The August 16 police massacre of strikers at the Marikana platinum mine in South Africa has shocked the world, recalling Sharpeville 1960. This article analyzes the dramatic class polarization in contemporary South Africa, with a new “Black Economic Elite” forming alongside an older capitalist class rooted in white rule under colonialism and apartheid – Editors
[Originally appeared in Abahlali baseMjondolo, website of the Durban Shack Dwellers’ Movement (South Africa)]
Mining has been central to the history of repression in South Africa. Mining made Sandton to be Sandton and the Bantustans of the Eastern Cape to be the desolate places that they still are. Mining in South Africa also made the elites in England rich by exploiting workers in South Africa. You cannot understand why the rural Eastern Cape is poor without understanding why Sandton and the City of London are rich.
Mining has been in the news in South Africa recently. [Former ANC Youth Leader Julius] Malema, a corrupt and authoritarian demagogue who represents a faction of the BEE [Black Economic Empowerment] elite, has been demanding nationalisation. Progressive forces inside and outside of the alliance oppose Malema because he represents the most predatory faction of the elite and is looking for a massive bail out for his friends who own unprofitable mines. What we stand for is the socialisation, under workers’ control, of the mines. We also stand for reparations for the hundred years of exploitation.
Things are starting to change but not for the better. Khulubuse Zuma, the president’s nephew and Zondwa Mandela, the former president’s grandchild, and many others with close family ties to politicians have become mining tycoons overnight. China has joined the bandwagon as well, plundering our resources.
Frans Baleni, the General of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) earns R105 000 [S12,600] a month. NUM has become a route into high office in government and even to places on the boards of the mining companies. The union is rapidly losing all credibility on the mines. It is clear that it is now co-opted into the system and is part of the structures of control. It is the police that take NUM to address the workers. Baleni’s betrayal of the workers has made him a very rich man – a rich man who condemns and tries to suppress the struggles of the poor. It is no surprise that workers are rejecting NUM, trying to build an alternative union or acting on their own without any union representing them. The workers are right to chase the NUM leaders away from their strikes.
The Marikana Mine is the richest platinum mine in the world and yet its workers live in shacks. Most of the slain workers are rock drillers, the most difficult and dangerous work in the mine. They do the most dangerous work in the mine and yet they earn only R4 000 [$480] a month. Through the blood and sweat in the mines they do not only produce wealth that is alienated from them, they also produce the fat cats, which wine and dine on naked bodies and call that sushi.
The workers who occupied the hill came from many places including Swaziland and Mozambique. But most of them came from the rural Eastern Cape, from the former Bantustans where people live their lives as a living death under the chiefs, without work, without land and without hope. Every Rand that they win back from the capitalists is another Rand coming to the poorest part of the country. The part of the country that has been most devastated by the mines over the last century. We celebrate every Rand that the workers have taken back from the capitalists and fully support their demand of a salary of R12 500 [$1500] a month. Will Baleni or Nzimande or Zuma accept R4 000 a month? If not why should anyone else?
The strikers see the NUM leaders as traitors. They delinked from the NUM because they saw that they needed to delink from the alliance of capitalists and tendepreners that run the ANC. The decision to delink was very courageous! We will have to delink in every sector if we are going to build a real movement for change.
Workers under the tripartite alliance are being sundered from socialism; they are only being encouraged to vote for the ruling party. Nothing is being done to fuse social consciousness in their struggle. They are encouraged to participate in sensational politics, the politics of who should lead and who should be removed. They are encouraged to see communities and workers that organise independently as their enemies.
It is easy to decide not to decide. It is much harder to make a decision pregnant with risk and promise. For miners to delink from the likes of Baleni and tripartite alliance was a courageous decision. They understand that courage is an important element of all struggles. They understand that there is no quick fix in the struggle for a just society, a society that will respect and uphold the rights of workers and nature, a society that will be ruled on the principle of each according to his needs. This society is based on each according to his political connections with the elite that has captured the ANC and its alliance partners.
If the strikers were protesting under the banner of the tripartite alliance they wouldn’t have been slaughtered. COSATU strikes have often been violent but their members are not shot like animals. In fact the campaigns to support Zuma in his rape and corruption trials were full of threats of violence and yet Zuma supporters were not gunned down.
Before the miners occupied the hill they made a vow that no bullet will deter them. They were willing to fight and die to get a fair share of the wealth of this mine for themselves and their families. What this demonstrates is that these were people who were aware of the risks that their decisions entailed, who thought about such risks carefully, guided by their conscience and concluded that they were willing to face the consequences that could arise.
Helen Keller’s words ring true “There is no such thing as a complete security, and if there was what fun would life be. Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success”. She adds “To keep our faces toward change and behave like free spirits in the presence of fate and adversity is strength undefeatable.”
The immense courage of the miners that gathered on Nkaneng hill was tremendous. They were prepared to take a real stand. They were prepared to face real risks. We do not see this courage amongst the left. In fact most of the left has abandoned real struggle in real communities for meetings and conferences and emails. The left has become something that NGOs run. It is about bussing poor black people into meetings that they have no control over and that are very far removed from the realities of our real struggles. It is about educating the poor and not about fighting with the poor. When real struggles happen in places like the shack settlements of Zakheleni, eTwatwa or Kennedy Road most of the left is not there. But when there is a big conference they are all there.
The ANC government has killed workers for demanding a salary increment from a notoriously exploitative and very, very rich company. The workers earn only R4000 per month doing the most dangerous work. The ANC president and cabinet ministers earn not less that R2 million [$240,000] per year. And on top of that there is corruption everywhere. Our politicians are part of the global elite. The lowest ANC deployee earns not less than R20 000 [$2400] excluding benefits.
The Marikana mine workers lived in shacks with their families. The president of the ANC has recently built a mansion in his homestead, a mansion that cost tax payers not less than R200 million [$24 million].
It is the ANC government that shoots and kills protesters when they are fighting for the assertion of their humanity. They recently killed Andries Tatane. They have killed at least 25 others on protests since 2000. If you are poor and black your life counts for nothing to the ANC.
What lesson can be learnt from the Marikana mine workers’ massacre? The ruthlessness of this government does not diminish but on contrary increases with the number of workers and unemployed who starve. They are criminalising our struggles and militarising their police. It is clear that anyone who organises outside of the ANC, in communities or in the workplace, will face serious and violent repression from the party and the police.
The NUM and the SACP [South African Communist Party] have made it very clear which side that they are on. By supporting the massacre and calling for further repression against the workers they have made it quite clear that they are on the side of the ruthless alliance between capital and the politicians. They have declared, very clearly, that they support the war on the poor. Their reactions to the massacre are a total disgrace. No credible left formation in South Africa or anywhere in the world can work with the NUM or SACP again. The decision of the miners at Marikana to delink from the corrupt and ruthless politics of the alliance has been vindicated.
Things will not get better but will get worse. When the elite’s power is threatened they will respond with more and more violence. War has been declared on the poor and on anyone organising outside of the control of the ANC. We are our own liberators. We must organise and continue to build outside the ANC. We must face the realities of the situation that we confront clearly and courageously. Many more of us will be jailed and killed in the years to come.
What they have done can never be forgotten nor forgiven.
Ayanda Kota is the spokesperson for the Unemployed People’s Movement in Grahamstown.