What if the people who killed Collins Khosa in Alexandra township on 10th April had been white? We all know what would have happened.
There would have been instant outrage across South Africa. The culprits would have been arrested and bail denied them. The National Prosecuting Authority would have been ordered to fast-track the case to trial. The Human Rights Commission would have launched an urgent investigation into white racism in the army and police. Cyril Ramaphosa would have gone on television to urge radical transformation to rid the army and police of colonialism and apartheid. The ANC, the SACP, Cosatu, and the EFF would have staged demonstrations.
Instead of which President Ramaphosa takes a couple of months to react, and then only in muted tones by saying he is “really saddened”. As for mass arrests and other behaviour by security forces who by then had killed Mr Khosa and ten other people, Mr Ramaphosa said they had let “their enthusiasm get the better of them”. His party and government have shown more and much speedier concern about the (single) killing of George Floyd in the US than nearly a dozen in their own backyard.
In fact, the ANC and its allies kicked up a far greater fuss about some crass remarks a few years ago by Penny Sparrow than they have about the current spate of deaths at the hands of the police and/or army. A court order for the suspension of the soldiers who allegedly killed Mr Khosa was brought by the victim’s family, not by our languid state, which is too busy arresting people for petty lockdown offences.
While Mr Ramaphosa’s colleagues have been busy with whitewashes and exculpations, it has been left to the Democratic Alliance (DA) to ask the awkward questions about the handling of the Khosa case, to demand accountability, and to highlight the ever-increasing allegations of police abuse in South Africa. Could it be that the DA cares more about black lives than do the ANC and its allies?
The reason for the ANC’s insouciant attitude to the Khosa killing is quite simple: It cannot easily be exploited to further that party’s racial agenda. Not to worry. The Floyd killing serves as an excellent proxy. Hence last week’s call by the ANC’s national working committee for mobilisation against racism in the US, South Africa, and elsewhere, while security services who “abuse their power” here at home are merely “condemned” and urged “to act in line with the Constitution”.
The Nelson Mandela Foundation for its part made a valiant attempt last week to find a racial angle in the killing of Mr Khosa. It thus stated that protests at the deaths of Messrs Floyd and Khosa “speak to a growing rage across the globe at continued white supremacy and the use of state violence to support it”. So now we know. Mr Khosa was killed by a state packed with ANC cadres and affirmative-action appointees to support white supremacy.
The ANC’s differential response to the Khosa and Floyd killings is itself racist. Black lives matter less when they are snuffed out by black soldiers employed by a black government in South Africa than when they are snuffed out by white policemen employed by a white government in America.
Herman Mashaba, former mayor of Johannesburg, last week asked why the ANC – hypocritically, he said - was calling for support for the campaign over Mr Floyd “when this same government of ours has killed poor black people with callous disregard for decades”. Inter alia, he cited the killing of 34 miners at Marikana in 2012. He could have gone back further, to the “people’s war” which the ANC prosecuted in the decade before it came to power.
This was designed to make the country ungovernable by causing mayhem in black areas. Some 20 000 people died, the vast majority of them ordinary black men, women, and children. The only fatalities that the ANC bothered about were the ones it could blame on its political rivals or the National Party government. You were not even supposed to talk about “black on black” violence, because all killings were supposedly the work of the white regime and its supposed black “surrogates”.
This of course is the story of Africa. Post-colonial governments can kill their citizens and lay waste to their economies, usually with impunity. The ANC that is so lackadaisical about bringing the killers of Mr Khosa to justice is the same ANC as failed to carry out a warrant to arrest Omar al-Bashir when he visited this country in 2015. This despite the fact that Mr Bashir was facing charges of crimes against humanity, genocide, and war crimes against his own people in Sudan.
If Mr Bashir is allowed to escape, it’s hardly surprising that the ANC is not bothered about the killers of Mr Khosa.
* John Kane-Berman is a policy fellow at the IRR, a think-tank that promotes political and economic freedom. Readers are invited to take a stand with the IRR by clicking here or sending an SMS with your name to 32823. Each SMS costs R1. Ts and Cs apply.