Who Murdered NUM Branch Secretary Daluvuyo Bongo?

By David Bruce · 29 Oct 2012

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Picture: Null Value/Flickr
Picture: Null Value/Flickr

On Friday the 12th of October Zenzile Nyenye and Siyakhele Kwazile were arrested. They have been charged for the murder of Daluvuyo Bongo, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) branch secretary in North West. Bongo was shot dead at Marikana on the 5th of October. On Wednesday Nyenye and Kwazile were denied bail by magistrate Carnel Bezuidenhout in the Rustenburg magistrate’s court.

This article is not written with the intention of arguing that Nyenye and Kwazile are innocent of the murder. What the article does argue is that, in terms of what we know about the way in which the security apparatus of the South African government operates, it is not unlikely that there is no evidence against them whatsoever. As will emerge, the article goes much further than this.

It argues that it is not unlikely that Bongo was himself killed by agents of the South African government. Such a killing, it is argued, would have fitted in with a strategy of ‘creating conditions’ enabling the state to institute repressive measures against people associated with worker mobilization in Marikana and in North West province more generally.

Arrest and Trial as a Repressive Instrument

Tactics of this kind have of course been used in South Africa before. In 1956 for instance, Nelson Mandela was one of 156 people, all of them associated with the ANC and Congress Alliance, who were arrested. Criminal proceedings were instituted against over 90 of the accused in two separate trials. Neither of these resulted in the conviction of a single person. A group of 30 accused, including Mandela himself, were finally acquitted in March 1961. The 1956 to 1961 treason trial was an initiative of the apartheid government to disorganise and undermine the opposition.

It was in discussions between some of those who were on trial during this protracted period that the idea that it would be necessary to pursue armed struggle began to be discussed. The armed struggle was initiated in the period after the Sharpeville crisis of 1960, and the finalisation of the treason trial in March 1961. It was due to his involvement in the launch of Umkhonto we Sizwe that Mandela, and the other Rivonia trialists, were then successfully convicted and sentenced to imprisonment in 1964.

From 1960 onwards, repression in South Africa intensified more generally. However, though some use continued to be made of trials based on spurious or flimsy evidence, the apartheid state did not rely on this as a repressive measure and generally only brought people to trial when it had substantial evidence against them. There was no need for the state to bring people to trial in order to neutralize them politically as it had a range of other repressive technologies – most notably detention without trial and banning orders – that made bringing people to trial unnecessary. It was therefore only in select cases, against high profile people such as in the two treason trials of UDF leaders in the 1980s, that trials on flimsy evidence were used as a strategy.

The Security Apparatus

Particularly since the ascent to power of Jacob Zuma, the ANC has vigorously pursued an agenda of consolidating its power over the state security apparatus. Some see this as primarily motivated by the concern to protect President Zuma from the further risk of prosecution for corruption.

But it appears that a group within the state have a more expansive agenda.

This agenda may be understood as partly modelled on that of ZANU-PF. Essentially, it involves using the state machinery to consolidate their overall political and economic power. Consolidated control over the state security machinery appears to be fundamental to how they hope to achieve this.

The key members of the current ‘securocracy’ are part of a KwaZulu-Natal centred inner circle with some of them having links to the ANC’s exiled underground machinery. President Zuma himself was Chief of ANC intelligence in the late 1980s, whilst Minister of Justice Jeff Radebe was part of ANC underground operations. Zuma, Minister of Police Nathi Mthethwa, Minister of Justice Jeff Radebe, and Minister of Intelligence Siyabonga Cwele, are all from KwaZulu-Natal. 

Along with consolidating control over the security apparatus, particularly significant here are the initiatives that this group are involved in within key economic sectors such as the mining industry. Minister of Mining and Energy Resources, Susan Shabangu for instance also needs to be understood as a member of the current ‘inner circle’ along with the ‘securocracy’.

