Trova il tuo prossimo libro preferito

Abbonati oggi e leggi gratis per 30 giorni
We Are Fighting the World: A History of the Marashea Gangs in South Africa, 1947–1999

We Are Fighting the World: A History of the Marashea Gangs in South Africa, 1947–1999

Leggi anteprima

We Are Fighting the World: A History of the Marashea Gangs in South Africa, 1947–1999

348 pagine
5 ore
Jan 1, 2005


Since the late 1940s, a violent African criminal society known as the Marashea has operated in and around South Africa’s gold mining areas. With thousands of members involved in drug smuggling, extortion, and kidnapping, the Marashea was more influential in the day-to-day lives of many black South Africans under apartheid than were agents of the state. These gangs remain active in South Africa.

In We Are Fighting the World: A History of the Marashea Gangs in South Africa, 1947–1999, Gary Kynoch points to the combination of coercive force and administrative weakness that characterized the apartheid state. As long as crime and violence were contained within black townships and did not threaten adjacent white areas, township residents were largely left to fend for themselves. The Marashea’s ability to prosper during the apartheid era and its involvement in political conflict led directly to the violent crime epidemic that today plagues South Africa.

Highly readable and solidly researched, We Are Fighting the World is critical to an understanding of South African society, past and present. This pioneering study challenges previous social history research on resistance, ethnicity, urban spaces, and gender in South Africa. Kynoch’s interviews with many current and former gang members give We Are Fighting the World an energy and a realism that are unparalleled in any other published work on gang violence in southern Africa.

Jan 1, 2005

Informazioni sull'autore

Gary Kynoch is an assistant professor of history at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He is the author of numerous articles on crime, policing, and violence in urban South Africa.

Correlato a We Are Fighting the World

Libri correlati
Articoli correlati

Anteprima del libro

We Are Fighting the World - Gary Kynoch

We Are Fighting the World


Series editors: Jean Allman and Allen Isaacman

David William Cohen and E. S. Atieno Odhiambo, The Risks of Knowledge: Investigations into the Death of the Hon. Minister John Robert Ouko in Kenya, 1990

Belinda Bozzoli, Theatres of Struggle and the End of Apartheid

Gary Kynoch, We Are Fighting the World: A History of the Marashea Gangs in South Africa, 1947–1999

We Are Fighting the World

A History of the Marashea Gangs in South Africa, 1947–1999

Gary Kynoch





Ohio University Press

The Ridges, Building 19

Athens, Ohio 45701

University of KwaZulu-Natal Press

Private Bag X01, Scottsville, 3209

South Africa


© 2005 by Ohio University Press

Printed in the United States of America

All rights reserved

12 11 10 09 08 07 06 05 5 4 3 2 1

Maps by Wendy Job

Part of chapter 1 appeared as From the Ninevites to the Hard Livings Gang: Township Gangsters and Urban Violence in Twentieth-Century South Africa in African Studies 58, no. 1 (1999): 55–85 and is reprinted by permission.

Part of chapter 3 appeared in A Man among Men: Gender, Identity, and Power in South Africa’s Marashea Gangs in Gender and History 13, no. 2 (2001): 249–72 and is reprinted by permission.

Part of chapter 4 appeared in Politics and Violence in the Russian Zone: Conflict in Newclare South, 1950–1957 in Journal of African History 41, no. 2 (2000): 267–90 and is reprinted by permission.

Part of chapter 5 appeared in Marashea on the Mines: Economic, Social and Criminal Networks on the South African Gold Fields, 1947-1999 in Journal of Southern African Studies 26, no. 1 (2000): 79–103 and is reprinted by permission.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Kynoch, Gary.

We are fighting the world : a history of the Marashea gangs in South Africa, 1947–1999 / Gary Kynoch.

p. cm.—(New African histories series)

Includes bibliographical references and index.

