The stench that rises when one lifts the lid off the South African political stewpot has become disgusting.
It was bad enough after the ANC began rotting from the inside with the feud over Zuma and his effective dictatorship, among many other issues, but has become intolerable since the Democratic Alliance began to pour in its woes like some obscene sauce.
Never has there been, certainly not since 1994, such a sickening display in the leading opposition party of back-stabbing, calumny, lies, disloyalty, and slander.
And all of this has been brought to festering by a simple and accurate tweet saying that colonialism did in fact leave behind some useful tools for Africa.
I am no great admirer of Helen Zille in spite of the good work she did as a journalist – always more activist than reporter – and hardly know her, but have great admiration for her intelligence, energy, and dedication to the DA cause.
Now she is being pilloried and will likely be torn apart by the very people she saved from political oblivion when she rescued the DA from its own gutless lassitude and lack of leadership – coming out of the nowhere of UCT administration to shake the party by the scruff of its neck and build on the base left by Tony Leon.
The seeds of division were already within the DA. Many who themselves had neither the personality nor power, or who were too tainted by their political pasts, were jealous of the novice politician. Some didn’t like being told what to do by a youngish, seemingly inexperienced woman, forgetting the record of Helen Suzman. None had the will or strength to challenge her.
To see these people now attacking Zille is enough to make one throw up. What definitely triggers vomit is the wholesale preoccupation by the party with a single fairly innocuous if damnfool “tweet” (a nauseous medium used by twits) when it should be concentrating all its efforts on far more important matters like the numerous national crises created by the Zuma gang, most notably the theft of the judiciary computer records and the blatant support by Zuma of Bathabile Dlamini, SSA chief Mahlobo and others with sullied records now in senior positions. In short, the very overt capture of the State.
How can the DA call itself the Opposition when it doesn’t oppose?
I have been watching most of the comments, analyses, and so-called advice given by the hip-pocket savants on the Daily Maverick, BizNews, Noseweek and various other media and, frankly, most of them are thumb-sucking, vastly subjective, often ill-informed or purely vicious. And too often repetitious, regrinding the same arguments over and over. Pierre de Vos, who should know better, offered his “two cents worth” responding to Ferial Haffajee, who defended Zille’s right to freedom of speech. Frankly, he’s right, it isn’t worth more than two cents. Eusebius Mackaiser was simply insulting; if that’s the best a self-styled political analyst can do he should write about growing dahlias. Eddie Maloka, of whom I had not heard before, had the cheek to tell Zille “She can’t forget she’s white …” Now there’s a new slant on racialism.
Zuma and Co must be chortling with glee as they dance one-legged around their campfire raising their jars of Johnny Walker Blue or Fanta. Never before has there been so timely a distraction from their train crashes as that within the Opposition.
The one man for whom I feel sorry for is Mmusi Maimane, DA leader. Now even he is disloyally asking for Zille’s head on a pole, like Gordon’s at Khartoum. He could find another way out of the mess and into fresh air, such as a severe chastisement and a promise from her never to tweet again, or various other disciplinary options maybe even demotion. But no, he must exert his “Africanness” so as not to offend potential voters – forgetting that the DA is supposed to be a non-racial party and not his alone.
In disposing of Zille he might fragment the party and dispose of himself in the process. He could be seen as racist.
For a start, to stay out of the stew cooler heads within the DA should have got together immediately Zille made her gaffe.
They should take a good look at “colonialism” to begin with. Undoubtedly it was totally evil and a crime against humanity motivated by greed, international competition for territory and power and pure profit. Millions of blacks were carted off as slaves to other parts of the world as a commodity like coal, ivory, silver and gold. Hundreds of thousands were forced to build ports and railroads, dig mines, create cities they were not allowed into. A great many died, as did so many Far Eastern slaves who built the Great Wall of China.
In the context of the Europe that time, from some five centuries ago, that was the norm. Blacks were regarded as inferior, no better than draught animals, hewers of wood, drawers of water. Can we now punish the Italians and Arabs for what the Romans and Muslims did to ancient Carthage?

er. There is absolutely no excuse for it, especially when seen through the reversed perspective of time.
Europeans were certainly not the first to commit the crime, however. Arabs had been enslaving blacks for centuries before then, though there is little reminder of that today and slavery is still quite common in the Arab world according to UN investigations.
There is enough evidence of this in literature. I will single out just one: John Reader’s excellent “Africa, a biography of the continent”. It contains copious information about slavery, including the fact that among the biggest slavers were African chiefs who happily sold captives or their own people to Arab and European slavers along the coasts.
And yes, the colonisers did leave a great many “facilities” or “amenities”, or whatever you want to call them, like railroads and dams, most of which were damaged or destroyed by incompetence because the colonisers never taught Africans how to cope with these things. That’s yet another crime, one we are seeing much of the results of right here in South Africa now. Look at Ms Dlamini and the welfare debacle, or Dudu Myeni and SAA, or Ntlemeza and the Hawks, or … one could go on for pages.
So let’s look at Zille’s “tweet” with that hindsight. Was it so serious she has to be crucified? No. Is the furore over it warranted? No. In the longer run it will be her attackers who emerge stained with the stench of malice. She deserves a good spanking, but let the spankers consider who will be next for the strap.


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THE FUTURE SA: where are we going?

The most overworked word in South Africa is “democracy”. We do not have a full democracy. We never have had. It was born a cripple in 1994, half strangled by the umbilical cord “proportional representation”.

For democracy to work it requires a fairly sophisticated, preferably homogeneous community aware of the alternatives such as dictatorship, sovereignity and oligarchy and who accept that democracy, while not perfect, is the best governing system available. And it demands a commitment by the great majority of that community to the basic tenets of democracy: government “of, by and for” all the people, without ethnic or class distinctions and with tolerance of minority views (according to the OED).

We have some trappings of democracy like baubles on a Christmas tree that might fool the casual observer into assuming it’s real. But the architects of our constitution did manage to instal, thank God, a few elements of democracy that have saved us so far from the rapid slide into dictatorship and chaos that has characterised almost all of Africa’s previous conversions from colonialism to independence.

One is a right which singularly distinguishes South Africa from all but two other countries in Africa: freedom of speech. Though how long that may last is open to question; more about it later. For now it is this freedom above all which has kept us out of the clutches of dictatorship or oligarchy and just above the level of Zimbabwe.

Another, of course, is the system of local government elections which we have just seen in action – the only level at which a voter may vote directly for an individual as his choice of ward councillor, and even so each ward has to have a proportional councillor as well. National and provincial elections both give proportional representation, enabling the winning party to appoint whoever the hell it wants to any constituency it pleases. Voters may never have seen or heard of their rep, and often never do again.

The Public Protector is a post our ANC constitutional designers must deeply regret creating – just as they must regret appointing Thuli Madonsela to the job because it is her personal integrity, energy and intelligence that have made it so powerful a force. Seldom have so many owed so much to one person. It is chiefly the combination of her work and freedom of speech that have saved our bacon up to now.

The judiciary must be as great a disappointment to them. The justice bureacracy is crumbling at almost every level from the police and prisons and the lowliest prosecutors up to magistrates courts, many of which are ill-equipped for their work, all bogged in backlogs.

The high courts, however, have applied the law with honesty and few aberrations. And contrary to ANC expectations the highest, the Constitutional Court, has set its independence and its impartiality firmly in concrete. Judges go by the book, not politics.

These three things, more than any other, have saved South Africa from “Africanisation”.

Without full freedom of speech Thuli Madonsela’s findings on Nkhandla might never have seen the light of day. In just about every other African state her report would have been suppressed – referred to endless committees, heavily edited, or simply shelved. The Mail and Guardian may never have been able to publish the exposure of Nkhandla which led to the Public Protector’s investigation.

The Opposition in Parliament would have been futile, emasculated, unreported, just part of the rubber stamp. The government could have to violently stamped out public protest, and killed any reports. Elections would have been a joke.

The mass of corruption and mismanagement that free speech has revealed here is overwhelming, hundreds of cases from rapacious mayors of villages to the gigantic US$4.8 billion arms deal and the current row over Eskom’s alleged purchase of inferior coal from the Guptas.

So pervasive has it become that it is the biggest growth industry in South Africa and getting bigger as the hyaenas target the Treasury and the State-owned enterprises. We have become so accustomed to it we take it for granted. It is simply too much for the average individual to absorb.

