The massacre at the Lonmin mine made me look at the frequency of massacres in Africa - especially South Africa - through the years. It seems to me that massacres occur more frequently in Africa than anywhere else in the world. Could it be that mass murders of civilians are part of the African psyche or is it simply a convergence of unfortunate circumstances?
Let us go back in the sorry history of massacres in Africa to look for answers.
Shaka the instigator of mass murder
The savagery of Shaka's rule and expansionist policies are well known. Arguably the worst massacre instigated by him occurred shortly after his mother Nandi died. According to reputable historians he used his grief to get rid of rivals, as well as anybody who broke mourning taboos thought up by Shaka himself.
He condemned individuals on the spur of the moment and with a calculated callousness for offenses such as sneezing when he was talking or making him laugh when he wanted to be serious. Victims were usually clubbed to death and their bodies left in the veld for the vultures, which became known throughout Zululand as 'the king's birds'.
Can we then say that this tendency to massacre enemies at the drop of a hat is an inherent trait of the Zulu nation and the reason we live in such a violent society? I think that would be an over-simplification of a very complex situation. It is exactly such generalisations that led to colonial and apartheid policies.
The massacre of Piet Retief and his companions by Dingane
"I see that every white man is an enemy to the black, and every black man an enemy to the white, they do not love each other and never will." King Dingane to Richard Hulley, February 1838
The tragic events on 6th February 1838 at Mgungundlovu, Dingane's stronghold in Zululand were, in hindsight, inevitable. There seems little doubt that Dingane was convinced that the Voortrekkers were intent on invading his domain and even that they were planning to kill him. This puts an entirely different spin on the history I was taught at school.The fact remains that 70 Voortrekkers and their servants were brutally and savagely beaten to death on that fateful day.
"What happened at Mgungudlovu was not - as was written in old Eurocentric history books that were overly sympathetic towards the Voortrekkers - the savage murder by a barbaric African monarch of well-meaning, peace-loving Christians. Instead it was a well-planned pre-emptive attack by the Zulus on the Voortrekkers. That is the importance of the event. This does not whitewash Dingane and his councillors. The massacre of Retief and his companions was certainly done in a most brutal way, after luring the Voortrekkers into a deadly trap.
"Dingane was undoubtedly guilty of foul play, even treachery. Nobody can be excused for murdering a visitor and his companions in cold blood after signing an agreement with them and then inviting them to a farewell feast. But that was how Dingane's personality operated. He had previously, to mention only one example, gained supreme power in the Zulu kingdom when he murdered his half-brother Shaka by stabbing him in the back."(Jackie Grobler: Historia vol.56 no.2 Durban Nov. 2011)
Can we then deduce from history that conflicts of interest in Africa will always end up in massacres? Is it then in the very nature of the African personality to kill, rather than negotiate? Was the negotiated settlement reached in South Africa after Nelson Mandela's release a flash in the pan, never to be repeated again? These are rhetorical questions that will only be answered in our future.
I will not go into detail about the massacres resulting from the hatred between the Hutus and Tutsis in Zaire ending in the brutal genocidal killing of hundreds of thousands of innocent people. Suffice it to say that the hatred was certainly blown up to a full-blown genocide by something as simple as one radio station spewing hate speech. Neither will I elaborate on the massacres perpetrated in Matabeleland by Mugabe's goons, nor all the other atrocities against humanity in virtually every country in Africa in the last 50 years.
Daily massacres in South Africa
It is estimated that about 43 people die violent deaths in South Africa daily. This estimate is probably far below the real figure. More than 100 policemen are murdered every year. This can surely be called a massacre?
Mob violence, especially if directed towards a small minority of people can be the most frightening and nightmarish thing imaginable. Bear this in mind when I deal with the Sharpville and Lonmin massacres.
Sharpville, the massacre that changed a nation's history
The events in Sharpville have always been depicted by the liberal press and even so-called unbiased historians as a one-sided affair, where police opened fire on unarmed civilians gathering for a 'peaceful' demonstration. What then led a 'peaceful' demonstration to become a massacre? To understand this one has to look at the run-up to the event.
The ANC had decided to launch a campaign of protests against the pass laws, which was supposed to take place on 31st March 1960. As usual in African politics, the rival PAC decided to upstage the ANC by launching their own campaign 10 days earlier on 21st March.
Only two months earlier nine policemen had been murdered in a similar protest by a mob at Cato Manor. The 20 very young constables must have been absolutely petrified when 5 000 to 7 000 people converged on the police station to 'offer themselves up for arrest' for not carrying pass books. Later the crowd grew to about 19 000.
The situation now turned ugly with the 19 000 people becoming "insulting, menacing and provocative". Many of them were armed with rocks. Bearing in mind that their colleagues had been stoned to death, I certainly don't blame the young policemen for calling for reinforcements. About 130 police reinforcements arrived soon afterwards.
"At about 1:00 pm the police tried to arrest an alleged ringleader. There was a scuffle, and the throng surged forward. At least two officers present on the scene warned their men to load firearms but stressed they were only to be used in cases of dire emergency. Protesters began screaming as they succeeded in reaching the fence and tearing the gates from their hinges. One police commander was thrown to the ground; others were possibly pelted with makeshift projectiles. The shooting began shortly thereafter.
"The official figure is that 69 people were killed, including 8 women and 10 children, and 180 injured, including 31 women and 19 children. Many were shot in the back as they turned to flee."(Wikipedia)
I am certainly not condoning what happened at Sharpville. But I can understand how anybody faced with the sight of 19 000 people with rocks in hand, storming towards them menacingly after breaking down fences and gates in their path, could panic and start firing at the crowd. On both sides violence as a means of resolving conflict was used with tragic results.
The recent massacre at the Lonmin Mine
Compare the Sharpville tragedy with the recent one in Marikana and you will find some similarities. In the Lonmin case, rival unions trying to make political capital out of sweeping up the crowd's emotions. The killing of two security guards by a mob a few days prior to the massacre. A crowd of many thousands of armed militants converging on a relatively small police force and actually firing at them. Most of the crowd believing foolishly that a sangoma's muti would safe-guard them from bullets. The culture of violence among the police force. Remember self-styled General Beki Cele's injunction to his police force to "shoot to kill?"
In many of these instances it appears as if poor, gullible people were exploited and their plight was used by unscrupulous people with their own political agendas. In both Sharpville and Marikana, an overwhelming force of armed militants converged on a relatively small (admittedly well-armed, and trigger-happy) police force with disastrous and tragic results.
This does not answer my question: are we in Africa wired to use violence to settle our differences? Sadly if you look at the history of Africa from Shaka through to Marikana, it certainly seems like it.
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