On Radio786 in Cape Town from 9:30-10:30pm tonight, Ashraf was the interviewer, and to open, David van Wyk of Bench Mark Foundation (church-backed research group) did a terrific job setting out the extent of the crisis, including the social and labour plans which were never discussed with communities and workers.
The first input by Presidential Spokesperson Mac Maharaj was (and I’m typing fast so will make a few minor mistakes): “The first question is the state of the industry. It cannot be examined separately from the transformation of the economy that we need. But the Constitution has mechanisms for industrial disputes to be resolved. The President today addressed the Marikana workers and said that. The immediate task facing us, is how to ensure that this violence doesn’t happen again. It is unreasonable for people to die. That’s the real problem. I accept that the conditions – the shantytowns sprouting around the country – mean that we have challenges in meeting housing, water and sewage requirements. It’s a serious problem. The terms of reference for the Inquiry will be released. With the particular emphasis on how things degenerate into violence.”
Patrick: harsh critique of the police, using the most recent info about Lonmin’s demand for an end to the strike and the ‘D-Day’ announcement that preceded the slaughter.
Mac: “Let me react to Patrick. This is precisely why we need a commission of inquiry. If matters are as easy as Patrick says, then we don’t need a commission. We do need the facts, instead of using highly emotive language, words like fascist police. I don’t mind that criticism. But Patrick would agree, the first thing to do is have a commission of inquiry. Instead, Patrick thinks he can watch video clips and can come to a conclusion. This is just trying to stoke up emotions, instead of putting the facts on the table.”
Patrick: tough rebuttal
Mac: “This is the challenge of leadership. If anyone has information we must put it before that commission of inquiry. The workers listened to Zuma today without any disruption and he took leave of them and walked away. And he gave assistance to families, burials, etc., including counseling. Secondly we’re having a commission of inquiry to see what is the problem and how to prevent it.”
Ashraf: People are not going to wait for some inquiry. It does remind of the days before 1994.
David: On the day of the massacre, Bishop Joe Seoka went to the workers and spoke to them, and came away with demands, and they asked whether he could speak to management. He went to management and they rebuffed him. He went back to where the workers were. The police said he couldn’t visit. Then the shooting began.
Mac: “Please pause there. A week before, ten people were killed.”
David: “Yes, and three workers were shot at Aquarius by security guards, and 12 others wounded. The problem with the spiral of violence is that no one wanted to listen. To illustrate, mine management has been intransigent about forcing workers back to work, ignoring the need for burial.”
Mac: “Let that information be put to the commission. Let the truth come out. Rather than each of us taking our perspectives.”
David: What worries us is that we were concerned about the platinum belt in 2007. The mining companies brushed us off. We had little feedback from the government. This time we released the report, on August 14, and now we want to see the Human Rights Commission getting involved.
Mac: “You want a separate inquiry?:
David: I’m not contesting that commission.
Patrick: I am, because government is in bed with the mining houses, so a separate commission of inquiry has been launched today in civil society.
Mac: “You don’t think the South African government has legitimacy?”
Patrick: No, not in this instance. The record of being in bed with big business is overwhelming.
David: The reason people are seething on the ground is that no one wants to listen to them. It’s a spiral of uprisings in that area since last August when the Marikana community stopped operations for two weeks. It spread and spread. Some mines met with communities, but only after their operations were roadblocked. These things don’t need to happen, if there’s a channel of communication. There’s a breakdown of information. The communities see these huge operations making billions.
Mac: “The commission isn’t the only important response but it’s the way to say what happened. We have six days of mourning in which the government says, let us reflect on how to rid the society of violence. It is unnecessary for disputes to lead to deaths. What I find alarming is that Patrick Bond is insulting to me. I don’t mind the labeling but he’s playing a blame game. He’s ended up in a position where he is developing his own agenda, saying we’re a sell out. Zuma went there today. We need to have a listening mechanism. SA can take this tragedy and turn this into an opportunity – not into a no-solution state which Patrick Bond advocates.”
Ashraf: Isn’t this a failure of democracy?
Mac: “You can argue that no live ammunition can be there but let that be left to the commission. Let the truth come out.”
Mac’s line then went dead. It did twice more.
