Lindsaye Tshabalala’s Fiery Death, 1990

During apartheid, South Africa’s white minority government made its goal to encourage Inkatha-ANC divisions to keep its black enemies at each others’ throats. Now, in 1990, as the government of F.W. de Klerk began negotiating with Nelson Mandela’s ANC, these divisions presented a golden opportunity for some. Using the Zulu Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) as their proxy, some elements within the establishment tried to destabilize the country, scuttle the negotiations, and at least delay the majority rule.

In townships like Soweto, partisans of ANC and IFP fought their bloody struggles for supremacy. Thousands of Zulus were forced out of their homes in ANC-loyal areas in Natal. The Zulus fought back violently, while police largely stood by. From July to September 1990, in one of the bloodiest clashes in modern South African history, the Zulus launched raids in the Transvaal townships, where nearly 800 were slain. In 1990 alone, over 3,000 people died as violence escalated.

One of those murders would make Greg Marinovich, a previously broke freelance photographer, internationally famous. A Zulu named Lindsaye Tshabalala was suspected of spying for Inkatha, and was executed by ANC supporters using ‘necklacing’ — putting a tire around one’s body and setting it on fire.

On September 15, 1990, he was in Soweto watching over the work hostels where hundreds had died in the fighting of recent months. Near a train station, he noted a group of young men crouched along an embankment. They told him that Zulus on the other side had shot at them. At that moment, one of the group fired a pistol in the direction of the Zulu hostel.

On the train platform, four or five men dragged and pushed another man from the station to the street. Marinovich recalls, “The group said the man was Inkatha, a member of the rival Zulu group and a spy. I asked them how they knew. They said, ‘We know’.

They dragged the man into the street and stoned him with rocks that knocked him down. Several attackers stabbed him in the chest with large knives. When he got up, the youths threw larger boulders at him and knocked him down again. They told Marinovich, “No pictures! No pictures!” He replied, “I’ll stop making pictures when you stop killing him.”

The attack continued, however. One man stepped forward and plunged a dagger into the man’s head, but still, he got up and staggered in the street. More rocks. More stabs. He fell. Another man stepped forward and poured gasoline over him. A box of matches was handed around, and one person stepped forward, struck the flame, and tossed it on the injured man. He jumped up in agony, ran in a few circles, and then fell for a final time.

Marinovich remembers:

This was without doubt the worst day of my life, and the trauma remains with me, despite some twenty years and a lot of coming to terms with the incident, my role and what it means to be involved in murder. This mudered happened a month after I had witnessed the one in Nancefield Hostel, and I was determined to redeem myself by not just being an observer. I neither saved him, nor redeemed myself, though at least I did not act shamefully.

Greg Marinovich

Marinovich felt as if he was “one of the circle of killers, shooting with wide-angle lens”.

Violent image was not received well by the American newspaper editors when AP distributed it. South African police was even less amused. They approached AP’s Johannesburg bureau to ask the photographer to surrender his pictures so that they could identify the killers. Marinovich thought this was unfair: earlier, the police did not request his Nancefield Hostel pictures where the perpetrators had been their Inkatha allies.

Marinovich didn’t want to hand in his other negatives from Tshabalala murder, and fortunately for him, the police were unable to locate and subpoena one Sebastian Balic, the pseudonym Marinovich used for his photographs. He fled South Africa before further subpoenas could arrive.

The white establishment viewed the unfolding violence as an vindication of its predictions that the ANC would not be able to govern South Africa. But violence or not, Apartheid was dying. In 1992, the Boipatong massacre derailed the negotiations briefly, but they resumed, and South Africa slowly crawled back from pariah-hood. In the same year, it was permitted to compete in the Olympics following the repeal of all Apartheid laws the previous year. In 1993, it announced that it had permanently halted its nuclear program, whose very existence once denied vehemently. F.W. de Klerk and Mandela shared a Nobel peace prize in 1994, shortly before the all-race elections formally ended four-decade long apartheid.


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0 thoughts on “Lindsaye Tshabalala’s Fiery Death, 1990

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