Friday, April 29, 2011

Andries Tatane: Murdered by the Ruling Classes Apr 24 2011

South African activist Andries Tatane was buried in the small rural town
of Ficksburg yesterday. He was murdered by the police on a demonstration
of four and a half thousand people last week. Shawn Hatting from the
Zabalaza Anarchist Communist Front has developed the first libertarian
communist response to the last of a growing number of police murders of
grassroots activists in South Africa.

by Shawn Hattingh (ZACF)

On the 13th April, people in South Africa were stunned. On the evening
news the sight of six police force members brutally beating a man, Andries
Tatane, to death was aired. The images of the police smashing his body
with batons and repeatedly firing rubber bullets into his chest struck a
cord; people were simply shocked and appalled. Literally hundreds of
articles followed in the press, politicians of all stripes also hopped on
the bandwagon and said they lamented his death; and most called for the
police to receive appropriate training to deal with ‘crowd control’ –
after all, elections are a month away.

Andries Tatane’s death was the culmination of a protest march in the Free
State town of Ficksburg. The march involved over 4,000 people, who
undertook the action to demand the very basics of life – decent housing,
access to water and electricity, and jobs. They had repeatedly written to
the mayor and local government of Ficksburg pleading for these
necessities. Like a group of modern day Marie Antoinettes, the local state
officials brushed off these pleas; more important matters no doubt needed
to be attended to – like shopping for luxury cars; banking the latest fat
pay check; handing tenders out to Black Economic Empowerment (BEE)
connections and talking shit in the municipal chambers. Therefore, when
the township residents had the audacity to march, and call for a response,
the police were promptly unleashed with water cannons and rubber bullets.
If the impoverished black residents of Ficksburg could not get the hint,
in the form of silence; then the state and local politicians were going to
ensure that they got the message beaten into them.

The reason why specifically Andries Tatane was murdered was because he had
the cheek, in the eyes of the officials involved, to question police force
members about why they were firing a water cannon at an elderly person –
who clearly was not a threat to the burly brutes that make up South
Africa’s arm of the law. For that act of decency, he paid dearly: with his
life. The message was clear – how dare anyone question the authority of
the state and its right to use force wherever and whenever it deems

A war on protestors

The sad reality though is that Andries Tatane’s murder at the hands of the
state did not represent something new or even an isolated incident. For
years, the South African state has been treating people that have embarked
on protests with brute force and utter contempt. Activists from community
based movements – such as the Anti-Privatisation Forum (APF), Abahlali
baseMjondolo (ABM), Anti-Eviction Campaign (AEC) and Landless People’s
Movement (LPM) have routinely been harassed by the state, arrested and
beaten. For instance, on the day of the elections in 2004, LPM members
were tortured by the police in Soweto. Some activists have also been
subjected to attacks by vigilante groupings; to which the state and the
police have often turned a blind eye. In reality, the state views
community based movements as enemies and when they protest the state often
dishes out violence. The fact that the vast majority of community based
protests are peaceful, usually involving little more than people
blockading a road and burning old tires, does not deter them.

Andries Tatane’s awful death, for standing up for what he believed, was
also by no means the first at the hands of the South African state.
Numerous people involved in community protests, much like the one in
Ficksburg, have been murdered by police officials. As recently as
February, protests erupted in the town of Ermelo; situated in one of South
Africa’s poorest provinces – Mpumulanga. The people involved were
demanding the exact same basic necessities as the Ficksburg protestors.
The state did not respond by listening or engaging the people, but rather
sent 160 riot police, euphemistically named the Tactical Response Team
(TRT), to end the protests. The country’s Police Commissioner, General
Cele; personally warned the Ermelo protestors and organizers that the TRT
was going to restore ‘order’. In the process, two people were shot dead by
the police and 120 more were arrested. Raids were conducted throughout
impoverished areas – due to the legacy of apartheid, residents in these
areas are mainly or exclusively black – and, as part of this, an 80 year
old woman was detained. An illegal curfew was also implemented by the
police and anyone on the street was automatically shot at with rubber
bullets. Indiscriminate violence by the police reportedly became the order
of the day. In one incident, captured on a cellphone camera, a teenager
was called out of a shop by a group of policemen. When he approached their
car, he was repeatedly shot at with rubber bullets and forced to roll down
the street as ‘punishment’. Other people were also reportedly whipped by
the police with sjamboks – the imagery of colonial and apartheid style
punishment no doubt being deliberate. People were literally driven off the
streets by state organised terror. The bitter reality, however, is that
Emerlo and Ficksburg were simply microcosms of how the state routinely
dishes out violence towards those that it views as a threat: in 2010 alone
1,769 people died as a result of police action or in police custody.
Sadly, Andries Tatane will become part of these statistics.

