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Peaceful memories: remembering and forgetting political violence in Kangwane, South Africa.


Despite its manifest, if largely undocumented, histories of menacing violence and perilous politics, the thrust of popular memory in the former apartheid bantustan of KaNgwane insists that it was a peaceful, even apolitical, place. In a contemporary South African memorial culture that idealizes memories of victimization by (and resistance to) apartheid and its political violence, why would some in KaNgwane persistently narrate the past through tropes of peaceful order and disavowals of the political? Are these mnemonic effacements in KaNgwane best conceived of as forms of forgetting? This article challenges such a proposition. First, it recovers the hitherto unrecognized politics and violence in KaNgwane, in part (and paradoxically) out of the very same narratives that deny such histories. Second, it explores the dialectical co-implication of remembering and forgetting, and of memory and history, in KaNgwane's supposed anamnesis. And third, it proposes that the occlusions and assurances of memory in KaNgwane are structured by a localized semiotics in which politics is retrospectively signified by order and restraint, and negated by disorder and revolt. In this 'memory work', KaNgwane's past is anaesthetized of violence, and heroism is recovered not from rehearsals of victimization and resistance, but from memories of pacified civility instead.


Malgre son passe manifeste (bien que non documente pour l'essentiel) de violence menacante et de politique perilleuse, la memoire populaire de l'ancien bantoustan de KaNgwane sous le regime de l'apartheid insiste, dans ses grandes lignes, sur le caractere paisible et apolitique du lieu. Dans une culture de memoire sud-africaine contemporaine qui idealise les memoires de victimisation par (et de resistance a) l'apartheid et sa violence politique, pourquoi certains a KaNgwane persistent-ils a narrer le passe a travers des tropes d'ordre paisible et de desaveu du politique? Faut-il concevoir ces effacements mnemoniques au KaNgwane comme des formes d'oubli? Cet article conteste une telle proposition. Dans un premier temps, il retablit la politique et la violence jusqu'a present non reconnues au KaNgwane, parfois (paradoxalement) h partir des recits qui nient ce passe. Dans un deuxieme temps, il explore la co-implication dialectique du souvenir et de l'oubli, et de la memoire et de l'histoire, dans l'amnesie supposee du KaNgwane. Dans un troisieme temps enfin, il propose que les occlusions et les assurances de memoire au KaNgwane sont structurees par une semiotique structuree dans laquelle la politique est retrospectivement signifiee par l'ordre et la retenue, et niee par le desordre et la revolte. Dans ce << travail de memoire >>, le passe du KaNgwane est insensibilise a la violence, et l'heroisme ressort non pas des enumerations de victimisation et de resistance, mais des souvenirs de civilite pacifiee.


[M]emory ... is dynamic--what it contrives symptomatically to forget is as important as what it remembers.

Raphael Samuel, Theatres of Memory (1994: x)

In Negotiating the Past: the making of memory in South Africa, Sarah Nuttall and Carli Coetzee (1998) explore the political logics in contemporary South Africa that inspire the urgency to remember. They detail (what might be called) a post-apartheid repertoire of recollection--one in which remembering victimization by the violence of apartheid is a potent act of redemptive confession animating the national psyche of reconciliation. Such memories are also a kind of political currency, as the burgeoning heritage industry transmutes political violence and revolt into marketable histories.

Yet, perched on a cold plastic chair on a bright winter's afternoon at the edge of a dusty, desolate location in the former apartheid bantustan of KaNgwane, Ma'Ntombi rendered apartheid in a dramatically different register: 'There was a lot of tensions with this homelands thing, but here there was not a lot of fighting. It was quiet' (interview, Tjakastad, 24 July 2009). (1) A hundred kilometres away, in the dense sprawl of KaNgwane's largest urban township, the smartly dressed former civic activist Tom K. recollected the homeland's history in the same idiom: 'This area was very peaceful, there was not a lot of politics here' (interview, KaNyamazane, 30 July 2010).

Given the profitability of recovering heroic narratives of political rebellion, why would some memories in KaNgwane make elaborate investments in recollecting apartheid through tropes of peaceful order, rather than the more lucrative one of subjection and insurrection? Indeed, KaNgwane's dismembering practices of remembering defy the logics made gainful by political projects that craft heroic subjects out of victimization by (and resistance to) political violence, enigmatically recuperating heroism out of narratives of political tranquillity and disavowals of the political instead.

This essay navigates a course through the 'memory work' implied in this. The first part of the essay outlines histories of violent unrest and resistance in KaNgwane represented in archival sources, political documents and commentary, newspaper reports, Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) testimony and reports, and oral history interviews. Yet, it is these exact same narratives that at the same time accomplish the seemingly incongruous task of attenuating representations of the homeland as succumbing to chaos, violence and disorder. The so-called 'Lowveld Massacre', the 1986 uprisings, and the activities of the Kabasa gang are the subject of a specific kind of public remembering, recalling brutality and political turmoil in the same moment that they narrativize the history of KaNgwane as peaceful, civil and apolitical.

In the second part of the essay, I attempt analytically to decipher these incongruous cohabitations by unpacking the dialectics of remembering/dismembering and memory/history in this 'memory work', as well as its productive effects: imaginations of 'the political' in a semiotics of space, and idioms of violence in an ethics of political community. Together, they expose the localized significations, literally embodied in KaNgwane's chief minister Enos J. Mabuza, that demarcate politics as civility and order against disorder and revolt.


Not much is officially remembered about KaNgwane--the 'bantustan' in which the apartheid vision of 'separate development' saw Africans designated 'Swazi' dumped on the least hospitable tracts of non-contiguous land in the eastern Transvaal lowveld. And there remains to date little to no detailed research and writing on the history of the former homeland. (2) Amongst the smallest, and the last to be declared 'self-governing', KaNgwane was born out of the political machinations of the apartheid state's so-called homelands policy.

The Swazi Territorial Authority was established in 1975 as an agglomeration of three non-contiguous territories in the eastern Transvaal lowveld. In 1976, the homeland was 'consolidated' by extending the territory to create two distinct regions--the Nkomazi and Mswati area to the north and east of Swaziland, on the one hand, and the Nsikazi area east of Nelspruit extending northwards. The KaNgwane Legislative Assembly was inaugurated in 1977 and the bantustan was granted self-governing status in August 1984 (van Zeyl 1985). Its birth, like most homelands, was drenched in episodes of violent coercion. (3) It was later consolidated through the pathological coercion of apartheid, producing distinctive episodes of violence, including those associated with the so-called 'Land Deal' of 1982--4 (in which efforts by the apartheid state to 'incorporate' the territory, along with Ingwavuma, into Swaziland induced violent contestation between competing factions that was far more pronounced and persistent than has ever been recorded or recognized).


