On August 16 the Marikana massacre brought to the fore two forms of violence present in the everyday lives of workers.
Workers in South Africa live in a violent world. This is not exceptional; it is inherent to the general condition of capitalism, which Karl Marx described as “drenched in blood and dirt”.
On August 16 the Marikana massacre brought to the fore two forms of violence present in the everyday lives of workers. The first is an asymmetric violence expressed through the coercive capacity of the state: the hi-tech and militarised fire power of the police force. The second, less visible but shaping the lives of the workers, is the structural violence of financialised capitalism.
It is a violence that works by creating a society based on super-exploitation and disciplined work. The trend of superprofits for South Africa’s platinum mines, despite short-term fluctuations in prices, is simply an act of violence aimed at producing impoverished and degraded human life. This violence is supported by the South African state as it manages a neoliberal economy.
In this context, the Marikana massacre is a defining moment in post-apartheid South Africa. It calls into question the meaning of core tenets of national liberation ideology, such as “working-class leadership” and “working-class bias” in the “national democratic revolution”. The murder of workers by the ANC state renders hollow and hypocritical these ideological props.
After Marikana, working-class support and commitment to the ANC and its monopoly of power is unhinged. The memorialising of Marikana (like that of Andries Tatane) at the grassroots, as a massacre of workers by the ANC state, is here to stay in working-class consciousness. The Marikana moment is defined by this rupture, which poses a challenge to ANC rule and electoral support.
Will Julius Malema save the ANC by preventing post-Marikana working-class realignments away from the ANC? This question requires an understanding of Malema as a populist phenomenon, scripted and performed by Malema, but also constituted in our public sphere by the media. The Malema phenomenon has related to the massacre with brazen opportunism, which is shared by the media as it helps to construct this phenomenon.
After August 16, Malema’s populist politics is diffused through the media into our national conversation as a cleavage in the ANC-led alliance, confirming the media’s use of the Malema phenomenon as a divisive force – and as a profit-making news commodity.
The media-supported Malema phenomenon has limited choices outside the ANC. The Congress of the People experience highlights the limits of building an alternative to the ANC in the mould of the ANC; it is not a given that the working class has an appetite for another dead end.
Moreover, Malema’s populism is not anchored in a genuine working-class politics, despite his rhetoric about nationalisation. Malema’s agenda is to follow flash points in the mining sector merely to mobilise against the Jacob Zuma faction in the ANC. He is trying to churn up a wave of working-class discontent that he can use to re-enter the ANC; his assumption is that the working class wants to be inside the ANC. Yet, post-Marikana, the “war of position” of independent working-class politics is outside the ANC-led alliance and it is likely Malema will be used by the working class rather than its being used by him.
The blind spot in this fluid Marikana moment is the convergences taking place in progressive civil society through the emergent Campaign for Solidarity with Marikana. It is happening for the first time since the 1980s and is bringing together a wide array of social forces. Such forces are working in dialogue with the Marikana workers and community and through democratic internal practice.
The Democratic Left Front is a crucial non-vanguardist actor in this emergent campaign to build principled solidarity with the Marikana workers. Inadvertently, the Marikana moment is also strengthening the tide for a post-national ¬liberation and post-neoliberal politics in South Africa.
Vishwas Satgar is a senior lecturer at Wits University and a member of the national convening committee of the Democratic Left Front
07 SEP 2012