South Africa’s Enduring Unfreedom

An interview with S’bu Zikode, leader of the shack dwellers’ movement, 30 years after apartheid’s end.

S’bu Zikode and Richard Pithouse in the Boston Review:

Richard Pithouse: Mandela was released from prison on February 11, 1990, suddenly opening up the field of political possibility after a long and exhausting stalemate between the progressive forces, which were largely organized in two groups: the United Democratic Front (UDF) and the trade unions, and the apartheid state. What did Mandela’s release mean to you?

S’bu Zikode: I was fourteen years old, and in school. At that time, we were divided. It was the time of the war between [the right-wing Zulu nationalist organization] Inkatha and the UDF. People could easily draw the line between the two sides along a river or a road. Everyone on one side was Inkatha; everyone on the other side was UDF. A lot of people were killed or had their homes burnt down just because they were living on this or that side of the line.

Some people had guns; we young people had sticks. If you turned back from a battle you would be shot. You had to face bullets from the front and the back. Terrible things happened, very painful things. We don’t talk about it.

When the news came that Mandela would be released, there was huge excitement, huge celebration among some people. For them, it was the opening of the world. But for others, the real believers in Inkatha, the world was shutting down. There was a fear that democracy meant that the land owned by the Zulus would have to be shared and that traditional leaders would lose their power. Their biggest fear was that if [Inkatha leader] Prince Buthelezi lost the election, Zulu people would be dominated by other nations. To think of freedom at that time was really to think about peace. It was about the end of war, the end of the politic of blood.

RP: What were your hopes for your own life at the time?

More here.

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