South Africa is by all accounts the world’s richest country in terms of the value of its mineral resources. In 2010 these were valued at $2.5–$4.5 trillion.
Mining is a lucrative business opportunity right now. The demand for commodities for the growing economies of China, India and Brazil is high. Even recession-hit Europe needs coal to feed its power stations and platinum for its auto industries.
The South African government has endorsed the sentiment of the captains of industry that we cannot miss out a second time on the commodities super-cycle. As announced by President Zuma in his State of the Nation address at the beginning of the year, the government has a concerted strategy of dramatically intensifying mining operations combined with a huge infrastructure investment programme to overcome blockages in getting the mineral wealth to overseas markets.
We plan to develop and integrate rail, road and water infrastructure, centred around two main areas in Limpopo: the Waterberg in the Western part of the province and Steelpoort in the eastern part. These efforts are intended to unlock the enormous mineral belt of coal, platinum, palladium, chrome and other minerals, in order to facilitate increased mining as well as stepped-up beneficiation of minerals. (President Zuma, State of the Nation Address, February 2012)
While the big mines that have dominated the South African economy will reap the major dividends of the expected windfall from mining, the new and wannabe elites circle like vultures.
What they lack in financial capital to take advantage of the mining rush they make up for in political capital. Using the discourse of the developmental state they ensure state intervention in new mining capital formation. These are not close allies of the top leadership of the ruling ANC: these are the top leaders of the ANC themselves, as well as civil servants at all levels and managers of state enterprises. Documents in our possession point to trusts and foundations related to the President and other leading members of the ANC that are positioning themselves to benefit from the new ‘gold rush’.
In 20 years’ time a new class fraction of mining capitalists will have emerged and the South African state will have been the instrument of its creation. But as with all new capitalist class formations, it is accompanied by the features of primitive accumulation so graphically described by Marx and Engels in their writings and modernised by David Harvey through the concept of accumulation by dispossession. But whether it is primitive accumulation or accumulation by dispossession, the state remains the critical instrument for capital.
These methods depend in part on brute force, e.g. the colonial system. But they all employ the power of the State, the concentrated and organised force of society, to hasten, hot-house fashion, the process of transformation of the feudal mode of production into the capitalist mode, and to shorten the transition. Force is the midwife of every old society pregnant with a new one. It is itself an economic power. (Karl Marx, Capital, Volume 1, Chapter 31: Genesis of the industrial capitalist)
The Marikana-Lonmin massacre has no meaning outside of the state alliance. Nothing and no-one should stand in the way of extracting the underground wealth and getting it to our ports. The interests of the mine owners and the state combine. The state needs the revenue from mining as much as the bosses need the profit. And increasingly, state personnel are themselves invested in profiting from mining. So communities are being displaced, land, water and air poisoned and workers’ super-exploited through the legalese of third-party contracts. Labour relations are friendly, mining and local union bosses can eat together and even socialise so long as the unions play along and ensure compliance. Resistance, as at Marikana, Implats and in the Mpumalanga coal collieries, is crushed. That is the meaning of the comment by North-West’s Police Commissioner, Lieutenant-General Zukiswa Mbombo, that Thursday 16 August was D-day for the Lonmin miners.
Starting with this issue, Amandla! will analysing this new mining rush on a regular basis. We focus on its impact as seen through the eyes of those most affected, namely workers and poor communities. A major concern will be the environment and the zero-sum game that is being played out at this level. Talk of a green economy is just that. The action is dirty mining, dirty energy. The minerals energy complex that has been so destructive for our economy and people has just been re-enforced and it drips with blood!
If money, according to Augier,  “comes into the world with a congenital blood-stain on one cheek,” capital comes dripping from head to foot, from every pore, with blood and dirt. (Karl Marx, Capital, Volume 1, Chapter 31: Genesis of the industrial capitalist)