Memorial lecture on the 26th Anniversary of the Lowveld Massacre presented by Comrade Jackson Mthembu ANC National Spokesperson, 15 March 2012

The Lowveld Massacre

We would like to thank the leadership of the Province, the Region as well as the Branches for allowing us to address a lecture on the 25 years commemorating the Lowveld Massacre. Our sincere gratitude also goes to those who are in attendance this evening.

As we all know this Massacre of our people by the apartheid regime and its security forces started with the killing of a student by the name of Mandla Lekhuleni during a student protest. As all structures and people around the Lowveld gathered at Lekhuleni’s home for his funeral, teargas and rubber bullets were fired at the mourners while the army drove their vehicles into the crowd of mourners killing one mourner, Connie Sibiya. It goes without say that during the pandemonium and the disrespect shown by the security forces to the bereaved family and the mourners, scores of people were injured, as if the apartheid state wanted to add salt to the injury of the African masses in the Lowveld, many more were arrested and charged with public violence following understandable street battles between the youth and the apartheid security forces.

On the 11th of March 1986, at the trial of those who were arrested during the funeral of Mandla Lekhuleni, at the trial held at the Kabhokweni Magistrates Court, without any provocation, the apartheid army and police opened fire at the crowd gathered outside the court, killing instantly two more people, Mandla Shabangu and Saul Mkhabela and injuring many more.

It is this indiscriminate killing of innocent civilians, particularly people of African origin which came to be known as the Lowveld Massacre. Like other Massacres before this one, e.g. the Sharpeville Massacre, Langa Massacres, Soweto Massacre to name but a few, no enquiry was ever conducted by the state to establish the course of this or any of the Massacre, as history would also record it no one was found to be responsible for the Lowveld Massacres or any of the other Massacres of African people in South Africa.

This clearly pointed to an apartheid state that had become a violent killing machine. The pain, the hurt and the destruction to family life by this apartheid killing machine is attested to by various testimonies during the Truth and Reconciling Commission Hearings (TRC). All of us can still vividly see tears streaming down from family members of those who died during the insanity of the apartheid state. Archbishop Desmond Tutu was so much over come by emotions to an extend of him crying in public as he listened to accounts of how innocent people whose only crime was to want Freedom, were brutally and violently killed by apartheid.

Comrades, friends and patriots, Comrade President Nelson Mandela at the inauguration of the first Democratically elected President of the Republic, who happened to be himself said the following “Today, all of us do, by our presents here and by our celebrations in other parts of the world, confer glory and hope to newborn liberty. Out of the experience of an extra ordinary human disaster that lasted too long must be born a society of which all humanity will be proud...Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another and suffer the indignity of being the skunk of the world”

Comrade Madiba made the above statement on the 10th of May 1994 on behalf of all of us in recognition of the pain, the hurt and the indignity that Black people, particularly Africans, in the whole of South Africa had suffered at the hands of British colonialist and the apartheid regime. Comrade Madiba was also speaking to the families and the people of the Lowveld who were also at the receiving end of the apartheid regime in March 1986. We non there less need to go a little back, centuries back to fully understand what Madiba meant when he said “Out of the experience of an extra ordinarily human disaster that lasted too long” we need to understand that disaster that lasted too long so that we do not have a repeat of that disaster and a repeat of the Lowveld Massacre and other Massacres that occurred in our country.

Comrades, friends and compatriots the year 2012 marks 100 years of the establishment of the African National Congress then South African National Native Congress. It is the year in which we celebrate 100 years of Selfless Struggle by the people of South Africa led by the ANC. It is also a year of celebrating the Unity of all south Africans in their Diversity.

As we celebrate our Centenary we should ask ourselves what were the historical factors that brought about the birth of the ANC. We should also at the same time, also ask ourselves why at the establishment point of a Democratic South Africa, Madiba made the following statements “Extra ordinary disaster that lasted too long and never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another” as we have said before, Madiba said those words on behalf of all of us including those who were not born at a time

Roots of Our Struggle

Historians and writer activists as well as leaders in their own names and rights like ubaba Govan Mbeki, Frances Meli, Sol Plaatjie and Moses Kotane to name a few, inform us that a Dutch based East India Company sentenced one of its senior officials for failing to account properly on company finances. As a sentence this senior official was sent to the Cape to build a half way station for the trading ships of this company and this half way station was to be built in the Cape which was located in the Southern tip of Africa. This Cape half way station was meant to be a relaxation and resting point also a place where the company workers on ships would also enjoy fresh food and water on their long way from India to Europe and vice versa.

