The workers had staged a wildcat strike a few days earlier and were protesting outside the mine when on August 16th police opened fire with live ammunition in the first massacre of the post-apartheid era.
Roger Southall (Professor of Sociology at the University of the Witwatersrand) writes in this piece in Open Democracy, that the massacre exposes hard truths about post-apartheid South Africa that the country's elites have preferred to ignore.
For Southall this was a tragedy waiting to happen. He argues that the writing had been on the wall for a long time, but the powerful lacked the political will to decipher and read the signs.
The Marikana massacre has coincided with a time when many South Africans have come to feel increasingly uneasy, fearing that the promise of 1994 has faded and that the country has lost its way. Hopefully, it will serve as a jolt to the national conscience, and shame those who claim that the only way to attract foreign investment is by reducing the cost and conditions of labour into rethinking. But don’t count on it: for while, conceivably, the tragedy may undermine the Zuma presidency, more and greater shocks may yet be needed before government and employers combine for a serious assault upon poverty and inequality.Southall analyses the massacre in terms of responsibility and culpability at four levels. He writes :
When the commission of inquiry comes to write its report - though it is most unlikely to allocate any responsibility before the ANC’s leadership election at Mangaung (Bloemfontein) in December 2012 - it might well choose to peel the Marikana onion in four stages.Southall points to 4 underlying causes (stages) of the massacre:
- the rivalry between Unions and the dynamics of the growing gulf between workers on the ground and their union officials
- the growth of apartheid style policing
- the profound and bitter rivalries and struggles within the ruling ANC and the failure of Politicians to accept responsibility for the current crises
- the ongoing exploitation, greed and irresponsibility of mining corporations.