Opinionista Greg Nicolson 15 August 2013

2014: the Marikana vote

Friday marks a year since the Marikana massacre. Justice is elusive and little seems to have changed. As we remember the dead, we must also remember what put them in the mines and on the koppie. The issues concern the whole of South Africa and must be on the agenda ahead of the 2014 elections.

On 16 August 2012 some of us saw frantic footage of mineworkers gunned down by police. Others know it as the day they lost a colleague, father, son or brother. Journalists might remember someone they spoke to, however briefly, who was killed or wounded. The photographs, sound and video remain as a symbol of the discord between the life and death of that day. Thirty-four people were killed on 16 August and 10 died in the preceding days.

A year later, what’s changed? The workers got a pay rise, but it wasn’t the R12,500 they died for. Miners still complain of poor work and living conditions. The killings continue as the massacre has turned into something resembling a gangland war between unions. So far, the Marikana Commission looks like a whitewash. The perpetrators are free, with no police officers arrested and few arrests made for the subsequent killings.

On the anniversary of the Marikana massacre we must ask what justice will look like. We need justice for the dead and injured. The commission must fully investigate what happened and the guilty must be charged. But the systemic violence also has to stop. The mineworkers didn’t come face-to-face with the police by chance. The massacre was entwined with other issues that cannot be ignored, especially as elections approach.

Under those koppies where the miners died lies a mountain of challenges. They stain the country almost 20 years after it achieved a miracle, but forgot about the mundane.

The brutal migrant labour system remains intact long after it was introduced to serve a class of white capital. “My brother, I was born in the Eastern Cape,” said one Marikana miner, recorded in the book Marikana: A View From the Mountain and a Case to Answer. Many of the renowned rock drill operators (RDOs) come from Eastern Cape where issues of education and employment are in crisis. The province has SA’s highest unemployment rate and given the poor quality of teaching and struggling education system, skills and work opportunities are few, forcing job seekers to migrate.

In an analysis of last year’s mining strikes, Gavin Hartford, CEO of Esop Shop, called the punishing work cycle of the migrant worker and the associated evils “the Achilles heel that inflamed and propelled the migrants, and the RDOs in particular, onto the street in strike action”. The Benchmarks Foundation found the living conditions of Lonmin employees “appalling”.

But it’s not just miners who suffer from these issues. Census 2011 showed South Africans are moving across the country to improve their livelihoods. Without effective planning and response from government, many find themselves living in poor conditions, with or without jobs.

Glaring inequalities persist across SA, making that grand phrase from the Freedom Charter, “The wealth shall be shared by all”, seem like a joke. White households earn six times more than black households, while the white elite have been joined by only a slither of wealthy blacks, stereotyped as benefitting from political connections and co-opted into established businesses. The situation has put society on a tinderbox.

It fuelled Marikana. Workers spoke about white management being well treated while the black miners worked in extremely difficult conditions, with few perks, little care for their safety or the troubles of being a migrant. When the strike and massacre happened, they accused the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) of cosying up to the Lonmin, the ANC government and police, of betraying them while joining the wealthy. Cyril Ramaphosa was criticised for being on Lonmin’s board, and he was ridiculed as a working-class hero who sold out his people for profit. The system breeds hostility and suspicion.

It’s a natural response when corruption is endemic and communities wait for services to be delivered. Unauthorised, irregular, wasteful and fruitless expenditure in provincial departments and entities sits at R24.8-billion; only 17 of the country’s 278 municipalities were able to achieve a clean audit for last year. The Auditor-General audit has found state tenders worth about R600-million went to families or employees of the department awarding the tender. In 75% of those cases no conflict of interest was disclosed. More searing is the Arms Deal and cases like President Zuma’s Nkandla.

While some people are clearly getting ahead on the state’s dime, others are toiling underground, hardly covering expenses. It’s something to get angry over.

Meanwhile, the state’s police forces are routinely brutalising citizens. In Marikana, both the violent protests and violent response highlight key issues in society. Police cocked-up an aggressive operation to disperse the protestors, resulting in many deaths. Then, evidence suggests, they may have murdered other strikers. During the Human Rights Commission’s investigation into the death of Andries Tatane we saw that police aren’t properly trained to deal with public protests and use excessive force. When Mido Macia was dragged behind a police car we saw the lawless brutality that police can inflict. Despite declining crime rates, abhorrent acts continue on a daily basis and police appear to respond in kind.

The justice system can’t cope. After the Marikana miners were killed, the National Prosecuting Authority (which is still without an official head) used an Apartheid trick to charge their colleagues and lock them up. Some said they were tortured. Yet, arrest and conviction rates remain low as police and prosecutors bungle their work. We all know about the shameful assault on women and failure by the justice system to deal with the crisis.

Where is justice? These are some of the factors that led to the killings and arrests. On Tuesday, the colleagues of the dead miners said their deaths were not in vain. They said they died for a living wage. But if we forget about the system of violence that put them there – poor education, no jobs, inequality, migrancy, corruption, poor living conditions, police brutality – what will their deaths mean? What’s a pile of bodies if the system, which affects the whole country, is allowed to continue?

Lest we forget. We must remember them and recall what put them there. The issues aren’t confined to Marikana but are felt across South African society. DM


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