Mass actions and police brutality

SHARE   |   Tuesday, 16 August 2016   |   By Elmon Tafa
One of the protesters showing off marks left on his back after being shamboked One of the protesters showing off marks left on his back after being shamboked

The reign of terror unleashed upon a peaceful demonstration by the youth demanding jobs recently must be condemned in the strongest anatomy of terms. It is unacceptable police brutality and bestiality. And if allowed to go on unchecked it may have far reaching political consequences. Since Ian Khama assumed the presidency of this country Botswana is increasingly taking on the character of a ruthless police state – journalists have been arrested and harassed while others are forced into exile, for the first time the country has produced over 200 refugees, houses and cars of prominent politicians and civil rights lawyers are broken into and laptops stolen, extra-judicial killings have become the order of the day. The powers of the police relative to the public have been ramped up with devastating consequences. The rhetoric of the police rendering a ‘community service’ rings hollow and utterly meaningless. Police hands are dripping with the blood of 63 people who were victims of extra-judicial police killings. Even the Roman Dutch law on which the legal justice system of this country is founded that a person must be presumed innocent until proven guilty by a court of law is honoured more in breach than observance. Today offenders are assumed to be guilty before trial and are further denied the opportunity to exculpate themselves because Khama’s summary justice will not even grant them this burden of proof. The trigger-happy police force is changing the political landscape of this country the wrong way.


The youth staged a peaceful march to Parliament to protest the problem of needless structural unemployment in a country with so many opportunities. The Defense Minister mischievously conjures up the notion of a ‘riot’ to describe this peaceful and disciplined mass action.  He repeats ad infinitum and ad nauseam the notion of the ‘rule of law’ and ‘public order’ without pausing to ask himself whether capitalist ‘rule of law’ applies equally to its victims. It is not this capitalist ‘rule of law’ and ‘public order’ that has created poverty in the midst of pantry? Political pundits like Professor Gul Brandson observe that what is surprising is not so much that Botswana has earned the dubious distinction of having the worst inequalities in the world but that there continues to be relative peace in the face of such gross injustice. The police went berserk and over the top by beating up the innocent protesters. This was an assault on democracy itself. The provocative behaviour of the police started with the denial of a permit to march. Everywhere in working democracies demonstrations are universally regarded as a legitimate and democratic expression of one’s views. This right does not reside in police stations; it is an inalienable democratic right of every citizen. Those seeking to march should not be begging for their rights cap-in-hand from the police. All they need to do is to inform the police of their desire to march so that the police should come and ensure that the march is indeed peaceful. Even where the police are unable to come the BNF has its own trained marshals who can ensure that mass actions stay disciplined and peaceful. The police must get their act together and brace themselves for more mass actions – demonstrations, protest marches, strikes culminating in mass insurrections. The people have no choice but to fight back against the police state but a revolutionary party must train its cadres on the art of demonstrations and insurrection. They cannot happen spontaneously. The question is what political message can we learn from this police violence?


The reason why it is difficult to rule out violence altogether in any revolution is that the ruling class is unlikely to surrender its ill-acquired wealth and political power without a fight. And if the oppressed eschew violence under all circumstances then the capitalists would rule for ever. Its imperialist version cannot live without waging wars on other countries. Whatever violence accompanies revolutionary change pales into insignificance compared to the daily violence of the exploitative capitalist system. Capitalism is inherently inseparable from violence and generates it at every turn. The daily process of capitalist production exposes workers to injury disease and even death – all in pursuit of profit. Imagine the workers at Jwaneng mine – the richest diamond mine in the world who sustained injuries at work in 2012 and yet up to now De Beers bosses refuse to compensate them adequately. Think about the mine workers at BCL in Phikwe who recently lost their lives. No system based on the exploitation of the overwhelming majority by a tiny minority driven by selfish greed and coercive laws of competition can maintain itself in power without resorting to violence. No system driven by the blind pursuit of surplus value - the relentless official stealing of the workers’ unpaid surplus labour time can avoid the use of violence to try and sustain its in power. The only way to put an end to this violence is for the workers to use collective violence to overthrow the exploitative profit system. The myth we must dispel is the image of revolutions as an orgy of mindless bloodletting. Now we know that the trotted out by the BDP regime that when the opposition takes over the reigns of power there will be violence actually means that the rulings class will not relinquish state power without putting up a fight. 

The history of all revolutions clearly demonstrates that revolutions don’t begin with acts of violence by revolutionaries when the class antagonism in capitalism boils over. The ruling class is always the first to fire shots at innocent people. They are always the first to unleash violence on innocent people. In South Africa the ANC in 1912 started off by requesting for negotiations with the apartheid regime but when that avenue was unavailable thanks to the intransigence of the regime the ANC resorted to the peaceful defiance campaigns of the 1950s. The regime opened fire on the civil disobedience at Sharpeville by the liberation movement, banned all political parties – the ANC, PAC and the SACP and sentenced some of the leaders like Nelson Mandela to life imprisonment. Clearly the regime was the first to use violence against the oppressed people who had no choice but to resort to revolutionary violence or armed struggle. Unable to fight its own battles because of numeral weaknesses the bourgeoisie uses workers in uniform, the police to fight for it. All the violence the ruling class inflicts upon working class is carried out by one section of the workers against the rest. A powerful and united working class movement can prevent this from happening by winning over the rank and file of the army and the police to its side. What Auguste Blanqui, the French father of insurrection, taught us is that the revolution must convince the soldiers and the police that it is more dangerous to fight against the people than to disobey the orders of their senior officers. Our propaganda and agitation must target the army and the police. That is precisely the reason why the Russian revolution was so peaceful and cost only a few lives.
Cde Elmon Tafa
BNF Sec. for Political Education