August 16th will forever be a special day for South African workers, when we remember and honour the memory of those who lost their lives on 16th August 2012, when police shot down 34 striking mine workers – 16 at the Marikana Koppie and a further 18 fleeing workers at another nearby small Koppie.
Some were hiding behind rocks and others had been trying to surrender when the police killed them in cold blood, most of them shot in the back. In the days beforehand another 10 workers had been killed in other incidents of mainly intra-worker violence, bringing the death toll to 44. In addition 38 were wounded.
The South African Federation of Trade Unions sends a message of solidarity with the survivors of the massacre and the families and dependents of those who lost their lives, and will not rest until they have been fully recompensed for the losses they have suffered.
We also send messages of solidarity with the union that organised those workers, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU).
Nor will the federation stop campaigning for those who committed the murders of these workers to be charged, brought to court and sentenced, and this must not be restricted to those who pulled the triggers but include those who planned the operation and gave the orders to open fire.
SAFTU also rejects what both NUMSA rightly dismisses as an “un-apology” by Cyril Ramaphosa, who in 2012 was a board member of the Marikana workers’ employer Lonmin, and, before the massacre, sent messages to management calling for “concomitant action” against the strikers.
As Irvin Jim‚ NUMSA’s General Secretary‚ said: “Ramaphosa’s apology, nearly five years later, is no more than empty words”. Ramaphosa had the power as a Lonmin board member to make decisions which could have vastly improved the lives of the miners‚ but he chose not to”.
This massacre was a huge personal and family tragedy for those directly involved but also a brutal reminder of the violence which always lurks below the surface of a capitalist system which is build upon the forcible exploitation of workers.
Employers are motivated by the need to maximize their profits which they extract from the unpaid labour of their workers, and 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 skilful, unhealthy and dangerous job and just a fraction of what the average company chief executive officer earns in a day.
In class terms, the Marikana massacre represents one of the more decisive statements made by the ANC government that, that when it comes to the push, it sides with the capitalist property owners. To date, not a single manager or politician who ordered actions has been prosecuted. Yet workers who were involved in worker-to-worker violence have been arrested and charged.
Lenin defines the state as an instrument of class rule. Once again this massacre also reminds us that Marxism /Leninism that influence SAFTU is potent!
Violence in the industry
Marikana was not the first such massacre of South African mineworkers. During a national strike in 1946 1248 workers were injured and, officially nine killed, though this is believed to be a big underestimate. Mine workers suffered a similar number of deaths and 400 injuries during another big strike in 1987.
Such violence was to be expected from colonial and apartheid racist regimes. They treated workers as cruelly as they did the whole of the black majority population. But the 1994 breakthrough should have ushered in a totally different approach to the constitutional right to peaceful protest action by workers and communities.
Scandalously however there is an increasing tendency for the state to respond to protest with apartheid-style violence and repression, as we saw at Marikana and in a growing number of service-delivery protests and other strike actions or worker demonstrations.
That is why the federation was highly concerned when Police Minister Fikile Mbalula warned violent protesters not to damage property during demonstrations because he didn’t want to see a repeat of the Marikana massacre. “We must educate our people because I don’t want another Marikana here where police opened fire and people died.”
As SAFTU said at the time, “It is highly insensitive to the memory of the victims of Marikana to imply that the murdered workers were in some responsible for the murderous actions of the police on that fateful day. The Farlam Commission confirmed that the protesters were brutally hunted down and assassinated by police officers, some of whom are now facing prosecution”.
All South Africans have the right to protest peacefully in the street and that right must protected, not threatened, by the SAPS. Even if demonstrations lead to the destruction of property, which SAFTU does not, and will never condone, the SAPS must still arrest the perpetrators and take them to court. Suggesting that those who embark on violent demonstrations must be killed as workers were killed in Marikana is completely opposite to the values of the society we seek to build.
It is not only when they strike or protest that mine workers are at risk. Even at work, they live in fear of sudden death in dangerous and unhealthy mines. Thousands have died in accidents and hundreds of thousands from diseases contracted at work.