In every respect the country is decaying`. Violent crime is so commonplace most of it goes unreported by the media. Murder, rape, cash-in-transit robbery, hijacking, gang warfare, drug trading – everything has increased frighteningly since our “independence”. People have to look after themselves. Our police force is a joke; at least the apartheid police were efficient albeit for all the wrong reasons.

Our once extensive and well-run infrastructure of First World standards is falling apart: Eskom, the SAA, the Land Bank, Transnet, every day some new disaster in the media – usually accompanied by a flood of government lies, excuses and pure arrogance.

But all that is well known.

The most alarming feature of our national life now does not get the attention it deserves. It is the incredible impunity with which the perpetrators, including Cabinet ministers and top officials, simply flout the law. They blandly ignore judgements or bog them down in endless court actions (at taxpayers’ expense), divert legal process with “investigations” and commissions, tangle it in specious charges, find scapegoats or swing political axes.

This is the great weakness of our “democracy”: it has no bite. It has teeth but getting the authorities to use them is like asking the sheep to bite the jackal. Examples: the dropping of 783 criminal charges against Zuma, the clumsy attempts by the Hawks to politically discredit Gordhan, the reinstatement of Dudu Myeni as SAA board chair, the re-appointment of the disgraced Hlaudi Motsoeneng as COO of the SABC.

A benign dictatorship or an oligarchy are arguably better forms of government than a democracy powerless to enforce its own rules. Our continent, however, is crammed with examples of how one-man or clique-rule does not work.

In more than forty years of reporting from the time of the first “dompas” burnings in Pretoria in 1950 I have watched black African countries emerge from colonialism like crocodiles from a swamp, starting with Ghana on March 6, 1957, and culminating with South Africa in 1994.

Britain, France, Belgium and Spain (which held a tiny mainland territory plus an island now known jointly as Equatorial Guinea) dished out independence as hurriedly as they could, like school certificates.

Only two original democracies have survived, those of Botswana and Namibia although, ironically, in Ghana it is showing signs of revival almost fifty years after the depredations of the tyrannical Kwame Nkrumah.

Africa’s new leaders twisted democracy into dictatorship by bending the rules of trust and consensus that make it what it is. Or they simply seized power with panga and gun. All still claim to be democracies. In the two Congos this is a sick joke – neither is a country but an unrealistic, random aggregation of disparate ethnic groups barely advanced from their condition of five centuries ago, beset by war, starvation and disease.

Some can make claim to benign dictatorship, like Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni who gained power through rebellion and has survived three dubious elections to hold it for thirty years. His country remains plagued by internal strife, spills of warfare from neighbours and dismal development.

A better example is Senegal’s Leopold Senghor, who became president with independence in 1960 (the same year as the Belgian Congo, which immediately sank into anarchy). He ruled firmly and fairly and its 13 million citizens have enjoyed free elections though without much improvement in their quality of life.

At a third extreme are those leaders who rule with an iron fist while they bleed their countries dry. Topping the list is Equatorial Guinea’s President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, who seized power then won a dubious election this year by an impossible margin. His mini-country is one of Africa’s largest oil producers.

This gives it the biggest per capita income in Africa yet its three quarters of a million people live in appalling poverty. An estimated one in five of the children die before the age of five. The country is strongly suspected of involvement in human trafficking.The president has been accused of cannibalism for ritual purposes.

He pockets virtually all the oil income. His son periodically comes to Cape Town to splurge on new cars and other luxuries.

Another dictator is Angola’s João dos Santos who diverted its huge oil revenues into his daughter’s foreign bank accounts. The quality of life of Angolans has not improved since the civil war ended there. Now with oil prices down he pleads for international aid.

The world knows all this but shrugs it off … “That’s Africa”. Almost no news emerges from Angola or Equatorial Guinea because media cannot survive there. There is no free speech.

At another extreme are Botswana, much lauded as Africa’s most democratic state, and Namibia.

Botswana is wealthy thanks to diamonds, large scale cattle ranching, tourism and minerals. Gaborone, the capital, buzzes with business. Outside the cities and towns there are still pockets of poverty and there is controversy over treatment of ethnic minorities but the overall quality of life is reasonably good.

Wealth is in the hands of an elite, some in government. A few cattle barons dominate ranching. The diamond industry is controlled by companies like Debswana owned half-and-half by De Beers and the government. Tourism is largely controlled by a clique of operators.

Democracy works, thanks to the firm foundations laid by first president Sir Seretse Khama and his successor Quett Masire, and is internationally rated as the most vigorous in Africa. Seretse’s son Ian now rules.

Even there the media, most State-owned, must tread warily. They are vigorous and sometimes outspoken but the government heavily favours its own publications. Privately-owned media have to be circumspect or suffer withdrawal of official advertising, loss of access to information, harrassment and pressure.

Namibia is  similar though not as wealthy and there, too, media must be circumspect. At 19 on the international rankings list of press freedom it ranks higher than Botswana –– which in turn ranks higher than South Africa.

Why all this background, you may ask at this point? We all know South Africa is rotting and the rest of Africa is a mess.

The reason is to confront you with a question most South Africans seem reluctant to think of: where are we heading?

One thing is absolutely certain: we are never going back to the heady days when whites were pampered and non-whites were oppressed but the country worked, trains ran on time, potholes were filled, SAA made money, our road network was one of the best in the world and the economy ran smooth and strong.

So where will we be in the African spectrum by the end of next year? I set that date because I don’t agree with the perennial optimists and professional soothsayers who say everything will be okay, will come right, it will just take a few years for the new rulers to settle down, stop the rot and learn to run the country.

I give us one year, give or take a few months, because of the rate at which pressure is building between multiple economic and political forces.

I doubt it will be later than the end of 2017 before South Africa’s future direction becomes clearer. I don’t think we will ever go the extreme of Equatorial Guinea but Zuma’s money-grabbing patronomy is so rapidly dragging us into the pit of darkness that we could be committed to the Zimbabwe or Angola route by then.

And there is the possibility, faint but too ghastly not to contemplate, of national civil strife: mob violence swelling into anarchy, police and armed forces ill-equipped (and too unreliable) to cope, a mass flight of capital and maybe people.

The scenario for the very near future seems fairly clear though nothing is ever certain in politics. It is a major internal split in the African National Congress with the slowly expanding body of pragmatists – those who recognise the sterility of the party’s moribund socialism –  forming a power group of their own in opposition to the anachronistic old guard. The split may be internal, which is the most likely with the ANC congress coming up next year and a general election in 2019, or it could be messily external.

A clear, irreversible internal division would spell major ideological and economic change of direction for the ANC should the pragmatists take the lead. It would enable the ANC to stand ostensibly united to win the 2019 general election even if the pragmatists manage to oust Zuma as summarily as his supporters ousted Thabo Mbeki in mid-presidential stream.

Such change would carry the ANC and country in safety through my 2017 deadline and point us towards what I regard as the middle range of Africa’s present governments, something akin to those of Kenya, Tanzania, Senegal, Ghana, Malawi and Morocco. All are oligarchies which go through the motions of democracy yet deviously cling to power – except Morocco, which is ruled by a powerful monarch with an elected parliament.

What they have in common is relatively benign rule although they are autocratic and tend to come down harshly on outspoken individuals and media. The ANC is already trying to go this way: note its Internal Censorship Bill aka “Film and Publications Amendment Bill”, and the comments of Lumko Mtimde, chief executive officer of the Universal Service and Access Agency of SA, at a conference on print media held, ironically, at the Voortrekker monument:

Of the self-regulation system that exists now, he said the time for talking about media transformation was over.

“We cannot continue talking. The current system, led by respected former judges, cannot be fair as the judges are funded and housed by the media industry. It still does not have teeth,” he said, adding that the worst sanction for newspapers under the current “pseudo-coregulation” was an apology.

Muzzling free speech will be Priority Number One for an internally revised ANC. It is only free speech, specifically the media, which has exposed the depth and breadth of corruption in the government despite their desperate ducking and diving and even extra-legal attempts to avoid it.

This is not to detract one whit from the principles and bravery of those many individuals who knew what was happening and spoke up, even if they did so anonymously because there are elements in the ANC who unhesitatingly resort to violence to shut up their opponents.