The name of this senior official who was sentenced to the Cape was none other than Jan van Riebeeck. So Van Riebeeck and his troops that accompanied him to the Cape had to forcefully get land to build the half way station and secondly large tracks of land to plough crops for the benefit of the Dutch based East India Company and its trade. The year when Jan van Riebeeck landed to start his sentence in the Southern tip of Africa called the Cape of Storm was 1652! The year that started all our troubles and the year were the extra ordinary human disaster started

Comrades, friends and compatriots you will know as I do that Jan van Riebeeck and company did not buy the land for the establishment of their half way station. They took the land by force from the indigenous, native people who were mostly the Khois and the Sans.

Whilst there were low key resistance activities to this occupation from the time Jan van Riebeeck landed, a full scale war of dispossession is recorded in 1657, indeed the first war of dispossession in South Africa, the Khois and Sans were no match for Jan van Riebeeck and his troops. .

When diamonds were discovered in Kimberly around the 1860’s and Gold in the Transvaal around 1880, the British Imperial government embarked on a policy of expansion in Southern Africa. The Boers were forcefully removed from the Cape Colony by the British and they trekked in what is known in history as the Great Trek to the interior of the country and ultimately creating Boer Republics in the Free State and the Transvaal after conquering the indigenous people on their way.

The British annexed the Cape Colony for themselves and also after engaging in various wars of dispossession against many chiefdoms they also annexed the Colony of Natal. It should be recorded for future that British and Colonial troops engaged in wars against a number of African Chiefdoms and overpowered them one after the other in quick succession. AmaHlubi were overpowered in 1873, Amagcaleka and Amapedi in 1877, Amangqika, AbaThembu, Amagriqua and Abarolong in 1878, AmaZulu in 1879, AbeSotho in 1880 and AmaNdebele in 1893.

In the Cape Colony under British control, the Colony’s Constitution allowed everybody to exercise the franchise of voting. This franchise for Blacks was also taken away through various laws that made Black people in the British controled Colonies non voters in their own land. This was the only constitutional mechanism left for Black people after their land was taken by force. As you will also imagine Black people in the Boer republics of the Free State and Transvaal never enjoyed any voting franchise rights.

These are the negative tendencies and attitudes of the Colonisers both Boer and British who not only took our land by force but who also forced us off the voting roll in the Cape Colony, they also simultaneously introduced taxation to force African children, particularly males to go and work in farm and mines almost for nothing. Its these attitudes and collaboration between oppressor forces of the Boers and the British that forced African, Coloured and Indians to establish their own Political Structures in all the Republics and Colonies. The Africans simultaneously established Native Congresses in the Free State, Transvaal and Natal while Cape Africans formed the South African Natives in 1898 and in Natal Mahatma Gandhi formed an Indian Congress in 1894. In 1902 Dr. Abdullar Abdurahman established the African Political Organisation APO, although the membership of APO was open to all, in practice, it became an organisation for Coloureds.

While the battle was waged on the political and economic front primarily, Africans were also engaged in a struggle for equality within the Church. When they did not see this happen, they started a movement to break away from the white man’s Church, where the key positions were reserved for the whites.

In South Africa a cluster of breakaways occurred about the same period over a wide area including the Cape, Transvaal and Natal. This occurrence, about the same time, would seem to suggest that South Africans saw the white-controlled Churches as pursuing the policies of denial of equality for all.

In the Transvaal, Mangena Mokone, who in 1892 broke away from the Wesleyan Church and formed the Ethiopian Church. By 1896 the Rev. J.M. Dwane had also broken away from the Wesleyan Church to join the Ethiopian Church, but later seceded to lead the Order of Ethiopia. The dissatisfaction also spread to the (Presbyterian) Free Church of Scotland. The Rev. Pambani Mzimba broke away to form the Bantu Presbyterian Church (iCawa yakwa-Mzimba) in 1898 .

The growth and spread of the Ethopian Movement took place at the same time that Africans were forming independent political movements. Although these religious and political movements grew alongside each other, individuals within them did not find it difficult to be members of both. It was in this setting that African nationalism had its origins.