Sinister interrogation processes have also accompanied the outright
violence that the state has directed towards protestors. In the case of
the Ermelo protests, a person who the state accused of being one of the
organisers, Bongani Phakathi, was interrogated for 14 hours by the crack
Hawks unit. Amongst other things, he was questioned about whether there
were funders behind the protest. The questions asked to Phakathi reveal
the level of paranoia that the state has shown around the ever-growing
community protests. In fact, the state has repeatedly claimed that there
has been a sinister ‘third force’ behind the wave of protests. To
supposedly uncover this ‘third force’ and to intimidate people, the
National Intelligence Agency (NIA) has been unleashed on communities over
the last few years. In the process, many people have been arrested,
interrogated and some have even been charged with sedition. For example in
2006, 13 people were charged with sedition in the small town of Harrismith
because they were involved in a community protest. Almost all, however,
have been released for a lack of real evidence and in the end the state
was forced to drop the sedition charges. Nonetheless, the South African
state’s goal of intimidating people is clear. What has also become
patently clear is that there is no ‘third force’; the claims about a
‘third force’ are simply being used to ‘legitimise’ the use of
intelligence agencies against people. The only ‘third force’ driving the
protests are the conditions that people are being forced to live under –
it is sadly not an exaggeration to say the dogs that guard the property of
the rich, and that are used by the police, live under better conditions
than the poor in South Africa.

It is also clear that police force members, who are the foot soldiers of
the state, are taking their cue from leading state officials and
politicians – whether tied to the Democratic Alliance (DA) or the African
National Congress (ANC). The likes of General Cele has encouraged the
police to “shoot to kill” if they feel threatened. The ANC, DA and
Congress of the People (COPE) have more than once branded people embarking
on protests as criminals that need to be dealt with. Even sections within
the country’s trade union leadership, and some ‘leftists’ associated with
them, have at times called community protestors and activists thugs.
Despite uttering regrets about Andries Tatane’s murder, politicians have
also continued to say that protestors need to be subjected to effective
‘crowd control’. Likewise, police officials stated that anyone who
“taunts” the police, despite the death of Tatane, must still be dealt
with. The fact that those in the state believe that they have a right to
‘control’ people and ‘deal with them’ speaks volumes about their
oppressive worldview. In response to a wave of protests in 2009, the
Cabinet also released a wrath of statements including one saying:

“The action that we will be taking is that those who organise these
marches, those who openly perpetuate and promote violent action, the state
will start acting against those individuals”

The Cabinet’s and the state’s message was clear: it was saying to the
poor: protest and the state will come for you, isolate you and crush you.
Such thuggish statements have become common on the lips of South African
state officials. It is in this context that Andries Tatane was killed.

The way the current state views and deals with community protestors also
has remarkable similarity, and continuity, with the practices of the
apartheid state – despite the state being in the hands of a supposed black
nationalist liberation movement – the ANC. Besides apartheid-style
brutality, the post-apartheid state still makes use of apartheid laws to
deal with protests. Under these laws, anyone wanting to protest has to
apply 7 days in advance. Linked to this, the state can refuse permission
on a number of grounds. If permission is not granted then any protest
involving more than 15 people is deemed illegal. The state is then ‘free’,
according to its own laws, to arrest or take action – a euphemism for
firing rubber bullets – against the people involved. Freedom of expression
is hollow under such circumstances. With such practices it is also no
wonder that the South African state is attempting to pass laws that would
allow it to classify vast amounts of information that would stop any
public scrutiny of its practices, abuses and short-comings. The state is
not an entity of the people; it is an entity of oppression.

