Opinionista Rev Lawrence Mduduzi Ndlovu 2 June 2015

Marikana: The breakdown, in more ways than one

The release of the Marikana Commission’s report should be about more than just bringing perpetrators to justice or investigating the facts of the deaths of those who lost their lives. It should spur on national introspection, and a new way of doing things on many levels.

The release of the report from the Marikana Commission has lately become the one major thing that many political parties are calling for. What is interesting is that whatever findings emerge from that Commission are only going to be based on the events that led to the massacre of the miners. Certainly this is important information, and hopefully heads will roll, and real justice will emerge from this process.

However, the Commission did not deal with the layers upon layers of problems that led to the tipping point that was the ambush, and the murder of the miners. The voices that concerned themselves with the experience of the miner, mining communities and families are almost silent now. Everyone is calling for the report to be released, as if that will mark the closure of the difficulties that miners – and many other people – face across South Africa.

What is seriously alarming in almost every discourse in South Africa, and indeed in many parts of the world, is that there is an absence of connectivism. To explain: in educational psychology there is a theory of learning called connectivism. Connectivism claims that human beings learn through making connections, be it between objects, events, people or even organisations. Although connectivism has its critics, making connections is a very important skill to have, in order to make thorough assessments and form responses to different situations.

This absence of connectivism was recently displayed by President Zuma when he referred to his home as “just a house”. What is clear in that statement is that there is an absence of understanding that what upsets many people is not the necessary security features installed, but the abuse of public resources. The exercise of connectivism would instantly make clear that if there is an abuse of public money through corruption, it means that someone, somewhere, has to shoulder that cost.

The majority of the time, it is the poor that are robbed; it is the poor that feel the pain of corruption. The president seems not to make the connection that his home has become the quintessential image of the impunity that exists in government. Nkandla is a discussion for another day, but it does show clearly the consequences of an absence of connectivism.

The sad situation is here is that even Marikana has fallen into the same category. Marikana is a huge problem, and I am afraid that the findings of the Commission will conceal the real connection between the plight of workers and the events that led to the miners being massacred.

The first layer of the problem is the problem of migrant labour. Granted, every person has a right to choose to live and work in any place across South Africa and beyond. With that said, it is important to note that many mine workers, and indeed other workers, are forced to leave their homes and their families in order to find employment in the urban areas. The absence of rural-based industries and the serious lack in rural development means that even if someone wishes to remain where they were born, or with their families, they have no choice but to leave and work in the cities. It goes without saying, therefore, that from this situation emerges serious challenges to families who have to be separated from one another. Also emerging from this separation of families is what is often not spoken about – the problem of urban concubines and other relationships that develop around the work environment.

There have been serious problems relating to HIV/Aids in the migrant labour community, which can be traced back to separation between spouses, which can lead to greater infidelity in some cases. Another problem that emerges from this is that the urban worker has to now separate the little income he or she has and try to send money back home to the family, while also maintaining him/herself (and sometimes his other family) in the city. This means one salary runs two households. This means that the absence of opportunities outside the urban areas, and therefore the emergence of a forced migrant labour system, brings with it a plethora of challenges, spanning from moral to economic.

The second layer of the problem is that of work conditions and remuneration. The job of a miner is a high risk one. This risk goes beyond the fact that there is always a possibility that workers could be trapped underground, or that the trenches may give in and kill them, but also that there are long-term health problems caused by machinery and general conditions.

In addition, workers live in utter squalor because they are trying to save money and because their living arrangements are not properly incorporated into their terms of employment, regardless of the knowledge by employers that many of the workers are migrant workers.

With all these factors in mind, the miner is still paid far less considering the hazardous job they perform. Given the scale of their work, it is not unreasonable to ask for R12,500. In any business transaction, everyone wants to get their money’s worth. It is inexplicable, then, why this very basic principle does not apply to miners. At any rate there is a general disregard for this principle in South Africa. Often a lot is said about the disparity between the rich and the poor; what is forgotten is that that disparity finds its best expression in corporations like Lonmin, where those in management and those who do the actual mining work and live in completely different realities.

The glare of this intra-disparity in itself needs to be adequately explored and reviewed. On the whole, there is still a serious conversation to be had about remuneration in general, in all sectors; in particular the service sectors, like teaching and healthcare. In fact, if the miners were to be given the amount they wanted, then we should anticipate a strike coming from teachers, because if the miners are asking for R12,500, then the entry level teacher would demand slightly more, because his or her salary is just above that which the miners are demanding.

Another issue that emerges from the Marikana experience is the nature of protest or strike action in South Africa. To put it bluntly, South Africa is a very violent country. During the xenophobic attacks, it was interesting to listen to many people saying that most South Africans were not violent people. This statement is true. However, many South Africans use violence as a tool of communication. When there is strike action, there is always some kind of violence, and that is regardless of whether it is teachers who are embarking on strike action, or miners. It is true that this violent public manner is something we assimilated during the Apartheid era. The only reason why violent action became the mode of communication then is that many people felt that the government (those in authority) of the day was ignoring their demands. Interestingly, the reason for violent strike action today is the same as before – people feel ignored. The fact that in sometimes there are also acts of criminality cannot and should not be ignored. However, it would be naïve to attribute all strike action violence to criminal activity. This issue of public violence is a serious matter because it is firstly a window to private violence and secondly a threat to public order.

What separates Marikana from any other “usual” strike action is that Marikana reached the boiling point. If it did not happen in Marikana, it would have happened somewhere else. There was violence between miners and even killings. However, the measure used by the SAPS to respond to the situation in Marikana was the most public crime against humanity committed by the state to its own citizens after 1994. This, too, leads us to another problem which also needs attention – the amount of violence used by law enforcement agencies in South Africa. Anyone who has lived in a township will tell you that the police service is very quick to assault, even when there is no need to do so. This is a conversation about proportionality, and the necessity to exert force. This conversation is also about protection versus law enforcement. Finally, it is a conversation about the edge of violence that exists in all sectors of society in South Africa.

Of course, Commissions are given a very clear mandate with regards to the areas that have to be investigated. That should not detract from the work that has to be done in many sectors, especially government. These Commissions and investigations ought to be about justice. If there is no justice, then they are just another vacuous ploy used by government to make it look like they are actually responding to social challenges.

It would be a colossal disappointment if the situation in Marikana did not trigger a general inquiry about the state of mines, with particular reference to the workers. In addition, if this does not drive a serious conversation about the rights of workers everywhere, including those workers who are in semi-regulated industries like domestic work, we should be very worried.

The Marikana massacre should lead this country to look into human rights, workers’ rights and above all, justice – especially for those who lost their lives. DM


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