Inspired by the Events of 28th September 2016 –
Police Shooting on RU students.
“Superintendent Officer Mthembu”
by Leroy Maisiri (ZACF)
If our pain was turned into an art museum the most popular exhibit would showcase portraits of the South African Police Service with our bodies on the floor as their footstools. Our silenced screams chock up the airways in our throats, our tracheas burst out and with both hands we grab the artery veins in an attempt to contain the bleeding, trying to redirect this blood, this life back into the cause and yes, bang, bang, bang; you keep shooting and yes bang, bang, bang, we keep running.
But please first allow me to start this poetic prose in Joza extension 7, the peripheral of the township itself almost excommunicated from the centre of Grahamstown. Somewhere unclearly mapped by angry ground stones who share their space with the kind of dust that does not easily settle well on the road, is what looks like an afterthought of an RDP house. In it is Superintendent Officer Mthembu. A child of the working class. Mthembu on his tea breaks always jokes about how he wanted to be a lawyer, most of his stories start with the words “and during the apartheid…” he would recall those memories so well, remembering quite clearly all the fights, the protests, the revolutionary climate that engrossed South Africa. His stories would also always end with “…if only I could afford the fees in ’94, I would have been a qualified lawyer like Madiba”.
In the heat of the struggle for statues like that of Rhodes – the arch-symbol of British imperialism – to be pulled down, and in the midst of the horror of the recent xenophobic attacks in South Africa, few people seemed to notice an announcement by Jacob Zuma that South African troops will remain at war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) for another year.
Of course, Zuma made this announcement on behalf of the South African ruling class – comprised today of white capitalists and a black elite mainly centred around the state, Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) and ‘traditional’ royal families. In this there was a real irony that while Rhodes’s likeness was falling from its perch at the University of Cape Town, and immigrants from other parts of Africa and Asia were being attacked because of sentiments stoked up by a rehabilitated relic of apartheid (the Zulu king, Zwelithini), the South African ruling class felt brash enough to say they will be continuing their own imperialist war in the DRC.
Like in all wars, including those promoted by the likes of Rhodes, it is not the ruling class that are actually doing the fighting in the DRC, but the sons and daughters of the working class. Reflecting on the First World War, Alexander Berkman noted that the working class are not really sent to war to save the poor or workers, but to protect and further the interests of the rulers, governors and capitalists of their countries1. This applies equally so today in the case of South African troops’ involvement in the DRC. Indeed, what South Africa’s war in the DRC shows is that the South African ruling class don’t just exploit and oppress the working class in South Africa, but the working class in many other areas in the rest of Africa. It also shows that both at home and abroad they will use violence to do so, including trying to turn different sections of the working class on one another, by amongst other things tapping into nationalism, racism, ethnic chauvinism and xenophobia.