The wider war

Of course, the suppression of protestors, such as Andries Tatane, is
merely the outward sign of a larger and more intense war that the elite in
South Africa have been waging on the majority of people. In fact, the
elite, through capitalism, have been exploiting people through wage
slavery; stripping people of their jobs to increase profits; turning
houses into a commodity; stripping peoples’ access to water to make
profits; denying people without money access to food; and cutting people’s
electricity when they are too poor to pay. For years people have,
therefore, been robbed by the rich and state officials. As such, the elite
– made up of white capitalists but now joined by a small black elite
centred mainly around the state and ANC – have forced the vast majority of
people in South Africa to live in misery. Indeed, the elite in South
Africa has created and entrenched a society that is defined by continued
exploitation of the poor and workers; that is defined by continued racial
oppression of the majority of workers and the poor, and that is defined by
extreme sexism. The rich and state officials (the ruling classes) have
grown rich and fat out of this situation – living off the blood, sweat and
cheap labour of the, predominantly black, workers and the poor. It is for
this reason that the rich and politicians have come to enjoy one of the
highest living standards in the world. They enjoy lavish houses, serving
staff, massive pay checks – lifestyles that even the royalty of old could
only dream of. Thus, it should not be surprising that South Africa is
statically the most unequal society in the world – it was and is designed
by the ruling classes to be so: their wealth and power is based on it!

The state is war

It is this extreme inequality and deprivation – and accompanying
experience of exploitation, oppression and humiliation – that drives
people, including Andries Tatane, to protest. While we should rightfully
be appalled by the death of Andries Tatane, and other people embarking on
protests, at the hands of the state; we should, however, not be surprised.
The state is the ultimate protector of the unjust and unequal society we
have. If the status quo is even remotely threatened or questioned, the
purpose of the state is to neutralise the threat and/or silence or co-opt

In fact, anarchists have long pointed out that states, of whatever
variety, are inherently oppressive and violent. States are centralising
and hierarchical institutions, which exist to enforce a situation whereby
a minority rules over a majority. The hierarchical structure of all states
also inevitably concentrates power in the hands of the directing elite.
States and the existence of an elite are, therefore, synonymous. States
are the concentrated power of the ruling class – made up of both
capitalists and high ranking state officials – and are a central pillar of
ruling class power. Thus, the state serves dominant minorities and by
definition it has to be centralised, since a minority can only rule when
power is concentrated in their hands and when decisions made by them flow
down a chain of command. It is specifically this that allows minorities
who seek to rule people (high ranking state officials) and exploit people
(capitalists) to achieve their aims.

The fact that the state is an oppressive and hierarchical system, which
operates to protect and entrench the privileged positions of the ruling
class, has also resulted in the continuation of the racial oppression of
the vast majority of the working class (workers and the poor) in South
Africa. The anarchist Mikhail Bakunin foresaw the possibility of such a
situation arising in cases where national liberation was based upon the
strategy of capturing state power – as has happened in South Africa.
Indeed, Bakunin said that the “statist path” was “entirely ruinous for the
great masses of the people” because it did not abolish class power but
simply changed the make-up of the ruling class. Due to the centralised
nature of states, only a few can rule – a majority of people can never be
involved in decision making under a state system as it is hierarchical. As
such, he stated that if the national liberation struggle was carried out
with “ambitious intent to set up a powerful state”, or if “it is carried
out without the people and must therefore depend for success on a
privileged class” it would become a “retrogressive, disastrous,
counter-revolutionary movement”. Over and above this he stressed that
national liberation and the end to all forms of oppression, including that
of race, had to be achieved “as much in the economic as in the political
interests of the masses”. Through their position in the ruling class
(based on their control of the state), the black elite have escaped the
effects of racial oppression and have become oppressors themselves (their
power over the state at times has even been used by them, for their own
interests, against other sections of the ruling class like racist white
capitalists), but racial oppression for the majority of the working class
continues. The privileged position of the black ruling elite – like their
white capitalist counterparts – is based on the continued oppression of
black workers, who have been and are deliberately relegated by the state
and capitalism in South Africa to the role of extremely cheap labour.
Thus, although the working class in South Africa includes white people,
the main source of wealth for the white and black ruling elite depends on
the exploitation of the black working class as a source of super cheap
labour. It is this combination of racial oppression and exploitation on
which the wealth of the elite rests. Thus, when the state and capitalism
remained intact in South Africa, after apartheid, the continued
exploitation of the working class and racial oppression of the majority of
impoverished people were assured. It is this situation that has created
the conditions that have led to the protests in townships in places like
Ficksburg and Ermelo, and it is this situation that has assured that they
will continue.

