Beaten to death for his own good

Andrew Donaldson suggests it is not surfer protests that should be drawing the ire of the commentariat


SURFERS at Muizenberg staged a small protest against the lockdown regulations on Tuesday. The wokey woke were not on board, so to speak, and there was much smirking after cops bust up the demonstration in yet another display of brute farce.

I’m with the surfers on this one. They’ve been treated shabbily for standing up for themselves. 

In terms of increasingly absurd regulations, cyclists and joggers are permitted to exercise within five kilometres of their homes. But not surfers or paddle skiers, and it does appear that they are the victims of arbitrary and clueless decision-making by the authorities. 

Cyclists, as a rule, are incapable of social distancing. They’re genetically hard-wired to move around in tight-knit groups to annoy motorists. Get too close to them in the water, however, and surfers will remind you to move along — and they won’t be too social about it, either. Good waves, as they say, are few.

As a result of exercising a constitutional right, the surfers not only attracted a heavy-handed police response — but also the derision of virtue signallers making right-on noises about “elitism”, “privilege” and transgressing the sainted ubuntu

In paddling out to the breaks, the po-faced claim, these surfers literally turn their backs on the country and all the good folk “pulling together” behind them.

The journalist Chris Roper led the commentariat charge. In a startling attempt at satire, he parodied the surfers as brain-dead stoners and tweaked “struggle” cliches to mock their demonstration as irrelevant and inconsequential. How they all laughed at that, and there came much retweeting as this chucklefest was circulated on social media.


The thing is, though, that, regardless of its size, no protest action against laws designed to erode civil liberties should ever be regarded as irrelevant or inconsequential. That’s a rule of thumb at the Slaughtered Lamb (“Finest Ales & Pies”). To argue otherwise is to side with the goon squad, the bad guys. 

Roper should know this; he appears overly qualified in this regard.

According to his Daily Maverick contributor biography, he is “deputy director of Code for Africa, a director of the African Network of Centers for Investigative Reporting, and most recently held the position of editor-in-chief of the Mail & Guardian. He was founding portal manager of Tiscali World Online, portal manager for MWEB, and Editor-in-Chief at 24.com. He was a Knight Fellow for the ICFJ from 2015 - 2019.”

However, according to the patent pending, custom-built Grouse anagram generator, Roper is also Chips, Error. 

And Error was entirely correct when he recently pointed out, in response to a scornful tweet from DA leader John Steenhuisen, that the police minister should not be referred to as “Obergruppenführer” or any other term that suggests there’s a Schutzstaffel spring in his goose-step. “How easily we throw around these extreme Nazi references,” he chided, “when we’re talking about petty despots and underwear.”

For the record, Cheek Bile is not an obergruppenführer but General in Chief, First Class (Self-Appointed) of the SAPS. Although very likely soon to promote himself to Admiral Field Marshal. And even then that seems a bit modest when considering the boundless zeal with which Bile wants to put the citizenry in its place. “It is not a fairy tale,” he has warned, “to say the law will act very harshly on you.”

But the Nazis also did petty. You could say it was their softer side. For example, in his introduction to The Bass Saxophone (Picador, 1980), the Czech writer Josef Skvorecky recalled their regulations for dance orchestras:

“…so-called jazz compositions may contain at most 10 per cent syncopation; the remainder must consist of a natural legato movement devoid of the hysterical rhythmic reverses characteristic of the music of the barbarian races and conducive to dark instincts alien to the German people (so-called riffs) … strictly prohibited is the use of instruments alien to the German spirit (so-called cow-bells, flexatone, brushes, etc) as well as all mutes which turn the noble sound of wind and brass instruments into a Jewish-Freemasonic yowl (so-called wa-wa, hat, etc)…”

Thus the original jazz police. But are these rules any more loopy than trade, industry and spite minister Petty Patel’s list of the clothing items that he has now graciously permitted to go on sale during the national state of disaster?

Given Patel’s about-turn to now permit e-trading, it’s no surprise flip-flops are verboten. And can the smalls police be far off? They’re already raiding people’s homes without a warrant to confiscate alcohol, so will there now be squalid rummaging in wardrobes and underwear drawers for illicit panties? Like, move over, Big Brother, Uncle Perve wants to catch some frillies.

