In 1986 ‘Comrade September’, a charismatic ANC operative and popular MK commander, was abducted from Swaziland by the apartheid security police and taken across the border. After torture and interrogation, September was ‘turned’ and before long the police had extracted enough information to hunt down and kill some of his former comrades.
September underwent changes that marked him for the rest of his life: from resister to collaborator, insurgent to counter-insurgent, revolutionary to counter-revolutionary and, to his former comrades, hero to traitor. Askari is the story of these changes in an individual’s life and of the larger, neglected history of betrayal and collaboration in the struggle against apartheid. It seeks to understand why September made the choices he did – collaborating with his captors, turning against the ANC, and then hunting down his comrades – without excusing those choices. It looks beyond the black-and-white that still dominates South Africa’s political canvas, to examine the grey zones in which South Africans – combatants and non-combatants – lived.
September’s acts of betrayal form but one layer in a sedimentation of betrayals, for September himself was betrayed by the Swazi police, when he was abducted from his hideout in Swaziland by the apartheid death squad in August 1986. This, then, is not a morality tale in which the lines between heroes and villains are clearly drawn. At the same time, the book does not claim that the competing sides in the fight against apartheid were moral equivalents. It seeks to contribute to attempts to elaborate a denser, richer and more nuanced account of South Africa’s modern political history. It does so by examining the history of political violence in South Africa; by looking at the workings of an apartheid death squad in an attempt to understand how the apartheid bureaucracy worked; and, more importantly, by studying the social, moral and political universe in which apartheid collaborators like September lived and worked. This is not a biography – a cradle-to-grave account of September’s life – even though it does, where necessary, look at his life. September was not the first resister-turned-collaborator. But he was also no ordinary collaborator. That is why his story deserves telling.
About the Author
Jacob Dlamini is at present a Visiting Fellow at Harvard University and a Research Associate at the Society, Work and Development Institute (SWOP), University of the Witwatersrand. He holds a PhD from Yale University. Previously he worked as a journalist and was at one time the political editor of Business Day. His book Native Nostalgia (Jacana, 2009), about growing up in the township of Katlehong on the Witwatersrand, has won great acclaim.
Published by Jacana Media