Indeed, the oppression and exploitation of the majority of people will,
and does, happen even under a parliamentary system. This is because even
in a parliamentary system a handful of people get to make decisions,
instruct others what to do, and enforce these instructions through the
state. When people don’t obey these top-down instructions or disagree with
them, the power of the state is then used to coerce and/ or punish them.
Thus, the state as a centralised mechanism of ruling class power also
claims a monopoly of legitimate force within ‘its’ territory; and will use
that force when it deems necessary – including against protestors raising
issues like a lack of jobs, a lack of housing and a lack of basic
services. It is this violent, oppressive and domineering nature of all
states that have led anarchists, rightfully, to see them as the antithesis
of freedom. The brutal reality is that protestors in South Africa, like
Andries Tatane – demanding a decent life and greater democracy – have
ended up victims of the mechanism of centralised minority rule: the state.
In terms of trying to silence protestors – whether by baton, water cannon,
rubber bullets or live ammunition – the South African state has also been
carrying out one of the main tasks it was designed for: organised


The fact is that capitalism and the state systems are one of the key
reasons why South Africa is the most unequal society in the world. The
state entrenches and enforces this status quo: a status quo based on the
exploitation and oppression of the vast majority of people; made up of the
workers and the poor. Andries Tatane too was a victim of this system.
Indeed, for as long as capitalism and the state exist; inequality will
exist and people will be forced to live in misery. When they raise issues
and protest; the state will try to silence them either by co-option or
violence or a combination of both. The fact also is that for as long as
the state and capitalism continue to exist there will be thousands upon
thousands of Andries Tatanes, Ernesto Nhamuaves, Steve Bikos and Hector
Pietersons. The state and capitalism, to paraphrase Bakunin, are in
combination a vast slaughterhouse and cemetery – sometimes killing workers
and the poor suddenly and openly; sometimes killing them silently and

For as long as the state and capitalism are in place people will also be
driven to protest against the oppression, exploitation and inequalities
that are generated by, and that are part and parcel of, these systems. If
people want a just, fair, equal, genuinely democratic, non-racist,
non-sexist and decent society then capitalism and the state systems need
to be ended. Certainly, people should demand and organise to win immediate
gains like jobs, better wages, housing and services from the state and
capitalists; but ultimately for as long as these systems of class rule
exist; domination, inequality, and oppression will exist. Thus if genuine
material equality is to be achieved, people are going to need to organise
to take direct control of the economy, and run it democratically, for the
benefit of all and to meet the needs of all. Only under such circumstances
will the poverty, which has been driving people like Andries Tatane to
protest, be ended. Only under such a system will racial oppression too be
ended. Likewise, if people want a genuine democracy and a say over their
lives, and not to have their concerns dismissed, then people are going to
have to get rid of the state and replace it with a form of people’s power
based on structures of self-governance like federated community/worker
assemblies and federated councils at regional, national and international
levels. There have been historical experiments, although on a limited
scale, with such structures of direct democracy including in South Africa
during the anti-apartheid struggle. We need to learn from these. In fact,
if we want to ensure that there will be no Andries Tantanes in the future
we need to revive the best practices of Peoples’ Power and build towards
achieving a free and egalitarian world: a world based on the principles
that have become known, through a 150 year struggle for justice, as

This article was originally published on the Zabalaza Anarchist Communist
Front site.

The clip screened on the television news in South Africa is online

There is a collection of other articles on the police murder of Andries
Tatanes here.

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