It was not surprising then that, as apartheid entered its dying days, KaNgwane like other structures of apartheid spatial repression surrendered to the violence out of which it had been born. 'The homelands are just as much potential powderkegs of the current wave of unrest as any other black residential area,' predicted Chief Minister of KaNgwane Enos J. Mabuza as townships across the country ignited in revolt. (4) And as the bantustans haemorrhaged one by one, KaNgwane too found itself ablaze.

The beginning of the end was the coincidence of the condensation of political organization in the Nsikazi region with the escalation of militarized resistance. In the late 1970s, select strikes at various educational institutions (like Thembeka High School) (5) combined with intensified activity in the area by Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK, the ANC's armed wing), including in some instances gun battles and grenade attacks between MK combatants and apartheid security forces (Barrell 1993). This spurred the further organization of nascent resistance activities in the region, including the formation of underground structures like the Lowveld Youth Movement (Loyomo), combined with the strengthening, and eventual consolidation, of a United Democratic Front (UDF) (6) presence in the area in the mid-1980s (Ziwaphi, 9 April 2009). This more extensive architecture of political organization in an intensifying political atmosphere finally ignited the powderkeg--and KaNgwane became the site of some menacing spectacles of violence.

It started in mid-1985 when rent boycotts that had set the Vaal on fire swept through five major townships in the eastern Transvaal--including Emjindini (Barberton), Thandukukhanya (Piet Retief), and Kwazanele (Breyten). The boycotts and the landmark legal battles waged from Thandukukhanya in particular fermented a politics of protest; in Kwazanele, violent clashes with police led to the arrest of more than seventy community residents for public violence, but also galvanized popular political organization. 'Civics and youth organizations grew out of the[se] rent struggle[s],' some recalled, mobilizing with greater intensity until, towards the end of 1985, the Nsikazi area was recognizably in the throes of violent insurrection. (7) Two businessmen, a trade unionist and a chief were killed, and a growing revolt ideologically and strategically converged on youth resistance (TRC Final Report, Vol. 3: 659).

In February 1986, a school boycott was initiated and the youth became central protagonists in a resistance campaign that included crowds up to 4,000 strong demonstrating against Bantu education (Holden and Mathabatha 2007). Violence was a discernible feature in the repertoire of revolt as youths in Kabokweni and KaNyamazane attacked shops, beerhalls, development board offices and police vehicles, leaving massive trails of damage in their wake (New Nation, 23 April 1986: 18; TRC Final Report, Vol. 3: 659-62). The state's security forces responded with characteristic brutality, producing alternating cycles of political resistance and state repression that would trigger one of KaNgwane's more bloody historical episodes the so-called 'Lowveld Massacre'.

'Like opening the gates of Hell...'

On 11 March 1986, political activists in KaNyamazane recall, like the swelling of a river, thousands of politicized youths from various areas where political agitation had reached a fever pitch converged on the Kabokweni Magistrates Court for the trial of youths arrested in the unrest following the killing by security police of Mandla Lekhuleni in violence beginning to spiral out of control (Milcharles Shabangu, interview, Nelspruit, 16 October 2010). Minister of Law and Order Louis Le Grange would later tell Parliament (after an investigation was commissioned) that the police were provoked 'by black crowds armed with pipes, sticks and stones' (The Star, 16 April 1986: 3). Victims testified instead that the students were peaceful and offered the police no provocation. (8) With a strong and tense police presence, the attempt to push through a fence surrounding the court triggered the security forces. Unleashing its full brutality on the crowd, the police unit fired indiscriminately with live rounds and pellets. By the end of the reign of terror, eighty-three young activists had been shot, almost all in the back. (9) A further fifty protesting students were detained; many were tortured and beaten in holding cells. (10)

Despite no acknowledgement in any scholarly histories of what came to be known as the 'Lowveld Massacre', the killings became a lubricant for more generalized revolt. 'The killings at the court, it was like opening the gates of hell,' said a once-militant resident of KaNyamazane (Mr M., interview, KaNyamazane, 23 July 2009). In a series of incidents following the court shootings, enraged groups sometimes 200- or 400-strong continued to stage separate and various boycotts and demonstrations; the police responded with live ammunition, injuring and killing several youth activists. (11) The funeral of the students killed in the Kabokweni attack, on which the police attempted to place restrictions, escalated the show of police impunity. Mourners were fired on while returning from a night vigil, but the next day, despite the intimidation, no less than 15,000 protesters gathered for a UDF rally addressed by Albertina Sisulu at Lekazi stadium (Holden and Mathabatha 2007).

The defiance was met by further police brutality, extended to target not only those engaged in political unrest, but--in the most barefaced of brutalities--the most vulnerable: young children at play, and old women at funerals. (12) 'We've seen a pattern of arbitrariness where police shot first and asked questions later,' Desmond Tutu said following the TRC hearings on the violence in KaNgwane (SAPA, 2 September 1996). That arbitrariness, of repression without provocation, brutality without justification, fuelled a near-frenzy of violence.

Testimony after testimony at the TRC painted scenes of killing and burning. (13) Some residents in the area recall a similar saturation by violence. 'The police killed. That was their job. Their job was to kill young black people,' said Mr Nkonyane, a former shop owner in Lekazi (interview, KaNyamazane, 21 July 2009). 'It was just all over. People being shot, maimed, hospitals overflowing with the wounded,' added Mrs Nkosi, a former school teacher (interview, Louieville, 30 March 2009). In the paroxysm of violence that ensued, police and those suspected of working with them became the main targets of counter-attacks, the most gruesome deaths reserved for suspected informers who were beheaded before being set on fire (SAPA, 2 September 1996). And so KaNgwane too ceded to the repertoires of late 1980s political revolt.

On the boil

'The tactic of translating political grievances into black worker stayaways has now spread to Nelspruit,' announced the newspapers in April 1986, as the events of March 1986 swelled into more coordinated campaigns of political defiance (Pretoria News, 4 April 1986: 8). 'Nelspruit looked like a ghost town' as residents of KaNgwane staged a week-long stayaway that included boycotts by workers and students. 'Schools in the townships of KaNyamazane, Kabhekweni [sic], and Matsula [sic] were deserted,' reported the papers, concluding that the area was 'simmering' (New Nation, 23 April 1986: 18). But, it was more than just simmering. It was decidedly on the boil.

