How the Marikana Movement Stunned Neoliberal South Africa

The day after the Marikana massacre, wives and mothers of the victims gathered in rage

[By all accounts and assessments, the Marikana mine massacre has marked a major turning point in the ANC-led “post-apartheid” South Africa.  But what sort of turn is being made?  A radical commentator and analyst, Patrick Bond, delves into this in some depth, and comments:  “this is potentially the breakthrough event that independent progressives have sought, so as to unveil the intrinsic anti-social tendencies associated with the ANC-Alliance’s elite transition from revolutionaries to willing partners of some of the world’s most wicked corporations……..What is definitive, though, is the waning of any remaining illusions that the forces of ‘liberation’ led by the ANC will take South Africa to genuine freedom and a new society.”  The following article, though long, is well worth exploring. — Frontlines ed.]

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by PATRICK BOND, in Counterpunch

How long can the amazing upsurge of class struggle in South Africa go on? Living here 22 years, I’ve never witnessed such a period of vibrant, explosive, but uncoordinated worker militancy. The latest news from the labour front is that 12 000 workers were fired on October 12 by Angloplats for a wildcat strike (it is likely most will be rehired in coming days if an above-inflation wage settlement is reached), and thousands of others are threatened by the mining houses. Jacob Zuma’s government is panicking about lost elite legitimacy, calling on October 17 for a pay freeze for top private sector, parastatal and state management to make a token gesture at addressing unemployment.

As the African National Congress (ANC), Congress of SA Trade Unions (Cosatu) and SA Communist Party (SACP) continuously fail to put a lid on the boiling labour pot, no one can offer sure predictions. To try, nevertheless, to assess the durability of this surge of working class revulsion, now two months after the August 16 Marikana Massacre of 34 wildcat-striking platinum mineworkers (plus 78 wounded), requires sifting through the various ideological biases that have surfaced in the commentariat, as well as first considering precedents. How much can the balance of forces be shifted if the ruling elite overplay their hand – and what organizational forms are needed to prevent divide-and-conquer of the forces gathering from below?

Metaphors for Marikana from the bad old days

We must be wary of drawing a comparison to the South African state’s last mineworker massacre, in 1922 when Johannesburg’s white goldminers rebelled against the increasing use of competing black labour (to the sound of the Communist Party of South Africa’s notorious slogan, ‘Workers of the World Unite for a White South Africa!’). They were resoundingly defeated and then coopted, a fate that Marikana workers and 100 000 others who went wildcat in recent weeks have so far avoided. Those workers are now moving by the tens of thousands from Cosatu affiliates to upstart – albeit economistic, wages-oriented and openly apolitical – unions like the Association of Mining and Construction Union (AMCU), predictably labeled by tired ANC Alliance hacks as the new ‘counter-revolutionaries’.

The aftermaths of more recent political massacres may have more to teach us. After March 21, 1960 at Sharpeville, where 69 were shot dead for burning the apartheid regime’s racist passbooks an hour’s drive south of Johannesburg, there was an immediate downswing in mass-resistance politics, followed by a hapless turn to armed struggle and the shift of resources and personnel to ineffectual exile-based liberation movements. It was not until 1973 that mass-based organizing resumed, starting in the Durban dockyards with resurgent trade unionism.

The next big apartheid massacre was in June 1976 when in Soweto as many as 1000 school children were murdered by the police and army for resisting the teaching of Afrikaans and taking to the streets. In the 1980s and early 1990s, there were periodic massacres by men who apparently fused ethnic interests of migrant workers (mainly from KwaZulu) to the Inkatha Freedom Party and the regime’s ‘Third Force’ provocateurs. But that era’s most comparable event to Marikana was the Bisho Massacre in which 28 were shot dead by a Bantustan army at the conclusion of a march in the Eastern Cape’s Ciskei homeland.

