Sunday Times

History 101, anyone? A new book chronicles the struggle in a laughable manner


IAM reading a book that has me oscillatin­g between laughter, tears, anger and irritation. I am left to speculate how many trees were felled to humour its author.

I was suckered. The book promised “New light on the struggle for South Africa”. Its author holds law degrees from Wits and Cambridge and a doctorate from the University of London. Its end notes take up 29 pages, the reference footnotes span 161 pages and the select bibliograp­hy runs into eight.

Like Pavlov’s dog I was salivating. I had visions of rigorous analysis and scholarshi­p and new veins of golden historical sources that have not been mined.

For my R279 the author uses 634 pages to tell me that my life has been a waste (to say nothing about truly illustriou­s sons and daughters of our soil).

I spent hours skimming its pages — kind of nibbling to get my taste buds tickled. My nose began to twitch. Since I stopped smoking, my sense of smell has sharpened. To where was I being led? I did a fastforwar­d to the conclusion. It told me that our country has been left with “little more than the outward shell of a democracy”.

I kid you not. That quote is from the last two lines of People’s War by Anthea Jeffery.

What about our constituti­on and its Bill of Rights, our Constituti­onal Court, our four successive elections that are admired the world over? The scholar in her dismisses these as false perception­s and consigns them to a box labelled “outward shell of democracy”.

I am a glutton for punishment.

She hints that the Soviets pushed us into launching Umkhonto weSizwe. She is more daring when it comes TELL MAC: to the people’s war which began, she says, with a visit to Vietnam of a delegation led by ANC president Oliver Tambo. The party did so at “Moscow’s behest”. The aim of the visit was “to put the ANC in touch with astute Vietnamese strategist­s such as President Ho Chi Minh and General Vo Nguyen Giap”.

That’s it. A bald statement of fact. Not even a footnote to enlighten us about the source of this informatio­n. Dr Jeffery says so. Therefore it is true.

Some 32 pages on, lest we forget, she repeats that “At Moscow’s urging a senior delegation . . . visited Vietnam in October 1978”. The delegation, she says, consisted of Oliver Tambo, Joe Modise, Joe Slovo, Chris Hani and Alfred Nzo.

I do not hold a doctorate and I am not a lawyer. But what if I told you that Ho Chi Minh died on September 2 1969, some nine years before the Tambo visit to Vietnam; that Chris Hani and Alfred Nzo were not in the delegation but Moses Mabhida, Thabo Mbeki and Cassius Maake were there (see Oliver Tambo: Beyond the Engeli Mountains by Luli Callinicos)?

What about the 1994 elections? We, the voters, were pepper-sprayed. She explains: “. . . a people’s war is primarily a war of communicat­ion. One of its main aims is to throw dust in people’s eyes: to put forward a false theory of violence which is plausible in many ways . . . once this false theory has become deeply rooted . . . it becomes progressiv­ely more difficult to believe that it could be mistaken and misleading.”

In Jeffery’s universe, the countless lives lost in the violence that ravaged our country were not the result of apartheid and a statebacke­d Third Force, but of the people’s war waged by the ANC.

She stops at nothing to whitewash the apartheid state and its surrogates. She peddles the idea, advanced in 1989 by US academic Leo Raditsa, that askaris were simply dissidents who took advantage, when sent into SA on military missions, to break with the ANC. “In some instances, police caught them, but in others they surrendere­d willingly. The government set aside a farm called Vlakplaas . . . to accommodat­e these askaris . . . and kept its location secret to protect them from ANC retaliatio­n.” Does Jeffery really believe this romanticis­ing of askaris and Vlakplaas will wash? If not, why does she resuscitat­e Raditsa in 2009?

Vlakplaas, haven of death squads, was a secret police operation made up of a bunch of thugs who tortured and killed their victims in the most gruesome ways. With a penchant for the macabre, they created the term “buddha-ing” for seating their victim in the posture of Buddha and disposing of the body by dynamiting it to shreds.

Vlakplaas represents one of the darkest chapters of South Africa’s history. For Jeffery, it stands as a place of sanctuary from the evil ANC.

I am saddened. For all her three university degrees, Jeffery does disservice to scholarshi­p, her country and herself.

I shall be doubly saddened if, despite this column, one more person is suckered, like I was.

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 ??  ?? TWISTED TALE: Almond Nofomela, who was based at Vlakplaas where askaris took refuge, was responsibl­e for the murder of several liberation struggle activists. He served a life sentence but was recently granted conditiona­l parole
TWISTED TALE: Almond Nofomela, who was based at Vlakplaas where askaris took refuge, was responsibl­e for the murder of several liberation struggle activists. He served a life sentence but was recently granted conditiona­l parole

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