South Africa

Marikana, one week on: SA’s war with itself, for all to see

By Ranjeni Munusamy 24 August 2012

The Marikana massacre may well turn out to be a pivotal moment in post-Apartheid South Africa. It has shaken the country to the core and exposed the fault-line between the ruling elite and an angry, divided society. Somewhat shockingly, the massacre has also recast the party of liberation as the new enemy, upholding a regime oppressing its own people. By RANJENI MUNUSAMY.

Seven days after South Africa watched the unfolding horror of heavily armed policemen shooting into a crowd of striking mineworkers the country’s wounds are anything but healing. At Thursday’s memorial services at Marikana, where 44 people have died as a result of a wildcat strike at the Lonmin platinum mine, and in other parts of the country, emotions were running high, tempers flaring and accusations were still flying thick and fast. 

President Jacob Zuma on Thursday announced the composition and terms of reference of a judicial commission of inquiry into the violence at Marikana in order to answer the numerous questions around the events that stunned the country and sent shockwaves around the world. 

The three-member commission will be headed by retired Supreme Court of Appeal Judge Ian Farlam. The other two members of the commission are Advocate Bantubonke Tokota and Advocate Pingla Hemraj. The commission will have four months to probe, among other things, the role of the mining company Lonmin and the two trade unions, National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) in the violence.   

It will also examine the conduct of the SA Police Service, focusing on “the facts and circumstances which gave rise to the use of force, and whether it was reasonable and justifiable”. In a surprise move, Zuma has also asked the commission to look into “the role played by the Department of Mineral Resources or any other government department or agency in relation to the incidents and whether this was appropriate in the circumstances, and consistent with their duties and obligations according to law”.

The net of the probe has been thrown wide to look into the conduct of “individuals and loose groupings” in fomenting or promoting conflict and confrontation which resulted in the tragedy. 

Zuma said the terms of reference might be added to or changed, and the commission would have the power to “enter and search premises, secure the attendance of witnesses and compel the production of documents”. In its report, which must be submitted within a month after it completes its work, the commission could refer any matter for prosecution or further investigation, he said. 

While the make-up of the commission and broad scope of the inquiry suggests that the presidency wants a credible investigation, it will do little to quell rage and turmoil at Marikana and in society in general. 

Dr Saths Cooper, president of the International Union of Psychological Science, said the Marikana massacre had exposed a country with extremely high levels of anger and frustration, anger and frustration that is being directed against those in power now far removed from the people they are meant to serve.  

“Violence has been endemic and continues to be largely because all of us has been socialised into accepting the correctness of using violence in our lives,” Cooper said. South Africa had among the highest rates of road deaths, infanticide, femicide, spousal and child abuse, rapes and murders, as well as topping the world in the Gini coefficient measuring levels of inequality between the rich and poor. 

“All of this is while we are not at war. But we are at war with ourselves,” Cooper said. There are more protests in South Africa in a month than was during the entire Arab Spring, he said. 

Rampant service delivery protests all over the country were a result of the “lack of care and responsiveness of people in power”, he said. Protestors turn on property such as libraries, schools and government offices because these are the only demonstrable representations of the state. They cannot access MPs or senior government representatives, as there is no connection between communities and those in power.     

Cooper said the complexity of the situation at Marikana is in the irony of the collaboration of the previous oppressors with those currently in power. The liberation movement was deeply imbued with a socialist quest, but has now been compromised in the ownership of the means of production.  

The workers do not know how to rise above their frustrations and anger in having to live and work in unbearable conditions, even as they see others flaunt conspicuous wealth. Adding to the complex dynamics around the tragedy is the failure of worker representatives and the “crass lack of remorse by Lonmin”, said Cooper. In the actions of the police, there is also the backdrop of frustration, including through rising levels of criticism in society against the police.  

Cooper said the “shameful displays” in Parliament earlier this week, when MPs attacked each other during a debate on the Marikana massacre, showed the country that people of influence to not care and have no respect for those who died. 

“The strong desire for law and order among South Africans, particularly those who have witnessed and are tired of rampant levels of crime, make some say ‘good for the police’,” Cooper said. “Black life in South Africa is cheap and has proven to be cheap. If this had happened in a white suburb during a protest on the billing crisis, the reaction would be quite different.”

At the memorial service at Marikana on Thursday, Zuma’s inter-ministerial task team was humiliated when the community snubbed its arrangements and opted to have the service in a tent sponsored by Malema supporters. When he addressed the service, Malema called the government “a pig that eats its own people” in front of the team of ministers. 

“Today they are all here, the only reason they are here is to pose for the cameras,” he said, to applause and cheering by the crowd. While Amcu was welcomed at the service, there was no sign of NUM. 

Political analyst Adam Habib said the Marikana massacre had shaken the political elite. “They never imagined they would be seen as the managers of a system that led to the killing of over 40 people. 

“There is now an existential crisis within the political elite. They are suddenly getting nervous that the party of liberation is being perceived as the architects of an economic regime that is going against the people,” Habib said. 

He said this was a pivotal moment for the political elite because they recognise they are no longer the automatic representatives of the poor. “A section of the poor sees them as The Other. This is hard for the ANC to come to terms with. The Other used to be the Democratic Alliance, for the first time, they are The Other.” 

Habib said Cosatu and NUM were going through a similar existential crisis, with the giant mineworkers union now seen as a “sweetheart union”, in the pockets of the employers. “They are not accustomed to this. They are used to being seen as left and militant. Cosatu is also grappling with this, particularly how Amcu has been able to move into NUM’s space.”  

Habib said Zuma and his ministers were playing “catch-up” after not responding appropriately to the tragedy initially. Zuma is now trying to project himself as slightly separate from the state, even going as far as putting his own government departments under scrutiny in the commission of inquiry. 

“While the ministers are seen as part of the elite, Zuma is now coming off better than them. That’s because he is trying to separate himself slightly from them, which is not fair,” Habib said.

He said divisions in society were evident by how people were reacting to the massacre. While the upper classes were shocked by it, the tragedy was unfolding at a distance from their real lives. 

He said it was telling that though the striking mineworkers were demanding three times their wages, economists have not dared to say in public that the demand was unreasonable. “It’s is because they sense that there is something bigger here. This is not a normal wage strike. They are worried,” Habib said. 

Malema, he said, has become very good at mobilising in crises, as he did with the unemployed youth in his economic freedom march from Johannesburg to Pretoria. 

“Where there is tragedy, he is there. The only other person who has been able to do this is Winnie (Madikizela-Mandela). At Marikana he is able to walk right into the crowd while the ANC leaders have to go there with armed guards. Of course it is opportunistic but he is exploiting the existing fault-lines of South Africa,” Habib said. 

For months and years to come, the country will continue to try to understand what happened at Marikana, the impact of the massacre on society and whether it redefined South Africa. A week later, it is evident that the events of 16 August 2012 came as a result of the multiple failures of the structures of society around Marikana. 

It is the most poignant example of a society that has turned on itself. DM

Photo: Members of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) gather at a hill dubbed the “Hill of Horror” during a memorial service for miners killed during clashes at Lonmin’s Marikana platinum mine in Rustenburg, 100 km (62 miles) northwest of Johannesburg, August 23, 2012. South Africans held a memorial service on Thursday at a platinum mine where police shot dead 34 strikers, bloodshed that revived memories of apartheid-era violence and laid bare workers’ anger over enduring inequalities since the end of white rule. Some 500 people crammed into a marquee pitched at the platinum mine, near what has been dubbed the “Hill of Horror” where police shot dead 34 striking miners in the deadliest security incident since Apartheid ended in 1994. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

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