But, lest we get too distracted, it’s back to the breaks and the “war” against the pandemic. It is here, to the casual observer at least, that the cops appear to be doing the full Churchill and will fight on the beaches and will never surrender to those who take to the waves for recreation.

This is not only a waste of resources, but it’s a bit like swatting flies with a sledge hammer. Besides, and this point has been made on numerous occasions, you hardly ever see such marine kragdadigheid when it comes to, let’s say, tackling abalone and crayfish poaching.

It is not only surfers who are targeted at the seaside. One of the more uplifting videos doing the rounds is of a cop chasing a jogger on a beach, somewhere in the world. There’s no sound or voice-over, but this is not necessary as it’s a competently filmed narrative with the drama unfolding in a single take in the best tradition of anthropological documentary cinema. 

As the jogger appears in the frame, the cop trots across the sand towards him. It is clear that he has ordered the jogger to immediately cease with this violation of lockdown regulations and assume the position for arrest. 

The jogger ignores him and continues with his exercise, running at a leisurely pace. The cop gives chase. The jogger lulls the cop into a false sense of security by allowing him to draw near. Ever so subtly, the dynamics of the pursuit now change. The jogger speeds up slightly. The cop speeds up too. He’s locked in, committed to the chase, convinced that he’ll get his man. 

But the jogger is an athlete and has energy in reserve. He breaks into a sprint. The cop tries to up a gear, but he’s too pap. The jogger storms ahead with comparative ease. Out of puff, the cop gives up and the jogger disappears. The cop is now humiliated. Not only has he failed to apprehend the criminal but he has made an arse of himself in the process. 

And, shame, doesn’t he know it.

The bulk of the “war” is being fought inland, however, and there’s another smartphone clip worth mentioning. This one has no context, so I have no idea where it was shot, but it’s almost certainly a township. It features a burly cop wearing a face mask. He is holding down a woman and squirting pepper spray in her face at point blank range. 

There is no sign of outrage or protest from the throng of bystanders looking on. Perhaps for them this is an everyday lockdown occurrence and they know the futility of objecting to such abuse. There are many, many similar video clips out there in which utter contempt for citizens and the rule of law by the security forces is exposed.

Until very recently there has been no reaction from the government about this behaviour whatsoever. Except of course some peurile rubbish from Cheek Bile that if you push against the police they will push back, only harder. 

It was encouraging, then, that Trevor Manuel, should warn that Nkosazana Disaster-Zuma’s lockdown regulations are a threat to constitutional democracy and are failing “the test of rationality”. 

Writing in City Press last weekend, the former finance minister said: “There are daily reports of the abuse of power by the security forces, including assaults with sjamboks; the arrest of citizens for the pettiest of infractions; the payment of admission of guilt fines by people desperate to get out of custody, and a long list of instances of misbehaviour. I have not heard senior police and army officers, ministers or the president call out this behaviour.”

Called out for his deafening silence, the Potemkin president then called out this behaviour in his address to the nation on Wednesday evening:

“…[We] must acknowledge that as we have confronted this unprecedented challenge, there may have been times when we have fallen short of your expectations. Some of the actions we have taken have been unclear, some have been contradictory and some have been poorly explained. Implementation has sometimes been slow and enforcement has sometimes been inconsistent and too harsh.”

One such “shortfall” is the killing of Collins Khoza on Good Friday. 

His family have since launched a high court application against, among others, the defence minister and the chief of the defence force that is aimed at ensuring his death is properly investigated and that the public are protected against further lockdown brutality.

According to papers before the court, at around 5pm on April 10, two SANDF soldiers “without a warrant or invitation” entered the home in Alexandra township that Khoza shared with his life partner Nomsa Montsha, his three children, his sister Ivonny Muvhango, her husband Thabiso Muvhango and their two children.

The soldiers were armed with sjamboks and demanded Khoza and his brother-in-law explain why there was a camping chair in the front yard with a half-empty cup of beer. Khoza explained that drinking alcohol at home was not a contravention of the lockdown.

Somewhat annoyed people should believe they have rights, the soldiers ordered Khoza and Muvhango into the street to “prove a point” to them. They were joined by three other soldiers who poured beer over Khoza’s head and body, choked him while pinning his hands behind his back, slapped, punched and kicked him in the face, stomach and ribs and hit him with a rifle butt before slamming him against a cement wall and a steel gate.