The current refusal by the National Prosecuting Authority to release tapes, which allegedly provided the basis for the withdrawal of the charges against Zuma in 2008, is merely one manifestation of the way in which the state security apparatus now serve directly as instruments of this group. The NPA has refused to hand over the tapes to the Democratic Alliance notwithstanding the fact that they were ordered to do so by the Supreme Court of Appeal seven months ago. Another prominent manifestation of this agenda has been the protracted saga of the Information Bill.

But in analyzing the current functioning of the South African state it is important not to stop at these more formal and visible manifestations of the agenda. Many South Africans are for instance familiar with the fact that Richard Mdluli, a former member of the apartheid security police, was appointed as head of crime intelligence within the South African Police Service (SAPS), and his appointment defended notwithstanding the fact that he was suspected of murder and corruption. But few people are aware that the SAPS continue to work with former members of the Civilian Cooperation Bureau (CCB). A former CCB operative Barry Bawden assisted the SAPS with the infiltration of the rightwing Boeremag. Bawden is reported to have a “personal relationship” with President Zuma.

Is it possible that the political killings in KZN could take place without some level of state collusion?

These killings are currently taking place at a rate greater than the national rate of such killings in the 1985-1989 period, some of the most violent years of the apartheid era. A 1998 book published by the Human Rights Committee, Crime against Humanity, indicates that “Speculation as to the base for” hit squad assassinations “inevitably leads to state security structures”. This “would also explain the virtually complete absence of success on the part of the police in solving these numerous mysteries”, the book says.

A general feature of political killings in KwaZulu-Natal is that no one is held responsible for them. This includes the large number of killings of ANC members. Available information is that for the more than 40 killings of ANC members since the beginning of 2009, only one person has been convicted. Information recently released is that alleged police death squads have included not only that in Cato Manor, but also another one based in Port Shepstone.    

Another phenomenon that points to the involvement of the state security machinery in illicit activity, often apparently intended to neutralize political (rather than security) risks to the current political administration, is the phenomenon of break ins where computers with sensitive information are stolen whilst other valuable items are not taken. One victim of this phenomenon was involved in a legal matter in which Richard Mdluli was implicated. Another was involved in carrying out research into the arms deal.  It would therefore appear that there are elements within the South African security apparatus that are not averse to the use of ‘dirty tricks’.

The transformation of Operational Response Services (ORS) division of the SAPS into an explicitly political instrument of the state, as demonstrated in the ORS operation in Wesselton in February 2011 is another manifestation of this agenda. The police operation in Wesselton can be seen as something of a template for that which took place in Marikana in August. In both operations, for instance, those who had been involved in the protests were subsequently arrested with a large number of them being tortured. Following the Wesselton operation, this lead to 25 charges of assault being lodged with the Independent Complaints Directorate. In Marikana, this led to 94 cases of assault being lodged with the ICD’s successor, the Independent Police Investigative Directorate.  

In both cases it is also alleged that specific individuals amongst the police who were involved in torture focused on a more specific objective. In Wesselton it was to get some of the arrested people to confess that political opponents of Mpumalanga Premier David Mabuza had instigated the protests. In Marikana the alleged objective of these torturers was to obtain ‘confessions’ that Julius Malema had instigated the protests.  

The political manner in which the state security apparatus operates was also demonstrated by the decision of the NPA to prosecute the arrested miners for the death of their colleagues, charges that were only ‘provisionally withdrawn’ following a massive public outcry.

That the instability in Marikana was used as an excuse to deploy the military to numerous parts of the country on the weekend of the 15-16 September itself may be taken to illustrate the general orientation of the ‘securocracy’. This is to use ‘opportunities’, such as that which was provided by the situation in Marikana, to further consolidate their power by ‘securitising’ the situation.    

The National Union of Mineworkers

President Zuma, and the group of securocrats that are linked to him, currently have their backs against the wall. This is not because they are losing control of the state security apparatus. Their strategy of consolidating control over it has to a significant degree been successful. But as the Economist recently pointed out, if the ANC elects Zuma at Mangaung, this will demonstrate that they do not understand what has gone wrong in South Africa.