'In the time of the stayaways,' recollected Mr Mabuta, a former schoolteacher in Matsulu, 'there was this tension in the air. People were being killed, others were being harassed, by the police and by the comrades. And the youth were very angry' (interview, KaNyamazane, 23 July 2009). Certainly, they were. The stayaways were not a campaign in passive defiance; they suggested a violent uprising. In KaNyamazane, houses belonging to the police were set alight by youth activists. In Pienaar's Trust, cars were burnt. Police helicopters patrolled the areas, and the police and army took occupation of the locations (New Nation, 23 April 1986). 'The streets of the township were just empty, only dust, and no people,' recalled Mr Nkonyane:

Only the soldiers were in the streets, patrolling, with guns and rifles, and in big vans, catching people and throwing them inside. It was a scary time, I dare not go outside, the youths would attack, and the police were not protecting us. And we tried to keep our children inside, because outside, you just knew, if they went outside, they were going to get killed. (Interview, KaNyamazane, 21 July 2009)

As a shop owner, Mr Nkonyane was positioned along a faultline of alternative political sensibilities and generational tensions that were better known in the townships of the Rand (see Glaser 2000). Mr Shongwe, a student in Matsulu at the time, recalled that 'the business people wanted the police to come in and protect them, the youth activists they wanted the police out of the location'

(interview, Matsulu, 31 March 2009). Matsulu saw the worst violence, when 'rampaging youths' invaded the KaNgwane government's property, smashing and burning cars and buses (New Nation, 23 April 1986: 18). Homes of workers who defied the strike were petrol-bombed (Pretoria News, 4 April 1986: 8) and deliveries into the townships had to be halted because of threats that 'if they entered the township', they

would suffer the same fate (Pretoria News, 3 April 1986: 1). Members of the homeland's majority party Inyandza were targeted (SAPA, 2 September 1996), informers were hunted down (New Nation, 23 April 1986); in the most frantic violence, pandemonium reigned as soldiers moved in, teargassed crowds, shot at them, and left bloody trails in their wake. (14)

While some black businessmen supported the stayaways, (15) others in the location complained to Le Grange, Minister of Law and Order, about the lack of police or army protection for them, especially in Kabokweni, during the violence that accompanied the stayaways (Pretoria News, 3 April 1986: 1). Instead, they set up their own local commandos 'to help patrol the streets' (Business Day, 3 April 1986: 1). It is speculated that this incubated the founding of one of the most sinister vectors of violence in KaNgwane--the Kabasa gang.

'A powerful and violent conservative force'

In the only collection of memories that ever surfaced on the gang's activities in KaNgwane, witness testimony at the TRC offered alternative--yet complementary--genealogies. Some recalled that the Kabasa gang was formed in 1986 'in opposition to the wave of radical protest in the homeland' by Sibaya S'khule--a group of elite businessmen in the area (TRC Final Report, Vol. 3). With approximately seven members, the Kabasa gang was also remembered as 'a vigilante group which had been established by the apartheid security forces to counter resistance' (Ziwaphi, 9 April 2009). (16) Everyone, however, remembered that it had been a 'powerful and violent conservative force' (TRC Final Report, Vol. 3: 659). Operating mainly out of KaNyamazane, Pienaar's Trust, Luphisa Trust and Kabokweni, residents remembered the gang operating in close collaboration with the SAP and SADF at a time when KaNgwane did not have its own security forces (ibid.).

In particular, the gang seems to have operated primarily to curb the activities of the UDF, which had gained serious traction in the area. Kabasa members targeted key individuals involved in UDF activity. Neville Shabangu, a founding member of the Lowveld Youth Movement (Loyomo) affiliated to the UDF, was in his home when it was attacked by petrol bombs. He was severely injured and on being discharged from hospital several months later was immediately detained and tortured by police--with the assistance, he asserts, of members of the Kabasa gang. (17)

They also targeted Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) operatives. (18) In 1986, Steve Tsotetsi and Kenneth Mabuza were killed, reportedly by security police in collaboration with members of the Kabasa gang. (19) But Kabasa activity was not directed only at combatants or those in formal political organizations. On 16 June 1986, members of the SADF and Kabasa opened fire on students at a night vigil in preparation for commemorations of the 1976 Soweto uprisings, injuring at least four (TRC Final Report, Vol. 3).20 In characterizing its activities in the area, the TRC concluded that the Kabasa gang had 'wreaked havoc' in KaNgwane (TRC Final Report, Vol. 1: 444).


The language of 'havoc' invoked by the TRC is significant given a seam of memory evident in KaNgwane today. 'We were active in the movements, but there was none of that kind of trouble here,' a one-time leader in the civic movement of KaNyamazane declared triumphantly (Mr M., interview, KaNyamazane, 23 July 2009). Echoing Ma'Ntombi's claim that KaNgwane 'was quiet' and Tom K.'s insistence that KaNgwane was 'peaceful', local community leader and award-winning novelist Gubudla Malindzisa remembered that 'People here did not fight and we were looking at this in TV [but] there wasn't such things here.... The people here are very submissive' (interview, Umjindi Trust, 24 October 2008).

There is a glaring incongruity between these recollections of pacifist order and the histories of 'havoc' recollected above. Strolling one day through Thandukukhanya, the Piet Retief township that saw major rent boycotts in the mid-1980s, journalist Jacob Dlamini met an elderly woman who told him earnestly: 'Thandukukhanya used to be so religious and peaceful, "not even '76 touched us". It was a quiet place with no violence. Even when there were grievances, we did not rise up and fight' (2009: 4). Later, Dlamini met Thembi Ngcobo. 'She remembered Thandukukhanya as a quiet place', he recounts. Even when Mrs Ngcobo recalled the period 'when the township embarked on a rent boycott in 198-7', this did not disrupt her recuperation of the past through the trope of quiescence (ibid.: 5).

In a post-apartheid culture of memory in which the event of 'massacre' especially organizes memorial practices, the failure of coherent and sustained memorialization of the political violence represented by the 'Lowveld Massacre' is conspicuous. (21) In fact, driving through the former KaNgwane today, there are no signs, literal or figurative, of its one-time political history as a bantustan. All KaNgwane signage has been retired, replaced with Mpumalanga-sponsored declarations of one's entry into the 'wild frontier', evoking an eternally mythic past that literally purges the landscape of its recent political history. Louieville, the former seat of the bantustan government, has been actively laid to waste, its buildings re-purposed, its copious documentary record rotting away in an abandoned shed--all seeming to conspire in a project of silence and erasure of a presumably shameful past.

Familiar idioms for rendering KaNgwane's past that render its political history inert and purge it of violence participate in this project of erasure. Michael Mndawe, a UDF militant and amongst the most politically active in the area, surrendered to this idiom when he lamented that the youth of KaNgwane, 'they were not really politicized' (interview, Nelspruit, 7 August 2010). So did Jakes M. as he recalled his childhood in one of KaNgwane's most desolate locations, Tjakastad. 'It was a place where people were living a very sort of slow existence, where things were quite calm actually,' he recollected, as we sat against a setting sun on the red-polished stoep of his family home one day. He said with pride: 'There wasn't any of those troubles that Jo'burg was experiencing at the time.... There wasn't any fighting in KaNgwane' (interview, Barberton, 30 July 2009), while his aged and ailing mother, who hummed in agreement as she sat beside us, eventually intervened: 'We heard how young people were disrupting things in other areas, but here, there were no upheavals; no blood was spilled.'

