Category Archives: National Union of Mineworkers

Business Day: A template for Marikana was made in Ermelo a year ago

A template for Marikana was made in Ermelo a year ago

by David Bruce

IN JANUARY last year, the operational response services component of the South African Police Service (SAPS) was moved out of the “crime prevention” division and re-established as a full police division in its own right. The units that comprise the division are the Special Task Force, the National Intervention Unit, the Public Order Police and the Tactical Response Team.

In August, all of these units were part of the SAPS operation at Marikana. Continue reading

Daily Maverick: Marikana prequel: NUM and the murders that started it all

Please visit the Daily Maverick site to see the version of the article with a map and with hyperlinks.

Marikana prequel: NUM and the murders that started it all

by Jared Sacks

The coverage of the Marikana massacre seems to start with the mass killings of 16 August. But that’s not where, or how the violence started, and it wasn’t rivalry between unions, either. Rewind a few days and prepare for goosebumps: you’ll find a web of conspiracy around two murders which were not reported in the media and ended in no arrests, but scared the living daylights out of the workers before the weeks of horror started.

Because the Marikana Massacre marked a turning point in the history of our country, I went to the small mining town in the North West. I wanted to know what truly happened and what it meant for the future of our so-called democracy. I hoped my trip would enable me to answer some of the burning questions left obfuscated by media, government and civil society campaigns alike.

It seemed it would be difficult, if not impossible, to uncover the cause of the violence at a distance from Marikana because of the complete failure of most media outlets to ask the right questions of the right people. Professor Jane Duncan of Rhodes University has found that journalists rarely interviewed independent mineworkers or residents of Marikana, preferring to quote “official sources” such as unions, Lonmin or the police. Moreover, my experience of previous incidents of repression in South Africa had taught me that such sources are often unreliable, as they have a lot to lose by telling the truth.

Through my investigations I found that, contrary to many media reports, inter-union rivalry was not the immediate cause of the violence. In fact, a significant cause of the violence can be laid squarely on the National Union of Mineworkers and their murder of two of their own NUM members – which until 2 October remained unreported.

Meeting the community

After meeting a community member (whose family did not consist of direct employees of Lonmin) in Johannesburg, I spent a week at the end of September living in the massive Nkaneng shack settlement in the township of Wonderkop. Together, Nkaneng and Wonderkop dwarf Marikana itself, housing the vast majority of the area’s mineworkers. Yet almost all the roads there remain unpaved, and residents are forced to go all the way to the “city centre” for most of their needs. Geographically and socio-economically, Wonderkop is the bastard stepchild of the Marikana municipality, further marginalised by Lonmin, whose corporate social responsibility initiatives remain unnoticeable.

During my visit, I spoke to Lonmin workers who had participated in the strike and others who were not active strikers. I interviewed the wives and children of the miners and I also sat down with unemployed and self-employed residents who did not have family members working at Lonmin.

I began to piece together a more detailed and shocking timeline of the strike and how it eventually degenerated into the horrifying footage played out for the whole world to see.


Perhaps the most striking thing I heard repeatedly in Wonderkop was the near-complete hatred that all residents, regardless of their connection to the strike, had towards the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM).

I had assumed that within Wonderkop there would be a divide between supporters of NUM and those that had jumped ship to their smaller non-Cosatu affiliated rival, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU). I assumed there would at least be a significant minority of residents who blamed the strikers for instigating the killings and felt that NUM still remained a relevant and credible force among Lonmin workers.

And yet every single person that I spoke to, without fail, blamed NUM for starting the violence and reneging on its responsibility to represent the workers. This was the case even when people I interviewed expressed dislike for the strikers and their own subsequent acts of brutality. Almost everyone felt more hatred towards NUM than they did towards Lonmin, the police or even the Zuma administration.

Alternative timeline: how the strike began

On Wednesday 8 August, some rock drill operators (RDOs) from various Lonmin mines had a mass meeting demanding a significant salary increase. The NUM leaders present categorically refused to support the strike, despite the union’s stated mission to promote and represent the interests of its members. On the following day (Women’s Day – a holiday for the workers), thousands of RDOs from all Lonmin mines met at the Lonmin-owned football stadium, adjacent to the settlement, where they agreed to approach Lonmin management directly, as NUM was refusing to represent them.

According to Xolani*, an active striker from Lonmin’s Karee mine, RDOs “came together as workers, not as a union.” As the large majority of the workers at the assembly were NUM members, the AMCU was unrepresented at this meeting.

On the morning of Friday the 10th, workers assembled and marched to the offices of Lonmin management. David, a Lonmin mine geologist I interviewed (who was returning from work and was not then part of the strike), decided to join the striking RDOs to see what was going on. David told me that management refused to speak to the workers, who were assembled peacefully, and told them to go back to the NUM leadership.