Outside of the powerful sections of the Tripartite alliance, and a few other groups that have a vested interest in the status quo, Zuma’s credibility is in tatters. His control over the security apparatus means that he has real power, but he is desperate to find ways to shore up his legitimacy. To do this he needs to retain the support of, and protect the credibility of, his key political allies.

As indicated, in Wesselton the political intervention by the ORS division of the SAPS was intended to uphold the interests of Zuma’s political ally, David Mabuza. Whilst it is widely argued that the Marikana operation involved complicity between the state and big business, it would appear that the key interests that the police operation were intended to protect may not have been those of the mining bosses. Instead they may have been those of the NUM.

As discussed by Richard Pithouse, the NUM has been extraordinarily persistent in making allegations that a ‘third force’ has been behind the killing of Daluvuyo Bongo and other NUM members in Marikana. They have never produced any evidence to support these allegations. But it appears clear that their intention is to promote the idea that the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU), and the striking miners, are behind the attacks on NUM members. In fact NUM went so far as to state directly that AMCU was behind the assassinations in an article published in the government mouthpiece, the New Age.  Despite having no evidence for this assertion they refused to apologise for it.

The possibility that the NUM is working hand-in-glove with the state security apparatus is also suggested by two remarkable co-incidences during the week of the Marikana massacre. On the day that the ORS division of the SAPS started being brought en masse into Marikana the NUM called for the deployment of a ‘special task force’ (the ‘Special Task Force’ is an elite unit that is a component of the ORS division).  On the 16th of August, prior to the launch of the police operation that culminated in the Marikana massacre, the NUM General Secretary Frans Baleni allegedly said that NUM members and branch leaders were placed on a hit list that ‘originated from a hostile group that was leading the protest’. As is the general pattern no evidence was produced to support this serious allegation.

Might it be possible that this announcement was intended to help legitimize the heavy-handed measures that police anticipated that they would resort to?

As Jared Sacks reported in the Daily Maverick the state also did nothing to investigate the widespread allegations of killings of protesting miners by armed men from the local NUM office on the 11th of August just after the strike at Lonmin had started. Sacks’s research indicates that it was the alleged failure on the part of the police to respond to these killings that can be seen as having been a direct cause of the fact that workers armed themselves.   

It is not only Zuma and the securocrats who have their backs against the wall. The NUM does too. Related to the disposition of its senior leadership to become part of South Africa’s moneyed elite, it has lost touch with workers in the mining industry. And its vested interests will be in real jeopardy if Zuma does not retain power at Mangaung. The interests of the current ANC and NUM leaderships are therefore inextricably intertwined.

Who then killed Daluvuyo Bongo?

The short answer is that we do not know. But, if the analysis contained within this article is not wrong, the horrible, terrifying possibility is that Bongo was 'sacrificed' in order to create the space for, and legitimize, the deployment of state agencies for purposes of repression. 

Our Constitution provides that people are assumed to be innocent until they are proved to be guilty. Zenzile Nyenye and Siyakhele Kwazile may therefore be assumed to be innocent. But from what we know of the current state system and the circumstances surrounding their arrest, it would appear reasonable to go further than this. Until the contrary is proved, it may be assumed that their arrest is part of a sinister state agenda. It is therefore appropriate to call for Nyenye and Kwazile to be released unconditionally.

**Correction (29th October 2012, 14h57): The article has been amended to correct an apparent factual inaccuracy in the original which referred to "allegations of killings of protesting miners by NUM members on the 11th of August". The allegations are that the striking miners, many of whom were NUM members, were attacked by a group of people from the NUM office.  

Bruce is an independent researcher specialising in crime and policing.

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Gareth Coleman
2 Nov


David Bruce provides about as much evidence for his assertion than the people he accuses of providing no evidence...

Respond to this comment

2 Nov


While NUM make emphatic allegations without evidence Bruce is vey clear that he is raising a possibility that requires further investigation to be confirmed or dismissed. Now that we are dealing with a state that uses murder and torture to control its citizens the tentative posing of new lines of inquiry into the new forms that state repression is taking is perfectly justified.