To be fair, this rendition of KaNgwane's political temperature is a reference to the period of transition after 1990; and claims to the absence of violence refer to the lack of political violence relative to other homelands, and of violence inflicted on their subjects by homeland leaders clinging tenaciously to power. But, even then, the violence, brutality, and coercion of the 1980s in KaNgwane--police attacks, arson, torture, assassinations--continued into the 1990s (22) (indeed, the Kabasa gang is accused of continuing assassinations of key political figures as late as February 1994), (23) and the place was not immune to contested futures, with chiefs the primary protagonists in political battles waged as late as 1994 over the homeland's political destiny. (24) Despite this, there is a predictable rendering of the place through tropes of quiescence, order and civility over violence, chaos, and brutality.

These look, at first sight, like what Benedict Anderson called 'characteristic amnesias'. 'All profound changes in consciousness, by their very nature, bring characteristic amnesias,' he wrote (1991: 204). 'Out of such oblivion ... spring narratives.' For Anderson, silences of memory (rather than being symbolically vacant) are densely productive and creative of imaginaries that have the power to do no less than narrate nations into being. So when residents of places where histories of politics and violence seem apparent deny the same, have they simply forgotten? This is precisely what some in the area suggest. 'With the "incorporation" business, you know, into Swaziland, the rent boycotts, the trade unions, they called for stayaways, and the students, the youth congresses, there was really a lot of political resistance,' Godfrey Shabangu, active in student politics in the 1980s, offered:

But, the history of our struggles are not remembered. Some of them they say there were no struggles in KaNgwane. But, here, the people did not like Mabuza. We have forgotten this history. We must recover it. (Interview, Matsulu, 31 March 2009)

Shabangu bears out the priority assigned in the area to memories of passive order rather than those of disruptive resistance. In his desire for a counternarrative he confirms the dominance of a memorial legacy that, in his language, has 'forgotten' politics and violence in KaNgwane. But is 'forgetting' the most useful analytic for understanding this?


For Shabangu, dynamics of remembering and forgetting frame a compensatory theory of memory. Forgetting is that which is omitted from the mnemonic narrative, rectified through recovery and recompense. In its more sophisticated form, this colloquial reading argues that what is forgotten, the silences of memory, are produced by power, a deliberate suppression, that makes the recovery of forgotten memories a practice of counter-power. This renders forgetting antithetical to memory, memory as antidotal to forgetting. It is forgetting as oblivion--as tragic loss and silent lack, the absent 'other' of present memory, memory as inoculant against forgetting.

Yet, the thrust of recent theoretical work on memory is suspicious of the elegance of this converse symmetry, not only for pitting forgetting as hostile to memory, but for the attribution of a moral valence that, simply put, casts memory as good, forgetting as bad (Auge 2004; Yates 1999; Fabian 2007). Hence the cunning creativity of Borges's interruption of this ethical circuit in Funes the Memorious. Funes is painfully afflicted with the unrelenting burden of an 'infallible' memory (Borges 1962: 151), and eventually 'goes mad because his memory is endless' (Borges in conversation, Barnstone 1982: 21) and he has no capacity to forget. Borges thus concludes that imagination 'is made of memory and oblivion' (ibid.: 20).

It is Paul Ricoeur's opus Memory, History, Forgetting that offers the fullest exposition yet of this theoretical consensus on the symbiosis of memory and oblivion. Ricoeur dismisses forgetting as 'an enemy of memory' (2004: 413), or the converse, absence, lack, distortion, or failure of memory, advancing instead the 'paradoxical idea that forgetting can be so closely tied to memory that it can be considered one of the conditions for it' (ibid.: 426). For Ricoeur, forgetting is not the antithesis of memory, but a species of it.

An historiography that engages seriously with memory implicitly suggests this theoretical posture. Benedict Anderson explored 'characteristic amnesias' as part of a theory of how 'imagined communities' were artifacts, in part, of memory. In his concluding chapter 'Memory and Forgetting', Anderson explores in detail the complex interplay of that which is 'remembered/forgotten as "our own"' in the making of multiple nationalisms (1991: 206). The mnemonic imagining of nations, he concludes, was thus always an historical process defining what is worthy of remembering through its simultaneous alternative of that which is marked out as unworthy, and hence 'forgotten'.

Alessandro Portelli, whose interest in remembering/forgetting violence is of special relevance, intriguingly suggests analytical futures for memory beyond forgetting reminiscent of Anderson. In The Battle of Valle Giulia, Portelli explores a particularly violent incident during the Second World War and analyses the different political registers in which the violence associated with the partisan struggle was remembered/forgotten in post-war Italy. Republican democracy 'cleansed' violence from their narratives precisely to make them heroic, and constructed the myth of 'a domesticated, pacified, almost non-violent Resistance.' Those who had participated, however, 'tried to make space for violence in their narratives--to justify it as a necessity of the times, sometimes to redeem it as revolutionary value' (1997:139).

By exploring not what is remembered or forgotten, but rather ways of remembering, Portelli implicitly suggests that the language of forgetting may be analytically impoverished. Paradoxically, however, he remains stuck in the problem of oblivion--of the absent or the silent. In his accounts of both the battle of Valle Giulia and the massacre at the Fosse Ardeatine (2003), Portelli presumes that the analytical moment resides in the gap between what the past actually was, and the way it is remembered; or, the moment of mis-memory that presumes a distinction between the 'truth' of the past and its disfigurements in the present. And so the idea of forgetting as distortion recurs, and the colloquial simplicities that render forgetting antithetical to memory are reproduced.

Luisa Passerini begins to suggest a way out of this, by exploring 'memories between silence and oblivion' of gypsies who seem not to remember, indeed not to invest mnemonically in any way, in their 'eventful and tragic past' (2006: 242). While she invokes the language of remembering/forgetting, it is to dislodge it in favour of a more nuanced reading of how memory works. 'All our memories are screens,' she argues, 'but not in the traditional sense, as traces of something they reveal and hide at the same time.' Instead:
   What is registered on the screen is not directly the sign of a
   piece of memory, but a sign of absence, and what is repressed is
   neither the event nor the memory nor even single traces, but the
   very connection between memories and traces. (Ibid.: 240).

Passerini crafts an analytic beyond presence and absence, in which the traces expose the logics by which memory is accomplished. In other words, forgetting diagnoses the structure of remembering. This begins to offer an analytical path through the conundrum that is remembering/forgetting in KaNgwane, where the language of forgetting (either as unintentional absence or deliberate erasure) obscures--as Ricoeur, Anderson, and Portelli suggest--more than it illuminates. It presumes that certain events of the past autochthonally require their remembering--which, in the absence of their recollection, must be mis-remembering. But it is less useful to assert that which is wrongly remembered, than to explore the rich, creative, and textured world of meaning and memory betrayed by ways of remembering that are pregnant with contradiction, paradox, and incongruity.