David explored more of the Marikana massacre, and noted the potential for more explosions. The entire mining industry should be investigated.
I agreed that this was why SA suffered a Resource Curse, stretching into all areas of society, ecology, politics and economics.
Mac just got back on line.
Ashraf asked him to reply to the need for a much broader mandate, to look at mining as a whole.
Mac: “It’s inherent in the democracy that we debate, including the views of Patrick Bond, and that these views should be put into the democracy, and tested in the electorate. In the meantime that will not affect our immediate need to address the problem. I’m also concerned with David’s position. He would like civil society to be involved and widen the debate, so it becomes industry-wide issues. Those issues belong to the debate around economic policy. We have to address this within the scope of existing laws so that the complex of interests can be addressed. I’m not here defending the police or the protesters. We need the facts and truths to come out. We need to move forward and I’m disturbed by David’s suggestion that the judicial inquiry will not be adequate. Two of the 2500 workers Zuma met spoke today. Are we listeneing to them or to someone sitting in the boardroom of the University of Natal? Patrick Bond attacks my integrity. I have heard no other proposals. A few days from now we should have the terms of reference and composition.”
Ashraf: The proposal is that the Commission must be broad enough to incorporate a human rights approach, not limited to a particular mine.
Mac: “I’m hearing that for the first time. I’m not seeing any representation sent to the president. He will be appointing a commission based on the need to move forward.”
Ashraf: Can terms of reference be broadened?
Mac: “I don’t know, the President is working on these. It will be a judicial commission of inquiry. I hear from David mistrust of that. The responsibility sits within the presidency. If David has an input to make, he knows where to send it.”
David: Our first study in 2007 was circulated to all government agencies. Since that report, there were many killings, and Moss Phakoe was killed after compiling a portfolio of corruption allegations. Mac is correct that we need to solve violence. We have left the situation to boil and it is out of control, for too long. The signs have been there that it would explode. The launch of the second report on 14 August was attended by some agencies. Our role is to open the way for dialogue. The mines are polluting our air, our rivers and our democracy. The corporate capture extends to NGOs, governments, politicians, etc and the mining houses are running rings around government. About 80 mining houses didn’t have water licenses last year. There are lots of irregularities in the industry, like the acid in the Carolina water.”
I spoke more about resistance, including the inspiring meetings in South Durban against petro-chem, freight and shipping – and the need to transcend reliance and vulnerability associated with extractive industries.
Ashraf got Mac back on line: what about mining houses avoiding regulation?
Mac: “I think there is a genuine problem, it has been there on the table, and there are efforts to put it on the table and find solutions. No one can expect the building of our society can be without bottlenecks. These are what we inherited. To hold the mining companies to account is very difficult. There are real problems and we need to be dispassionate, and abide by the rules of democracy to put our views before the electorate. How do we move forward and restructure our economy?”
Ashraf: Will the public be able to give input?
Mac: “I don’t know. What we know is that it will be a judicial inquiry with the powers of subpoena. It’s a question of ensuring that people with information can give that. I don’t know the terms of reference.”
David: The mining houses shouldn’t use their power to swamp the inquiry with loads and loads of technical documents. We live in a class society and corporations are very powerful, more than poor people who are semi-literate. The other issue I’m worried about is the police marking off the area, and bodies were being dragged out from the scene of the crime. These are worrying factors. This has been a wake-up call for all of us. I’m glad to hear Mac agrees with that.
Ashraf: what other options to people have?
Mac: “The Commission will bring out what happened and who did what. There are enough opportunities to lay charges and prosecute people. I called this morning to ask the IPID spokesperson to find out and they said the scene was secured and not disturbed. A class action may be pursued against mining houses. How do we avoid protest degenerating into violence?”
I made some points about disunity associated with the current wave of resistances by poor and working people.
David: All should have recourse to the law but we’re in a class society and the communities cannot afford money to run a court case. The mining houses drag it out until the communities cannot sustain it. When that happens, that’s when things get out of hand.
That was about an hour of chit-chat. Summary: Mac had a say-nothing approach he came back to time and time again, as would any skilled spin-doctor. No amount of needling would draw him into an engagement with the broader problems of the ANC’s utter corruption and the absurd power of mining capital. Oh well, no surprise.