First 34 mineworkers are killed, many, it would seem from new investigations, murdered in cold blood. And then, in a bizarre twist, survivors of the massacre are arrested and charged with killing their comrades.
This is an outrage!
A political turning point? No event since the end of Apartheid sums up the shallowness of the transformation in this country like the Marikana massacre. What occurred will be debated for years. It is already clear that the mineworkers will be blamed for being violent and will be painted as savages.
We are told by those in authority not to point fingers. But the fact is that heavily armed police with live ammunition brutally shot and killed over 34 mineworkers. Many more were injured.
Do not point fingers – yet more than 270 mineworkers have been arrested and charged with murdering their comrades.
This was not the action of rogue cops. This massacre was a result of decisions taken at the top of the police structures. The police promised to respond with force and came armed with live ammunition. They behaved no better than the apartheid police did when facing the Sharpeville and 1976 Soweto uprisings and the 1980s protests, where many of our people were killed.
And now the National Prosecuting Authority apes the apartheid judiciary by charging the victims with murder, using apartheid’s ‘common purpose’ doctrine.
How outrageous! What is happening in our country? Marikana/Lonmin, in one burst of deadly bullets, has exposed the unsustainability of elite compacting.
This compacting rests on South Africa’s extreme inequality and brings together big mining-finance capital, BEE financialised capital, a petty-bourgeois nationalist movement and a labour bureaucracy under the umbrella of the Alliance and exercising power through a neoliberal state.
Many commentators have remarked that the massacre marks a turning point in post-apartheid politics. Is it just wishful thinking by forces and commentators not aligned with the Alliance? The national and international outrage about what has happened suggests that no commission of enquiry, no government memorial service, no Ramaphosa funeral money or Lonmin education bursaries for children of the dead will re-establish the postapartheid social compact of the ‘old’ new
South Africa. A new period of political realignment and political formation is likely to be opened up. God help us if it does not.
The immediate crisis will recede. However, as the old nursery rhyme goes, ‘All the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put Humpty Dumpty together again’.
The context for such a realignment is the awareness and concern of a large number of people in a dysfunctional state that is unable to deliver basic services, ridden by corruption and run by an elite increasingly blinded by greed to just how out of touch they are with the reality of the majority of South Africans. There are many ‘let-them-eat-cake’ moments in South Africa.
It is not clear how the different (often internecine) forces in the Alliance will respond to the Marikana massacre. Will they close ranks? Can they do so, or have things gone too far? After all, this is the time when all the major components of the Alliance will hold elective conferences. These will not be easy to manage, except at the expense of democracy.
However, it is not just within the ANC that divisions exist. Growing tensions have emerged within COSATU. These revolve around some of Cosatu’s biggest affiliates. At the heart of these divisions are not personalities but the soul and independence of Cosatu. Radical unions are fighting for Cosatu to take a militant, independent working-class position (not necessarily breaking the Alliance), while others believe it must be supportive of the mainstream of the ANC, if not the government.
Equally significant is a growing struggle against the bureaucratization of the union movement, which may be responsible for some of the creeping conservatism that is emerging in the Federation. Wages and other perks separate large parts of the union leadership from members by the proverbial mile. This has been forcefully brought to the fore by the Lonmin strike and the collapse of NUM membership at several platinum mines.
Of course, underlining these political developments is extreme inequality and a dysfunctional state that is not able to ensure even the distribution of textbooks to schools, let alone run the criminal justice system effectively.
The South African state, one of the most energy-intensive economies in the world, has embarked on an infrastructure investment programme aimed at intensifying the extraction of mineral wealth and exporting this as a buffer against the impact of the world economic crisis. This is not egged on only by the business press but is championed by ascendant class forces with strong political links within the ANC, with no regard for the environmental consequences.
Already the state faces a massive water crisis made worse by acid mine drainage. The commissioning of Medupi and Kusile, as well as the recommissioning of retired coal-fired power plants, will substantially enhance South Africa’s profile as one of the biggest emitters of greenhouse gasses in the world. Feeding the voracious coal needs of our electricity-generation plants will also lead to much higher greenhouse gas pollution and place great pressure on scarce water resources. However, the possibility of accumulation and the race to be integrated into the mine-barons’ club will trump any and all environmental concerns.
Fracking of shale gas is also likely since our Minister of Mineral Resources regards extracting the underground shale gas as a ‘God-given right’, supposedly greater in monetary value than God’s other great gift, fresh clean water, which is not abundant in sunny SA. For the sake of workers, our economy and environment, let Marikana be a wake-up call. Let our horror at what has happened and is happening initiate new, strategic, political thinking in our country. Our dilemma was brought home forcefully by the recent death of Neville Alexander, a powerful intellectual, political strategist and thinker. From his release from Robben Island in 1974 he devoted his life to uniting progressive and revolutionary forces in our struggle for freedom as a first step towards making socialist politics hegemonic in the mass movement.
The Marikana massacre should inspire similar initiatives. Alexander often warned (in a slightly different context) of the dangers to our revolution if we did not change tact. The Left must unite to be an effective voice and to offer an alternative to what is happening.
Now is the time to heed his prophetic words.
The views expressed in the articles do not necessarily reflect those of the Alternative
Information & Development Centre, or the Amandla! Editorial Collective.