Indeed, in the mnemonic narratives of political violence in KaNgwane, the most important property of memory is precisely a confounding paradox: narratives that invoke the language of peace, of the failure of conflict, and the triumph of civil order, are at the same time the narratives that detail political victimization and violence. Ma'Ntombi, who in one breath said that KaNgwane was 'peaceful', said in another that her son had been killed when police opened fire on students at a bus stop in KaNyamazane in the student uprisings in 1986. She recalled with tears that 'he was a good boy, didn't fight with people, and took care of everyone around him. And he was killed in cold blood in those days of the upheavals' (interview, Tjakastad, 24 July 2009). Gubudla Malindzisa, who marked out people in the area as 'submissive' and claimed there was no resistance, penned the novel State of Emergency (2001) that details one man's story of survival, and refusal to capitulate, in the face of political turmoil in KaNgwane. Mrs Ngcobo, who told Jacob Dlamini that Thandukukhanya was 'a quiet place' also told him about the epic rent struggles of the 1980s that set the area ablaze (2009: 5).

This narrative structure is reproduced in almost all TRC testimony for the area. In victims' hearings, testimony after testimony (seemingly) oddly provide the detail of instances of brutality at the same time as they deny that KaNgwane was a site of such violence. Ms Vilakazi offered testimony of violence at the same time as she chose to conclude her testimony asserting 'that the area of KaNgwane itself is not known to have been an area where it was marked by political violence'. She emphasized this as a 'fact', repeating herself with determination to ensure that the audience understood: 'What I'm saying is, there was complete harmony, there were no political upheavals.' (25)

This strange juxtaposition animates many testimonies, in which details of victimization of self or loved ones is framed as 'testimony' of a specific killing, maiming, or burning, but politics at the same time is seemingly erased. Ms Hlanga was one of the witnesses asked to provide such context, to detail how the Elukwatini community was politically active. 'No, not at all, there's nothing like that,' she declared emphatically, and incongruously. (26) When a member of the majority party of KaNgwane, the Inyandza National Movement, sought amnesty from the TRC for killing a policeman, his appeal was hedged against the claim that 'there was no situation of real political conflict in the immediate area'--though all the while the outbreak of such a situation was central to his testimony. (27)

This repeated retreat by the end of a narrative to the dominant trope of KaNgwane's past as one of apolitical peaceful order is script-like. In Lekazi, a group of former residents detailed instances of police violence, and at the end, Mr Nkonyane declared: 'But KaNgwane was not a place of much trouble, of conflict. It was a place of harmony between people' (interview, KaNyamazane, 21 July 2009). The precision of repetition in the multiple retellings--denial of 'upheavals', emphasis on 'harmony'--is mnemonically dense. These seemingly amnesic statements are an index of the mnemonic schizophrenia in KaNgwane's narrativized past. The very same recollections that narrate the violence saturating KaNgwane in its death throes cultivate a converse 'common sense' about the homeland's history in which the experience of political violence is simultaneously erased.

Even those invested in recalling the political 'upheavals', who claim they have been forgotten, surrender to the idioms of order and peace eventually. 'We must remember the struggle that has been forgotten,' Godfrey Shabangu offered, right at the end of our interview. As the recorder whirred to a close, he dropped his tone: 'This was an interesting place when you think about it. The people here did not lose their humanity, you know, they did not lose control. When 1994 came, there was this dignity' (interview, Matsulu, 31 March 2009).

In 1996, when the first day of TRC hearings for the area uncovered gruesome details of frenzied violence, Desmond Tutu did not mince his words. 'The people went berserk here,' he said, overwhelmed by the 'gory tales' (SAPA, 2 September 1996). The sharpness of the disjuncture between Tutu's telling and the memory of sustained dignified control suggests ways of remembering in the area that are as much about dismembering--symbolic efforts to dislocate the narratives that would otherwise render KaNgwane through idioms of apartheid dehumanization and disorder. Instead, there is an effort to recuperate dignity and heroism out of memories of ordered and peaceful control.


Yet this literal paradox of memory invites a conceptual one of memory/history. While the memory versus history debates are birthed in radically different preoccupations to this inquiry, there are intersections. Maurice Halbwachs (1980) sharply discriminated between history as objective enterprise and memory as collective accomplishment, just as Pierre Nora saw memory as 'life, borne by living societies founded in its name' and 'history, on the other hand, [as] the reconstruction, always problematic and incomplete, of what is no longer' (1989: 8). Whatever the confluences and antinomies of the debate (see also Le Goff 1992), the conjuncture of memory and history bears a special relationship to the problem of oblivion.

'Buried under the footprints of memory and history then opens the empire of forgetting' writes Ricoeur (2004: xvi). For him, it is the inevitable loss of the past that inspires the necessity of history, yet this marks history as an exercise of retrieval induced and sustained by the irretrievable--that is, by the problem of oblivion. This haunts history, and Ricoeur summises that '[f]orgetting indeed remains the disturbing threat that lurks in the background of the phenomenology of memory and of the epistemology of history' (ibid.: 412).

But it is the insistence on the duality of memory and history that resists a more satisfying resolution for Ricoeur, Nora, and others. It is precisely the problem of forgetting, specifically, that suggests the profitability of dispensing with the idiom of separability, and the effort to define where memory ends and history begins. In this sense, defending the limits of memory and history against each other may be as unprofitable as their conflation. An apparent challenge that seemingly haunts this analysis--simultaneously claiming narratives for the reconstruction of history as much as for the complication of memory thus need not be so threatening after all. It remains confounding only for a project that seeks to avoid the contamination of history by memory, or of memory by history; that seeks to establish when history can be reliably represented as something more than the vulnerability of memory to forgetting. Treating memory as history and history as memory obliterates the requirement to define the limits of each, and embraces instead their interdependent relation of co-implication--that is, memory/history.

This requires a more malleable and creative portrait of memory; like that of Raphael Samuel, for whom memory is imagined 'as a labyrinth, a subterranean place full of contrived corridors and hidden passages', a place where myth, fantasy and desire co-mingle to narrativize the past (1994: ix). Indeed, in the 'memory work' uncovered by Ann Stoler in Java, the affective mnemonic work of sentimentality becomes the constitutive logic of the figuring of race as the 'education of desire' (2002:162). These themes are picked up by Richard Werbner (1998), for whom the 'problem' of 'memory in the postcolony' is best understood through the analytical framing of 'memory work'--'processes by which memory lives, gets realised or ruptured, is textualised, becomes buried, repressed or avoided, has its effects, and is itself more or less transformed'.