Xolani and a few other participants in the march corroborated this. He explained that security had tried to stop the march and that after a long wait, the general manager of the mine came out and then went back in to fetch a NUM leader. After waiting for almost an hour, the NUM leader came out and reprimanded the workers, saying they would not get anything without going through the union.

As a result of Lonmin and NUM’s refusal to meet with the workers, more than 3,000 RDOs and other miners decided to go on strike and refused to clock in that evening. This was a wildcat strike organised directly by workers, without any union representation.

11 August: March on NUM

At approximately 07:00 on Saturday, workers, still primarily RDOs, decided to go to the main offices of NUM in Wonderkop and present union leadership with a memorandum. It is important to note that the NUM offices are also the offices of the ANC and SACP in Wonderkop. They are manned by the top five NUM branch leaders from all the Lonmin mines in Marikana. These leaders are senior to shop-stewards and are elected to their position by workers for a period of three years. Interestingly, David explained to me that they get their normal worker’s salary plus a huge bonus of R14,000 per month from Lonmin. They are therefore accountable to management. Both the NUM leaders and Lonmin are “happy with this arrangement”.

As strikers were by and large NUM members, they were naturally angry that their own union refused to listen to them. The memorandum demanded that NUM represent them in their call for a R12,500 minimum wage for all miners. NUM’s stated raison d’être is, after all, to be a democratic organisation that represents its members.

Julius, an RDO from Lesotho employed at Lonmin since 2008, explained that, as a NUM member, he was hoping the memorandum would convince union leaders of the significance of their wage demands.

Only a handful of AMCU members were present during that march, as many workers from the Karee mine, where AMCU already had a membership presence, was far away and not yet participating in significant numbers in the strike. Xolani, one of the few AMCU members present that day, said this protest was really a case of NUM members rebelling against their own leadership, not a case of inter-union rivalry.

The first murders, ‘a different account’

Once striking RDOs were about 100-150 metres away from the NUM office, eyewitnesses, both participants in the march and informal traders in and around a nearby taxi rank, reported without exception that “top five” NUM leaders and other shop stewards, between 15 and 20 in all, came out of the office and began shooting at the protesting strikers somewhere in the vicinity of the Wonderkop taxi rank.

Some strikers I interviewed claimed the NUM leaders first threw rocks at them before the shooting started. Others said they were attacked from two different angles of the taxi rank. There is also a discrepancy as to just how many guns were in the possession of the leadership that came out of the NUM office (reports range from between five and 15 firearms).

Despite those discrepancies, the strikers and other witnesses – without exception – claim NUM personnel shot at the protesters without warning or provocation. The miners were clearly ambushed by their union representatives. From that point on, the miners marching towards the NUM office, primarily NUM members, ran in many directions: back along the road in which they had come, through the nearby bond houses and through Lonmin-owned hostel properties. They later re-assembled at Lonmin’s football stadium, deciding there for the sake of safety to move to the nearby koppie, a small hilltop uniquely placed on public land between Wonderkop, Marikana and the various Lonmin mines. Protesters seem to have made no attempt to defend themselves, and there seem to have been no further clashes for the rest of the day.

John, a non-striking Lonmin worker, saw two bodies of strikers not far from the NUM office as he returned home from work. One was lying dead by the bus stop in the taxi rank, the other was just outside the workers’ hostel. The range of people I interviewed corroborated the location of the two dead bodies, but it was extremely difficult to confirm the names of the dead strikers as neither Lonmin nor the police have confirmed that any deaths occurred on the 11th. Neither have they released any substantive information about what happened on that day.

However, one person I interviewed provided me with the following new names not released by the Independent Police Investigative Directorate: S. Gwadidi from the Roeland Shaft and Tobias Tshivilika from New Mine Shaft. Both were reportedly RDOs and also NUM members.

I was not able to assess if these names were correct or if any other people were injured during this shooting on the 11 August.

Everyone I interviewed agreed on this general timeline of the murders: two deaths at the very beginning of the violence, followed by a subsequent eight deaths and a number of injuries during the following three days, from Sunday, 12 August until Tuesday, 14 August.

It started out as a peaceful strike

I wanted to find out when and why the workers began to arm themselves, and so asked a wide range of residents in Wonderkop why and when striking workers began carrying traditional items such as sticks, knobkerries and pangas.

The consensus, with one exception, was that the strikers went to their homes to fetch their traditional weapons on Saturday, 11 August, after the murder of two strikers. In the words of David, who was present at the march (but still not yet on strike himself), “people decided to arm themselves (after the first two murders) in self-defence”. Xolani and Julius support this assertion: they had nothing in their hands during the march.

