The politics of fear

2008-10-15 00:00

Personal courage and fortitude crowd the pages of this book. Directly or indirectly Andrew Ragavaloo lost three family members and five close political colleagues during the Richmond unrest of 1997 to 1999 that killed well over 100 people. But he stuck to his task as mayor, surviving to see peace restored to the community.

Now he provides a detailed and gripping insight into the politics of fear. This is a chilling and often graphic account of the effects of warlordism that turned an obscure rural community into the site of a low-level civil war. However, for all its fascination, the reader is left with as many questions as answers.

The mayhem started with Sifiso Nkabinde’s summary expulsion from the ANC in April 1997 for being a police spy. Prevented from taking over the local political machinery, he instituted a reign of terror. Yet he did not suddenly turn into a vicious warlord: he was already an authoritarian thug happily ensconced in the upper echelons of the provincial ANC. Extraordinarily, Ragavaloo records that “in the past, when we were both on the same side, I would have supported any of his plans”.

The third force pops up regularly like some evil genie. It is time it is re-examined and this book shows why. While Nkabinde was an awaiting-trial prisoner, relative peace reigned. The Richmond war was not part of a wider conspiracy, but opportunistic localised terrorism aided and abetted by right-wing whites, some of them policemen.

It is a pity that the author chose to write so much of this account as direct speech, giving it a somewhat contrived air. But accounts of the political dynamics of familiar, small communities are rare. This one is valuable, first-hand history and while you are reading it, consider the

current ructions in the ANC.

Christopher Merrett

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