None of those would have been heard for long, or been heard at all, had it not been for a dwindling handful of professional journalists (I use that title advisedly these days) and media like the Mail & Guardian, Sunday Times, Business Day, Noseweek, BizNews, Politicsweb, the Daily Maverick, GroundUp, News24 and some others who published what they said. And who also dug at some risk into the polluted landfill that government has become to see what has been buried.

In this respect South Africa has proved itself to have freedom of speech more solidly than even vaunted Namibia and Botswana.

Do not delude yourself (should there be a shake-up inside the ANC) that everything will come right overnignt, or within a month, or even a year. The ramifications of a new, pragmatic ANC will be extensive.

It will take months for the pragmatists to identify the huge army of Zuma’s beneficiaries from the Cabinet down to the lowliest in the civil service. Then more months to expunge the useless and replace them with loyal and above all competent people.

That approach, already being strongly hinted at, involves an almost 180-degree turn towards capitalism and away from the dead end of old Marxist-style socialism. ANC realists both inside government and outside have accepted that socialism brings no investment and that it is far easier to make lots of money from capitalism, even honestly, without stripping the Treasury. That’s how the world works and there are no better examples than Russia and China.

It won’t be easy. How do you continue to pay welfare to some 16 million people every month and save money? Take it away and you will lose votes. But if they win the 2019 election the new boys will have five years in which to start compensating for big welfare cuts, including the creation of jobs through foreign investment. Paying single mothers R150 a month per child is possibly a bigger cause of pregnancies than (as our sage Minister of Health says) unprotected sex.

Undoubtedly there will be deafening protest from many quarters like the ANC Women’s League, its Youth League, the free educationists, the communists (though they are a spent force), most trade unions, the incomprehensible Dr Lwazi Siyabonga Lushaba of UCT and other leftist academics, and a flock of people and organisations that have flourished on the government’s largesse.

I think that in a short time they will be outshouted by the difficult to measure but patently very large body of South Africans who are thoroughly fed up with what is happening now. As the benefits of pragmatism begin to show protest will diminish but never vanish. Even communists like money.

The protest will very likely involve violence by people such as those trying to destroy the universities they need. This will be a crucial crunch point for the new boys in power. How do they stop or control protest? How much can they rely on the police?

It will be difficult. Violent protest is so commonplace many people believe it is acceptable. It isn’t, of course; our constitution does not permit to people to assert their rights by disrupting the rights of other people. They can’t afford another Marikana.

Assuming a reformed and still unified ANC can retain control during the rocky transition from today’s near-anarchy to rational rule, the role of the media will become more important than ever. Unlike the rest of crippled Africa, they have the backing of an entrenched and enforceable constitution.

Pragmatists they might be but the new leaders cannot change their morals like they change shirts and the scourge of corruption will continue. So will the competition between the greedy and the media.

If division in the ANC goes external, we will see a new party on the political battlefield, the New African National Congress or Azanians or something like that. It would open up a whole new kaleidoscope of possibilities: coalitions, election alliances, floor crossings galore, much anguish within a DA trying to adapt, the death of some of the fringe parties like Cope, and (unless they can adapt) the disappearance into limbo at last of some stubborn old guards like Mantashe and Nzimande. Both are already anti-Zuma but they may not be able to stomach so drastic a change in ANC policy.

It could be a healthy evolution, opening the way for some rational administration to dismantle such prime obstacles to foreign investment as BEE, threats of nationalisation and State ownership of enterprises. If it achieves a measure of stability with able, respected people in charge, we can expect a flood of foreign investment.

On the other hand it could trigger serious conflicts between the diehards of the traditional ANC, the new progressives, the rampant youth with no respect for law, loyalist elements within the police and defence force, our giant criminal element … and tribes.

Civil war? No. I do not foresee the kind of massive tribal and ideological conflict that tore apart countries like the Democratic Republic of the Congo (the old Belgian Congo), the Sudan, Ethiopia and Eritrea, Nigeria and Biafra, Somalia and Rwanda and Burundi among others.

By a lucky twist of colonial history we have a fairly balanced mix of peoples and policies with no single group dominating the rest or in a geographical or political position to do so. Ten million Zulus, the biggest and most militant group, are mostly in one region (and seem to be increasingly disenchanted with their Zulu president).

The politically vigorous Xhosas are in no position physically or otherwise to dominate. Sotho/Tswana people are not aggressive. None of the others – Shangaan, Pedi, Khoi, San, Coloured, European, Indian, Venda, Swazi, Ndebele, etc – have either the ability or the inclination to try for power.

But some violence will be inevitable in the event of external division. The question is how much, how widespread and how containable. There will likely be uprisings for a variety of reasons, many generated or aggravated by the present regime trying desperately to hang on.    The accumulation of explosive grievances is very large.

Among them are the terrible frustrations of the huge number of jobless, one of the highest in the world, which forces many to turn to crime; the lack of services as more and more cram into urban areas; the soaring cost of basic foodstuffs; the chaotic education and health systems, spilling more youth on the streets; the crumbling public transport; the expanding gulf between haves and have-nots.

The general frustration over the long list of unfulfilled promises, rising costs and crumbling services affects everybody. Protests over all sorts of complaints are spreading daily, beginning to seriously disrupt the lives of folk trying to go about their normal lives and could be the genesis of nationwide upheaval. They expose a remarkable reluctance or inability of the athorities to curb what is becoming near-anarchy, maybe a fear caused by what happened at Marikana.

The turmoil a major split of the ANC into two or more factions coule trigger is not possible to gauge. The only certainty is that it could do serious damage to the entire nation and therefore should be avoided. This is not to suggest the ANC should be supported, more practically that the pressure of public persuasion, which seems to be having some effect already, should be increased, the screws turned harder.

My view of the likeliest scenario is that the ANC leadership will metamorphose within the next year or so from a guerilla movement into a political party. Thereafter we will begin moving roughly in the direction of Kenya or Ghana and possibly (if we can retain our constitution with a few modifications, like ditching proportional representation and curbing presidential powers) we could surpass Namibia and Botswana.

It won’t be anything like the Nationalists’ “good old South Africa” but it will be prosperous, peaceful and perfectly liveable. Then perhaps one day we will be able to travel without fear of potholes or hijackers, see fewer desperate people begging for jobs and handouts at stoplights, go to sleep knowing the police will react fast if called, and see in action a Parliament which does not make South Africans cringe with embarrassment.

That is provided the media maintain and raise their pressure against corruption, for competence and above all for constant accountability. The politicians’ determination to conceal their actions won’t just go away – it will probably increase.

That’s one hell of a load to place on the shoulders of a media family struggling to survive financially and to find real journalists, not activists and semi-literates. They cannot avoid it, however. Free speech is the foundation of democracy.


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Iconoclasts. From BizNews.

