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Marikana: we must never forget the workers who were massacred

16 August 2012 is a day that South Africans must never forget. The SAPS massacre of 34 striking mine workers – 16 at the Marikana Koppie and a further 18 fleeing workers at another nearby small Koppie – will always be a grim reminder of the lengths to which the mining monopolies are prepared to go to defend their profits and power.


The South African Federation of Trade Unions honours the memory of those Marikana martyrs who lost their lives, and sends a message of support to their families and to the survivors, and insists that they must all be fully compensated for the trauma and hardship which they have suffered.

SAFTU also continues to demand that all those responsible for planning, ordering and carrying out the murderous attack be charged, tried and sentenced. This must include the board and top management of Lonmin in 2012 for their complicity in the massacre, including Board member President Ramaphosa who, before the massacre, sent messages to management calling for “concomitant action” against the strikers.

As well as being a personal and family tragedy for those directly involved, the event exposed the undercurrent of violence which has always existed in the South African mining industry, from the time of imperialist thieves like Rhodes and Barnato, though the racist apartheid years.

1248 workers were injured at least nine killed during a national strike in 1946 though this is thought to be a big underestimate. Mine workers suffered a similar number of deaths and 400 injuries during another big strike in 1987.

It was not only when they went on strike that mine workers’s lives were at risk. They lived in fear of sudden death in dangerous and unhealthy mines. Thousands died in accidents and hundreds of thousands from diseases contracted at work. They had to live in grimy single-sex hostels and worked for as much as two years before being allowed to go home to their families. Surrounding communities saw their land poisoned and polluted.

This regime of exploitation and oppression was the daily reality under racist colonial and apartheid regimes. They treated workers as cruelly as they did the whole of the black majority population.

They also exported the bulk of the minerals they mined, in order to make a quick profit, rather than beneficiating them to help build manufacturing industry in South Africa.

The 1994 breakthrough should have ushered in a totally different approach to  the mining industry, an end to police repression and safeguarding to workers’ and communities’ constitutional right to peaceful protest action.

Scandalously however Marikana took place under the ANC government. It showed that when faced with a crisis it was on he side of the capitalist mining companies not the workers. Not a single manager, populace officer  or politician has been prosecuted. Yet workers who were allegedly involved in violence have been arrested and charged.

The demand for the perpetrators to be brought to justice has been strengthened following the report by David Bruce‚ an independent researcher and expert on Marikana and policing‚ who found no evidence that the strikers shot at the police, before they opened fire. Judge Ian Farlam‚ chairperson of the commission of inquiry into Marikana, has now also said that: “Prima facie indicates that those that fired at Scene Two were not doing so in self-defence.”

There has been an increasing tendency for the state to respond to all protest with the same apartheid-style violence and repression, as we saw at Marikana. The most recent was on 1 August 2018 when police assaulted and fired tear gas at women protesters, in what NUMSA correctly called “an attempt to silence and intimidate the organisers and participants of this peaceful and just march.”

Capitalism is always based on the forcible exploitation of workers by employers their greed to maximize the profits they extract from the unpaid labour of their workers. That is why they could not compromise on the demand by rock-drill workers for a wage of R12 500 a month, an extremely modest demand for such a skillful, unhealthy and dangerous job and just a fraction of what the average company CEO earns in a day.

Today the employers are once again on the offensive. Faced with fluctuations in the world market prices of minerals, the industry is facing its deepest-ever  crisis and as always they ate trying to make the workers pay the price for a problem caused by the employers and their system.

They are closing mines and already bleeding thousands of jobs with thousands more in the pipeline.

Impala Platinum says it wants to get rid of 13 400 more jobs over the next two years to address losses at its Rustenburg mines. Gold Fields plans to lay-off 1,560 people at South Deep and Lonmin has also said it will cut 12,600 jobs over three years as it closes old and unprofitable mines.

In 1980 mining created 21% of South Africa’s GDP. Today that figure has fallen to 7%. In 1987, it employed 763,000 people; today it employs 447 000, a drop of more than 40%. Since 2014 alone, the sector has lost 30,000 jobs and this figure has kept rising in 2018.

Output from gold mines has plummeted from 1,000 tonnes in 1970, when SA was the world leader in gold production, to 138 tonnes in 2017, putting in sixth place in the world. The sector has already lost 68 000 jobs over the last thirteen years, with 4,000 of those jobs lost in just the past two years.

Now the employers are also trying to use this crisis to impose below-inflation wages increases on their workers, as low as 3%. SAFTU pledges its full support for AMCU’s demand, once again, for R12 500 as the minimum wage for all employees between categories four to eight. That remains even more justified given the rise in the cost of living over the list six years

The reason for this crisis is not the workers’ fault, not can it just be blamed on swings in world prices. The reason is that an industry which is so central to South Africa’s future prosperity cannot be entrusted to private companies and shareholders who are only interested in the bottom line.

For them workers’ demands for higher pay, communities’ calls for money for houses, schools and hospitals, the country’s insistence on reduced pollution of the environment and the long-term future of the South African economy are all secondary when set against the need to make profits.

Their argument about the need to shed jobs and cut wages in order to secure investment in the mines is shared, not surprisingly, by a government led by a mining tycoon billionaire who imagines that mining is a ‘sunrise’ industry, which, he hopes, will attract $100 billion in foreign investment into South Africa in the next five years.”

It is further proof of the degeneration of the ANC, which in 1955 included the demand in the Freedom Charter for “the mineral wealth beneath the soil, the banks and monopoly industry to be transferred to the ownership of the people as a whole”, and at in its own Consultative Conference held in Morogoro in 1969, which said:

“In our country – more than in any other part of the oppressed world – it is inconceivable for liberation to have meaning without a return of the wealth of the land to the people as a whole. It is therefore a fundamental feature of our strategy that victory must embrace more than formal political democracy. To allow the existing economic forces to retain their interests intact is to feed the root of racial supremacy and does not represent even the shadow of liberation.”

Even as recently as 2007 the ANC Polokwane conference resolved to nationalise the mines, banks and other strategic monopoly industries.

This is why SAFTU demands the nationalisation of the mining industry, along with the banks, the land and big industrial monopolies, to take ownership out of the hands of the white monopoly capitalists who continue to wreak such damage on workers, communities and the economy.

The mines are a national resource, not just a commodity to be rented out to the highest bidder, who can close mines and retrench workers just because of fluctuations in the world market prices.

They are a central component of our national infrastructure, mining the coal that generates power, and the ore that makes our steel, without which a re-industrialised economy will be impossible to achieve.

They must be publicly owned, run and developed as part of a democratically planned industrialised economy which beneficiates rather than exports our mineral wealth so that it can create jobs and raise the living standards of all South Africans.

The best way to honour the memory of the Marikana martyrs is to build a socialist society in which their children and grandchildren can live in peace, prosperity and equality.