By Tony Weaver
DEAR Comrade Trevor: I was in Parliament on Tuesday for the voting on the second reading of the Protection of State Information Bill. I was sitting in the visitors’ gallery, dressed in black, along with a host of other editors and senior journalists from around the country. We had a perfect bird’s eye view of the ANC front benches, and of your bench in particular.
You walked in just as the Leader of the Opposition in Parliament, Lindiwe Mazibuko, was in mid-speech, explaining in impassioned terms why the Democratic Alliance opposed the bill. Pointing to the ANC benches, she asked “what will you, the members on that side of the House, tell your grandchildren one day? I know that you will tell them that you fought for freedom. But will you also tell them you helped to destroy it?”
I couldn’t quite catch what you yelled as you stood, ready to take your seat, but your body language said it all – you adopted the pose of the aggro street fighter I remember from the 1980s, stuck your finger out and waggled it at her, and shouted what sounded like “what do you know about the struggle?”
It’s a fair enough question. It is also a question that should equally be asked of Julius Malema and all his cohorts in the ANC Youth League, but that is a fight for another day.
My response to that retort, Comrade Trevor, is: “When did you forget about the struggle? When did you lose sight of what it was that we fought for?”
Yesterday I picked up a copy of Pippa Green’s biography of you, Choice, Not Fate, to help jog my memory about our recent history and she reminded me about some of the history that I had almost forgotten, about the Fattis and Monis, and later the Red Meat Boycotts, and about the birth of the Cape Areas Housing Action Committee (Cahac). I remembered then interviewing you about Cahac, and writing about it in the Cape Times. I remember well the coverage given to the boycotts by the Cape Times and other newspapers when I was a student activist at UCT and was on the boycott committees with Oscar Mpetha and others.
I was reminded of the funeral of Hennie Ferrus, that you and Zackie at and other young activists helped turn into an ANC event, and I remember how it was covered by the so-called “liberal” media.
But I also remember driving up to Beaufort West to cover the inquest into the murder by police of UDF activist Mandlenkosi Kratshi, and in my boot was a suitcase of UDF T-shirts given to me by you and Cheryl Carolus for distribution to the comrades there. I remember that the Cape Times was the only newspaper to cover the disgrace that passed itself off as an inquest (Mandlenkosi was shot dead in “self-defence” because he attacked a policeman with a breakfast fork.)
I remember reporting on your detention by the security police on October 23, 1985, and several times subsequent to that. I remember how, at the height of the first State of Emergency, the apartheid regime had detained over 10 000 activists and ordinary people nationwide. I remember how brave parliamentarians like Tiaan van der Merwe and others, in collaboration with the editors of the Cape Times and other newspapers, read out in Parliament lists of detainees we had compiled so we could legally report them in the newspaper in defiance of the emergency laws.
I remember the Trojan Horse shootings on October 15, 1985. I remember in May and June of 1986 how the witdoek vigilantes, led into battle by police Casspirs, systematically destroyed sections of Crossroads, New Crossroads, KTC and Nyanga, leaving 80 000 people homeless. I remember the murder by police of the Gugulethu Seven in March of 1986, the murders in detention of comrades like Neil Aggett, the murder by the CCB of scores of activists, the beatings, the torture, the friends who were broken, or went into exile.
I remember day after day, night after night, our phones ringing and someone saying at the other end that “so-and-so is dead, they killed him,” or “Trevor has been detained again, please do something.”
I remember reporting on it all. And I remember the heady days when Nelson Mandela was released, I remember the Codesa days, I remember the joy of liberation.
They were days filled with promise, filled with hope.
And then on Tuesday I watched from the visitor’s gallery as you triumphally stabbed the green button to vote yes for the passage of the Protection of State Information Bill.
And I wondered where it all went wrong.