I’ll say it again: I am not an Afrikaner. I am not a European. I am not an Englishman. Nor am I a Zulu, Koi, Venda, Xhosa, Tswana or any other insular racial group. Yet all of those are part of me and I am part of them because I too am African.
I am a South African, white because of genes, history and geography. I am exceedingly proud of all those things that comprise the ephemeral though very real South African character: its entrancing peoples, its superb environment, its tangled history. Together they make a unique nation rich with diversity, creativity, cultures and achievements.
But with dwindling hope. Our national body is being ravaged by a lethal resurgence of the cancer we hoped we had killed or at least sent into remission with the 1994 general election. It is racism, ironically now being deliberately resuscitated by some of the very people who were its target during the 42 wasted years of apartheid – those whose skins are not white, among them some of today’s most influential and powerful leaders.
I have been watching with growing dismay for months as these fellow countrymen I depend upon, instead of celebrating and promoting all of our society, are systematically trying to destroy vital elements of it purely for political power and the financial gains they get with it.
They attack anything to do with our past and present that is not specifically black. Shaka murdered many thousands but he is great. Helen Suzman murdered nobody and fought for the lives of millions but she is scorned, both as white and Jewish. Nor are brown and coloured people spared from this racist tirade.
In short if it’s black it’s good; if it’s not, it’s bad. It is a crude, blind, self-destructive election ploy devised by our so-called “national” leaders suddenly panicked by the prospect of losing votes in the coming local government elections.
The first real manifestation of this insanity was in March last year when a 30-year-old township fanatic named Chimani Maxwele threw excrement over the statue of Cecil Rhodes at the University of Cape Town, asserting that a monument to the sometimes ruthless coloniser was an insult to blacks. Maxwele was not a total nonentity: five years earlier he gave the finger to a Zuma blue-light motorcade, was arrested then exonerated when he exercised his right to free speech.
Granted, Rhodes was a greedy, ruthlessly ambitious, unconscionable capitalist but he is ineradicably a part of our history, no less than the equally ambitious and ruthless Dingiswayo and Shaka.
Granted also that the statue of him at the University of Cape Town was perchance sited where it could offend black students. But to express disapproval by drenching it in human faeces is an exercise in disgust which should rightly earn its practitioners expulsion from the civilised community.
That was only a beginning. It spread rapidly to other universities: Wits, Stellenbosch, Pretoria, Potchefstroom, Western Cape, University of the North, Rhodes. It grew excrementa1ly, at some the ordure orgy was repeated.
The trend raises the question whether such people are psychologically equipped to fit into ordinary society. It is not merely pointless but profoundly stupid, the actions of youths whose immaturity makes them unfit for university and to become politicians who would be disastrous in the seats of power.
It expanded into the ridiculous demands for all Rhodes links to be eradicated at Oriel college, Oxford, then Cambridge and then, weirdly, the universities of Edinburgh and California – all sensibly rejected. This was followed by some lunatic and rightly ignored extremes such as removing Jan van Riebeeck’s statue.
Next will come a campaign for the destruction of the Rhodes Memorial and a name changes for Rhodes University and Rhodes scholarships (although the source of the funds will not be questioned).
Nobody – not even university heads like Max Price – appears to have made the point that without our historical giants there would be no South Africa. And without Rhodes scholars the world would be a worse place.
Like it or not, it was largely Rhodes’ manipulations which led via the Boer War to the birth of South Africa. Taking his excision from our past to an illogical conclusion would see the fanatics destroying the Voortrekker Monument and statues of Jan Smuts, Louis Botha and other notables right back to those of Jan van Riebeeck. Plus what the fanatics make full use of today, from the Union Buildings, Durban docks and the wheatlands to the railroads and highways linking everything.
Britain is full of statues of past figures who would have been jailed today for what they did, among them such notables as Henry VIII, Cromwell and Richard 111. Nobody wants to knock them down or hide them, they are part of life. The same goes for many other countries.
The entire wreck-and-ruin campaign may have been engineered in the hidden chambers of ANC power. But it seems more likely to have been the brainwave of a handful of student activists seeking infamy and fortune and then seized upon by politicians like Tony Ehrenreich and Marius Fransman who were fast losing influence in the DA-dominated Western Cape.
Most distressing is the ferocious attack on all things Afrikaans, most conspicuously the University of Stellenbosch. Now the ANC Youth League – not a body noted for its rationality or objectivity – is trying to make the university ungovernable to shake up what it says is embedded Afrikaner culture.
It accuses the university of “anti-transformation” practices and incidents of racism. If so there are more positive ways of correction than deliberately wrecking the stability of a renowned high-class pillar of education.
And why should Afrikaner culture not be embedded there? It is, after all, an Afrikaner institution initially created to raise the calibre of Afrikaner society up to international levels and preserve Afrikaner culture, and now it serves everybody. A model perhaps for others to follow.
Every modern democracy has institutions specifically serving the interests of specific cultural, ethnic, religious and other groups and they respect each others’ right to exist.
The university’s right to be a fundamentally Afrikaans institution is no different to that many Cabinet ministers claim while demanding protection and advancement for their own home languages and cultures. If our our youthful bigots dislike the environment there, they have a broad choice of other universities.
This ISIS-like form of iconoclasm is breeding precisely what icons like Mandela and Tutu set out to crush in our newly free nation: racism. It is diametrically contrary to the spirit of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It is an extremist tactic by a menacingly growing group driven by the ANC to gain political popularity and power regardless of the damage they do in the process, supported by self-seeking non-entities like Ehrenreich and Fransman
They cannot wipe out history but in trying they can cause gulfs of estrangement and enmity that will bedevil our society for generations.
In their obsessive drive to impose their control the destroyers of the past forget that during the 42 years of apartheid Afrikaners were among its strongest opponents. Most of our leading minds were Afrikaners: Louis Botha, Jan Smuts, Jannie Hofmeyr, Beyers Naude, Frederick van Zyl Slabbert, Sol Plaatjies … the list is very long.
Our rebellious students need mental disciplining, to be taught that the way to earn a respected place in society and history is by treating their fellow countrymen with respect, not by hurling ordure.
In our so-called democracy (it has not yet earned that status and risks losing it altogether) the government is supposed to be protecting the majority against minorities. To win its democratic spurs it should put a stop to this nonsense and reverse the trend before its momentum becomes too strong to stop.


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Kill poaching


It beggars belief that a government which has wasted billions on pointless weaponry, a grossly inflated bureaucracy, an obscene volume of graft, and excessive perks for its politicians, is unable to stop a handful of poachers from wiping out its small population of rhinos.
Yes, it has beefed up the National Parks Board with more rangers, a couple of helicopters and drone spotter aircraft commanded by an experienced ex-army general. But this is spitting into the wind.
It has a large, inexperienced, not very well trained and mostly idle army sitting on its backside except for a few shunted north allegedly to help bring peace in a couple of African states nobody cares about because they will go on tearing themselves to pieces regardless. Even them it cannot equip properly, although the army does thoughtfully provide camouflaged condoms.
The government can take several actions immediately which will not instantly stop but will dramatically reduce the level of poaching.
One is to redeploy its armed forces along the borders the poachers cross, from Mozambique into the Kruger Park and Northern Natal. They should be instructed to treat poachers as they would terrorists and use lethal force against them, including hot pursuit across the border if necessary.
Anti-poaching forces in the Kruger Park should operate freely on the Mozambique side – to hell with territorial protocols. This IS, after all, a single “transfrontier” park and in principle its wildlife belongs to both nations, therefore its rangers must have the right to function freely on both sides.
The Mozambique authorities do nothing. There is not a single live rhino on their side. Their Frelimo troops sit on their butts. The poachers live in high style in villages around the park fringes, their new 4X4s parked outside their huts. They are tough men, excellent in the bush, and they know the risks in poaching.
They should be chased out of their villages, their vehicles and guns impounded, and arrested if found in possession of wildlife products.
Conservationists say the kill rate of over two each day is fast approaching the point where it will overtake the birth rate. We have little more than 20000 white and just over 5000 black rhino left in South Africa, which has about 85 per cent of Africa’s rhinos.
Tests have been made by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife with injecting poisonous, easily seen dyes into live rhinos’ horns which would make anyone using the end product – powdered horn sniffed up like snuff or tasted or taken in food – “extremely sick”.
Why not make the poison lethal? Vietnam and China and those other countries which use rhino horn in some ridiculous, meaningless “tradition” have huge populations and can afford to spare a few to make the point. No matter how many treaties South Africa and Vietnam make against the use of rhino horn, they will have no effect. Suicide by rhino, however, is unlikely to become a popular new tradition.
I bet that if poachers started taking some of the highly valued nguni cattle from the million-rand kraal at Nkandla the entire South African Defence Force would be there within a week, blasting away.


Categories: Articles, My Word | 3 Comments

Fracking facts

November, 2012
Debate in the media about the issue of fracking for natural gas in the Karoo has waned considerably since the Cabinet lifted the moratorium on September 7, giving the impression that its opponents may have lost steam. This would be a great pity because the environmental threat is larger than most people realise. The Mineral Resources Minister, Susan Shabangu, has said that if fracking harms water sources it will be stopped, and if it endangers the Square Kilometre Array project, it might be stopped, but given the government’s record of intransigence once the ANC sets its mind on a profitable venture, she leaves small reason for hope.

Trying to learn more about fracking and its effects, I met a professional based in Britain who has a lifetime of experience in energy exploration and described in greater detail than I have seen before the severity of the damage it does to the environment, especially one as delicate as the Karoo’s. Because of his sensitive position in the energy industry I cannot give his name but I can vouch for him and the detail he describes is sufficient confirmation of his authority. The most chilling fact to emerge is that the exploration for gas will do more damage than its actual extraction.This is an old driller’s perspective of shale gas drilling operations there:

“At the time of writing there are no active land rigs exploring for oil and gas in South Africa, but this is about to change, attendees were informed at the late October 2012 IADC (International Association of Drilling Contractors) Drilling Africa Conference, held in Lisbon, Portugal.

