Reporter's Marikana Notebook: The government's clenched fist
After some weeks of silence, we’ve finally heard back from the government. First Jacob Zuma spoke in Parliament, and then the ministers in the security cluster met and released a statement. And yes, a fist was extended to the striking miners. No olive branch in sight. By SIPHO HLONGWANE.
For the first time since the inter-ministerial committee visited Marikana shortly after the 16 August massacre, the government has once again released a statement on the situation and how it plans to deal with it. In the wake of a rolling wave of wildcat strikes that have sprung up in different areas of Gauteng and the North West province, and more clashes with police, the top priority of the security cluster will be bringing the situation under control so as to stabilise the economy.
Speaking in Pretoria after a meeting of the security cluster ministers, justice and constitutional development minister Jeff Radebe said, “Government recognises that if the current situation continues unabated it will make it even harder to overcome our challenges of slow economic growth, high unemployment, poverty and inequality. Government will not tolerate these acts any further. Government has put measures in place to ensure that the current situation is brought under control.”
The government will clamp down on illegal gatherings, carrying of dangers weapons, incitement and threats of violence against anyone in the affected areas. By defining the acts of illegal gathering and carrying of dangerous weapons especially, the government has effectively outlawed every single unprotected strike that has taken place (and will in all likelihood continue) and promised to clamp down on them. What “accordingly” means is very unclear. In places like Marikana, where the tensions tend to run very high because of the memory of police brutality and the hunger, this could mean we may be in for even more bloodshed.
At Bleskop, the miners are gathering and dispersing far more peacefully, but that strike action is also banned; things could get ugly there too if the police disperse that crowd and injure or kill some people in the process.
There was a way out of the Marikana standoff after the miners and Lonmin PLC agreed to a wage negotiation. The workers were willing to hear the employer’s offer, even if it was not R12,500 net pay as they demanded. What was offered was far short of that; just a R900 increase. It was immediately rejected.
Speaking before parliament on Thursday, President Jacob Zuma also hinted at crackdowns. He said (after being asked what he was going to do about Julius Malema: “It is also some people of some description who are going there to instigate miners to operate in a particular way. It cannot be accepted. And therefore we are looking into that; we are going to be acting very soon.”
While it is indeed the duty of the security cluster to ensure that every person in the country is safe, the emphasis on crackdowns in order to get the economy going is beyond insensitive. There have been severe allegations of murder and torture made against the police and the situation in Marikana is so bad that Gift of the Givers had to step in to provide food for the families that have been without money for weeks. Yet nothing has been said about investigating the police or making sure that justice flows in all the directions that it should in this tragedy.
The news that economic stability counts higher than their concerns and grievances on the government’s list of pressing priorities will not wash down well among the striking miners across the region. In Marikana, they’ve already accused Zuma of not caring, and even ordering the shootings that led to 34 deaths. This will be seen as further proof of the ANC’s indifference.
Here's Jeff Radebe’s statement in full:
Government has noted and is concerned with the amount of violence, threats and intimidation that is currently taking place in our country, particularly in the mining sector. The Ministers responsible for the security of the country have met and reflected on the situation that is prevailing in the country currently. These acts of violence and intimidation clearly undermine government efforts of ensuring economic and security stability.
Government recognises that if the current situation continues unabated it will make it even harder to overcome our challenges of slow economic growth, high unemployment, poverty and inequality.
Government will not tolerate these acts any further. Government has put measures in place to ensure that the current situation is brought under control. These measures include the following;
- Illegal gatherings, carrying of dangers weapons, incitement, as well as threats of violence against anyone in the affected areas will be dealt with accordingly.
- Law enforcement agencies will not hesitate to arrest those who are found to have contravened legislations governing these acts.
- Commission of all these offences is in clear violation of the Regulations of Gatherings Act 205 of 1993 and the Dangerous Weapons Act 71 of 1968.
Government is making a clarion call to all South Africans to desist from these illegal acts and work with the law enforcement agencies to ensure that the situation is brought to normality.
The coming days will show what action government has in mind. The picture is hazy and depends on way too many variables and on the way they will inter-lock. One thing is certain, though: The government that is using tools of repression under its underclass is the government fast losing its legitimacy. DM
Photo: A policeman gestures in front of some of the dead miners after they were shot outside a Marikana, August 16, 2012. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko