Saturday, October 24, 2015

The Marikana effect and struggles for economic, racial and social justice in South Africa

"Will millions of disgruntled South Africans one day generate a political force capable of breaking what are now disastrous sweetheart relations between state, ruling party, labour aristocrats, parasitical local and multinational corporate mining houses?"
Patrick Bond
Widespread student protests across South Africa campuses and public spaces have forced the Zuma led ANC Government into a back down on plans to raise university tuition fees by 11%.

For months students have protested against the Government's plans (as well as other issues).
While the immediate trigger was the fees hike, the causes of the protest go much deeper and reflect growing politicisation of students and campuses in response to widespread frustration and anger over the circumstances facing young people in South Africa, including high unemployment, a weakening economy, poverty, racial inequality, the failure of the post-apartheid ANC Government to improve the economic circumstances of many black young people and political corruption.

The protests bought together students from across the racial and economic divide, uniting black and white students from townships, rural areas, poorer urban areas, comfortable middle class suburbs and wealthy areas.

The student protests are not isolated incidents, but part of an ongoing wave of protest activity across South Africa since 2004, which has intensified since the 2012 Marikana massacre.
 The 2012 Marikana Massacre was the worst act of post-apartheid state-police violence since the advent of democracy in South Africa.
On August 16 2012, members of the South African Police Force opened fire on a crowd of striking mine workers outside the Marikana Platinum mine in Rustenberg South Africa. The police attack left 34 miners dead, 78 wounded and more than 259 people arrested.

The mine was run by Lommin, a London based miner, who is the world’s third largest platinum miner (80% of the world’s platinum is in South Africa).

As Nick Davies writes in the Guardian:
For South Africa, it was a special kind of nightmare, since it revived images of massacres by the state in the old apartheid era, with one brutal difference – this time it was predominantly black policemen, with black senior officers working for black politicians, who were doing the shooting. 

Patrick Bond  contends that the Marikana massacre was a premeditated massacre:

When a ruling party in any African country sinks to the depths of allowing its police force to serve white-dominated multinational capital by killing dozens of black workers so as to end a brief strike, it represents a profound turn. Beyond just the obvious human-rights and labor-relations travesties, Marikana revealed the extreme depths of ruling-class desperation represented by the fusion of Ramaphosa’s black capitalism, the London mining house Lonmin’s collaboration (via Ramaphosa) with the mining and police ministers, the alleged “sweetheart unionism” of the increasingly unpopular NUM, the brutality of state prosecutors who charged 270 massacre survivors with the crime of murder.

Nick Davies's detailed outline of events leading up to the massacre, which highlights the role of union leader Mgcineni Noki, who died in the massacre while  trying to broker a peaceful solution, is here.

Unrest at the Marikana mine began on 10 August 2012 when mineworkers went on strike for improved wages and conditions after Lommin refused to pay workers a living wage and address unbearable employment and living conditions.

The build-up to the massacre was marked by rising tensions between rival unions. Miners, two police officers and two security guards were among 10 people killed as violence escalated.
The day before the massacre, one of the corporation’s main shareholders and a Board member of the corporation, who is  the Deputy President of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa, emailed the Police Minister to demand that Police take action

In his email to the Police Minister Ramaphosa wrote:

“The terrible events that have unfolded cannot be described as a labor dispute. They are plainly dastardly criminal and must be characterized as such. There needs to be concomitant action to address this situation.” 

The UK Guardian described the role played by Ramaphosa thus:

Ramaphosa, a board member of Lonmin platinum mine where thousands were protesting in August 2012 – made phone calls that allegedly escalated the confrontation; sent emails reportedly calling for action to be taken against “these criminals”, whose crime was to seek a wage increase; and held secret meetings to get the government and police to “act in a more pointed way” to quell the unrest.
Police were ready and willing to act after clashes with the miners over previous days had resulted in the deaths of 10 people, including miners, mine security and Police.
The next day, police opened fire with automatic weapons into the crowd a few metres away. 

The Commission of Inquiry into the massacre set up by the South African Government released its official findings in March 2015 and whilst implicating Police in the massacre, it failed to hold anyone responsible, and the ANC Government action has taken no against Police and others responsible.
Police authorities acknowledged at the Inquiry that they were at fault, with police action disproportionate to the dangers they faced.
Patrick Bond,  Director of the Centre for Civil Society at University of KwaZulu-Natal writes:
Led by former senior judge Ian Farlam, the Commission learned that members of the South African Police Service planted evidence (putting weapons on the bodies of corpses to pretend the killing was in self-defense), hid crucial video records, laughed heartily at the scene, and indeed had earlier planned much of the massacre

Families of those killed and victims are outraged that not one person has been held to account and continue to call for accountability. 275 miners have recently launched a civil claim against the ANC Government and families of the slain mine workers have filed a claim against the Police Minister.

Patrick Bond suggests that the massacre and the subsequent inquiry acted as catalyst for a wave of citizen-driven protest activity and dissent across South Africa, opening up a large crack in the façade of the ruling ANC- corporate- state hegemony.
Bond notes that protests and organised acts of resistance have continued to grow since the Marikana massacre, with over 2000 protests taking place in the last year. 

The Center for Civil Society at KwalaZulu Natal University, of which Patrick Bond is the Director, maintains a Social Protest Observatory to document the extent and type of protest activity occurring across South Africa.
These protests reflect new alliances formed in the wake of the Marikana massacre and include groups and communities rendered more precarious by the neoliberal restructuring of South Africa.
This protest activity involves impoverished rural township and urban communities, the unemployed and precariously employed, schools students and organised labour and is directed at many issues including the injustice of poverty (bread and food  riots); persistent inequality; unbearable wage, employment and  living conditions; privatisation; crime; mismanagement of mineral wealth; prevailing power relations and the corruption of politicians, institutions, corporations and municipalities.
Despite the wave of protest activity across South Africa, Patrick Bond argues that the many protest and oppositional groups in civil society have not yet cohered into a powerful movement or voice for economic, racial and social justice.

Bond suggests  that the progressive and radical left has not yet capitalised on post-Marikana cracks in the ruling political corporate state hegemony, even as disaffection  and protest continues unabated.
One question about the recent student protests is whether the student movement, which won an important victory in relation to university fees, can develop beyond its current moment and coalesce with the other protest movements across South Africa to form a powerful social movement for economic and racial justice.

Another question is what the political, institutional and police responses will be to this wave of protest activity. This time the Government has backed down. But reactions have so far been uneven, even ambiguous- sometimes relying on police violence and brutality against protestors, others times relying on compromise and co-option.

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