“They were also told that shale exploration in the Karoo and surrounding regions is anticipated to drive a demand for up to sixty land drilling rigs in South Africa by 2016, making South Africa one of the epicentres of land drilling activity on the African continent. Neither PetroSA nor Sasol owns land rigs capable of drilling to the required depths. So this represents a great opportunity for US and European rig contractors, manufacturers and oil service companies. It has also attracted a growing interest from the Chinese who want to have a presence and participate in the Karoo shale gas bonanza.

“Pre-drilling – Rig site construction:
Before the drilling of a single well can start a ‘rig site pad’ has to be constructed. The pad consists of an area of approximately 100 meters x 150 meters which is cleared, levelled and compacted to take the load and mass of the rig’s sub structure, derrick, mud pump, mud tanks, engines, generator hoses, fuel tanks, water tanks, drill pipe, well casing and the chemicals used to mix the drilling mud. When the rig is operating, despite the rig crew’s best intentions, spills of fuel and chemicals will occur and these could leach into the ground and can reach the water table.

“Workers’ accommodation:
Portable camps will be required to house each rig’s 30-40 workers. The construction of each of these camps involves the levelling of an area of land approximately 100 meter x 100 meter area to house the portable accommodation units. The camp also requires a water source for cooking, shower and and toilet facilities, and a refuse disposal site, which is typically a pit dug away from the camp, where refuse can be burned and buried.

“Water requirements:
Unlocking the hydrocarbons in just one shale gas well requires three million to five million gallons of water to drill from spud to fracture. (equivalent to the contents of 4.5 to 7.5 Olympic size swimming pools). It is anticipated the prohibitive cost and logistics involved in transporting such large volumes of water to the Karoo will result in the Shale Exploration Licence Operator (Shell and other companies), requiring their rig contractors to drill water wells into Karoo aquifer close to their rig sites.

“Following the initial exploration drilling phase, should the commerciality of shale gas concept be proven, as many as 1,000 wells could be drilled to exploit the gas . The drilling and completion of this amount of wells will require 3 billion to 4.5 billion gallons of water (equal to 4,500 to 7,500 Olympic size swimming pools).

“There are different types of hydraulic fracturing treatments, each involving different chemicals and acids and all will have to be treated.  Likewise all of the water used in the drilling and fracking operations can (at a cost) be treated for re-use.  Therefore when it comes to water treatment, it makes perfect environmental sense to use the three R’s (reclaim, recycle and reuse). Water treatment is primarily the removal of suspended solids and saline treatment. Saline, a product of old sea water embedded in the shale, can no longer be said to be untreatable, as there are now existing methods to treat saline flow back water and saline tolerant additives are available.

“Sadly, history shows that oil companies and their drilling contractors do not always prioritise protecting the environment ahead of economics, so it is important that water treatment is addressed in the exploration and development licensing.

“Drilled formation cuttings:
Approximately 350 cubic meters (350 tonnes) of drilled formation cuttings are generated during the drilling phases of a single (3000 meter deep) shale gas well.

“The responsible disposal of drilled cuttings has been an ongoing drilling industry challenge since its inception in the late 1800’s. In countries with poor environmental governance, drilled cuttings are routinely left dumped in open ‘mud and cuttings pits’ where they blight the local landscape.
More responsible Governments require an environmentally responsible approach to the disposal of cuttings.

“Two such methods are:
1. The slurryfication and re-injection of cuttings into dedicated cuttings injection disposal wells. However this is not considered to be a suitable option for the Karoo region as it requires a permeable, usually shallow formation.
2. Land farming the cuttings. This process first involves heat treating the cuttings to sanitise them. The cuttings are then spread to create thick ‘fields of cuttings’. These fields are routinely turned over and treated with chemicals, until over a period of years they degrade to produce ‘soil’ capable of being planted.

“Imagine, if you will, the 350,000 cubic meters of cuttings generated from the drilling of 1,000 commercial gas wells and the mammoth task involved in their safe and environmentally friendly disposal, to avoid creating a very negative impact on the Karoo landscape.

“Exploration drilling risks to the Karoo aquifer:
This is considered by the writer to be more serious than poor fracking practises or leaking casing cement jobs.

“During the drilling of each well’s open hole section and prior to setting the steel casing that will eventually line the well, drilling mud is in constant contact with the formation. And because it is necessary for the safety of the well to maintain a hydrostatic mud column overbalance pressure greater than the formation pressure by using a weighted drilling mud, seepage losses occur into open porous formations (such as the Karoo aquifer) as each is penetrated. These seepage losses (containing chemicals in the mud) continue and only stop only after the open hole section is successfully cased off.

“Equally, but perhaps more dangerous than chemicals seeping into the formation and Karoo aquifer, is the potential transfer into the Karoo aquifer of bacteria colonies known to flourish in every type of drilling mud. This is something that will only become evident years after drilling has stopped.

“For example: the unintentional introduction of bacteria into wells in the Red Sea in Egypt, resulted in later years in wells producing high concentrations of H2S (hydrogen sulphide) where none had existed in the early drilling phase. Hydrogen sulphide is a very corrosive compound potentially fatal to livestock and humans in concentrations above 25 ppm in air.

“Post drilling:
After a well has been completed and the rig is removed from the site, it would be logical to believe the rig site will be returned to it’s original pre-drill state. However, many rig site pads will remain un-rehabilitated, primarily because the Operator presents a convincing argument that the existing rig site may be required for future well work-overs. A work- over is a process involving the re-establishment of a rig over an old, no longer productive or a problem well to recover and replace defective down hole equipment such as leaking packers, gravel packs and corroded tubing strings, and possibly re-fracking the well if this is considered necessary to return it to a producing state.”

This depressing prospect by the British professional is aggravated by other factors in addition to the primary threat of damage to underground water resources.

One is the extent of the problem. The full licences and ancillary licences, if granted, will cover most of the Karoo, a huge area extending from the Southern Cape almost to the Botswana border.

Off the main arterial routes it is sparsely served by secondary tarred roads, most of the network being
gravel roads. These are not designed to cope with the many thousands of journeys heavy, 24-wheel trucks will have to make to carry equipment and materials into the remoter parts of the Karoo and continuously serve the operations. The licensed exploration and exploitation companies will not foot the huge cost of building or maintaining roads, which will fall on our small and already over-burdened body of taxpayers.

Picture the daily flow of traffic for just one exploration well and multiply that by one thousand then imagine the impact this will have on roads, villages, farmers and livelihoods.  The Daily Telegraph reports that in DeWitt County in the US, currently hosting 21 of the rigs in operation at Eagle Ford, the county judge says he is facing a $432m (R3.5 billion) bill for road repairs and upkeep. DeWitt is home to just 20,000 people.

The entire fracking project is motivated by one thing: profit. Not national need, not service to the public, not security … just profit, which the government has already demonstrated it places above all else. If the money that goes into this could be used to develop other energy sources like the sun and the sea, gas would become irrelevant and the Karoo left intact. And we could possibly do without more coal and nuclear power stations.

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The One Week War

  • From the blogsite“Murder Is Everywhere”

Thursday, August 16, 2012

As editor of the Argus Group’s Africa News Service, I and my crew were right in the heart of the One Week War in Mozambique. Here is an eye-witness account of a brief episode in Africa’s murky past

The One Week Wara piece of forgotten history

Covering conflicts in Africa is usually a grubby business in broiling desert or sodden bush trailing after a bunch of disorganised, unruly soldiery along a vague and fluid front line with the distinct possibility of getting one’s head shot off. By either side. Unless one is a member of that fraternity of pseudo-hacks who write their reports from the gossip gleaned in the hotel bar.

Sometimes we got lucky. As in the One Week War in Mozambique. Not a war, really, but a localised rebellion. But no less vicious and bloody than the big ones. And, unusually, it was urban.

In April, 1974, when a group of thoroughly fed up Portuguese officers toppled their dictatorship the shock was felt in several parts of the world but mostly in Southern Africa, where it precipitated massive change.

Right after their coup the junta of Portuguese generals grandly promised “democratic self-determination through negotiation and consultation” with all in their former colonies.

There followed a long hiatus. Internecine fighting erupted in Angola. In Mozambique nothing happened. Everybody waited tensely.

Then five months later, out of the blue, the generals unilaterally announced the Frelimo movement – their former enemies – were the rightful rulers of Mozambique. In five days’ time, at midnight on September 7, they would hand over to a transitional Frelimo government and grant full independence on June 25 the next year.

