Politics & Perception By Wolf Sherman

South Africa, like much of world, probably sufferers from the same disease. It's an uphill battle
to form an opinion, isn't it? We're so much more comfortable to repeat what's popular, as if
there's some universal truth, and that there can never be a different side to things. Naturally,
we'd rather wait for the media to do it for us.

Politics & Perception
Politics & Perception By Wolf Sherman
 Thinking. You'd be shown a journalist - for
instance - getting pulled around for instance. The average person would immediately judge
the attacker, based on the way the media had portrayed the incident. Few would realise
perhaps, that what they witnessed was a consequence of something, and take the time to
figure out what then was brought it on. Now let's take the incident recently where an
altercation occurred between a media photographer the 2nd in charge of the EFF (Economic
Freedom Front) (which is really quite incorrect - As "Julius Malema" is 2nd in charge, and if it
comes out that Nathan Kirsh, or whoever else is actually funding them (whatever the hell the
motivation could be, and this, according to the media), "that" designer and sponsor - as with
other political movements - is in charge, not the face on-set that has to rehearse till they
convincingly fake animosity towards other politicians. At least they all remain in-character
while on stage.
On a larger scale, could this apply to the truth about other wider politisised political events
that grab the attention of the citizenry? For example Sharpeville, if we'd be allowed to stray
from the beaten path so well rehearsed?
Below is an article by Patrick Laurence that had been written on 25 March 2010, on the
circumstances that triggered the notorious massacre of March 21 1960.
The Sharpeville massacre of 21 March 1960 - brought notoriety to the National Party
government of premier Hendrik Verwoerd and elevated the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) to
the status of a major anti-apartheid resistance movement overnight.
But if the PAC's civil disobedience against the hated pass laws had not led to violence in
Sharpeville - it had not done so in Soweto and elsewhere - it's campaign might simply have
become another failed attempt by blacks to persuade the government to abolish oppressive
and discriminatory legislation, as Thomas Karis and Gwendolen Carter argue in their
documentary history of black protest and resistance in South Africa.
It should be emphasised that the PAC campaign was conceived as one modelled on the
passive resistance strategy pioneered by Mahatma Gandhi in South Africa and later used to
dislodge British rule in India. It should similarly be noted that PAC leader Robert Sobukwe
wrote to the authorities informing them of the campaign and stressing that it would be nonviolent.
With the advantage of hindsight two underlying factors that led to the police opening fire on
the black civilians who had surrounded the police station at Sharpeville and to the killing of 69
black people - most of whom had been shot in the back while fleeing - and the wounding of
another 180.
The first factor was the killing of nine policemen in Cata Manor, near Durban, by an enraged
crowd of people living there a few weeks before.
Cato Manor had long been a place of turbulence and anger because of repeated attempts by
the authorities to prevent black people from establishing shanty settlements there.
On the day of that massacre the police were seizing liquor from the inhabitants, as black
indigenes were still prohibited from possessing or consuming all forms of alcohol (with the
exception of their traditional beer and very often only if they consumed it at special legalised
beer halls).
The Cato Manor killings undoubtedly made policemen edgy when they were surrounded by
black people, as they were at Sharpeville on the fateful day of March 21 1960. By midday
Sharpeville residents had converged on the police station to either surrender their pass books,
as instructed by the PAC, or, more likely, in anticipation that an important announcement was
going to made about the abhorrent pass laws that controlled their movements from cradle to
grave.
Many whites, policemen definitely not excluded, suffered from what might be termed a Piet
Retief complex, Refief and his men having being lured unarmed into the great kraal of the Zulu
king, Dingane, only to set upon and stabbed and clubbed to death.
Given the Cato Manor killings and the tale of the fate of Retief and his men that was taught
repeatedly at white schools, it requires no feat of imagination to deduce that many of the
young policemen were nervous as the black crowds began to press against the fence
surrounding the police station in Sharpeville.
The second factor that helps explain why the PAC campaign for abolition of the pass laws led
to violence at Sharpeville is that PAC was in its political infancy when it launched its anti-pass
campaign on 21 March 1960. It had not being in existence for a full year, having broken away
from the ANC in late 1958 and having held its founding conference in April 1959.
Africanists had predicted that the PAC would recruit 100 000 members by July 1959 but
admitted in August that it had only recruited 24 664 members.
In retrospect the PAC was too thin on the ground to embark on mass defiance campaign,
though the PAC leadership thought at the time that it would be able to recruit volunteers from
the black population at large.
According to Karis and Carter, when Sobukwe and his lieutenants in Soweto presented
themselves for arrest for refusing to carry their pass books, they were accompanied by a mere
150 volunteers. Spontaneous support for The PAC attracted in Natal and the Eastern Cape was
as meagre, if not more so, judging by the research contemporary newspaper reports at the
time. Sharpeville and neighbouring townships in the Vaal Triangle were different. There was
conspicuous support for PAC in local townships possibly because conditions were harder
there and because the ANC had neglected that area.
Even so he PAC was at a disadvantage. Its decision to launch a campaign against the pass laws
was taken after the ANC unanimously decided at its annual conference in December 1959 to
launch a massive countrywide campaign against the pass laws, starting on 31 March 1960 and
continuing to 26 June of hat year.
The PAC decision to launch its own campaign on 21 March was taken after the ANC decision
and was clearly prompted by a desire to pre-empt the ANC campaign, even though it had still
not fulfilled its early hopes on attracting 100 000 paid up members.
As Nelson Mandela put it in his autobiography Long March To Freedom: "(The PAC leaders)
appeared lost, they were a leadership in search of followers and they had yet to initiate action
that would put them on the political map." The secretary-general of the ANC, Duma Nokwe
offered an even more damning judgment: "It is treacherous to embark on a campaign which
has not been properly prepared and which has no reasonable prospect of succeeding."
A major problem at Sharpeville on the fatal day was that PAC marshals appeared to be thin on
the ground and/or not vigilant enough in preventing the crowd from pressing against the
fence surrounding the police station. In his analytical chronicle of the Sharpeville shooting An
Ordinary Atrocity, Philip Frankel goes a stage further when he writes: "... the much vaunted
marshals, whose primary task was to steer up the mob ... were unable or unwilling to steer the
crowd away from what was clearly becoming a cataclysmic situation."
Emeritus professor David Welsh provides another perspective in his excellent and newly
published book The Rise and Fall of Apartheid. He identifies the immediate cause of the
tragedy as two simultaneous events: firstly, a scuffle at the fence gate when security police
officer Att Spengler open it to let a member of the crowd in and some of the people at the gate
entered with him, possibly because they were pushed from behind; and, secondly, the arrival
at scene of Geelbooi, a common law criminal who was drunk and armed with a handgun, and
who, thinking he had spotted a policeman who had maltreated him, fired two shots in the air.
The reaction of the more nervous and younger policemen inside the perimeter of the fence
was to open fire without being ordered to do so. The firing continued even as the purported
would-be attackers were either felled by the fusillade of bullets or were still fleeing for their
lives.
Seems that truth, after all, is not a universal...

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