South Africa's Marikana Mining Massacre: One Year Later

KPFA Morning Mix, August 21, 2013


Marikana Memorial, one year after the massacre, August 16, 2013.


Friday marked the one year anniversary of the Marikana Miners’ Massacre, in which South African Police fatally shot 34 striking platinum miners at the Lonmin Corporation's mine in Marikana, South Africa. KPFA spoke to University of Johannesburg sociology professor Peter Alexander, who attended the memorial, and co-authored an investigation of the massacre, "Marikana, View from the Mountain and a Case to Answer." which has just been published in the U.S. as "Marikana: Voices from South Africa's Mining Massacre." 



KPFA Morning Host Anthony Fest: Up to this point on today's program, we've focused on state and local issues, but we turn now to international news. Last Friday marked the one year anniversary of the Marikana Mine Massacre, in which South African Police fatally shot 34 striking workers at the Lonmin Corporation's platinum mine in Marikana. University of Johannesburg sociology professor Peter The strike leader first known to the world only as Mr. Green Blanket, then as Mgcineni Mambush Noki, after he and 43 other strikers were shot dead by South African police. Alexander says that massacre was a political turning point for South Africa because it inspired defections from the formerly dominant National Union of Mineworkers as well as widespread disaffection for the ruling African National Congress political party. Before orders were given to the South African military police, Alexander said, Lonmin Corporation Board Member Cyril Ramaphosa sent e-mail to the Minister of Mines arguing that the striking mine workers were actually criminals occupying Lonmin's property. Despite playing that role in the run-up to the massacre, Ramaphosa has since been elected Deputy Vice President of the ANC and is therefore likely to succeed Jacob Zuma as South Africa's next president. KPFA News reporter Ann Garrison spoke to Professor Peter Alexander.

KPFA/Ann Garrison: Peter Alexander said that Friday's memorial was attended by most all the Marikana platinum miners and by many from the other platinum mines in the region, including those employed by Anglo American Platinum, the world's largest platinum mining corporation. Much of South African civil society, including the South African Council of Churches, and the Marikana Solidarity Committee, sent representatives, but the majority African National Congress, or ANC, party and the formerly dominant National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) were conspicuously absent. One consequence of the massacre, Alexander said, was widespread defection from the National Union of Mineworkers, which is traditionally aligned with the ANC. 
Peter Alexander: The union that's grown very rapidly out of that is this Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union. AMCU. And so AMCU is now the union for mineworkers in the platinum belt and it's growing very rapidly in the gold mines as well. It's grown from a membership of about 30,000 18 months ago to about 150,000 today. So it's growth is related to the militancy in the mining industry and to the perceived failure of the traditional union, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) to adequately represent the interests of mineworkers. NUM has been seen to be too close to the employers, been seen to be corrupt and ineffective in responding to the workers' demands for higher pay. And this has political significance because NUM was the largest union within the Congress of South African Trade Unions, which is associated with the governing alliance, the ANC alliance. 
KPFA: The ANC is in denial, he said, about its role in the Marikana massacre.
Peter Alexander: The problem that the ANC has is that it's really in a kind of phase of denial. It's not willing to face up to the fact that it was centrally involved, the government was centrally involved, in what happened a year ago. 
Deputy President of the African National Congress,Cyril Ramaphosa, left, and South African President Jacob Zuma, right The South African Police is answerable to the government and we know that the Minister of Police, a man named Nathi Mthethwa, was fully aware of the plans that were going ahead in Marikana. And we also know, from e-mails written by Mr. Cyril Ramaphosa . . . who was once upon a time the General Secretary of NUM and then became the Secretary General of the African National Congress, was narrowly defeated for the Deputy Presidency of the ANC and so would have become probably, at that stage, the next president of the country. And, more recently, since Marikana, was elected as Deputy President of the ANC and so is the most likely person to succeed Jacob Zuma as president . . . now, what's significant is that Cyril Ramaphosa wrote a number of e-mails, mostly on the 15th of August last year, the day before the massacre, in which he was clearly involved in trying to win support, on behalf of Lonmin . . . he was a Director of Lonmin. . . trying to win support for the idea that what was happening at Marikana wasn't a labor dispute. It was a criminal activity. Mineworkers on strike were criminals. They were occupying a space, a small mountain, and they were involved in unprotected strike action. And, according to his e-mail, he spoke to Susan Shabangu, who was the Minister of Mines, and she would speak with Cabinet and she would brief the president, Jacob Zuma, and she would ask the military police to take action.
KPFA: Alexander also said that Marikana was without doubt a turning point.   
Peter Alexander: This is a turning point in South African history. It does have significance in some ways similar to things like Sowete and Sharpeville, and then going back to the Randa Revolt, of 1922. After the Rand Revolt, there were significant changes in labor legislation. It's difficult to see how alterations in labor legislation will be sufficient to deal with the issues that have arisen following Marikana, because what Marikana showed is something much broader in terms of the character of South African society, and in particular, massive inequality. And that's not going to be addressed simply through legislation. It has to be addressed by far more significant changes in the political economy of South Africa. 
KPFA: That was University of Johannesburg professor Peter Alexander, who is also the co-author of an investigation into the Marikana miners' massacre, a book titled "Marikana, View from the Mountain and a Case to Answer," republished in this country as "Marikana: Voices from South Africa's Mining Massacre."

For PacificaKPFA and AfrobeatRadio, I'm Ann Garrison.

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