The Anglo Boer War which is correctly called the South African War today petted the British Colonian Army against the Boer republics with a sole purpose of ensuring that the British empire did not only enjoy ownership of the Gold mines in the Wit Watersrand but the Empire wanted to also dethrone the Boers as political powers in the Boer republics. This War which started in 1899 ended in 1902 with a Vereeniging treaty where both the Brits and the Boer agreed that a Southern state need to be formed through the four South African entities (Two British Colonies and Two Boer Republics) the agreement between the two was that the Africans will have no political rights in the Sovereign State called South Africa.

The British as the winners of the Anglo Boer War took over the overall Governance of the entity called South Africa. In 1909 in an All White National Convention, both the British and the Boers agreed that a Legislative Union of South Africa be formed, the white delegates proceeded to draw up a draft Constitution. All the parties at the National Convention agreed that as far as the political right of the Africans were concerned, the situation that had prevailed in the various former colonies would not be changed with the formation of Union.

This threat of a White South African Union prompted the South African Native Convention to meet at the Waai Hoek location in Bloemfontein from the 24th to the 26th of March 1909 to consider the draft constitution which had been adopted at the Whites Only National Convention. Those Africans meeting decided that the Convention would continue as a permanent body and Dr. Walter Rubusana was elected as its President. It is from this Convention that would emerge in January 1912 the South African Native Congress later renamed the African National Congress.

The African Convention of 1909 decided to send a deputation to Britain to put their case before the British Government against the draft Constitution of the Union of South Africa. The deputation which was led by W.P. Schreiner, consisted of Dr. Walter Rubusana, Dr. Abdullah Abdurahman, Tego Jabavu, J. Langalibalele Dube, D. Dwanya and T. Mapikela. In contrast with the warm and sympathetic welcome which the delegation from the White National Convention received in England, the African deputation returned empty handed. The British Government refused to listen to the case of its Black subjects against a constitution that was to exclude them from citizenship rights in their own country.

After the Whites Only Elections for the Union of South Africa, the results on the 31st of May 1910 showed that the Afrikaners or Boers at the time had scored victory over the Britons and therefore were in charge of the first central Government in South Africa. The British were equally not sad as the formation of central government in South Africa would ensure political stability for mining capital. In the White Union of South Africa there was no room for Africans, Coloureds and Indians within the framework of parliamentary politics.

The Birth of the African National Congress

It were these what Madiba called “Extra ordinary human disaster that lasted too long” that gave rise to the formation of the South African National Native Congress on the 8th of January 1912 at a Wesleyan Church in Mangaung in Bloemfontein. Nor sooner was the ANC born did the central government of the Union of South African decide to pass a Native land Act that made Africans illegal in a 87% of the South African land surface space. Only 13% of barren, rocky land and non productive land was left to be used by Africans.

The cries of the newly born South African National Native Congress to the powers of the Union Government were met with scorn and cynicism. Deputations on the matter to the British authorities including the royalty was met with a refusal by both the British Government and its royalty to listen and the delegation returned home empty handed. The first Secretary General of the SANNC comrade Sol Plaatjie describes the impact of the land act to the African people as follows in his writings Native Life in South Africa, Sol Plaatjie says a family who had been evicted from their land and who were then rendered landless by the Native Land Act had to wait on the side of the road for darkness to come so that they could steal a grave alongside the road for their young ones who just died.

These were the historical and very sad factors that gave rise to the ANC 100 years ago.

It was for the reasons of land dispossession of being removed as voters in a country of our birth. It was for reasons of the occupiers deciding among themselves to own our country under the name the Union of South Africa without us. It was for the removal of Africans and other Black South Africans from 87% of South African space that was called White South Africa and dumping Blacks in a 13% of South African geography that was non productive, rocky and sandy. The birth of the SANNC was again mesacitated by the exploitation of Africans in particular and other Blacks including slaves from including slaves from India and Malasia, these were subjected to serious exploitation as workers in the farming fields of White South Africa but also in the Diamonds, Gold and Coal Mines of White South Africa.