In 1960, the effect of the killings was first desperation and then more than a decade of quiescence. In 1976, the Soweto uprising put South Africa on the world solidarity map and along with liberation movement victories in Mozambique, Angola and then Zimbabwe, kickstarted other communities, workers, women and youth into the action-packed 1980s. In 1992, the revulsion from what happened at Bisho followed by Chris Hani’s assassination in April 1993 were the catalysts to finally set the April 1994 date for the first one-person one-vote election. Is there a historical analogy to pursue

In other words, if today’s struggle is against what might be termed class apartheid, then is the disparate resistance signified by Marikana similar to the early 1960s and hence will there be much more repression before a coherent opposition emerges? Or will the contagion of protest from this and thousands of other micro-protests across the country start to coagulate, as in the 1976-94 period, into a network similar to the United Democratic Front (implying an inevitable split in the ANC-Cosatu-SACP Alliance, led by genuine communists and progressive post-nationalist workers), and then the formation of Worker’s Party to challenge ANC electoral dominance?

Or, might something happen quite suddenly to rearrange power relations, as in 1992, and as we saw in Egypt in the wake of independent labour organizing against state-corporate-trade union arrangements in the years prior to the massive Tahrir Square mobilizations in early 2011? ‘Tunisia Day’ for South Africa could come in 2020, according to high-profile commentator Moeletsi Mbeki (younger brother of the former president). But if the strike wave continues to build and if capital insists the state put its foot down on the workers, aided by sweetheart unions, as the Cosatu-affiliated National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) is now known, things may come to a head sooner. On October 17, Zuma’s remarks about the need to ‘get back to work’ had an ominous sound, and the next day the Marikana workers went on another wildcat strike because the police moved in to the platinum mine once again, arresting a few central leaders. Continue reading

South Africa: “We are Living in a Democratic Prison”

Marikana shows that we are Living in a Democratic Prison
by Bandile Mdlalose
South Africa has the most beautiful Constitution amongst all countries. Its
beauty is well documented and respected. But we are living in a Democratic
Prison.We must acknowledge the fight of Doctor Nelson Mandela, Steve Biko and the
community struggles of the 1980s, the youth of 1976 and the workers of 1973.
The struggles of the past defeated the White Boers and brought us democracy
with all these beautiful rights on paper. We have so many documented rights,
like the right to housing and to protest. But every day our rights are
violated by the Black Boers. They vowed to protect our rights but the vow was
a fake vow.Instead of supporting the people’s struggles so that we can make democracy
real and make our rights real they are sending out their securities and police
to evict the poor, to lock us out of the cities and to smash our struggles.
Instead of working with the people to transform the society they are
repressing the people to protect the unequal society that they took charge of
1994. Continue reading

Anger Over Mine Massacre in South Africa

South African Mine Strike Turns Into MassacreThe police chief says that cops were forced to shoot the 34 striking miners after a series of violent protests at one of the world’s largest platinum-producing mines.

South African Mine Strike turns into a massacre
A series of violent protests, at one of the world’s largest platinum-producing mines, led to several deaths and injuries after a shoot-out involving the police and striking mine workers.The strike by Lonmin’s Marikana mine, in the North Western province of South Africa, gained support of the young and old.
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South African Miners Fired on by Police

Al Jazeera English |  16 August 2012
At least 12 people have been killed when police opened fire on miners staging a protest at a platinum mine in South Africa, according to the Reuters news agency.
South African police opened fire and dispersed a crowd of striking miners at the Lonmin mine in the North West province on Thursday after issuing an order to the protesters to lay down their machetes and sticks.

South African police slaughter striking miners after stand-off

18 dead at British-owned platinum mine as authorities lose patience with rival factions in industrial dispute

Cape Town, Friday 17 August 2012

A South African platinum mine turned into something akin to a war zone yesterday when an attempt by riot police to break up a week-old dispute by workers resulted in the deaths of up to 18 people.

Fighting between miners from rival unions had already claimed 10 lives over the past week near the Marikana mine near Rustenburg, about 100 kilometres northwest of Johannesburg. Two of those killed were police officers who were hacked to death on Monday.

The leaders of two trade unions at Marikana – the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), which has been dominant at the mine for 30 years, and the Association of Mining and Construction Union (Amcu) – blamed the London-listed mine owner Lonmin for the trouble.

Lesiba Seshoka, an NUM spokesman, said that the company had attempted to break the NUM’s dominance by granting a pay rise to a small group of rock drillers. “The company undermined the bargaining process by unilaterally offering an allowance to rock-drill operators outside the bargaining process,” he said. Continue reading