’s work, citing her prodigious energy, meticulous research skills, writing ability and most of all her courage in connecting the dots and writing about the “people’s war”. He said he hoped this book would make a difference.
Anthea Jeffrey then took the mic and fleshed out the background to the book with care and detail. She said the “people’s war” started in 1985 with the first wave of school boycotts in the Eastern Cape, with intimidation and violence perpetrated against those who stayed away. The gruesome practice of necklacing started in Uitenhage, she said, with the necklacing of KwaNobuhle community councillor Benjamin Kinkini. Jeffery stated that Kinikini shot his own son to save him the agony of being necklaced. Later that year 8 other people were necklaced in Port Elizabeth.
There seemed to be a concerted outbreak of violence against community members and leaders who wouldn’t toe the ANC line, including security police members and their families. Jeffery said that the idea was to collapse local government.
She explained how this new type of revolutionary war, the “people’s war”, was both political and military, creating “a hammer and anvil between which there was no differentiation of combatants versus civilians”. Everyone was expendable in the same way as arms and ammunition – including children.
In addition to the “people’s war” there was “a persistent propaganda campaign with a constant repetition of themes”. Untruths spread from seemingly diverse quarters became accepted as truths. The National Party government, IFP and the “Third Force” were blamed for all the violence. Society was in ferment with ANC street committees giving way to combat units aimed at bringing everyone under control through terror. The violence became an ongoing, unstoppable circle with police resorting to “draconian methods” in response to it.
In 1993 Mangosuthu Buthelezi drew attention to the 275 IFP leaders who had been killed since 1985 – he asked why this was of no consequence. He asked how the 1994 election could be free and fair in such a climate and withdrew from the election process in protest. He was demonized for his views and actions at the time.
Jeffery’s book lays out how the “people’s war” allowed the ANC to dominate the negotiating process, marginalizing people like Buthelezi, and seize a virtual monopoly on power in 1994.
In her opinion, the election of 1994 was “deeply flawed”, and in the last 15 years the bright new start that was promised then has been betrayed. The violence and culture of terror from pre-1994 plays a role in the “plague of violent crime” which SA faces today. She finds that the “people’s war” is a major factor in the increasingly violent strikes, such as the recent SANDF strike, which the country is grappling with.
Jeffrey hopes that People’s War will “strip away the veil across SA’s recent history and allow us all to see it more clearly”. In the book she acknowledges and honours the “little people” who were caught up in this war and hopes it will enable families, friends and all South Africans to understand why they died.