They became vulnerable cheap labours who were forced to work on the mines and the farms so that they could pay the tax that the White men’s law imposed on them. The SANNC was also born to also reverse the negative impact colonial and apartheid rule had on our Chiefdoms and Traditional Leadership. The ANC also had a duty as it has now to reverse the formal discrimination of Black people from all aspects of lives including the church, workplace and residential locations. These were the effects of the takeover of the country in 1948 by the Verkrampte National Party. In the eyes of white South Africa, Black people had no role to play in the economic front as well as the political arena.

These were the challenges that were put on the shoulders of the founding fathers of our movement OBaba OLangalibalele kaDube our first president, Obaba Sefako Makgatho our second president and Obaba uReverend Zaccheus Richard Mahabane the third president of the ANC, whose life and times and those he led, with we are celebrating in the whole of South Africa this month. We are particularly privileged as Mpumalanga to honour this celebration of the life and times of ubaba uMfundisi uMahabane and those that led with him.

UMfundisi uMahabane

Whilst the President of our movement Jacob Zuma will deliver a lecture on the life and times and the contribution of Reverend Mahabane on the 22nd of March 2012 in Middleburg. We think it will be in order for the purpose of this lecture to say a few words about Rev. Mahabane He was born on the 15th of August 1881 in Tabantshu to parents who were Christian and prosperous Farmers. In 1901 Zaccheus Richard Mahabane qualified as a teacher in Lesotho but in 1908he pursued Theological Training and was ordained as a Minister in Methodist Church in 1914.

In 1916 he was sent to Cape Town for Missionary assignment. Through his concerns for the difficulties faced by Africans, he soon became involved in the Cape branch of the South African Native National Congress, a branch to which he was elected president in 1919.

Reverend Mahabane was elected for the first term as the third President General of the ANC in 1924 to 1927 and he served a second term, the only ANC president to do so out of our twelve presidents, from 1937 to 1940. When uReverend Mahabane was replaced by Dr A.B Xuma as the President General in 1940, Rev. Mahabane became the National Official Chaplain and in 1943 he was made lifelong honourably President of the ANC. He met his untimely death in 1971 at the age of 90 years at Kroonstad.

It is these men and women of the calibre of ubaba Reverend Mahabane that made it possible for the ANC to embrace a non racial principle having being greatly influenced by the Communist Party of South Africa in the thirties and forties. It is these men and women who gave the ANC the character of non sexism having being influenced a great deal by our women leaders including umam uCharlotte Maxeke, Lillian Ngoyi and many more.

It is these leaders of the ANC who were also greatly influenced in the 1940’s and 1950’s by our young people then, the Youth League of the ANC led amongst others by Anton Lembede, Walter Sisulu, Nelson Mandela and Oliver Regional Tambo who turned and influenced the ANC to engage in a programme of defiance of all apartheid laws and apartheid symbols. It is the YL of the that is credited for making the ANC a militant passive resistance movement. It is also owing to these leaders of the ANC that the ANC forged working relations and Alliances with the Communist Party of South Africa and the South African Congress of Trade Unions to form a tripartite Alliance in the struggle against the oppressor

Whilst the content and attributes of the oppressed struggle improved greatly in the forties and the fifties particularly as embodied in the cooperation of all who sought to see a free and democratic South Africa through the 1955 Congress of the people in Kliptown, the human extra ordinary disaster as reflected by Madiba on the 10th of May 1994, continued unabated with the banning the Communist Party of South Africa in the fifties arrests of leaders of the defiance campaign in the fifties and ultimately the well documented known killing of over sixty people in Sharpeville in 1960 followed by the banning of the ANC and other political organisations, thus shutting the voice and the Parliament of Black people, particularly African people in the political terrain .

Therefore, in 1960 after the Sharpeville Massacre and the banning of liberation organizations many more ANC and SACP members were convinced that the time had come to rethink the approach towards the struggle and move from ‘passive resistance to the ‘Armed Struggle’.

The founding documents of uMkhonto Wesizwe in 1961 correctly articulates that the birth of uMkhonto Wesizwe was as a result of the banning of passive resistance by the oppressor and apartheid oppressor regime, the documents also state that the army of the ANC, uMkhonto Wesizwe’s main aim was to force the oppressor regime through armed activities to unban the voice of the African people ANC and enter into meaningful negotiations for the transfer of power to the indigenous people.