Some women leaders from the South African National Civic Organisation (Sanco), a body aligned to the ANC, SACP and Cosatu, agreed that the miners only took up arms in self-defence after their members were murdered by NUM officials. Many of the informal traders and bystanders at the scene of the NUM shooting were hesitant to speak to me. Yet, after I assured them that they would remain anonymous, all, without exception, said the violence on that day came from the people working in the NUM office. When I asked some young men playing draughts who killed whom, they merely pointed in the direction of the NUM office, saying it was “them”. By all accounts the strikers were unarmed that morning when they marched to their own union office.


When I returned from my visit to Marikana, I began searching through all the mainstream and alternative media reports I could find. After reading hundreds of articles, I found none that mentioned the incident on the 11th. Until the Farlam Commission recently interviewed a worker about the events on that day, not a single media report had acknowledged that the first deaths occurred on the 11 August rather than on the 12th.

A single early South African Press Association story placed the first two shootings on the evening of 10 August. But that was all. That story contradicts other mainstream media reports and does not corroborate what people say on the ground. It seems most likely that the reporting is mistaken and those four people mentioned in the article were actually shot on the morning of the 11th during the march on NUM offices, and that two of them later died.

The only other possible explanations for the lack of reporting on the incident would be either (a) that the murders on the 11th did not take place at all, and that everyone I have interviewed were somehow lying or (b) there is some kind of cover-up of the murders of Mr. Gwadidi and Mr. Tshivilika – both unlikely conclusions.

All the other articles I’ve read have told a completely different story: that the first deaths occurred on Sunday, 12 August. These include two of the security guards in the daytime and two other miners in the evening (see for instance, articles: here, here, here, here, here and here.

It is as if no one outside Marikana knows that two people were murdered in broad daylight at the busy Wonderkop taxi rank. This is strange, except when one considers that no one in Wonderkop/Marikana has access to the media except for NUM, Lonmin and the South African Police Service (SAPS). The media, not present in Marikana until later in the week, were relying on these three official bodies for their entire investigation. Not a single community member or worker was actually interviewed during the first few days of the strike.

As Professor Jane Duncan’s analysis of the media coverage of the Marikana Massacre from 13 to 22 August has shown, only 3% of articles about the events included interviews with workers themselves rather than “official” institutions such as government, SAPS, Lonmin, NUM and AMCU. With one exception, journalists that did actually speak to workers were only interested in asking questions about muthi.

What this means is that no eyewitnesses were contacted by journalists and, when a few were eventually contacted (mostly after the 16 August) they focused primarily on the more recent massacre and overlooked the original cause of the violence.

Causes and responsibilities

Many analysts and academics with easy access to the elite public sphere place the root cause for the Lonmin strike and the subsequent violence on the deprivation and exploitation meted out each and every day on RDOs and other miners all over South Africa. Greg Marinovich’s recent interviews with Lonmin RDOs have done a lot to illuminate the lives and working conditions in the mines.

I found, however, that NUM’s actions, undemocratically refusing to represent its own workers and siding instead with Lonmin management in the wage dispute, were a significant contributor to the violence. Even more disturbing, NUM saw its own workers as enemies from within – an uneducated and unthinking mass to be controlled and managed rather than served.

This is why NUM leaders such as Frans Baleni think it is impossible for workers to organise themselves without a “third force” acting from behind the scenes. My interviews have shown quite clearly that workers were acting by and for themselves, regardless of union affiliation, in rebellion against their own union leadership. They were their own leaders.

The paranoid and delusional fear that NUM members were being “remote controlled” by outsiders set on “destroying the union” may have been what led its leadership at Lonmin to respond irrationally and violently to the striker’s peaceful march on the NUM office.

Police response

The police did nothing in response to the two deaths on 11 August. No one was arrested that day, nor was anyone interrogated. This was despite the fact that many strikers present during the murders assert they can identify at least some of their assailants. Xolani, for instance, named two of the shop stewards, one from the Training Centre and one from the fourth shaft in Wonderkop. Others pointed out the Lonmin “Top Five”, one of whom seems to have now been assassinated.

I asked David if he thought there might have been an alternative to the violence if the police had arrested the murderers on that fateful day. He replied, “I think it would be different if police had arrested NUM…if you don’t arrest anybody, then it seems like you are protecting them.”

Whether or not police could have uncovered the full story on that day, the act of doing nothing left workers with the perception that they were isolated. “Worker, you are on your own” could be their rephrasing of Bantu Steve Biko’s famous words. If one is standing unarmed and vulnerable against armoured vehicles, guns and the full might of the South African state, then, as workers may have put it when meeting on top of the now infamous koppie on the afternoon of 11 August: It’s time to get ready for war.