ISBN 0-8214-1615-4 (cloth : alk. paper)—ISBN 0-8214-1616-2 (pbk. : alk. paper) 1. Gangs—South Africa—History. I. Title. II. Series.

HV6439.S6K96 2005



University of KwaZulu-Natal Press ISBN 1-86914-072-9





Chapter 1Urban Violence in South Africa

Chapter 2The Anatomy of the Marashea

Chapter 3Making a Living: Survival in South Africa

Chapter 4Urban Battlegrounds

Chapter 5Marashea on the Mines: The Expansion Era

Chapter 6Vigilantism, Political Violence, and the End of Apartheid

Epilogue The Future of the Marashea

AppendixMarashea Interview List





Witwatersrand townships, present day


THIS BOOK IS THE FIRST attempt to write a comprehensive history of an African criminal society known as the Marashea, or Russians, from its inception in the 1940s to the present.¹ It covers the formation of the association in the townships and mining compounds of the Witwatersrand, the massive street battles of the 1950s, and the government’s forced removal schemes that dispersed the Russians from some of their urban strongholds during this same period.² These original groups of Marashea drew their strength from Basotho migrants who worked and lived on the Johannesburg area mines, as well as those who resided in the townships and were employed in the city.³ The gold-mining industry’s expansion into the far West Rand and Free State during the 1950s and 1960s, coupled with the Aliens Control Act of 1963 (which made it illegal for the vast majority of Basotho migrants to work in South Africa outside the agricultural and mining sectors), resulted in a Marashea migration that shifted Russian power from the Rand to the townships and informal settlements surrounding the emerging gold mines. The Marashea remains a powerful force in many of South Africa’s gold mining areas.

Newspapers and archival documents proved to be valuable source materials but are limited in the range of issues they address. Police, mining, and township officials tended to focus on the disruption to order that Russian activities caused, and the Marashea came to public notice almost exclusively as a result of their involvement in violence. Newspapers intended for white readership rarely mentioned Marashea because, except for the most spectacular instances of violence, their activities did not impinge on the white world. African newspapers reported on collective violence, robberies, and court appearances and typically condemned the gangs as primitive tribal thugs. This was the public face of the Marashea.

Archival sources were useful in providing government and mining officials’ views of the Marashea, as well as supplying dates, casualty figures, and arrest records for specific events. In the archival records, the Marashea appear as a nuisance in the townships and mines—because of their involvement in street battles, faction fights, murders, and robberies—but not as a political threat to the state. Instead, they are depicted as tribal Africans untainted by communist or other revolutionary ideology, with no grievances against whites and no political agenda. Mining officials expressed occasional concern over Russian violence that threatened to disrupt mining operations, but the gangs did not challenge white authority on the mines. White commentators sometimes characterized the Marashea as murderous thugs but not as political subversives. These sources of evidence provide little information on the inner workings of the Marashea but are particularly valuable in situating the Russian gangs in a political context. Documentary evidence clearly indicates that the apartheid regime not only discounted the Marashea as a threat to white rule but that the police made common cause with gangster and vigilante groups as early as the 1950s in their campaigns to undermine the ANC and its affiliates. In this way the state was directly responsible for sponsoring episodes of conflict in the townships long before the politicized violence of the 1980s and 1990s.

Gathering oral testimony from current and former Marashea was the only way to probe into issues of culture and gender relations, to better understand how the gangs fit into their environment and how they perceived of and represented themselves. The major limitation to this approach is that one does not get an outsider’s view of the society. I interviewed a handful of mineworkers, police, and mining officials, but, for the most part, outsiders’ perceptions are examined only through the claims of Marashea themselves.

Between April 1998 and June 1999, seventy-nine Marashea (sixty-three men, sixteen women) were interviewed in Lesotho, in the townships and informal settlements of Gauteng province, and in Marashea settlements surrounding the mining towns of Klerksdorp, Virginia, Carletonville, and Welkom.⁴ These seventy-nine individuals span six decades of experience as Marashea. Some respondents spent the majority of their adult lives as Marashea while others were members for only a year or two. The ages of those informants who knew their birth dates ranged from twenty-eight to eighty-four. With the exception of two respondents who spoke very good English, all interviews were conducted in Sesotho.

