AS IS always the case under these circumstances, there is no shortage of explanations — “scientific”, “academic” or otherwise — for the conflict that led to the deaths of 44 people at the Lonmin platinum mine in Marikana, in North West.
Given the plethora of pet theories, mine included, about what happened, I welcome the decision of President Jacob Zuma — despite his tardiness when it came to his return from his Southern African Development Community mediation responsibilities — to institute an inquiry in the hope that the high-level investigation will both rely on and look beyond these pet theories. This must happen because not one of the explanations we have heard so far will, on its own, suffice to tell us why so many men, miners and police officers, died in Marikana.
If anything, the deaths of so many people during a work-related dispute, in so violent and gruesome a manner, should send a strong message to the leadership and membership of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) and the African National Congress (ANC), as they prepare for their respective elective congresses in September and December, that these congresses should not be about leadership contests and personal interests. Cosatu and the ANC, the ruling party of this country in particular, must bear in mind that the miners of Marikana died because, among other things, there is still a disjuncture between the amount of wealth beneath our soil and the lived reality of too many South Africans.
In turn, those of us who come to economic, political and social debates armed only with a shareholder’s perspective must remember that no matter how they arrange the facts to suit their argument, these preferred arrangements are not going to change this lived reality.
And the reception that Julius Malema received in Marikana on Saturday suggests that his views on mine nationalisation still resonate with those who regard themselves as the manifestation of the gap between mineral wealth and their socioeconomic conditions. Despite this, politicians must stand side by side with the people of Marikana without exploiting their pain in pursuit of narrow political gains.
The same goes for the leadership of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu), to the extent that the NUM is alleging that Amcu was formed by the Chamber of Mines to weaken it, and Amcu insists that the miners were massacred by the police, NUM and Lonmin — the dead bodies of Marikana must not become the platform from which leaders of the two opposing unions launch attacks on one another.
But the rest of us need to be more cognisant than ever of the fact that the grass in our country is very dry and is, therefore, very fertile ground for social, political and economic veld fires. What happened in Marikana happened in a country that is suffering from the three plagues of inequality, poverty and unemployment. Therefore, Marikana is about our political culture, relations in the workplace and our history of dispossession. It is about power and powerlessness and how, even within the powerless, some can rise to a position of power and dominance over others. However, it is the means by which, in the context of Marikana, some sought to exercise their power over others that concerns me.
It also concerns me that, because we do not see others in terms that are as human as the way in which we see ourselves and those like us, we seek to remove that which is unlike our desires and interests. It is for this reason that a few weeks ago I asked whether it matters, or matters not, that we murder by the gun, pen or word. This question I asked because I am convinced that unless we work towards a social and political culture that embraces another, and the dissenting views of another, there will be other Marikanas, because when it comes to dealing with difference, the line between the word, panga and bullet may, with disastrous consequences, disappear completely.
This we must do to honour the dead and living of Marikana.
Matshiqi is a research fellow at the Helen Suzman Foundation.
20 August 2012