KHAYA XABA: Hlengwa’s attempt to sanitise history smacks of delusion


The article titled "Mondli Makanya just refuses to see it" by Mkhuleko Hlengwa, which appeared on the City Press on 9 August 2020, revokes suppressed sad memories and feelings of anguish that many would have liked to forget. Many people in townships have stories to tell about the violence that engulfed their lives in the early 90s. The silly attempt by Hlengwa to sanitise what happened in townships like Thokoza, Katlehong, Vosloorus and many others is opening up wounds that might have healed for families who lost loved ones during that horrible time in our history.

Just to give Hlengwa a brief and accurate history lesson with the hope that he will discard the warped history of event that fills his head, I will start with my own historical experience of what happened then. I grew up in Wesselton Township, in Ermelo in the Mpumalanga province. Wesselton had a hostel that was occupied by Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) members who worked hand-in-hand with the apartheid police force to terrorise the community and hunt down those who were part of the Self Defence Unit (SDU). In fact, in all townships, SDUs were formed to protect communities from the violence from the hostels and not to attack IFP members.

In my township we would go weeks without water, while water tankers from the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) would deliver water to the hostel. Those who were known leaders of the African National Congress (ANC) had their houses torched, including the house of my aunt, who had to escape with her entire family to squeeze into my family’s four-room house because her son was a member of the ANC Youth League (ANCYL). Many homes were set alight with the occupants inside, and many houses stood dilapidated for years as a constant reminder of the violence that took place.

The history of what happened in the East Rand is known by all. Well, all, except for Hlengwa. My guess is that he does not know about Khumalo Street or he chooses to block that out in his head. However, I am sure he can take time off his busy schedule and allow me to take him to the monument of killed community members in Thokoza, interview some families in Khumalo Street, and visit the Apartheid Museum - which has visuals of the violence that took place initiated by the IFP from the hostels.

My sister resided in Khumalo Street in the early 90s, and on a daily basis we expected a phone call to announce her murder as bodies were piling up because of the violence. On 28 March 1994, on the day the IFP marched to Shell House (former head office of the ANC) those returning from the march shot at taxis at random on the old Vereening Road, killing many innocent people. My sister was missed by a bullet, which ultimately hit a little girl who was on her way home from buying paraffin.

One of the more gut wrenching stories of that era was that of train killings, where people were thrown out of moving trains. People used to be asked to pronounce the name of the R1 coin. If you said “one rand”, then it meant you were not umZulu - and out the train you go. The answer they would have wanted was “Ilandi” as the isiZulu language does not have the letter “R”.

IFP rally days in all townships were the worst days. Groups of its supporters and members would leave a trail of destruction on their way to the venue and on their way back too.

It is absurd for Hlengwa to claim that they had to defend themselves and relied on prayers. The returning combatants of uMkhonto weSizwe were returning to the country to collapse the brutal National Party government and to free the people from the oppressive and violent regime. The need to protect communities came after many community members were maimed for not being members of the IFP or hostel dwellers.

I highly doubt that there was any prayer involved as it was known that inkabis (hitmen) would douse themselves in intelezi, a muthi meant to make them invisible while randomly shooting up a taxi rank. One cannot shoot up a taxi rank with sticks, as Hlengwa claims. The attempt by Hlengwa to whitewash history of the violence that occurred in the early 90s is a slap in the face to those who have suffered inconceivable losses.

The hostel dwellers played a huge role in bringing pain to many communities in the early 90s, and a simple drive around townships close to hostels can still reveal the atrocities that took place. As part of erasing that past, government tried to turn hostels into family units as part of breaking down that bad history.

I appeal to Hlengwa conscience to think about the families who suffered and lost loved ones during that dark era. History cannot be rewritten willy-nilly by those who are hell-bent on hiding the truth.

Khaya Xaba is a social activist. You can follow him on Twitter on @chedetachment.