The foremost difficulties involved gaining access to active members and women. Meetings with current Marashea visiting Lesotho led to trips to Russian settlements in South Africa, where additional interviews were conducted, including one with BM, the leader of the Matsieng faction in the Free State. In the end my research assistants and I spent time in four different Marashea settlements, and a total of nine active Marashea participated in interviews. Moreover, informal conversations yielded information about protection arrangements, rental agreements with white farmers, the demographics of the camps, business ventures, living conditions, social practices, and relations with mineworkers.

BM refused our request to interview women, saying that women did not know history and would say silly things. The same experience was repeated in the other Marashea settlements. As a result, only one active woman, a relation of an intermediary, was interviewed. Marashea women in general were difficult to identify, especially in Lesotho. Former Marashea women who have returned to Lesotho tend not to advertise their status and, despite exhaustive efforts, female informants made up just under 20 percent of the total interview pool.

Interviewing people who had experience with Marashea was often problematic. It would have been valuable to consult with more police officers, but I decided against this because of the extensive connections Marashea groups have with police. If it was discovered that I was asking the police about the Marashea it is possible that avenues would have been closed off. Consequently, I did not pursue any police contacts in South Africa until near the end of my fieldwork, although I discussed the Marashea with a few police officers in Lesotho. Several mineworkers were also interviewed during the initial stages of fieldwork in Lesotho. Although a number of South African mining officials refused to discuss the Marashea, staff at Harmony Mine in the Free State were very helpful. An NUM representative enthusiastically participated in an interview, as did a former liaison division employee of the Employment Bureau of Africa. In the 1950s Johannesburg gangs attracted a great deal of public attention, primarily because of the massive street battles in which they engaged. Unfortunately, many of the lawyers and township officials who came into contact with the Johannesburg Russians are deceased. With the exception of one advocate who represented Russians in the 1960s and 1970s, I was unable to track down any members of the legal profession or government service who had done business with the Marashea.

Not surprisingly, some Marashea informants were evasive or refused to discuss certain topics. Questions concerning relationships with the police, criminal activities, conflicts with ANC supporters, and links with political parties in Lesotho were the most likely to elicit such responses. The political turmoil stemming from the May 1998 national elections in Lesotho, which eventually led to military intervention and occupation by a South African–led force in September 1998, made discussions of political affairs extremely sensitive.

Problems of accuracy and reliability are two central issues that oral historians continually confront. This study was no different and gathering testimony from respondents who were involved in a range of criminal activities rendered these concerns even more salient. The formulation of collective memory in oral testimony has been commented on by many practitioners. Discussing the testimony of Holocaust survivors, Deborah Lipstadt observes that lots of survivors who arrived at Auschwitz will tell you they were examined by [Dr. Josef] Mengele. Then you ask them the date of their arrival and you say, ‘Well, Mengele wasn’t in Auschwitz yet at that point.’ There were lots of doctors . . . somehow they all became Mengele.⁵ In this instance it seems that larger societal perceptions influenced how people remembered and related their stories. Mengele became a symbol of evil, representing the horror of the concentration camps, so some survivors appropriated his presence to make sense of their own horror and to perhaps better express it to others, including the interviewer. This raises the issue of the construction of memory, or as Alistair Thomson suggests, the composure of memory. In one sense we ‘compose’ or construct memories using the public language and meanings of our culture. In another sense we ‘compose’ memories which help us feel relatively comfortable with our lives, which gives us a feeling of composure. We remake or repress memories of experiences which are still painful and ‘unsafe’ because their inherent traumas or tensions have not been resolved. . . . Our memories are risky and painful if they do not conform to the public norms or versions of the past.