The turnabout triggered Mozambique’s sad and futile One Week War.

In Lourenço Marques and Beira the reaction by both pro-Frelimo and anti-Frelimo was immediate and dramatic. The pros were mostly blacks with a fair number of whites, mainly students, and the antis were mostly whites with a sprinkling of conservative blacks.

I and my Argus Africa News Service crew were in the perfect position to watch the drama unfold. We had an office with a telex in Lourenço Marques and I always had at least one journalist there, just in case.

Conflict began in September, 1974. It was the strangest I have experienced: drive a few kilometres to watch confrontation, bloodshed and destruction; drive back into the lap of five-star luxury with cocktails, fine wines, gourmet food and rest. Then out again, and so on, and on.

A big Frelimo rally was scheduled for Friday, September 6, and I smelt trouble. I flew to join my staffer, Tom, taking with me Ruphin, a long-haired, bearded Belgian hippy photographer with a flared Edwardian jacket and a pipe exuding smoke so foul it could drop a fly at forty paces. We checked into the Polana hotel, the unofficial contact venue for media and politicians.

Frelimo supporters going to the the big Machava stadium on the outskirts of LM were in no mood to brook interference: a white man with more bravura than brains got himself beaten to death by blacks when he tried to stop them.

By mid-afternoon more than 30 000 people were crammed into it celebrating their imminent independence. They were in a state of high political intoxication. They sang “Nkosi sikelel’ iAfrika” and other anthems, waved flags and banners and displayed huge posters of Samora Machel.

As an exercise in ideological rhetoric at maximum volume it was peaceful enough: lengthy, boring speeches bellowed through deafening amplifiers.

We headed back to town and then the trouble began.

It is startling yet stimulating to be in at the birth of a revolution, to see it bud as a small incident and flower into full-blown mayhem, like the South American peasant who saw smoke a puff from the earth he was ploughing swell into a towering volcano.

In downtown LM the late afternoon atmosphere was trigger taut. Hardly anybody was working. The sidewalk cafes, restaurants and bars were filled with Portuguese. The subject on every tongue was the Frelimo takeover.

We sat at the Continental sidewalk cafe on the Avenida Republica over tiny cups of strong black coffee and Constantino brandy. All around us locals were drinking and jabbering, most of them men. The air was vibrant with anger.

Streams of cars and trucks passed back and forth, some filled with people flying Frelimo flags. A small saloon car came slowly past full of noisy white students exuberantly waving large Frelimo banners from all the windows and shouting slogans.

It was too much for one young soldier. He pulled off his belt, charged the car and swung the buckle to shatter the windscreen.

The car jerked to a stop. In seconds a wave of shirt-sleeved men rose from sidewalk tables and ran to it, all restraint snapped by the spark of violence. More rushed from the other side of the street. The car and students were surrounded by a bloodthirsty mob seeking outlet for their rage.

They smashed the windows and toppled the car on its side with the terrified students still inside. I was right there next to it shooting with my Leica.

A passing patrol of military policemen stopped and rescued the students. Civil police arrived and tried to control the growing crowd. An officer, Commissioner Fernando Segurado, raised his splayed hand to try to block my lens so I photographed him too. It made the front page.

The mob ignored the police, who gave up and left. Now grown to several hundred, they swirled along the avenida to a building housing two newspapers.

We tried to follow but they became aggressive so we chose discretion over stupidity and went to the fourth-floor rooftop of the Tivoli hotel where we could look right down on them.

They rolled a delivery van on to its roof and overturned two cars. They smashed the newspaper building’s windows and kicked in the glass double door.

Mob violence

As we watched our tame Belgian, Ruphin, casually strolled along the street below us towards the angry citizens, smoking his pipe and taking photos. They began yelling and pointing. A bunch ran up and grabbed him.

Oh God, I thought, Ruphin’s had it, the bloody novice, he’s dead meat. And then, astonishingly, they let him go, brushed him off and waved him on his way. He waved back and ambled on, leaving a trail of tobacco smoke that must have been as bad as teargas.

A few minutes later he arrived on our rooftop. They thought he was a newspaperman, he said, until he explained in French that he was an innocent tourist accidentally caught up in all this fascinating activity. Tourist was a buzzword in LM. They apologised and let him go.

Elsewhere in the city rioters smashed windows and threw petrol bombs into the offices of a magazine and a liberal politician who had already survived an assassination attempt.

That night the tensions exploded into widespread violence. Exuberant mobs of Frelimo supporters roamed the black bairros (suburbs) which almost surrounded the city’s landward side, stoning cars and traders’ shops.

Mobs of hysterical anti-Frelimo protesters plunged other city suburbs into chaos. About a hundred people raided a hostel and offices near the university, whose students were prominent in pro-Frelimo demonstrations. They methodically smashed plate glass windows while soldiers and police watched, then went inside. When everything was wrecked the police and made them leave. There was no doubt whose side they were on.

A dim-witted student shouted “Long live Frelimo!” The mob descended on him with chairs from a nearby sidewalk cafe and would have killed him had a passing army patrol not rescued him.

Some of the mob grabbed the barrels of their automatic rifles and tried to wrest them away. They stopped when the soldiers cocked their guns with ominous clicks.

The most bizarre part of the scene was the spectators: people eating and drinking at cafes and restaurants while they leisurely enjoyed the mayhem. This became characteristic of the rebellion.

When it was over we retired to the exuberant décor of the Polana, sipped salted dogs at its comfortable bar and enjoyed a sumptuous dinner. War was a zillion miles away. It was a tough life.

In the dead of that night some clever rebels managed to elude troops guarding an ammunition dump outside LM and set it on fire. It blew up with a thump felt all over the city.

The next morning, after a leisurely breakfast of smoked salmon and scrambled eggs on the Polana verandah, we went downtown to watch as noisy cavalcades of cars filled with yelling young right-wingers waving Portuguese flags, led by motorcycles and buzzbikes with horns blaring.

Truckloads of blacks flaunting Frelimo banners passed them going to the Machava stadium for another mass gathering. White men leaped from their cars and tried to rip away the Frelimo flags. The confrontation was about to erupt into violence when traffic police, of all people, stopped it by moving the vehicles on.

The city was grinding to a halt. Water and electricity stopped when gangs stoned city vehicles in the bairros. A general strike by black workers shut down the remaining services and shops. Most whites stayed at home or settled down in a few cafes open for business to watch the fun, but tempers were fraying.

Our newspapers splashed the story all over their front pages, running fresh editions throughout the day. The rebellion struck a powerful chord: thousands of South Africans had holidayed in LM, everybody knew somebody who had been there, Mozambique was right next door to Natal and the Transvaal.


“20 000 Back Frelimo at Giant Rally in LM”


“LM stops work as Frelimo hailed”

“Mobs run amok in LM”


“LM on brink of anarchy”


The handover was due at midnight, September 7, technically ending four centuries of Lisbon rule.

It had no visible effect. After dark trouble spread. In Beira a grenade was tossed into a bank and angry crowds roamed the streets.

In LM a large crowd smashed into the civil prison in the Polana suburb to free about 200 members of the former Portuguese political police who were arrested after the coup. They also released one of South Africa’s most wanted men, the notorious criminal Carlos Rocha.

The prison was not far from the Polana hotel but could have been on another continent as far as the guests were concerned.

It was a strange sight. About a thousand spectators – men, women and children – watched in the pleasant, leafy suburb as the mob leaders tried to talk soldiers into releasing the men. While they talked Rocha somehow tipped off mob leaders from a window that the weakest point was a wooden door near the main door.

To distract the guards the crowd battered and overturned the prison commissioner’s car parked outside and threatened to set the whole prison alight. To back their threat they drove up a large truck and aimed it at the main door.

Others from the crowd went to the door marked by Rocha and rocked it until the lock snapped. They threw it wide and burst into the prison.

Confronting them were rows of soldiers armed with automatic weapons. Here was the recipe for a massacre.

It did not happen because people in the mob happily hugged the soldiers and told them “You can’t shoot us, we are also Portuguese.”

The security policemen fled, most to South Africa where many were taken into our Security Police and various Defence Force units.

By this time we were being run off our feet, trying to follow incidents all over the city almost around the clock. We were living on adrenalin supplemented by Laurentina beer, still in copious supply, thank God.

So I borrowed a reporter and a photographer from The Star and sent them to Beira, the new hotspot.