*Not his real name. Because of the recent spate of murders targeting NUM leaders in Marikana, the names of everyone interviewed for this article have been changed, though their real names are known to the author.

Truthout: The Marikana Massacre: A Turning Point for South Africa?

The Marikana Massacre: A Turning Point for South Africa?

by Nigel Gibson

It is true that labor produces for the rich wonderful things – but for the worker it produces privation. It produces palaces – but for the worker, hovels. It produces beauty – but for the worker, deformity.
-Marx, “Alienated Labor”

It’s better to die than to work for that shit. People are coming back here tomorrow. I am not going to stop striking. We are going to protest until we get what we want. They have said nothing to us. Police can try and kill us but we won’t move.
-Thandubuntu Simelane, Lonmin miner.

Sometimes an event occurs that lifts the veil on a society and exposes its naked reality for all to see. Such was the case on Wednesday, August 16, at Marikana near Rustenberg in the North West Province when heavily armed police opened fire on striking platinum miners, killing 34 workers and injuring 78 others who were on strike. Though there have been an increasing number of police murders and stories of cover-ups, of brutality and corruption over the past 18 years, nothing like this had happened since the African National Congress (ANC) took power in South Africa. It was a national shock. A tragedy that will not be assuaged by the crocodile tears and homilies from the political leaders.

The strike was led by rock drill operators who work a grueling job that drains the life out of you. They earn 4,000 Rand a month ($500) and demanded a three-fold wage increase. The strike was borne of anger and frustration against Lonmin, a privately owned London-based company, and the union, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), which seemed increasingly remote and disconnected to many rank-and-file workers. The strike began as a wildcat, only later to be supported by a smaller union and rival to the NUM, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU).(1)

The majority of the world’s platinum comes from South African mines and the Lonmin Marikana mine is one of its largest. It makes huge profits and pays its workers a pittance. As in Marx’s description above, the workers create riches and beauty for the rich and poverty for themselves. They produce palaces, but live in shacks next to the mine.

South Africa was built on mining, specifically on cheap African labor. This was true for the colonial period and the apartheid period and it remains true today; in other words, the ANC is the party of big capital (and some of its big names Cyril Ramaphosa, Khulubuse Zuma and Zondwa Mandela, are directly connected with the industry).(2) Today, just as they did in those earlier periods, the mining companies rely on subcontracted and migrant labor and recruit along ethnic lines to keep costs down and divisions among the workforce up. But a key element in post-apartheid labor management has been the NUM.

The NUM had been one of the most important and militant unions in the 1980s. During the late apartheid period, it frightened mine owners and multinational capital. But like other successful unions, it has become increasingly bureaucratic, exchanging connections to the everyday working-class reality of miners’ lives access to management. The union is changing. It is losing members like the rock drillers to another more militant union.

Asymmetrical Violence

While the politicians and union leaders are shedding crocodile tears for the dead miners, the striking miners are being criminalized and blamed for instigating the massacre. Over two hundred and fifty miners have been arrested and sickeningly charged by the national prosecuting authority with the murder of the 34 miners.(3) The miners are being blamed for starting the gun battle, while the authorities know full well that the miners were desperately trying to escape from rubber bullets and tear gas.(4)

Blaming the victims and criminalizing the miners is absolutely essential to dividing the incipient movement and an important tactic to dissipate support. Pundits have begun to talk about the culture of violence among the miners and moved into the realm of the old colonial trope of irrational tribal rituals, witchcraft and sorcery. Images of Africans with machetes and sticks are paraded as the justification for the police barrage, but also to recreate the idea of the miners as a backward and dangerous “other.” Occasionally, a report details the relentless rural poverty in the former Bophuthatswana Bantustan and focuses on industrial deaths, disease and the squalid living conditions which are the daily reality of a miners’ life. But it is the massacre which has brought this life into national consciousness.

Writing in the Mail and Guardian(5) Jay Naidoo, the former leader of COSATU, begins, “When I think of Marikana, I am reminded of Fanon.” I was expecting Naidoo to speak of postcolonial violence and the cynicism of the nationalist bourgeoisie, but instead he quotes from the conclusion to “The Wretched of the Earth”: “Come, then comrades; it would be as well to decide at once to change our ways.” It is a moral plea to his old comrades which, in the context of what he calls “spatial apartheid,” “brazen corruption,” “broken promises,” “criminal tenderpreneurs” and gross inequality, seems more than simply “a failure of leadership.” Naidoo has set down a challenge to many of his old comrades in the NUM, ANC, SACP and COSATU, who quickly accepted the police version of events, criticized the workers and even called for the arrest of AMCU leaders.(6) Is it not time to look elsewhere for leadership?