Marashea informants recited careful constructions of particular events and personalities. One of the defining events for Marashea active on the Rand in the 1950s and 1960s was a series of battles between combined Marashea forces and Zulu hostel dwellers that took place in 1957. The fighting raged for days between hundreds, if not thousands, of combatants, and the Dube Hostel Riots, as the conflicts came to be known in official parlance, were the subject of a government inquiry and extensive media attention. Virtually all the men interviewed who were members during this era claim to have taken part in these battles and recite details that have obviously become embedded in popular lore. It is extremely doubtful that all these informants actually participated in the fighting. For example, some men date their arrival on the Rand after 1957. Given the confusion with dates this is not absolute proof they were not present, but the likelihood that they all were is extremely remote. The Marashea’s image as defenders of the Basotho resonates very strongly among these men, and the Dube Hostel conflicts provide the foremost example of the Marashea rallying to the defense of fellow Basotho during this era. It was also a great victory for the Russians, and informants wished to be associated with an event that reinforced their identity as champions of the Basotho and successful warriors. Philip Bonner notes a similar development in discussions of a 1940s clash between Basotho and Zulu in Benoni: A host of other informants claim to have witnessed this latter episode. I am almost certain that for a number it was hearsay.

The collective memory phenomenon also emerges in the strikingly similar accounts of the Dube Hostel conflicts. Informants’ recitations of the beginning of the conflict in which a Russian named Malefane was castrated by Zulu men in the hostel’s shebeen has the feel of a story that has been many times in the telling. The same sort of mythologizing surfaced in testimony surrounding the famous leader Tseule Tsilo. Again, it is unlikely that all the men who claimed to have witnessed Tsilo’s feats and interacted with him could have done so. Rather than invalidating such testimony, these responses speak to the power of the myth of Tsilo. Once such developments are recognized, they can be used as windows to interpret the ideals and worldviews of informants instead of simply dismissing suspect statements and stories as falsehoods. As Allesandro Portelli argues, Oral sources tell us not just what people did but what they wanted to do, what they believed they were doing, and what they now think they did.

Kathleen Blee’s experience gathering testimonies from former members of the Ku Klux Klan led her to consider how people from groups that have been publicly maligned consciously attempt to rehabilitate the group’s (and their individual) reputation during the interview process: Meanings are created in social and political contexts; memory is not a solitary act. Thus it is not simply that narratives constructed by former Klan members to explain their role in one of history’s most vicious campaigns of intolerance and hatred are biased by their own political agendas and their desire to appear acceptable to an oral historian but also that informants’ memories have been shaped by subsequent public censure of this and later Klans.

Marashea informants are well aware of their public reputation as thugs and assassins, and some men went to great lengths to portray the Marashea, or at least their particular group, as a benign force that fought crime and dispensed justice in the townships and informal settlements. This was especially evident among active informants, who dismissed Marashea of the past as violent criminals. These men depicted the current Marashea as a business and mutual-aid association for migrant Basotho, denying that they or their fellow members engaged in criminal or other antisocial activities. To cite one example, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, Russian leader BM denied that his group participated in the violent conflicts between Marashea and union supporters that took place in and around Harmony Gold Mine in 1990. When questioned, BM insisted that his followers had no stake in the conflict and that any Marashea who joined the fighting did so in their capacity as miners, not as Marashea.¹⁰ The testimony of active informants, who were unlikely to incriminate themselves and who had a more direct interest in the well-being and reputation of the current Marashea, has to be considered in this light. Sensitive information about the modern Marashea was more readily supplied by recently retired veterans who were active in the 1980s and 1990s. These men and women tended to be more candid and discussed aspects of their experiences that active Marashea were reluctant to divulge.

Retired informants’ reflections on their lives as Marashea differed. While a few women emphasized the excitement of being associated with the Russians, most spoke of the hardships and violence they endured. Some men expressed regret for the crimes they committed while others were boastful and unrepentant. The diversity of responses on many issues leads me to believe that the informants comprise a fairly representative cross-section of the Marashea, despite the underrepresentation of women and young, active male members.