In the subjectivities of place that are energized by the memory practices of KaNgwane narratively 'negotiating the past' (Nuttall and Coetzee 1998), there are dense and creative dynamics of 'memory work'--dynamics that, even when defined by ostensible erasure, are intensely productive. Yet, while in Werbner's use of the phrase 'memory work' is meant to denote creative resignification, the work that memory undertakes is treated more seriously as labour here. Memory is a productive effort that is, as labour, it produces. Here I explore two productivities in particular--political subjectivities of space, and an ethics of political community. Together, they craft an alternative to 'forgetting' as a plausible analytic for KaNgwane's curious structure of remembrance: a sociology of the political in which contextualized socio-historical syntaxes of violence and politics germinate peaceful memories.

'The political' in a semiotics of space

Like the old women Jacob Dlamini talked to, the reliance on recollections of political activity as 'fact' rather than narrative, sometimes in the register of Dlamini's 'nostalgia', always subject to memory work, can elide the interesting ways in which people imagine the political as spatialized. The claim to the absence of politics is always located; it always has a location. 'There was no politics here,' said the grandmother in Tjakastad (interview, 24 July 2009). 'The activities here were sporadic, and isolated. This was not a place with a defined sense of politics,' offered Godfrey Shabangu (interview, Matsulu, 31 March 2009). How do memories of the political, or its failure, become so located in space?

Lefebvre (1992) famously theorized the ways in which space is not an inert ontological reality, but a social construction, produced out of social relations. Yet Lefebvre's Marxist project only recognizes the material productivity of production. The spatial productivities of symbolic work cannot be accommodated in a Lefebvreian reading of space. We may ask, in particular, how memory might be implicated in this production of space--or certainly a semiotics of it. Raphael Samuel cites Simonides, for whom 'place was coeval with imagery as a focus of memory-work' (Samuel 1994: vii). Samuel suggests this is not so much about anthropomorphizing of landscape, or even, as in the Anderson tradition, about memory work underwriting a modern politics of identity or a sense of 'roots'. Rather, he argues, memory is a 'species of mental mapping in which space rather than time provide the significant markers' (ibid.: viii).

There is a discernible spatial mapping of politics in the memory work of KaNgwane. Where politics is recovered, it is intimately connected to a semiotics of space--in which space is mnemonically dense. In the former KaNgwane, space is coded as political in its porosity, as a terrain of mobility; as 'entry/exit points for would be freedom fighters and guerillas who came back to fight and outwit Government forces in the days of apartheid' (28) (see also Manghezi 2009). Even when inscribed with politics, it is as a surface. Politics moves over the territory, it does not settle within it. It is coded in memory as a borderland, a space lubricating politics, not inhabited by it. But the memory work of KaNgwane also evidences more distinctive spatializing dynamics.

'The area in question was a rural area,' argued Ms Vilakazi at the TRC. 'It was a simple community which was not as politically inclined as one would find in the townships in and around Gauteng for instance or Pretoria.' (29) A distinction between the apolitical rural and the political urban defines the semiotics of space that imagines 'the political' in the area. 'The eastern Transvaal is very rural, so here there was not so much political activity like in the big urban centres,' related another (interview, Matsulu, 31 March 2009).

This is not a narrative peculiar to KaNgwane. Across the country, for urban township residents, rural areas served as spaces to send children to protect them from the disruptions of urban politics. Urban townships equalled a political education at the expense of a scholarly one. And so, many families made the choice to insulate their children from the politics of the urban by sending them to rural areas imagined as apolitical. The same spatial logic inflects KaNgwane's apoliticized self-rendition. A local publication memorializes the local massacre in a spatial register:

11 March 1986 was a decisive moment in the history of the Lowveld (Ehlanzeni). Because of its rural character, the level of political awareness and education was low.... The fact that Ehlanzeni borders with Mozambique and Swaziland automatically became a serious threat to the apartheid security system ... more and more people became exposed to politics through their interaction with the outside world. When they returned home from work as graduates to take up employment and as retrenched mine workers, they shared their experiences with their families and friends. Key amongst those experiences was their involvement in working class struggles as students and workers. (Ziwaphi, 9 April 2009)

This narrative combines the surface flotation (rather than deep habitation) of borderland politics with the construction of the urban as political and the rural as its apolitical other (politics flowing from one to the other). In this way it offers a mapping of the political and the spatial in the same moment as it memorializes a history of politics that is recovered and elided. Thus memory work is deeply implicated in narrativizing historicized subjectivities of space. The mnemonic practices that spatialize imaginations of what 'the political' is, and indeed where and how it is located, suggest the important ways in which memory work produces space, as much as narrates it. KaNgwane only exists in the imaginaries that memorialize it, and are disrupted as much as produced in that location in defining its political nature, and in denying it.

Yet these are not univalent projects. The spatial identity of politics in the area is being re-mapped. A statecraft redrafting geographies--witness the new invented imaginary of 'Mpumalanga'--informs new spatial projections of politics or their failure. Otherwise disconnected moments in time and space are patched together to make a meaningful narrative that is bounded by a new spatial imaginary. A group of ex-MK, Loyomo, UDF, SACP and other activists in the area thus seek to recover what they argue are suppressed histories of political resistance in 'Mpumalanga' (meeting, Nelspruit, 17 April 2010). Struggles in Bethal, Driefontein, Nelspruit, and KaNgwane are dislocated from their previous spatial assemblages and rearranged into the new spatial formation of 'Mpumalanga' almost seamlessly, creating a new spatiality for the mnemonics of political life.

Violence in an ethics of political community

In Jocelyn Alexander, JoAnn McGregor and Terence Ranger's intervention Violence and Memory: one hundred years in the dark forests of Matabeleland, 'the politics of memory and violence' are exposed as crucially productive of localized semantics of authority, community, and identity--'the relationships between people and their leaders ... the religious and moral in local and national realms, [and] ... people's identities and aspirations' (2000: 277). They suggest the centrality of idioms of violence in memory to constructions of moral and political order, and suggest an historical approach to the vexing problem at play here--that some memories in KaNgwane describe violence, yet refuse its labelling as such, and continue to insist the place was 'peaceful'.

On the one hand, this may be understood as a problem of definition. It may be that descriptions of ostensibly violent incidents in the same moment as those incidents are not defined as violence suggest that people do not define what they are describing as violence. Indeed, it has been suggested that violence against property is often not defined as violence whereas those against persons sometimes are. In KaNgwane, however, no evidence suggests that the narrative disputation of violence is definitional. That the paradox of memories disavowing violence reduces to the ways in which people understand that which can be classified as violence is not only empirically tenuous; it also remains rather acontextual and ahistorical. Alexander, McGregor and Ranger show how the mnemonic invocation (or disavowal in this case) of violence is conditioned by the texture of context--'rooted in understandings of a particular landscape and environment, in the language of everyday political discourse, and in local interpretations of history' (2000: 3).