News of the upheaval brought a flock of foreign correspondents. The locals did not like it. A TV cameraman was punched. A photographer was threatened by angry whites, who backed off they learned he was South African – the Portuguese right-wingers all assumed South Africa was backing them.

Most came by air or road and one by train from the border. He complained that when the train broke down he had to help push it, a first for a British hack going to war.

Those coming by road had to run a gauntlet of blacks enraged by the actions of the whites in LM. Some were stopped by mobs armed with clubs and pangas who banged on the roofs of their cars and made them get out, stole their cigarettes and whisky and let them go reluctantly when they identified themselves as British.

At a road block one watched a black man beside the car sharpening the blade of a large panga on the tarmac. The man glanced up and grinned evilly at him as if he was next on the menu. They saw shops being plundered and fired and a burning car with two dead people in it, presumably whites.

Taxis ceased to run in LM and we needed a car. The Star sent me a Peugeot driven by Deon, a bright young reporter who brought with him a photographer and a couple of other journalists. Approaching LM they were brought to a stop by blacks manning crude road blocks.

Any attempt to barge through would bring certain death. Deon summoned all his persuasive talents and they let him through.

The consumption of liquor in the Polana soared that evening.

Sunday, September 8, saw the haphazard rebellion begin to jell. A collection of right-wingers formed the Movement of Free Mozambique (MFM) and produced their own flag, a concoction of Mozambican and Portuguese symbols.

They seized the large Radio Clube de Moçambique building in the city centre and made it their headquarters, broadcasting a stream of appeals in Portuguese, English and African languages for support. Volunteers armed with a motley assortment of guns self-importantly stood sentry at doors and windows and on the roof.

It was another day of noisy parades and motorcades. Samora Machel warned that if the Portuguese did not squash the MFM Frelimo would resume the guerilla war.

The Portuguese took the threat seriously. They sent heavily armed military police into Beira to disperse 2 000 mainly white demonstrators with teargas. A black policeman was seriously hurt when a grenade exploded on his chest.

In LM happy crowds celebrated outside the Radio Clube. I went in and found a bedlam of waving arms and loud voices as dozens of politicians fought, pleaded and argued for places in power. Taking pictures was banned – nobody wanted to be identified later.

Rebels celebrate

In the tin shanties and grass huts of the bairros on the city outskirts the black population were ominously quiet early on Sunday. We tried to go in but, perhaps fortunately, it was not possible because the Portuguese police and troops were not cooperative.

The airport route was passable, however. Travellers had been driving the few kilometres between airport and city through the Xipamanine/Lagoa area, known as “Grasstown”. We had trekked back and forth several times to send film to Johannesburg.

Tom and I hired one of the few taxis still doing business and asked the driver to go by a familiar back route through a small industrial area parallel to the main airport road. He was a fat, phlegmatic middle-aged Portuguese wearing the usual floppy peaked cap.

The back route was strangely still. Not a soul in sight. All the warehouses and workshops were closed. Half a dozen overturned trucks and cars lay beside the street, some burned out. It looked abandoned, quieter than it should be even on a Sunday. Our driver became nervous and heaved a sigh of relief when we reached the airport, which was busy with activity because a plane was about to leave.

In the parking area a convoy was forming up, a motley collection of cars, bakkies and trucks. Civilians armed with an assortment of firearms from pistols to rifles and shotguns rode on the truck platforms.

Nobody could tell me what was going on, only that the convoy was heading for the city.

Why now, suddenly?


Our cabbie was getting more nervous and Tom was looking anxious. He had not yet experienced much urban violence and the atmosphere was ominous.

There was nothing we could do. The choice was to stay at the airport for God knows how long or join the convoy into town. We tagged on with one or two cars behind us. Just in front of us was a large truck with high side walls. A dozen or more men stood there.

We moved off at the slow pace set by the lead vehicle, forcing our driver to travel in second or third gear. Outside the car park the tarred road narrowed and the reed-and-thatch huts and palms of Grasstown jostled close.

At first there were few signs of life but as we moved deeper into Grasstown more and more black people began to appear on both sides twenty to thirty metres away – men, women and children, all shouting and waving fists at the convoy. Men on the trucks waved flags and shouted insults back.

A few stones sailed through the air towards us.

The men on the lorry ahead reacted instantly. Long barrels suddenly appeared above the side walls. We heard the sharp crackle of rifle fire and the deep thuds of shotgun blasts. The blacks melted away into the long grass and narrow gaps between their huts.

Our cabbie went into panic mode. He began yelling and gesticulating in anger. He glared back at us accusingly, face pale with fear. He pounded the steering wheel but there was not a thing he could do. He dared not leave the convoy, which was occupying the centre of the road. Tom, too, looked as if he wanted to get the hell out of there right now. I saw his eyes widen like saucers at something ahead and looked up.

A couple of corpses lay at the roadside, one a man lying flat on his back, the toes of his shoes pointing skywards, arms at his sides, his head pulped to mush by chunks of concrete lying beside him, blood spreading in a large pool. The other was equally battered.

As we slowly passed about two metres away I ignored the driver screaming Portuguese imprecations and photographed the bodies.

The journey could not have lasted more than ten to 15 minutes. With the adrenalin rush it seemed to zoom by in seconds. When we reached the end, a small police post where the Grasstown ended and the city began, our cab jerked to a stop. The cabbie flung open the rear doors and shouted “Go! Go!”

He did not wait for his money. The old taxi clattered away probably faster than it had ever travelled before.

The convoy was of over-exuberant rebels driving celebratory cavalcades between airport and city and picking off blacks like shooting pigeons. It was like poking a stick into a hornets’ nest.

Blacks erupted from the huts and shanties and fell upon one passing parade. They pelted the vehicles with a hail of stones, dragged out some drivers and beat them up, killing three, including those I saw.

Back at the Polana it was so peaceful it felt surreal writing about the day’s happenings. Next day, Monday, September 9, the airport route was made safe by soldiers.

At that point it was anybody’s guess how long this uprising would last although it was patently doomed to fail. Frelimo was hugely supported in the LM region although it did not yet have military muscle there.

In South Africa hard-core Nationalists were urging the government to support the rebels and so fulfil the old Transvaal Republic’s ambition of controlling LM. Rumours were widespread that Defence Minister P W Botha had moved army units close to the border.

After another day at the frontline we trekked back through time to sup on grilled prawns in hot piri-piri sauce, crayfish and superb steaks washed down with fine Portuguese wines. With all tourists gone the service was overwhelming.

Tuesday, September 10: the Radio Club had become the main gathering place for rebel supporters. The street outside was filled by up to 10 000 cheering men, women and children.

Rumours were flying around that the air force would send Fiat jets to rocket the building.

A Colonel Tavares, commander of the uniformed civil police, drove up to the Radio Clube. The crowd welcomed him, assuming he was coming to support them.

Then came the crunch: a broadcast by the MFM announcing they were handing over the Radio Clube to the civil police.

As the stunning news poured from radios the mood outside changed to anger. When Tavares emerged they focused on him. They rocked his car and he had to put his foot down hard to escape.

Minutes later paratroops backed by armoured vehicles moved slowly up the street. They were stopped by a mob of people yelling insults and calls of “Traitor!” A sky-shouter plane circled low telling people to go home.

Tom and I were watching when suddenly several thunderous blasts shook the air, almost deafening us. They were percussion bombs – thunderflashes – dropped by paratroops from the building to scare away the crowd.

It worked. Most fled like water downhill, urged on by a flurry of shots fired into the air from automatic weapons.

They almost bowled us over and we fled too, just around the corner.

The MFM began leaving the building. Women wept. Most went unobtrusively through a back door. They abandoned an assortment of hastily acquired weapons from shotguns to heavy machine-guns and grenades.

“This is not the end, my friend, it is only the beginning,” an MFM chief told me as he departed.

He was half right. The violence was spreading.

The tension was almost tangible and the danger of a backlash very real. Luckily the army kept their cool. Had just one shot been fired then, by troops or the MFM, the scene could have turned into a bloodbath.

Because it was impossible to get into the black areas without the probability of getting killed we could not personally check conditions there. But there was action aplenty.

Portuguese Air Force men under a Colonel Cardoso led a charge by 300 men from their base on the other side of the airport runway to recapture the terminal and control tower. There was some gunfire in which an MFM man was hit and an unfortunate passenger was shot accidentally as he arrived from Beira. He died in hospital.