Gathering oral testimonies from gang members who were regularly involved in criminal activities presented particular difficulties, the foremost being identifying informants and persuading them to participate in an interview. Second, because of the nature of their activities and the climate of repression that characterized their lives in South Africa, some informants were evasive or refused to discuss certain topics. I labor under no illusion that I have uncovered the definitive history of the Marashea. Many aspects of people’s lives as Marashea remain obscured for a host of reasons. The archival record is extremely limited in the scope and range of issues commented on and the collected testimony cannot possibly relate the entire story of the many thousands of people who have comprised the Marashea over the years. Perhaps most important, respondents revealed mere fractions of their experiences. Bearing these qualifications in mind, I believe this work provides an insight into the lives led by the women and men of the Marashea; the coping strategies they employed; the impact the association had in the townships, informal settlements, and mining hostels; and the autonomy that groups like the Marashea exercised within the structural constraints established by the apartheid state.


THIS BOOK WOULD NOT have materialized without the efforts of Tsepang Cekwane and Booi Mohapi. Along with conducting and transcribing interviews, Tsepang proved particularly adept at finding Marashea throughout Lesotho and in South African townships and informal settlements. His navigational skills saved me from getting lost more times than I can remember, and his enthusiasm for this project made him a pleasure to work with. We learned much about the Marashea together. Booi, assisted by his wife, Mampolokeng, completed a number of superb interviews. Teke Tseane lent valuable assistance at a time when interviews were hard to come by. Litabe Majoro, who studied the Marashea as a student at the National University of Lesotho, was kind enough to direct me to one of his informants and conduct an interview. The stories told by the men and women who related their lives as Marashea provide the foundation of this study.

Philip Bonner’s work inspired my research and, despite an extraordinarily demanding schedule, Phil generously gave his time, advice, and copies of interview transcripts. David Coplan also offered encouragement. I owe a special debt to Rosemary Burke, the Employment Bureau of Africa’s archivist. Rosemary helped me sift through files and took it upon herself to contact several people in the mining industry on my behalf. Kent McNamara graciously passed along numerous materials and discussed the Russians’ activities on the mines. I would like to express my appreciation to various staff at Harmony Gold Mine who took the time to speak with me. Thanks are due to Puseletso Salae, Raymond de Boiz, and Don Mattera, who all shared their experiences with the Marashea.

The research for this book was conducted while I was a visiting fellow at the University of the Witwatersrand’s now-defunct Institute for Advanced Social Research. I am grateful to Charles van Onselen and the IASR staff for hosting me at Wits. Barb and Herb Anstadt provided a home away from home in Johannesburg and have become our South African family.

At Dalhousie University, Jane Parpart and Phil Zachernuk nurtured the thesis that has eventually become a book. Their support, guidance, and friendship sustained me throughout my tenure as a graduate student. I thank them both.

Jean Allman’s patience in steering the manuscript through to publication is also greatly appreciated. I gratefully acknowledge funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada for research in South Africa.

Finally, this book is dedicated, with all my love, to Theresa Ulicki.


ANC—African National Congress

BCP—Basotho (Basutoland) Congress Party

BNP—Basotho (Basutoland) National Party

BOSS—Bureau of State Security

EPTC—Evaton People’s Transport Council

IFP—Inkatha Freedom Party

LLA—Lesotho Liberation Army

NP—National Party

NUM—National Union of Mineworkers

SAP—South African Police

SAPS—South African Police Service (after 1995)

UDF—United Democratic Front

Marashea posing for a photograph, 1960s. Collection of the author.