The narrative repudiations of violence in KaNgwane remain symbolic practices that are fundamentally local, historical and contextual. And they cohere around the figure of Enos J. Mabuza. Mabuza is often lauded as the architect of KaNgwane's evasion of a violent demise through a progressive politics (see Holden and Mathabatha 2007). Ostensibly a participant in apartheid structures, Mabuza also publicly condemned the bantustans, and worked closely with the ANC. As President of Inyandza and Chief Minister of KaNgwane, he crafted a vision of the political founded on and productive of a notion of ethical community. 'Our townships are both ungovernable and ungoverned', he orated at an annual congress. 'Years of oppression, protest and repression, coupled with dummy bodies and stayaways, have contributed to the collapse of social and community life.' (30)

The genteel Mabuza, who both critiqued the apartheid state's policies and valiantly resisted the ideology of 'separate development' by denying 'independence' for KaNgwane, is credited with the historic decision to lead a delegation in February 1986 to Lusaka to meet with O. R. Tambo and the ANC in exile. 'Mabuza, he was the most dignified, educated man, quiet but strong, and he didn't believe in the homeland system. That's why he refused independence for KaNgwane. He used self-governing status for the people, to build schools, and clinics, and provide water', recalled Elias Ginindza, a former high-ranking political leader in KaNgwane (interview, Barberton, 23 July 2009).

The figure of Mabuza remains the symbolic site for the negotiation of idioms of politics and violence in KaNgwane. Some in the area insist that Mabuza was popularly disliked because of his complicity with apartheid structures. The very same narratives assert Mabuza's heroism for leading the historic campaign against the apartheid state's efforts to cede the territory to Swaziland, at the same time as the TRC found Mabuza responsible for gross human rights violations. His uncompromising oppositional stance together with his brokering of an alliance with the ANC has also simultaneously enshrined his political nobility. As the site of contested meanings, Mabuza is seminal to the political afterlife of the homeland. Rememberings of the space, and what it meant, are refracted through Mabuza's political vision. In fact, the semantic registers that organize mnemonic practices in the area are a palimpsest of Mabuza's moral politics.

'We have witnessed a steady and frightening disregard not only for private property, but indeed for the sanctity of human life', said Mabuza as townships around the country exploded into revolt at the end of the 1980s:
   Our people have become brutalized by the siege from all sides;
   poverty, unemployment, overcrowding, victimization, attack from one
   side or another, descending into a vicious spiral of violence and
   counter-violence. Those who represent decent, peaceful, sober
   citizens who want to live in freedom to pursue their occupations
   and raise their families, need to reassert traditional, worthwhile
   values of respect for life, law and property .... We have to
   redouble our vigilance in order to ensure that we do not continue
   this slide down the slippery slope into anarchy, that could become
   our fate. (31)

Peace, civility, and the repudiation of anarchy are exactly the grammars through which KaNgwane is remembered by some today. As the political interlocutor of KaNgwane, Mabuza's commitment to order against anarchy suggests that the rhetorical breeding ground for the languages deployed in the present are located in the past, in the political imaginations of the homeland and its symbolic legacies. Rhetorics cultivated in the homeland's past have thus intensely productive mnemonic legacies that disrupt the simplicity of an explanation located in definitional disputation, and instead suggest the contextual specificity of syntaxes of violence and politics.

Mabuza rhetorically juxtaposed violence with politics, suggesting their mutual exclusivity, one as the antithesis of the other. Moreover, he argued for and embodied a distinctive commitment to political gentility grounded in a vision of moral community. That vision, he argued, was most threatened by violence:
   One of the great dangers which confronts us as a democratic
   movement, and in fact all of us, is the primary problem of
   intolerance. The devastating and tragic consequences of a lack of
   political and ideological tolerance may be counted in the many
   hundreds of fresh graves across the length and breadth of our
   country. Innocent people have become the bloody sacrifice to the
   voracious god of intolerance. (32)

Imagining politics as coordinated through democratic deliberation, violence reflected the breakdown of a civil sensibility for Mabuza, the unravelling of a moral order necessary for the construction of community:
   It does not matter that the violence against people may be
   justified in terms of this, or that, or any particular ideology.
   What matters, we believe, is that evil means are not justifiable
   and can never produce moral ends.., this violence is indicative of
   the extent to which people are unable and unwilling to engage in a
   process of political discourse as opposed to violence. (33)

'Mindless violence', he warned, 'becomes self-perpetuating and engenders anarchy and social collapse.' For Mabuza, civic and political community thus required restraint and order, and the cultivation of self, all of which was premised on a distance from violence, on an equation that represented any form of disruption as violence.

It is no surprise, then, that memory practices in KaNgwane recover heroism out of disavowals of the political, and refutations of violence. The memory work of KaNgwane crafts community on the scaffolding of a moral order premised on idioms of civility against disorder, in which disruptive protest represents the denial of the political project of an ethical community, and the only moral vision of politics is one premised on the cultivated civility of tolerance. Neatly distilled, peace is the expression of politics, the extension of community. No wonder there are those who desire so desperately to remember KaNgwane as 'peaceful' in the same moment that they testify to its eruption into violence, as apolitical in the face of political resistance, and always, recovering heroism out of the struggle to remain civil in the face of brutality.


While an almost Nietzschean 'will to remember' urgently enjoins contemporary South Africans to resuscitate memories of their victimization by violence, and equally, their engagement in politicized resistance, present narratives of KaNgwane's past seem to run against this grain. Despite the injunction to politicize memory, and against a discernible history of disorderly bloodshed and popular politics in the former bantustan, some practices of memory insist instead that the place was 'peaceful' and without politics. Why this apparent hostility of memory to history?

This essay has deciphered this opposition in two movements. The first, historiographic-theoretical, challenged the proposition that KaNgwane's memory practices are potentially explicable through the analytic of 'forgetting'. Instead, a dialectics of remembering/dismembering and memory/history has been theorized, one that is implied by KaNgwane's narrativization of its past in ways that are disruptive of the conventions of post-apartheid mnemonics.

The second posture, broadly sociological, focused on the political structure of KaNgwane--an oxymoron of a homeland, collaborationist with and yet defiant of apartheid, a contradiction iconically resolved (and literally embodied) in the person and politics of Enos J. Mabuza. This incongruity underwrites the specific patterns of remembering/forgetting in KaNgwane, in which dissonant elements are reconciled in the present through mnemonic suspension and occlusion. In this sense, what looks like the opposition of memory and history in KaNgwane is made explicable through a sociology of the political and an analysis of how memory is structured through history; in short, it renders memory itself as historical.