Historical Turning Points(7)

Now celebrated as public holidays, the Sharpeville demonstrations in 1960 and the Soweto revolt in 1976, that led to brutal massacres by the apartheid regime, were not led by (or even supported by) the ANC, but they introduced something quite new and militant into political consciousness. Likewise, the ANC was hostile to the historic Durban strikes of 1973 which were labeled “unofficial,” but heralded a new workers’ movement. These strikes were also part of the “Durban Moment” in South Africa with philosophical/practical discussions between the Black Consciousness leader Steve Biko and the philosopher/activist Rick Turner about what is meant to be radical.(8) The discussions gestured to the etymology of the word radical as “the root,” to which the young Marx had added, the root of “man” is the human being.(9) For Biko, the critique of European humanism – in the South African garb of white liberalism which ontologized the “white man” as normative – went hand in hand with a critique of black collaboration in apartheid’s Bantustans. For Turner, the idea of European humanism in South Africa as expressed in white liberalism (as a paternalist superiority toward others) and was an “ethical void” based on “material privilege.” To become full human beings, he added, whites had to give up those privileges and thus he called on students to work with the emergent union movement.

To a large degree, the ethical void still exists in South Africa because the structure of capitalism, based on land and mining, remains remarkably intact. Indeed, change since 1994 has simply been layered on top of this structure. Thus, Biko’s reflection on the choice facing South Africa, still echoes today: Either “an assimilation and acceptance of blacks into an already established set of norms and code of behavior set up by and maintained by whites” taken as given notions of progress and development, or the “free participation by all members of a society, catering for the full expression of the self in a freely changing society as determined by the will of the people.”

That South Africa traveled down the first path of integration is not simply expressed by the two worlds of rich and poor, but also by how the poor are ontologized (as criminal, irrational, lazy and so on). Seen as the threat to material privilege, they must be kept in their place (by violence when necessary). And thus, the utter bankruptcy of the former party of liberation is masked by an increasing fetish of control and reliance on security technology. The truth is, as the writer Njabulo Ndebele put it in an article on the massacre, “the tragedy at Marikana reflects the loss of the vision of liberation and the onset of repression.”(10) Historical turning points, in other words, are not always progressive.

Even during its liberation period, the ANC was never an openly democratic organization. It is Machiavellian, but also Manichean. As it incorporates and divides, it demonizes and demobilizes any opposition. The privileged politicians and the mass of people live in two different realities and the politician’s fear of politics is manifested in The Protection of State Information Bill (the “secrecy Bill”) and the draft General Intelligence Amendment Bill, which are designed to “block the free flow of information, protect the corrupt and monitor citizens” as, Hennie Van Vuuren, the director of the Institute for security studies in Cape Town office puts it. The state – having inherited all apartheid’s apparatuses – is becoming increasing sophisticated and authoritarian against opponents, real or imagined:

“In the shadows, formal and informal security networks are settling scores and doing the dirty work of those in power. Collusion between the people who have the guns and the people who have the money is infecting our politics … What is certain is that a climate of fear grips politics in South Africa and it is driven by the securocrats.”[11]

The Naked Truth?

The terrible truth of South African democracy is the politically sanctioned police murder of 38 South Africans. From the early 1990s on, the ANC made clear that it would support, defend and patronize multinational mining. In 2012, it has reiterated the class and race truth of its position. The cynicism of the ex-ANC Youth League leader, Julius Malema, to call for the nationalization of mines, did not mask his own interests, nor did it negate the simple truth, as Fanon warned, that if nationalism did not develop into a new humanism – into a program of social and economic transformation that puts people’s needs first – it would lead in a reactionary and authoritarian direction. This is the route that South Africa has taken.

The ethical void is seen in the utterly thoughtless and bankrupt reaction by the government and its opportunist critics, like Malema. It is seen in every step South Africa takes toward becoming a more authoritarian nation and in every police reaction taken toward the people’s growing anger and frustration.

Official channels are like old toy telephones.(12) Democracy is for the rich minority, not for the poor majority whose daily protests have become a normal part of everyday life. “There is an uncomfortable truth,” opined Business Day, “that there is a power building in this land over which they [the NUM, COSATU and the ANC] have little or no influence and which itself has little or no respect for the powers that be.”(13)

Many of these revolts are spontaneous outbreaks of anger, but others have become organized and planned.(14) The wildcat strike at Lonmin was one example of incipient organization. Other grassroots organizations like the shack dweller movement, Abahlali baseMjondolo, have emerged over the past seven years. They have helped organize solidarity events and memorials and sent delegates to Marikana to speak directly with the miners.(15)

But the times are dark. The outrage and the public support for the miners is heartening and contrasts directly with actions and rhetoric of the government. South Africans are not quiescent, its population remains politicized and one often hears a phrase from the past, newly repeated among young and militant South Africans: la luta continua.