1 Urban Violence in South Africa

SOUTH AFRICA IS ONE OF the most crime-ridden societies in the world.¹ In a country where unemployment runs between 30 and 50 percent and the majority of the population struggles on the economic margins, high crime rates are not surprising. It is the violence associated with so much of the crime that has created a climate of fear. Carjacking, rape, murder, armed robbery, gang conflicts, taxi wars, vigilantism, and police shootings dominate the headlines and the national consciousness. This culture of violence has become one of the defining features of contemporary South African life.

Although segregation and apartheid nurtured hostility and conflict among all population groups in South Africa, surprisingly little effort has been made to investigate the historical roots of the current crisis. To the extent that historical factors are considered, the epidemic of violent crime is most often attributed to the civil conflicts of the 1980s and 1990s. These conflicts—usually referred to as political violence—raged throughout many of South Africa’s urban townships as well as some rural areas. In 1985 the African National Congress (ANC) called on its supporters to make the townships ungovernable and urban violence escalated as thousands of activists heeded that call. The National Party (NP) government responded predictably, ordering the police and military to crush political dissent. Government security forces also encouraged various elements within the black population to take up arms against ANC militants, known as comrades. Once the ANC was unbanned in 1990 and elections loomed on the horizon, the violence intensified. Agents within the security apparatus sponsored and directly assisted the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), a moderate, ethnically Zulu political movement, in its war against the ANC and supported conservative black groups that refused to acknowledge the authority of the comrades. The South African Police (SAP) allowed criminal gangs to operate with impunity in return for their services as informants and assassins. All the warring parties recruited criminal gangs to some extent and were unable to exercise full control over the elements that fought in their name. Large parts of KwaZulu-Natal, along with many townships and informal settlements in other areas of the country, became war zones.

In conventional accounts this anarchic violence created a residuum of men, inured to killing, who have pursued purely criminal endeavors following the cessation of politically motivated hostilities.² The youth who engaged in these conflicts are often referred to as the lost generation, partially because they sacrificed their education for the liberation struggle. Comrades who had been valorized for their role in the struggle felt betrayed by an ANC government that discarded them once it was voted into power. These men, and other combatants who had exploited the violence to achieve positions of power, continued with and expanded their predatory activities while shedding any pretense of political motivation. The current generation of South African youth has grown up with this legacy and embraced a criminal lifestyle. In this interpretation, the civil conflicts gave birth to a culture of violence and lawlessness that continues to haunt South Africa long after the political struggle was effectively settled by the ANC’s 1994 election victory.

This explanation is limited by its failure to consider the longer-term historical dimensions of the prevailing crisis. The fighting between government forces, the ANC, Inkatha, and their various proxies infused localized disputes with a political veneer and significantly escalated the scale of violence. However, these conflicts did not create a culture of violence in the townships. A historically grounded analysis clearly demonstrates that political rivalries degenerated into bloody conflicts partially because a culture of violence was already ingrained in township society. South Africa’s endemic violence, in other words, is not a post-conflict affair but rather a continuation of preexisting conditions.

This book explores the nature of power and violence in the apartheid era through the history of the Marashea. In particular, this study counters the notion of apartheid as a systematic program of social engineering that regulated virtually every aspect of black urban life. The failure of the colonial state to control urban townships and informal settlements and to provide effective civil policing created the space and incentive for the emergence of various criminal and vigilante groups that proliferated during the turbulent decades of apartheid. Despite the battery of legislation introduced by the apartheid regime to further restrict the lives of black urbanites, the activities and interactions of criminal gangs and vigilantes were, in many respects, more instrumental than government policy in shaping the day-to-day lives of township residents. Gangster and vigilante violence, often exacerbated by a police force primarily concerned with enforcing racial legislation and suppressing political dissent, became a normative feature of life in many

Hai raggiunto la fine di questa anteprima. Registrati per continuare a leggere!
Pagina 1 di 1


Cosa pensano gli utenti di We Are Fighting the World

0 valutazioni / 0 Recensioni
Cosa ne pensi?
Valutazione: 0 su 5 stelle

Recensioni dei lettori