The groundWork team
Almost a week after the Marikana Massacre and in the midst of a week of mourning for those who were tragically killed at the Lonmin mine, the groundWork team sends their condolences to the families of the deceased and reflects on what this series of events means for South Africa.
The absurd nature of South Africa’s democracy has been exposed by the brutal deaths of the 42 workers and 2 South African Police Service members at Marikana. May we never forget the painful events that culminated in the Marikana Massacre on 16 August. These events cannot be seen in isolation as Lonmin’s continual search for greater profits at the expense of workers, and the worker struggles there, but rather in the context of a failed democracy and crumbling state, whose interest is tied up in protecting the wealth of the elite by using the Property Right (Section 25) in our Bill of Rights, rather than supporting the poor and responding to their call for the ANC’s promised ‘better life for all’.
As groundWork has said from 1999, the state together with corporate capital is failing the nation. We in South Africa are in the middle of the perfect crisis, the elite crisis: the crisis of imperial capitalism, the crisis of energy resource depletion, and the environmental crisis. This is amplified by the nexus between the political elite and corporate power. The deaths of those in Marikana, have given us a graphic depiction of the crisis of capital. Simply put, the workers were demanding more for toiling in the bowels of mother earth, and they were prepared to change alliances for this. And this, the ruling class could not contend with.
The African National Congress (ANC) had its back against the wall. It could not allow the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), which is one of its strongest Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) partners, to lose workers to a rival union, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU). This could mean that the workers and their families might not vote for the ANC in the next election. So it had to back NUM to ensure that AMCU was not successfully organising. AMCU was raising worker issues no doubt because NUM was not serving their needs – better working conditions and remuneration.
Even General Secretary of Cosatu Zwelinzima Vavi admits that there might be problems. The Mail and Guardian reports that Vavi: ‘admitted that Cosatu’s preoccupation with ANC politics is resulting in a growing distance between union leaders and its membership’. Generally speaking, this then translates into workers never being allowed to demand too much from capital – if they do the state must manage this demand. The ANC had to do it in this instance because they also had to protect vested corporate interests in the mining sector that many individuals in the ANC, and even the Chancellor House (the ANC’s investment arm) holds. The ANC could manage NUM; NUM managed the workers and ensured that demands never threatened corporate profits. But when the rival union arrived, workers could not be managed anymore.
The deaths of the first 10 in Marikana should have brought the nation to a halt – and we should have all asked what was going on. Critically, President Zuma should have intervened; after all he has been touted as the ‘people’s president’ after the stiff upper lip nature of Mbeki. But he did not. He failed us by leaving the country at a critical point in time. We are waiting for guidance. We are waiting for our President to address the nation directly. But what is needed is not another commission of enquiry that will hold the truth back for many years, but rather direct action against the Minister of Safety and Security and the Presidency for allowing this process to get to this stage.
For the workers at Lonmin and the hundreds of thousand other miners throughout South Africa, there is no democracy in the long hours they have to work, the poor wages they have to be content with, the work related illnesses they have to endure, the high HIV rates that ravage the community, the shacks they have to live in, the lack of services they have to endure, and the broken social fabric of their families because of migrant labour. For 18 years they have been asking for a better life for all and for a meaningful democracy promised by the ANC. But all they have been given is the blood of their fellow workers spilt and the deaths of their comrades.
Whose rights are the state going to deliver on? Those that own ‘property’ or those that die daily for they do not have ‘property’ and access to the basics of life: fair and safe employment, basic services and nutrition and a clean environment so that our children realise their potential to compete at the Olympics, rather than share their lives with an asthma pump – if they can afford one.
We cannot continue blaming the victims and the workers for the crumbling democracy that allows people to be shot dead because they seek a better life.
S. (Bobby) Peek
groundWork, Friends of the Earth, South Africa
P.O. Box 2375
Tel: +27 (0) 33 342 5662
Fax: +27 (0) 33 342 5665
Cell: +27 (0) 82 464 1383