The founding declaration of uMkhonto Wesizwe says “But the people’s patience is not endless. The time comes in the life of any nation when there remain only two choices: submit or fight. That time has now come to South Africa. We shall not submit and we have no choice but to hit back by all means within our power in defence of our people, our future and our freedom. The government’s policy of force, repression and violence will no longer be met with non violence resistance alone” This was on the 16th of December 1961.

On the 12th of June 1964, the high command of uMkhonto Wesizwe arrested at Rivonia in 1963 was sentenced to life imprisonment. The High Command of uMkhonto Wesizwe, led by Nelson Mandela, arrested at Rivonia was sentenced to life imprisonment.

On the same day President General of the ANC Chief Albert Luthuli who was restricted by the oppressor government to Groutville in Natal had this to say “The ANC never abandoned its method of a militant, non violence struggle, and of creating in the process a spirit of militancy in the people. However, in the face of the uncompromising white refusal to abandon a policy which denies the African and other oppressed South Africans their rightful heritage which is freedom, no one can blame brave and just men for seeking justice by the use of violent method, nor could they be blamed if they tried to create an organised force in order to ultimately establish peace and racial harmony. They represent the highest in morality and ethics in the South African struggle, this morality and ethics has been sentenced to an imprisonment and which it may never survive”.

Comrades, compatriots and friends you also know as I know that one of the human tragedies or extra ordinary disaster as Madiba puts it was the arrest and sentencing to life sentence many of the leaders of the ANC and other organisations after the burnings. It was this on slot on the organisation that necessitated then deputy president of the ANC Oliver Regional Tambo to go into exile and start afresh an ANC under exile conditions. Comrade Tambo also had the responsibility of building uMkhonto Wesizwe camps in exile.

For over thirty years Comrade Oliver Tambo preceded and led the ANC to make it true representative of Black people o f South Africa in the eyes of the International Community but Comrade Tambo together with the leadership of South Africa also ensured that within the borders of South Africa, the ANC mobilise all South Africans to fight against the apartheid regime and render the apartheid regime and its governing unworkable. At the Kabwe Conference in 1985 president Tambo enjoyed all of us in South Africa and beyond to make the apartheid government ungovernable. It was through the mobilisation of the masses inside the country, the armed struggled waged by uMkhonto Wesizwe, the International Isolation of the apartheid regime and the call for sanctions and disinvestments in South Africa by the international investors. Coupled with the defeat of the apartheid army in the Quito Carnavale Angola, forced the apartheid regime to opt for negotiations with the ANC.

We should again give credit to President Oliver Tambo for mobilising the entire African continent and the entire world in backing the conditions that were necessary for negations to start in South Africa. Comrade Oliver Tambo crisscrossed the whole continent and the world in the late eighties mobilising the entire world and the continent to adopt the Harare declaration as the document that would make negotiations possible in South Africa. The Harare declaration was adopted by the OAU, the UN and many powerful countries in the world including the US and Britain. Therefore the apartheid state was forced to unban the ANC, release all political prisoners, allow all exiles to return home and ensure their safety and also prepare to engage in proper genuine negotiations with political organisations representing the oppressed masses.

This explains CODESA, this explains the breakthrough of 1994, this explains the Lowveld Massacre on the 11th March 1986, it explains the brutality of the apartheid regime, the British Colonialist in trying to hang on to power forcefully for over centuries at the expense of Black people, African people in particular. This explains the extra ordinary human disaster that took too long in our country as stated buy madiba in May 1994. Comrades, friends and patriots this explains the struggle for total liberation that started in the form of wars of resistance and 100 years ago involved into the establishment of the people’s organisation and the people’s Parliament the ANC. The narration that we have given also explains the selfless struggles, the sacrifices, the pain and the hurt that Black South African suffered in the hand of both the Colonial and the apartheid and oppressor regimes, but comrades most importantly the narrative we have given is a true account of the resilience of the people of South Africa against heinous oppressor systems.

This is also the resilience of the people of the Lowveld under extreme provocation by the oppressor regime including death and destruction of human and communal life. The duty that falls in all of us as the generation with political rights and the political power to change the wrongs of the past and in the words of Madiba is to reverse the extra ordinary human disaster that befell our country over three and a half centuries. We have a program to address these disasters and we have a cadreship that will borrow from the founding fathers of the ANC, step on their broad shoulders and continue the struggle to make South Africa a better place for all who live in it Black and White.

Issued by:

African National Congress