1. Lonmin recognized the worker’s right to join the AMCU, but had not allowed it to become part of the official wage-bargaining structure. That privilege was left with the NUM. This alone caused inter-union rivalry, which left ten people dead the day before the massacre. As a Business Day editorial lamented, “the new Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union is slowly taking apart the venerable NUM in the platinum industry mine after mine.”

2. The connections between the families of the ruling elites and mining capital are myriad. For example, Jacob Zuma’s son Duduzane is linked with a company that brokers contract labor on the mines. See here.

3. See here. The arrested miners have faced assaults in prison. See here and here.

4. Evidence now shows that the majority of miners killed and wounded were shot in the back. See here.

5. See here.

6. See, for example, Independent online “Violent patterns at AMCU need probe.”

7. It should be noted that miners’ strikes have also become signal moments in South African politics. The state’s reactions to them have shaped the future and brought into being increasingly sophisticated and oppressive forms of governance. The 1922 white miners’ presaged a new politics of segregation, and the 1946 African miners’ strike a new politics of apartheid.

8. See Turner’s defense of Black Consciousness in “Black Consciousness and White Liberals.”

9. Marx, “Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right,” Introduction.

10. See here.

11. See here. On political repression, also see here.

12. A term referring to representative bodies for Africans during the colonial and apartheid period.

13. See here.

14. Increasing every year since 2004/05, the police estimate that there have been 11, 000 “crowd management” incidents in 2011/12, with those requiring “direct intervention” (such as the use of force) up by over 75 percent since 2004/05. See here.

15. Marikana Massacre Memorial Service.

Mnikelo Ndabankulu Speaking on the Marikana Massacre in the Grahamstown Cathedral

Marikana Memorial Service: Praying for a Just Peace

Presider: Bishop Ebenezer Ntali
Preacher: Prof. Barney Pityana

The Cathedral of St. Michael & St. George, Grahamstown, 30 August 2012

Excerpt from The Prayers of the People

Help us to shatter the structures
which prosper the rich at the expense of the poor
so that all people of this land
may experience economic emancipation

The service was followed by a march on the local police station.

Continue reading

CounterPunch: The Marikana Massacre: a Premeditated Killing?

The Marikana Massacre: a Premeditated Killing?

by Benjamin Fogel, CounterPunch

Two hundred thousand subterranean heroes who, by day and by night, for a mere pittance lay down their lives to the familiar `fall of rock` and who, at deep levels, ranging from 1,000 to 3,000 feet in the bowels of the earth, sacrifice their lungs to the rock dust which develops miners’ phthisis and pneumonia.
– Sol Plaatjie, first Secretary of the African National Congress, describing the lives of black miners in 1914

Last week’s massacre of 34 striking workers in Marikana, marks perhaps the lowest point in post-Apartheid South African history. Poor, black working class miners were shot down like animals, killed for profit. South Africa remains possibly the most unequal society in the world – the black majority still faces a life of poverty and toil, if they are lucky enough to even find work; while the still largely white elite, enjoy a life more familar to the suburbs of Atlanta or Los Angeles, than a country in which over the half the country’s citizens live below the poverty line, without access to basic services. As a wave of community protests which has arisen the townships of the country over the last few years intensifies South Africa has been dubbed the protest capital of the world. In the last three years, there has been an average of 2.9 “gatherings” per day resulting in a 12,654 “gathering” incidents during 2010.

The violence needed to sustain the profit-margin in the South African mining industry has a long and sordid history — it was one of the principle reasons for the implementation of Apartheid, principally the mines of the Witswatersrand’s need for cheap migrant black labor, from the rural Eastern Cape and Kwazula-Natal. The miners of Marikana principally came from the former Bantustan of Transkei, one of the underdeveloped and impoverished areas in the country. Violence was consistently used by both the Apartheid and colonial states against attempts to organize mineworkers, events such as the 1946 miners strike- which saw 70 000 workers go on strike and the murder of 12 miners, are an all-too common feature in South African history. Apartheid was built upon a two-tiered labour market in which white labour and white unions were actively nurtured by an interventionist state, while black labourers were disposed of their citizenship- in the form of the Bantustan system and the denial of their freedom of movement in the form of the pass laws and their ability to organize in the form of the banning of trade unions. Violence was used in many other key moments of SA labor history including the 1973 Durban Strike and countless battles between labor and the state which occurred in the 1980s which saw the formation of both the trade union federation COSATU (Congress of South African Trade Unions) and NUM (the National Union of Mineworkers).

