South Africa

Marikana healing, sans government, the ANC or NUM

By Khadija Patel 19 August 2013

The absence of the ANC, its alliance partners and its cadres deployed to government from the commemoration of the first anniversary of the Marikana Massacre last Friday was noted by politicians and workers alike. And while the ANC keeps away, “Marikana” becomes a common rallying cry for opposition politicians courting votes ahead of next year’s election. By KHADIJA PATEL.

The absence of official government representation at the commemoration of the first anniversary of the Marikana Massacre last Friday was glaring. The 20 seats that had been reserved for government by the event’s organisers, the Marikana Support Group, stood vacant as church leaders and opposition party politicians addressed the crowd of people who had gathered in the field that was the epicentre of one of South Africa’s most ignominious moments.

We now know who was behind our shooting,” said Goodwill Jozana, a mineworker at Lonmin PLC’s mine in the small mining town in North West. “Them [NUM and government] not coming shows that they know how and why we were shot at.” Still, Jozana believes the absence of the ANC and its alliance partners from the event did not dampen the spirit of the occasion. “We are very happy with the ceremony and it was a great success. It shows we are moving forward in Marikana and the healing process going well.”

Like him, other mineworkers also expressed hope that Friday’s ceremony would finally release the people of Marikana from the burden of violence that has outlasted the 2012 strike.

After today it seems like there will be peace,” Thabo Mwatse, another mineworker, said during the ceremony on Friday. However, Mwatse tells a story of fear and repression that has coloured the lives of mine workers at Lonmin since they returned to work last September. “It is not very good now at the workplace because it is not very safe for us especially for those who work night shift, like I do. And whenever I work night shift I have to travel in a group because we fear the killings that have been happening,” he says. “We fear who’s next. … Even in the section we work in we don’t feel safe because we don’t know who our enemy is.”

Some observers believe that the halted progress of the government-instituted Marikana Commission, coupled with the absence of government from Friday’s event, smacks of a purposeful attempt to reduce the public importance of the Marikana Massacre. The ANC appears insistent on ensuring that the events at Marikana on 16 August 2012 will not enjoy any more relevance or importance, and that they do not undermine their political stature.

If the ANC had it their way, this would be a labour dispute that went horribly wrong and nothing more.

And yet the unrest in Marikana over the past year has implications beyond the bargaining table at Lonmin. NUM’s inability to “control” the workforce in August last year, as disdain for existing structures of negotiation was demonstrated by the workers’ rejection of NUM and their preference for AMCU, tells a larger story of a working class growing increasingly disenchanted with the ANC. And the decision by the ANC, however it was calculated, to stay away from Friday’s proceedings could be seen as deeply significant.

All the while, NUM say their decision to stay away from the event is driven by an ambition not to grant any more legitimacy to a plethora of dubious organisations sitting on the sidelines, pushing their own political agendas in the guise of solidarity with Marikana. Yet, the strike in Marikana and the ensuing violence in itself were overwhelmingly political acts.

One year after the massacre, the Marikana scene on Friday was unprecedented in South Africa’s post-Apartheid history. Throngs of workers came to the ceremony on Friday dressed in the green t-shirts of AMCU. They stood on the koppies, facing the stage in the blazing heat, listening intently to the speakers. And across the sea of people, there were no visible references to the ANC or NUM. There were no flags, t-shirts, or posters hinting at the ruling party or its alliance partners.

The only sign of the ANC in Marikana was at least five kilometres away.

At the entrance to the town, ANC posters exhorting residents to register for the upcoming election stood as solitary reminders of the ruling party. Nearer to Nkaneng, the informal settlement that abuts the field where the massacre occurred, there is no noticeable sign of the ANC. Even its office in Wonderkop is closed. It is as though the ANC, Cosatu, or indeed the NUM have been eliminated from Marikana.

And in the place of the ANC, a host of political parties have flocked to Marikana, each hoping to win the community over with promises to better represent their needs.

You see now,” Sam Komape a plant operator at one of Lonmin’s shafts in the town said, gesturing to the crowd of workers gathered behind him on Friday, “A lot of people here are supporting Bantu Holomisa, UDM, but I think if Julius Malema and EFF can come here then they will support him.”

Malema did attend the ceremony on Friday and he wasted no time inferring guilt on the ruling party. “Lonmin and the ANC have killed our people,” he said.

And though Lonmin CEO Ben Magara apologised to the families of those who died in the massacre saying it “should never have happened”, the ANC’s feelings were communicated through a media statement.

ANC spokesperson Jackson Mthembu said, “Marikana was a startling and traumatic rupture in what had always been a healthy climate of our labour relations framework; bringing harshly to the fore more questions than answers. Questions, which today still remain, unanswered.”

The decision by the EFF to host their party launch in Marikana this week, however, is deeply significant. It shows the extent to which the killing fields of Marikana have been re-imagined as a new political space in South Africa – one devoid of the ANC.

Meanwhile, the pursuit of healing for the communities of Marikana continues. Orlando Matsimbe, the manager of a car wash in Marikana West who hails from Mozambique, says references to the strike last year bring back bad memories. “It still doesn’t sit well on me that these workers were just killed,” he says. “I really hope one day they get what their fellow brothers died for.” DM

With additional reporting by Thapelo Lekgowa

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Photo: Miners gesture as they pray during the one-year anniversary commemorations to mark the killings of 34 striking platinum miners shot dead by police outside the Marikana platinum mine, August 16, 2013.

Reuters/Siphiwe Sibeko

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