Violence is in SA's blood
My first encounter with political activity was a shooting. I was then what is today known as a Grade 1 pupil.
A group of older pupils from the neighbourhood were marching for better education when the police opened fire on them.
Barely six years later, I was to witness a political killing for the first time.
It was the killing of a rotund, elderly man whose frightened face I can never forget.
He had been part of a group of heavily armed men who entered the township to crush yet another student boycott.
But the pupils, who were also armed, fought back, forcing the men to flee.
The obese man, unable to run fast enough to keep up with his group, soon found himself surrounded by a mob of angry youths. They stoned him. Once he had fallen, they stabbed him several times.
Finally, they put a car tyre around his neck, doused him with petrol and set him alight.
That day, 12 others were "necklaced" in the township.
As we mourn those killed in the massacre at Marikana mine last week, it is time we take stock of our shameful history of violence.
We have to reflect on our long history of conflict to understand why our society is so prone to violence - especially during protests and labour strikes.
Too many service delivery protests result in the unnecessary destruction of both public and private property.
Too often, student protests over financial exclusions end up with campuses being trashed and non-striking students and lecturers being attacked.
We have also had too many labour disputes during which lives have been lost just because others exercised their constitutional right not to join in the strike.
Protests and labour disputes occur in many countries across the world, but rarely do they lead to the kind of violence to which we are slowly becoming accustomed here on the southern tip of Africa.
Even where such protests degenerate into riots, as happened in England a year ago, seldom do they result in as many deaths as the ones suffered during the Marikana tragedy.
The police's handling of the situation on that fateful Thursday, when 34 striking mineworkers were mowed down, is soon to be the subject of a judicial commission of inquiry appointed by President Jacob Zuma.
However, it is quite clear that something has gone seriously wrong with the way police officers conduct themselves - particularly when it comes to restoring order amid public protests.
Judging by the brutal manner in which police have handled several protests, especially over the past three years, the massacre was a tragedy waiting to happen.
The police are simply underequipped to handle such situations.
Much has been said about the similarities between the tragedy of Marikana and the 1960 Sharpeville massacre in which 69 protesters were killed by apartheid police.
But there are also major differences between the two tragedies.
Chief among these is the fact that Sharpeville was an act of brutal repression by an illegitimate regime against unarmed and defenceless people.
The Marikana police shooting, by contrast, happened after a week of violence in which 10 people - two of them policemen - had been killed by striking workers.
But just as Sharpeville marked a turning point in the struggle against minority rule, Marikana should mark a break with our history of violence.
Following the Sharpeville massacre, organisations representing the African majority concluded that it was no longer possible to engage with the Nationalist Party government through peaceful means.
They abandoned most forms of peaceful protest and adopted armed action as the main means to resolve the South African conflict.
This approach, and the state's repressive reaction to it, led to the further militarisation of our society.
Long after the demise of apartheid, signs of this militarisation are still evident.
Dangerously large sections of our society are still convinced that one can get one's point of view heard by those in power - whether they are in government or the private sector - only through violence and intimidation.
It is that kind of mentality that encouraged many among the strikers in Marikana to arm themselves to the teeth, employ the services of a sangoma whose muti is required ahead of a physical battle, and kill colleagues who refused to participate.
Marikana should jolt all of us to start a long-overdue conversation about how to do away with violent forms of protest.
While violent protest may have been necessary during apartheid , we must return to disciplined and peaceful protests that are recognised by the supreme law of the land.