At the same time, as the legacies of KaNgwane's unique history shape its spatialized narratives of the past in the present, we may speculate how these memories may determine the now-defunct KaNgwane's future history. After all, as the White Queen so presciently quipped to Alice in Through the Looking Glass: 'It's a poor sort of memory that only works backwards' (Carroll 1897: 95).


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(1) All interviews have pseudonyms assigned in-text. Where permission was obtained to use people's names, this is indicated by the use of full first and last names in the text and citation.

(2) The most interesting and important contribution to scholarship on KaNgwane is MacMillan (1989). There is also work by geographer Brian H. King (2005; 2006; 2007) but it focuses exclusively on post-apartheid KaNgwane. See also Delius (2007) for some discussions of KaNgwane's history.

(3) Africans designated 'Swazi' who were living in White River were relocated to Kabokweni; those in Nelspruit to Lekazi; those in Kaapmuiden to Matsulu; and those in Malelane to KaMaqhekeza. The most publicized and violent of these episodes unfolded over Driefontein, which was declared a 'black spot' in the 1960s, and then earmarked for removal to build a dam. It was envisioned that Swazis in the community would be relocated to KaNgwane, generating fierce resistance led by Saul Mkhize, who was gunned down at a rally mobilizing the community against the removals.

(4) The phrase comes from a well-known statement by Mabuza, cited in the human rights violations hearings of the TRC (Case number 955, Obed Ziga Ntimane, 02/09/96, Nelspruit, available at: < >, accessed 7 April 2011).

(5) 'Lowveld Massacre what really happened', Ziwaphi 3 (6) (9 April 2009): 9-11. Hereafter cited as: Ziwaphi, 9 April 2009.

(6) The UDF was formed in 1983 as a broad non-racial coalition of trade unions, churches, civics, students and other community-based organizations that adopted the Freedom Charter and organized in opposition to apartheid, specifically pursuing a strategy of 'ungovernability' and non-cooperation with homeland structures.

(7) 'We can't pay these rents and we won't', SASPU National 3, < content/SN/SNFeb86/image/web-ready/poo3-700.gif>, accessed July 2009.

(8) The Truth and Reconciliation Commission found 'that thousands of students gathered peacefully on 11 March 1986 to support twenty-six students who were detained and charged with public violence. The commission finds that the KaNgwane police attacked them without provocation and without giving them any warning to disperse, fired repeated rounds of live ammunition into the unarmed crowd. Three students were killed and eighty were seriously injured, most being wounded in the back.' (TRC Final Report, Vol. 3: 662).

(9) 'Mpumalanga TRC: gory tales of security force activities unfold', South African Press Association (SAPA), 2 September 1996, < trc/media/1996/9609/s960902f.htm>, accessed July 2009. Hereafter cited in text and in notes as: SAPA, 2 September 1996.

(10) Ibid.

(11) In one incident a group of 200 pupils attempted to hijack seven buses. 'In another incident, a boy was killed when police dispersed a group of alleged stone-throwers. At Kadisiki school, a boy was seriously injured by police firing birdshot at 400 pupils who were "intimidating" scholars' (TRC Final Report, Vol. 3: 660).

(12) The hearings revealed how police 'chased a group of boys kicking a ball on a field and shot at them', and how a woman who was shot in the back at a funeral was later sentenced to four years in jail for public violence (SAPA, 2 September 1996).

(13) Testimony by Mayeza Peter Mahaule, Case 1101 (Nelspruit), TRC Human Rights Violations hearings, 2 September 1996.

(14) TRC Human Rights Violations hearings, 2 September 1996. Case numbers 955, 952, 953.

(15) In a much-publicized move, fourteen businessmen resigned en bloc from the Nelspruit and District Chamber of Commerce after employer organizations had fired workers who observed the stayaway (New Nation, 21 May 1986: 5).

(16) State-sponsored vigilante activity was a notorious tactic of the apartheid regime, in the townships surrounding Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban as well as in the homelands. See Craig Charney (1991: 5), who correctly notes that KwaNdebele was the homeland that saw the most vigilantism, but incorrectly claims that state-supported vigilante activity was 'noticeably absent in KaNgwane, the first homeland to align with the ANC'.

(17) TRC Human Rights Violations hearings, Nelspruit: Neville Shabangu, JB00940/01MPNEL.

(18) Umkhonto we Sizwe, translated as 'Spear of the Nation', which was formed in 1961, was the armed wing of the African National Congress (ANC).

(19) Statement, 'Exhumations in Piet Retief and Nelspruit' issued by TRC, 5 November 1997, <>. In Peter Mahaule's testimony to the TRC, he claimed that a certain Captain Ntiwan was responsible for the killing of Paulus Mabuza's son. It is not clear if he was referring to Kenneth Mabuza (see reference to Mahaule testimony).

(20) TRC Human Rights Violations Hearings, Nelspruit: Phindile Mavis Ngobe, JB00984/ 01MPNEL.

(21) The local political newspaper Ziwaphi evidences the only memorialization of the event each year outside of efforts at sheer political opportunism, like that seen this year (2011), in which tombstones were erected at the victims' graves for the first time since 1986 as part of an explicit campaign for securing votes by the ANC ahead of local government elections.

(22) AC/2001/137. TRC Amnesty Committee hearing of Keshla Timothy Nkosi's application for amnesty (AM 1860/96). Decision available at < htm>, accessed 7 April 2011.

(23) < Urgent_Action/apic-022403.html>, accessed 7 April 2011. See under 'Summary of Plaintiffs', point 5.

(24) <>, accessed 7 April 2011. See under 'MBABANE Feb 7 Sapa'.

(25) Ms Vilakazi, at TRC Amnesty Hearing, AM1860/96, 11 November 1999.

(26) Ms Hlanga at TRC Amnesty Hearing, AM1860/96, 11 November 1999.

(27) AC/2001/137, TRC Amnesty Committee hearing of Keshla Timothy Nkosi's application for amnesty (AM 1860/96). Decision available at: < htm>, accessed 7 April 2011.

(28) TRC Spokesman, Sello Rabothatha, Cape Town, 26 August 1996. SAPA, 'Landmine and Forced Removals Evidence for Mpumalanga Truth Hearings', available at < media/1996/9608/s960826b.htm >, accessed July 2009.

(29) Ms Vilakazi, at TRC Amnesty Hearing, AM1860/96, 11 November 1999.

(30) 'Democracy and the responsibility of freedom', address by President of the Inyandza National Movement and Chief Minister of KaNgwane, 12th Annual Congress, 30 September 1990. South African Historical Archives, AL2457, B4 (KaNgwane).

(31) Ibid.

(32) Ibid.

(33) Ibid.

SHIREEN ALLY is a researcher in the NRF Chair (Local Histories, Present Realities) at the University of the Witwatersrand. Email:

doi: 10.1017/S0001972011000441
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