The fact that a multinational corporation was at the center of the massacre shouldn’t surprise us either. Anglo-American, the largest corporation in South Africa, was one of the principle funders of the slaughter in the Democratic Republic of Congo. But the capuability also extends to President Jacob Zuma and his cronies in NUM, figures such as the chairperson are directly implemented in the murder of the 34 workers both in the deployment of police at the mine and NUM’s attempt to break up the strike..

The strike has continued into this week even after Lonmin issued an ultimatum to the workers, demanding that they return to their jobs or face being fired. At least 3 000 strikers refused to comply and the ultimatium was later rescinded . Furthermore, as of today, workers in the nearby Anglo American Platinum’s (Amplats) Thembelani mine and the Royal Bafokeng’s BRPM mine issued similar wage demands to management and downed their tools, giving management until Friday to respond. Lonmin’s manage failed to properly respond to the one essential demand of the striking workers, which was to meet with them. The following account clearly shows that the negotiating team was not comprised of Lonmin management and was prevented from intervening by the police. as this report clearly shows.

”However later they agreed to a meeting provided the workers committed to three conditions: surrender their weapons, elect a small representative group to engage with management and disperse from the mountain … On leaving the briefing area to report back to the miners, the SACC team was told they could not go back to the camp as the place was now a security risk area under the police. Bishop Seoka said they saw two helicopters taking off and assumed that they were going to the mountain where the workers were camping. ‘As they left the area a call came through from the man we spoke to telling us that the police were killing them and we could hear the gun shots and screams of people’, says the Bishop. ‘The man covered with green blanket lying dead was the last person we spoke to who represented the mine workers.”

Clearly, it was the police’s intent to break up the strike. It’s unclear how much political pressure they were under but rather than letting the negotiating team do its work over 500 police surrounded the striking workers with armoured cars and officers on foot carrying assault rifles. A report from University of Johannesburg academic Peter Alexander suggests that the killing was possibly premeditated, as the police erected razor wire fences around the area in which the miners were located. Later tear gas and water cannons were used to disperse the crowd, forcing them to flee towards the police lines which greeted them with live ammunition.

A City Press editorial asked 5 basic question:

* Why did police use live ammunition after an order was issued last year forbidding the use of even rubber bullets during public protests?

* Why did Lonmin bosses refuse to negotiate with representatives of the Associated Mining and Construction Union (Amcu) after initially agreeing to?

* Why didn’t the country’s intelligence services pick up
on the brewing tension at the mine and take the appropriate action?

* Who supplied the newly made traditional weapons carried by thousands of
angry miners?

* Do platinum mines discriminate in favor of certain categories of workers when it comes to wage negotiations?

So far none of the country’s political and civil society leaders have offered anything besides shameful banalities about a future inquiry and mild to enthusiastic support for the police and NUM. The silence of liberal NGOs and civil society organizations has been remarkable. The absence of real leadership on the issue, or strong showings of solidarity for the ongoing strike is a profound statement of the extent of the failure of post-Apartheid South African civil society, which has been largely monopolized by NGOS.

Perhaps the most strident apologist for the massacre has been the South African Communist Party (SACP), a party already deeply comprised by its support for the neoliberal policies of the ANC and its own Stalinist history. Take this appalling bit from Domnic Tweedie of the Communist University: “This was no massacre, this was a battle. The police used their weapons in exactly the way they were supposed to. That’s what they have them for. The people they shot didn’t look like workers to me. We should be happy. The police were admirable”. Not even the bosses of Lonmin and the most reactionary strata of the South African press are so bloodthirsty. This type of disgraceful rhetoric has sadly become all too-common among the once-admirable SACP.

The only exception to this rule was ex-ANC youth league president Julius Malema, who was expelled from the ANC earlier this year primarily because of his opposition to Jacob Zuma. Malema, a figure who is best described as Hugo Chavez meets Kanye West, accused Zuma of having “presided over the murder of our people “ and called for the nationalization of ‘the British owned’ mines to a crowd of thousands of cheering workers. He further accused Lonmin of having “ a high political connection [… which] is why our people were killed. They were killed to protect the shares of Cyril Ramaphosa,” Cyril Ramaphosa being an ex-communist, the ex-chairperson of NUM, and the current owner of the McDonald’s franchise in South African, as well as a Lonmin board member

The mainstream press has found others to blame, however. The newspaper Business Day ran a shameful editorial which referred to Lonmin’s workers as being “[…driven by antiquated beliefs in witchcraft and sorcery, [… and believing] in the powers of ‘sangomas’ (traditional healers) to make them invincible. Try reasoning with that.” Hence the perceived suicidal charge at the police lines with officers armed with R4 assault rifles and the suggested narrative of police defending themselves from primitive black miners clinging to superstitions which resulted in their deaths. The miners were not stupid enough, except in the racist imagination of white South Africans and the apologists of the massacre, to charge at policemen armed only with clubs. These sorts of images revert to classic colonial stereotypes.

