Remember and Revive the Militant Tradition of September 3, 1984! (ZACF)
Free the Boiketlong 4! No more banning orders!
6 September 2017
On 3 September 1984, the Vaal Triangle, which is located southeast of Johannesburg and was part of the industrial heartland of South Africa, exploded into unrest. A general stay-away from work was called, schools were closed, buses and taxis stood idle and militant protest spread across the country. It was the most significant and large-scale rebellion of the black working class since the Soweto Uprising of June, 1976, and signified one of the final nails in the coffin of apartheid and white minority rule.
For the black working class living in the townships across the Vaal Triangle, such as Sharpeville, Sebokeng, Evaton, Bophelong, Boiketlong, Zamdela and others the conditions were very similar to those of today. A slump in the steel industry had led to many workers being retrenched, there were evictions of rent defaulters and bribery, corruption and self-enrichment of local councillors was rife. Councillors’ election promises went unfulfilled and township residents demanded their resignation; allegedly threatening that they would set fire to their houses should they fail to do so.
Thirty-one years later, on 21 April 2015, the Sebokeng Magistrate’s Court in the Vaal sentenced four community activists from Boiketlong to sixteen years in prison each for allegedly setting fire to the local ward councillor’s house and cars during a protest action.
The Boiketlong Four, as they have become known, were found guilty on charges of assault, arson and malicious damage to property – despite the fact that no credible evidence was presented by the prosecutor in court and key state witnesses could not even identify the four accused! Moreover, the magistrate denied bail and leave to appeal the case, allowing only leave to appeal the severity of the sentence. This means that just to apply for bail and to petition for full leave for appeal and if successful, the actual appeal itself, are all High Court processes. This places a huge financial and emotional burden on the families of the detainees and the Boiketlong community.
Like so many townships, rural areas and poor communities across South Africa, the community of Boiketlong has long suffered from the broken promises of the ANC government. Since the first multiracial elections in 1994, the ANC has repeatedly been re-elected on the backs of empty promises of service delivery, job creation and to develop and upgrade townships and other underdeveloped areas that have long suffered a lack of sanitation, water, electricity and housing as well as a lack of access to education and health care. The Boiketlong Four are part of the collective leadership assigned by the community to lead their struggle for houses and for what the ANC government promised them to get elected into power. This is their only ‘crime’. They are political prisoners of the capitalist state. They are not criminals.
To convict them the state even used the apartheid law of 1973, of so-called ‘common purpose’, which means that they were found guilty merely because they were leaders of the community; even though none of the four were identified in any way with the burning of the councillor’s house or cars. One of the arrestees was not even present at the time. A witness willing to testify to this was not called to testify in court.
Faced with increased discontent and protest in response to its own lack of political will and its inability, due to the neoliberal economic policies it has pursued, to fulfil its promises and implement wide-scale development, upgrading of townships and service delivery across the country the ANC government is increasingly responding with the criminalisation of protest – and the poor – in order to stifle and contain social struggles.
Other examples of the state’s attempt to criminalise poverty and protest are the four community activists from Sebokeng Zone 19 who – much like the apartheid-era banning orders on activists – are being restricted from public activities and the summonsing, on spurious grounds, of two leading community activists from Zamdela in Sasolburg (which during the 80s was considered part of the Vaal) to appear in the Bloemfontein High Court for allegedly inciting people not to pay their service bills. The two activists in Zamdela are being prohibited and interdicted from “organising and orchestrating campaigns […] for residents not to pay for rates and taxes/basic services”.
In 1984, the black working class – which couldn’t afford the rent and services increases anyway – boycotted the payment of rents and municipal rates and taxes in protest against the tri-cameral parliament, white minority rule, the corrupt Black Local Authorities’ increases in service charges and poor conditions in the townships through the Asinamali campaign. “Can’t pay – won’t pay!” was their slogan.
Now, like then, the black working class is being exploited and oppressed by corrupt self-enriching councillors, high municipal rates and privatised service delivery and cost recovery etc. Boycott or non-payment of rents and service charges, whether an overt political act or out of material necessity, is a legitimate and justified expression of both our poverty and resistance!
September 3 this year marks the 33rd anniversary of the 1984 Vaal Uprising – inspired and informed by the militant spirit of protest of 1976 – which the apartheid state, sensing its end was near, responded to with repression and violence, declaring a state of emergency in a desperate attempt to contain resistance and hold onto power. Thirty-one years later and the ANC government, worried also that it is losing the battle for legitimacy and support, is responding to black working class struggle and resistance in the same way; with violence, intimidation and repression.
It is clear that the Boiketlong Four have also been targeted for their role as community leaders and for challenging the dominance and legitimacy of the ANC government by exercising their constitutional right to protest and to demand fulfilment of their rights to housing and basic services.
The state wishes to make an example of the Boitketlong Four in order to send a strong message to the poor, the unemployed and the marginalised youth leading and participating in community struggles for service delivery and development. The message is that if you dare to organise or engage in social struggles in pursuit of your constitutional and human rights, or simply to speak out against the ruling party and its local elites, you will be dealt with swiftly and harshly. The heavy sentences handed down to the Boiketlong Four, the denial of bail and leave to appeal are designed to deter others from independent working class organisation and protest.
The four Boiketlong activists are political prisoners of the capitalist state. Activists in the Vaal demand their immediate release and call on all working class and progressive organisations to take up this call to campaign for the over-turning of their sentences, for an end to the criminalisation of poverty, protest and social struggles and for the arrest and sentencing of the bosses of Lonmin, the police officials and the political leaders responsible for the Marikana massacre and the murder of Andries Tatane.
For the immediate and unconditional release and dropping of charges against all four Boiketlong activists!
For the freeing of the four Boiketlong activists; for the dropping of the interdict against the two activists from Zamdela and the return of the right to freedom of expression and association of the four activists from Sebokeng as guaranteed by the constitution!
Against the criminalisation of protest!
The same fate awaits other activists if the state is left unchallenged on this.
Remember September 3, 1984 – Free the Boiketlong 4!
Stop the Criminalisation of Poverty and Protest – Defend our Right to Freedom of Expression and Association!
Build a New Mass Movement – Revive the Militant Traditions of 1976 and 1984!
For more information on how to support the campaign to free the Boiketlong Four contact:
firstname.lastname@example.org or 073 451-3177 or 011 850-3477