As video footage of police opening fire and mowing down 36 miners at Lonmin’s platinum mine rolled on big and small screens across the world, the response from trade union and solidarity movements was fast and exacting. Organisations pointed their fingers at Jacob Zuma, the ANC, the tripartite alliance and SA’s growing elite. By MANDY DE WAAL.
As Lonmin miners were ordered back to work and former ANCYL leader Julius Malema encouraged miners to die in their struggle for economic freedom, New Zealanders picketed the South African government for the first time since Apartheid.
The call to picket by the Global Peace and Justice Auckland (GPJA) placed culpability for the massacre with South Africa’s ruling party. “The blame lies squarely with the ANC government which has been in power for 18 years while conditions have become worse for most South Africans,” said John Minto, a GPJA spokesperson. “The mineworkers strike and the struggle for decent housing, health, incomes and education are the same struggles the ANC once supported but have turned their backs on since gaining power.”
Minto added that the dawn of democracy had realised “little change in the lives of the poorest South Africans while a wealthy elite, which includes a few black faces now, has become obscenely rich.”
The protest was held this past weekend at the South African consulate in a suburb of Auckland and was used to issue an open letter to Jacob Zuma. The strongly-worded letter read, in part: “Many New Zealanders who demonstrated so strongly against the Apartheid system in the 1970s and 1980s have watched with growing alarm at the direction the ANC leadership has taken South Africa since the first democratic election in 1994.
“The appalling scenes played out on our TV screens are reminiscent of the darkest days of Apartheid such as the Sharpeville massacre of 1960 and the murder of black school children in Soweto in June 1976. Just as we held the Apartheid regime responsible for those massacres we now hold the ANC government responsible for the massacre of striking mineworkers. You and your government have blood on their hands,” the open letter to Zuma continued.
A similar scene played out in London, where a group of about 50 protesters gathered to picket outside Lonmin’s Hyde Park offices this weekend, before moving on to South Africa House, home to the SA consulate and high commission. The protesters erected signs that read: “economic Apartheid is alive and killing”, as well as “mining companies are thugs that don’t care about humanity”.
The pickets appeared to be a response from an appeal by this country’s Democratic Socialist Movement which earlier called on all socialists and trade unionists internationally. In its plea to its peers across the globe, the Democratic Socialist Movement said, “It is clear that the Lonmin bosses, backed by the entire big business elite and its servants in the ANC government, the police and army are hell-bent on restoring order at any cost.” The movement said the massacre, which left 36 dead and 78 wounded, was “nothing less than an orchestrated massacre”.
And the response came from far and wide. In South America, the Brazilian Centre of Solidarity with the Peoples declared the SA government had been exposed as an “oppressive, violent and murderous state”, and declared Apartheid still alive. “The vicious apparatus of Apartheid continues to work in South Africa, with this continuation of the history of class hatred against hardworking black people.”
In Ottawa the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada raged against the action and stated: “Such a senseless show of violence from police forces against working people is completely unacceptable.” National President Dave Coles said: “Police brutality is no way to resolve a labour dispute and it is shameful that lives have been lost in the course of a strike”.
In Istanbul, the Revolutionary Trade Union of Health Workers demonstrated outside the SA consulate in the city laying black wreaths to protest against the SA government and placing red cloves at the site for the “murdered workers in South Africa are our class brothers”.
The union’s president, Arzu Cerkezoglu, offered solidarity and support to the Lonmin miners. “We shout our solidarity with them with the belief that what is important for the working class is not the country they live in or the colour of their skin but their struggle and labour,” Cerkezoglu said.
And the protests look set to continue. On Monday, 20 August, a protest is to be held outside the SA embassy in Dublin. This picket in the Dublin City Council is organised by Brid Smith of People Before Profit, who will be joined at the protest by Brendan Archbold, a former anti-Apartheid activist. The call to protest in Dublin reads: “For the ANC it is an outrage and a tragedy that they are presiding over such a slaughter—they who received so much support from South African miners and workers as a whole and from the trade union movement internationally.”
With social media as a viral connector, local activists are doing well to turn the tide of public sentiment against the ANC, and the participation of former anti-Apartheid activists adds significant weight to what is already a burning cause. As the days follow and people throughout the world increasingly turn their gaze on Marikana, what the ruling party does next will have significant impact on how the ANC is viewed outside South Africa.
What’s evident is that the “old” ANC—that once proud liberation movement that the world threw its weight behind to help end Apartheid—is no longer. In its place, the image that appears to be emerging for many is a ruling party of fat cats surrounded by crony capitalists who will stop at nothing to protect their position of elitism while failing SA’s poor, and now its workers. DM
Photo: Policemen fire at striking miners in Rustenburg. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko
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