Khoza died as a result of his injuries later that evening.

Two neighbours tried to film the assault, but soldiers confiscated their smartphones and deleted the footage. They then forced the neighbours into a Metro police vehicle and assaulted them. Then they were taken to a temporary SANDF base, bundled into another vehicle and assaulted further. They were then driven several kilometres from Alexandra and dumped on the side of the road. Their phones were thrown into the bushes.

The soldiers have yet to give their version of what happened. The constitutional law professor Pierre de Vos has suggested their story will, in all likelihood,  differ greatly from the account above, but he doubts whether it will be plausible given that the cause of Khosa’s death has been noted as blunt force trauma to the head. 

“In other words,” De Vos has said, “he was assaulted and killed. If the soldiers did not assault and kill him, who did?”

It is a good question. Yet more interesting questions have been raised by former opposition leader Tony Leon in two recent columns. Writing in TimesSelect, Leon touches on what DA MP Belinda Bozzoli has referred to as the “weird sort of millenarianism floating around in certain quarters”.

Lest there be any suggestion that this is a reference to the outlandish hats worn by some MPs, Leon explains that millenarianism is a belief in a fundamental transformation of society in which all is upended and changed. 

In Bozzoli’s opinion, he adds, this is manifested in South Africa in the conviction that if the economy is destroyed by the lockdown, it will be “no bad thing; out of the ruins of the old unequal and intractable SA, a ‘new wonderful more equal society will emerge’. 

“She is quick to dismiss this as delusional: cruel and doomed to fail, a form of ‘magical thinking’ which in reality means ‘the more you destroy the less there will be to base any sort of rebuilding on’.”

Many will of course also dismiss as delusional any suggestion that such “magical thinking” may, just perhaps, have crossed the mind or troubled the imagination of anyone, anywhere, within the ruling party.  

“But,” Leon writes, “if you have regard for the warmth with which Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma has spoken of how we now have the opportunity to commit ‘class suicide’ in quest of a new economic order, or Cyril Ramaphosa’s recent remarks that the ‘gloves are off’ in the pursuit, under Covid, of ‘radical economic transformation’, it seems a public health crisis could become our own millenarian moment.”

History throws up no shortage of examples as to why this is a very bad idea: Joseph Stalin in the 1930s, Mao Zedong in the 1950s, Pol Pot in the 1970s. And let’s not forget Nongqawuse in the 1850s. Quite why Virodene-Zuma believes it will somehow all be different for her is a bit beyond the ken of reasonable folk.

She turns up again in a piece Leon wrote for Business Day. This time he questions why the “new overlord” should regard the reasons for  destroying the economy as “classified” information. More ominously, he points to Julius Malema and the EFF’s encouragement of that destruction as a possible means to further their political ambitions.

“Weimar Germany,” Leon says, “is a useful place to look at how a fringe party hopscotched into state power.” In 1928, most Germans considered the Nazis a lunatic minority. In 1932, as the Great Depression struck, they became the strongest party in the country and Hitler was in charge a year later.

The reference may seem alarmist. But then there is more than a whiff of tyranny in the air with all the paramilitary uniforms on parade at the moment. 

Anti-social development minister Lindiwe Zulu is a typical case, and her penchant for banana republic military gear is not a good thing. Junta-style fancy-dress looks bad because it is bad. Especially on someone who apparently wants tban civil society organisations from distributing cooked food to the hungry. This, mind you, as the food queues grow longer and longer by the day. 

Of course, when Squirrel and company invoke the pandemic they are referring to an actual danger, a very real threat to us all. But, as the Yale historian Timothy Snyder has pointed out, when politicians attempt to train and encourage citizens to surrender freedom in the name of safety, then the alarm bells must ring. 

“There is no necessary tradeoff between the two,” Snyder writes in On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons From the Twentieth Century (Bodley Head, 2017). “Sometimes we do indeed gain one by losing the other, and sometimes not. People who assure you that you can only gain security at the price of liberty usually want to deny you both.”

As the case of Collins Khoza has proved. Beaten to death for his own good.