All commercial flights to and from South Africa were stopped. Blacks in the bairros blocked the airport road with tree trunks and stones but let African buses through.

Word trickled in about vigilantes hunting blacks in the bairros.

Crazily, in much of downtown LM life began to look almost normal. Some shops, sidewalk cafes and restaurants had reopened.

But then it was a crazy week. We rushed around gathering information, getting near to hotspots, interviewing rebels and Frelimos. After the rush we relaxed at a sidewalk cafe with coffee and with brandy. Some evenings we dined in the Polana, others at a tiny restaurant which served a delicious dish of prawns piri-piri on yellow rice.

It was a comfortable little war.

It peaked on the Tuesday night and early Wednesday amid a flurry of alarms, the beginnings of a panicky flight of civilians from the city and the first grim tally of casualties.

An official announcement said about a hundred people had been killed or wounded. The total was certainly higher: more than a hundred wounded had been treated at the city hospital alone.

Soldiers chased us away when we tried to get into the hospital, where wounded were lying on the floor because all beds were occupied. A doctor said the hospital morgue was crammed.

Troops were struggling to contain mobs of Africans rampaging through the outer suburbs and threatening to spill into the city centre. The city shut up shop again when rumours spread that blacks were planning a mass march of about 2 500 into the centre. White anxiety ran high. Strong forces of police and army backed by armoured cars sealed off the entrances to shanty towns.

Sporadic rifle fire, machine-gun bursts and heavy explosions came from inside the townships but there was still no way we could go in.

Escaping traders said all the schools and shops had been ransacked and destroyed and houses and vehicles burned. Some had lost all they owned. Troops had fired shots in the air to scare off looters. Debris and the hulks of cars and trucks littered the roads.

An army major said the violence was not political: “They are just in a wild mood and completely out of hand.”

I wondered what made the borderline between “wild” and “political” in Africa.

A band of black people marched towards the posh Polana suburb after a vigilante shot dead a black woman. Police and troops supported by an armoured car blocked the road. They warned white onlookers to go away or risk being shot.

I sent Deon in our Peugeot to check. He took with him an Associated Press reporter and a photographer.

They found the marchers and security forces gone. The road blocks of heavy stones had been dismantled. Deon drove on. A little further a crowd of blacks materialised from nowhere. Deon stopped.

A young black offered to escort them in exchange for cigarettes. He warned: “If you see a crowd, give the one-finger Frelimo salute. A two-fingered salute will mean trouble.”

One finger meant one government for Mozambique: Frelimo. Two meant you supported two governments, Frelimo and the rebels, and invited death.

A little further a much larger crowd barred the road. One man brandished an axe. They milled around the car as it was searched. Their leader warned them not to go on, they would be dead already had they been Portuguese, he said.

They turned around in a hurry and then came the shock: all the dismantled roadblocks had been rebuilt. If they had been forced to flee they would have been trapped.

Not a soul was in sight, no troops, no blacks.

Deon, a strong man, hastily got out of the car and heaved aside enough boulders for them to drive through. Nobody appeared, nobody tried to stop them. They could feel the hair rising on the backs of their necks.

That night Joaquim Chissano, deputy to Machel, broadcast an appeal for calm, aimed especially at blacks. He added a warning to Portuguese hotheads that they were outnumbered.

Next day, September 11, the violence continued. A senior police officer emerged from the townships, still shaking from shock and fatigue, to announce that the toll of killed, stabbed and beaten had risen to two hundred.

Three other events marked that day. One was the arrival of the first Portuguese High Commissioner, Rear Admiral Victor Crespo. Few diplomats have begun their assignments in more difficult circumstances.

The second was the arrival in two frigates and by plane of Portuguese troops. By now the army was pretty much in control of most of the city. Casualty figures fluctuated wildly. No-one will ever know how many bodies were left in unmarked graves in the urban jungle.

The third event was a trick borrowed by the authorities from the old guard dictators: censorship. They cut all telecommunication links from LM to the world. Phones were dead. Telexes could not link with any others. The city became an information island.

It sent the large force of foreign correspondents into a major flap. How could they justify their existence, and their expenses, if they could not feed the hungry readers? They debated all sorts of plans and in the end several decided that one of them would carry all their copy to South Africa and there file it to the various destinations. It was a long and dangerous trip followed by the tedious business of dictating copy by phone or laboriously punching it on to telex.

We too went into shock when we found ourselves with deaf and dumb telex machines. Hoping the blackout was temporary we punched up our copy on telex tapes to run them through the moment the lines opened. We waited and waited, becoming more agitated with each minute.

And then the inimitable staffer running the Salisbury bureau, John, came to the rescue. Our telex suddenly clattered into life with a message from him. We could file our copy via a link he had set up with the post office in Beira.

The link, I learned later, was a girl in the post office there, one of his amorous conquests. When he heard of the blackout he contacted her by phone because Beira had not been cut off entirely. Never have so many owed so much to one screw.

We fed our tapes into our machine and the copy was relayed straight through Beira to Salisbury to our South African papers in time for deadlines.

It was something of a scoop and they emblazoned our reports on the front pages. We were way ahead of everybody; our opposition carried hardly a word.

It was a tough day. We slaved to meet edition after edition. After sunset we prowled the murky Indian market to exchange our rands for six to eight times more than the official rate to keep our operation going.

It was dark when Tom, Deon and I drove back to the Polana thirsting for a beer or three and supper. As we walked through the foyer past the porter’s desk and into the huge main lounge, several score frustrated newsmen rose to their feet and descended on us. They had heard our reports being quoted by South African radio, how did we get the news out?

Deon and Tom on either side of me looked at each other and grinned. They broke into a soft-shoe shuffle, side to side, arms akimbo, and burst into song.

“We are the boys of the ANS,

“The ANS boys are we,

“We are the boys of the ANS,

“We all work for Wilf Nussey!”

The news mob dissolved in laughter. It as a great moment for me.

The next day tension began to ease as both sides ran out of steam. Hunger and the Portuguese forces tightened their grip. The authorities lifted the censorship and our phone and direct telex lines came back to life.

By Friday, September 13, the One Week War was all over bar the shouting. Remonstration replaced demonstration. To put the final nail in the coffin of rebel hopes an East African Airways plane arrived from Nairobi with 70 Frelimo troops – the first tangible, visible mark of the Frelimo takeover. Soon after them came another Portuguese frigate loaded this time with Frelimos, making 200 in all. They carried well-worn AK-47s.

Here was the nightmare of most Mozambican whites come to life: the hated, despised and feared Frelimo guerillas, the perpetrators of atrocities, the vanguard of black nationalism, taking over their country and property.

The guerillas obviously were under strict orders to behave and not to provoke. They appeared in the streets, diplomatically outside the city centre used mostly by whites, followed by small bands of hero-worshipping black children.

Admiral Crespo held his first news conference. There would be no reprisals, he promised. Combined Frelimo and Portuguese patrols were keeping the peace.

But the mass exodus of whites had begun. It was led by seven leading former secret police officers and their families who were flown back to Portugal from Beira in an air force transport. At least one never made it: Francisco “Frank the Ugly” Langa, “The Butcher of Machava” and one of the most feared interrogators, was caught and killed by rioters.

There were some quirky final touches. Daniel Roxo, the militant spokesman for the MFM, died two years later in Namibia helping the South African forces, Carlos “Ginger Joe” Rocha, the criminal who escaped break, gave himself up. Life on the run in the new Mozambique was not quite as nice as in prison, he said.

Thereafter it was just bits and pieces for us. A last feature summed it up: “One young soldier angrily swinging the buckle on the end of his army belt has triggered an explosion of violence, hate and fear that has changed Mozambique forever and drawn open the curtains on a blindingly uncertain future.

“The old, easy-going Mozambique of wine and sun and prawns piri-piri in an antiquated Portuguese colonial atmosphere has been eradicated by a dramatic week.”

Nothing had changed at the Polana hotel yet, except its guests. Seated at the next table at our last lunch were a large, fat, dark-complexioned man in a badly cut, three-piece black suit that looked bullet-proof, a large, fat, dark-complexioned woman in a similar suit and a six o-clock shadow matching her husband’s, and two children who could have been cloned from them. They said little and we could not understand a word.

They were Bulgarians. The Soviet bloc had sent him to teach the Mozambicans how to grow, of all things, mealies.

© Wilf Nussey


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