For 150 years their colonial, white and capitalist employers ruthlessly exploited black, vulnerable migrant workers in dangerous and unhealthy mines. They paid poverty wages and herded workers into barbaric single-sex hostels, away from their families for years on end.
It is to the credit of the Marikana martyrs that Lonmin were eventually forced to raise wages. One of the 2012 strike leaders, Molefe Phele, told City Press that “A lot has improved. I mean you go to many shifts today and they are forced to extend parking areas because many workers can afford cars to day – thanks to the August 2012 strike action that unfortunately cost many lives”.
But, he said, “just as salaries, living and working conditions were improving, they were now faced with another ‘demon’ – job cuts in the mining industry”.
He is right. Wage increases are more than cancelled out by the bloodbath of job losses in the industry, which has shed 70,000 jobs over the past five years.
Just last month Sibanye Gold dismissed over 1,500 miners at its Cooke operations for participating in an unprotected strike and it wants to lose another 7 400 jobs. AngloGold Ashanti, the world’s third-largest gold miner, could cut up to 8,500 jobs, or a third of its South African workforce, as two unprofitable mines reach the end of their lives.
Many more jobs are likely to go as the worldwide slump in demand for minerals and the shift away from carbon-based fuel continues.
A lot of those dismissed, like the Kumba 91 striking workers who were unfairly dismissed after a strike at the Sishen mine in October 2012, just after Marikana, are fighting through the courts for their reinstatement.
Another result of the industry’s decline is that around 6000 abandoned mines litter towns, including Marikana, causing massive health and safety risks for the communities and environmental hazards for the whole country.
Marikana residents are also yet to see the 5500 news houses promised by Lonmin and many live in squalid shacks without water and electricity. Local community activist Napoleon Webster says: “There’s no crèche, no cleaning, there’s no school… they were forced into those shacks… there are no roads”.
The job-loss bloodbath has also led to the explosive growth of the zama-zamas, often falsely described by mine bosses and in the media as “illegal miners”.
In reality they are unemployed workers, many probably former mine workers, who are desperate to find a way to feed their families by risking their lives every day to work in disused mine shafts. They too are exploited, by dealers who buy what the workers can extract from the mine, and who make big profits, presumably untaxed.
The zama-zamas are part of a force of thousands of unorganized, super-exploited and insecure workers who are nearly all outside the trade union movement. They are not law-breakers but human symptoms of the national crisis of unemployment, poverty and inequality, made even worse by the looting of state resources by corrupt politicians and business leaders.
Their work needs to be legitimized and their operations democratically and safely organized in community-based initiatives, excluding the corrupt dealers. SAFTU has made it a top priority to recruit and organize such workers.
Socialist economic transformation
All these problems in the mining sector are part of the wider economic crisis as a result of the ANC government’s neoliberal policies, which have led to the downgrading of the country to junk status and the economy declining rather than growing. This will lead to even more lost jobs and will make the poor even poorer, while their rich exploiters, correctly defined as white monopoly capital, get richer and richer.
The federation has therefore submitted a Section 77 notice at Nedlac to demand a clear plan from government to change direction and plot a new growth path to change the structure of the economy and ensure redistribution of wealth and land, and create opportunity for all. We demand that the crisis in the education system, health service and public transport be fully addressed, and we are already mobilising for a national strike in November if these demands are not met
Tragically the only program to take us out of this crisis – radical economic transformation – has been hijacked by the very people in the ANC government who have caused the crisis in the first place, by implementing policies that are the exact opposite of either radical or transformative – Gear and the National Development Plan – which prop up the bankrupt monopoly capitalist exploiters.
The only way to save the situation is through genuine socialist economic transformation which will transfer wealth and power into the hands of the majority – the workers and the poor – by nationalising key monopolies in mining, finance and industry and running them democratically, efficiently and accountably, under a plan of production which will shift the country’s wealth to be shared among, and used to benefit, 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.