The blame is placed on hubris brought on by black magic, rather than the fact workers are being paid less than $500 a month. And obviously it couldn’t have been the tear gas and stun grenades used on the striking miners that made them run towards the police clutching spears, pangas and knobkerries. Some reports have even accused the police of firing from helicopters and later driving over the still-living bodies of those shot.

On the other-hand the same Business Day editorial praised NUM. “The NUM is the thoughtful, considered heart of the union movement here, one of the two rival unions involved in the dispute there. Cyril Ramaphosa and Kgalema Motlanthe, for instance, come out of it. As a union it is a powerful voice of reason in an often loud and rash movement.” A more damning indictment of the true loyalties of NUM’s leadership is harder to find, than such praise in the country’s leading pro-business (and anti-union) daily.

I accuse Zuma and NUM of colluding with the bosses at the Lonmin mine as part of Zuma’s re-election campaign. The blood spilled on the dirt of Marikana is on the hands NUM and Zuma, not just Lonmin and the police. Zuma’s favoured union and principle support base within COSATU is NUM and they could not afford to look weak in the build-up to Zuma’s re-election bid at the ANC’s Manugang conference in November, in which he faces a strong challenge from deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe, who draws support from several of COSATU’s strongest union, most notably the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) and their radical socialist leader Irwin Jim.

If they were to have been shown up by a bunch of upstart, wildcat striking workers at one of the largest platinum mines in the world, in a country where platinum has replaced gold as the principle source of profit for extractive capital, it would have constituted a serious obstacle to Zuma’s re-election campaign. Furthermore the South African mining industry is in its last days, as gold reserves- historically the foundation of the South African economy- and platinum prices continue to drop. This is the real reason for the intensification of extractive mining practices, without workers being compensated for the added risk with any rise in wages

This precarious situation involving the primary industry in South Africa has led to NUM working with the mining capital in order to protect the jobs of their members and attempting to ensure that these companies secure the requisite profits needed to keep the mines open, leading them to view any threats to their position with these companies as a threat to their very existence. Zuma on the other-hand can’t afford to face any more job losses, in the build up to his re-election campaign, unemployment in the country is unofficially at over 40% and youth unemployment is over 60%.

Forget the media propaganda about the union battle between NUM and AMCU. The majority of the strikers were not AMCU members, they were non-unionized workers or NUM members. AMCU was trying to recruit workers who were already involved in the strike rather than organizing it. The background to this, something that none of South Africa’s reflexively anti-union media explicated in their initial coverage, was a strike that occurred in February-March of this year at the Implants mine located close by. During this strike, wildcat strikers affiliated to AMCU, were subjected to similar violence as NUM attempted to protect their position as the dominant union in the mining sector and the favoured union of the mining industry. The difference is the the wildcat strikers won over a 100% increase in wages from the bosses. The average return after deductions 4000 rand a month or 500 USD for some of the most degrading, dangerous and depressing work imaginable. This in a country with one of the highest costs of living for the poor striking workers at Implants managed to get the bosses to give them a 5500 rand (660 USD) increase. This opened up space for the AMCU to appeal to the miners of Lonmin.

The real underlying scandal of the strike was well put by Chris Rodrigues from Rolling Stone:

But what still embitters them is their understanding that they would have to be reincarnated many times over to earn what the CEO of Lonmin did in one single year. Comparing their salary of R48 000 per annum with Ian Farmer’s (2011) earnings of R20, 358, 620 amounts to an, approximately, 424 years discrepancy. Taking a recent estimate of average male life expectancy in South Africa (49.81) and deducting just 18 childhood years from that would mean even if they worked every day of their adult life – they would have to do so over 13 unlucky lifetimes!

Such is the normalization of this capitalist metaphysics that the rival union has been universally rebuked for wanting to reduce it to a ratio of 1 year: 4.26 life spans. No wonder these strikers then entrusted the magic realism of a sangoma, for nothing today needs to be more urgently remedied than “reality”.

As a worker told the Mail & Guardian’s website: “It’s better to die than to work for that shit … I am not going to stop striking. We are going to protest until we get what we want. They have said nothing to us. Police can try and kill us but we won’t move.”

This massacre highlights the degeneration of the dream of post-apartheid South Africa into a nightmare of capital, patronage, corruption, and repression. Now is the time for displays of real solidarity with the miners and a full exposure of the truth behind this awful crime.