Friday, March 26, 2010

In Memory of the Heroes of the 'Seven Day War'

ViewPoint | by Dr Blade Nzimande

In memory of the heroes of the Seven Day War

Thursday 25th March 2010 marked the 20th anniversary of the beginning of the bloody Seven Day War in Pietermaritzburg, which ended on 31 March 1990. The 'Seven Day War', which, as far as I can recall, was actually given this name by the late Cde Harry Gwala, the then leader of the ANC in the Natal Midlands.

The impact of this attack left an indelible imprint on the physical and social geography and history of Edendale, and of Pietermaritzburg as a whole. The Seven Day War was an attack on greater Edendale by a combined force of marauding gangs led by the IFP warlords and the apartheid regime's police force on the people of Edendale as part of destroying the UDF, COSATU and fledgling ANC structures in the area.

At the time both the IFP and the police openly declared their intention to destroy the structures of our movement in Edendale and claim the area as an IFP territory. Under the pretext that buses to IFP dominated areas were being stoned along Edendale Road, amabutho targeted our activists' houses, burning some, hacking and shooting at their targets. What was striking about the Seven Day War was that most of the attacks, often on whole communities perceived to be ANC, happened in broad daylight in full view of the police, yet it was our comrades who were being arrested.

We still hope that one day those policemen, who were perched at the then notorious police HQ Davies Alexander House, will have the courage to tell us about their role in the seven day war. Much as we do not want to open old wounds given the peace we now have, not least through, amongst others, the efforts by our now President, Cde Jacob Zuma, at the same time our history needs to be properly told, as part of honouring those who fell during this period. The heroes and heroines who fell during this war spilt their blood so that we could realise the 1994 democratic breakthrough and all the advances made by our democracy since then.

It is a sad and cruel irony of history that at the time that we should be erecting a monument to the heroes of the Seven Day War, our Umsunduzi City is bleeding from unnecessary internal factionalist battles from inside our own movement. It should otherwise be a time when our focus should be on fixing the 'black hole' of Pietermaritzburg - Edendale - a settlement that should be rid of the smelly pit latrines, gravel roads and mud houses.

In memory of those who fell during the Seven Day war, we should be committing ourselves to rid our movement of tenderpreneurship and all the ills associated with it, a scourge at the heart of the problems at Umsunduzi and many other municipalities.

When honouring those who fell during this period, understandably difficult as it may be for some of our own comrades and affected families, we must also mention and remember those who died on the side of the IFP, as many of them were used as ordinary foot-soldiers and pawns in the apartheid regime's grand scheme to try and frustrate South Africa's transition to democracy.

When the unbanning of the ANC and the SACP was announced by FW de Klerk on 2nd February 1990, Mzala Nxumalo, a member of the ANC and the SACP and a cadre of the class of 1976, warned that our movement must be careful that De Klerk must not do 'a Dingane' on us. By this he was recalling what Dingane, the Zulu King, did on the boers led by Piet Retief and Gert Maritz in the 19th century.

The story goes that when the first boers arrived in the then territory of the Zulu King Dingane, he invited them to his headquarters in Umgungundlovu and called upon his amabutho to kill them 'Babulaleni abathakathi' ('Kill the witches'). What Mzala was warning about was that in the wake of the unbanning of our organizations and the release of Nelson Mandela we must remain vigilant that the apartheid regime must not invite us to emerge from the underground only to smash us.

Indeed Mzala was right, as our movement had anticipated, because as soon as the ANC and the SACP were unbanned, apartheid-sponsored violence in KZN was intensified. This soon spread to Gauteng and other areas. The primary aim was to prevent the ANC from rebuilding its structures inside the country. The Seven Day War was part of this offensive. However, the Seven Day War must also be understood within the specificities of apartheid's counter-revolutionary warfare in KwaZulu Natal in general and Pietermaritzburg in particular. Pietermaritzburg, and especially Edendale, acted as a bulwark against the extension of the apartheid regime's tentacles, through the then KwaZulu Bantustan, as it became a centre of resistance against apartheid in the 1980s.

The Seven Day war was therefore targeted at initially removing ANC (and UDF/Cosatu) influence from areas controlled by the IFP in the north of Edendale (known as 'Ngaphezulu'), and seeking to turn these areas into a springboard to destroy our movement structures in Edendale. It was therefore of no surprise that the Seven Day War started in some of these areas north of Edendale where there was some UDF and later ANC presence, especially in Gezubuso, Taylor's Halt, KwaShange, KwaMnyandu and Enadi. Thousands of people fled this area and most of them settled at KwaDambuza, which had long become a UDF and ANC dominated territory.

It was through the heroic sacrifices of many UDF, ANC, SACP, Cosatu and uMkhonto WeSizwe cadres from the above areas that the Seven Day war was stopped in its tracks at the border of Caluza and the rest of Edendale that we can today be proud of the birth of a democratic South Africa.

In honour of the heroes of the Seven Day War we should indeed erect a permanent monument in Edendale. This monument must indeed be accompanied by an intensified struggle against corruption in order to rid our movement of 'tenderpreneurs' and focus the attention of our people to the five priorities of our government: decent work, education, health, fight against crime and rural development.

--Dr Blade Nzimande is an ANC NEC member and Minister of Higher Education and Training

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