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Marikana: Unmasking Ramaphosa’s rhetoric, narrow apology and lies

Vuyolwethu Toli is a Researcher at the NUMSA Research and Policy Institute. He is also associated with Movement for Socialism in NUMSA.

Clearly, the working class community of Wonderkop has been, and continues to be, invisible to the ANC government, before and after the Marikana massacre.

These mines do not treat us as human beings. They only recognise us when we are digging the platinum. When the platinum has been excavated and made available for sale in the market, the people who produced it are treated like dogs. They receive nothing but the change after the managers have eaten the large chunks of profits. – a member of Sikhala Sonke.

This year will mark five years after the tragic killings of mineworkers by police carrying out orders from government, some of whose members had economic interests in Lonmin. Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa undoubtedly played a role in orchestrating this heinous crime. Recently he apologised for the language he used when describing the 2012 mineworkers’ strike. By limiting his apology to the language he used, he disingenuously separated the lived reality of the communities his actions had affected from the language he used. Clearly, the working class community of Wonderkop has been, and continues to be, invisible to the ANC government, before and after the massacre.

Lonmin’s false promises to improve living conditions in Marikana have been exposed by the community. The mining company promised to build 5,500 houses and install better water infrastructure. None of these has materialised. Lonmin has instead started building a few flats for its employees and even this has not escaped its capitalist appetite. A member of Sikhala Sonke notes, “Lonmin makes people pay rent for living in those flats. I am sure they deduct R1,600 a month for rent. Initially Lonmin wanted to charge workers R2,600 for living in the flats, but workers rebelled against this and the amount was reduced to R1,600.” This practice further impoverishes mineworkers, whose incomes are responsible for supporting families in Wonderkop and in the Eastern Cape.

Ramaphosa’s narrow apology must be understood as part of his political campaigning for the upcoming elections both in the ANC and the country. In his apology, he refers only to the male mineworkers. These male mineworkers are not recognised as being part of communities. They are isolated and not recognised in relation to the massacre’s full devastating consequences. Rather, his apology works to reinforce a gender-biased interpretation of 16 August 2012. In Ramaphosa’s apology, nothing speaks to the inhumane living conditions suffered by black working-class women.

Prominent among the inhuman living conditions women suffer from in Wonderkop is rape. Incidences of rape experienced by women in Wonderkop have not featured in mainstream media because of its habit of making black women and their voices invisible in working-class communities.

Rape is a totalising crisis in any community, it affects everything. Left gender equality warrior Angela Davis says the following, about rape:

Given the complexity of the social context of rape today, any attempt to treat rape as an isolated incident is bound to founder. The crisis dimensions of sexual violence constitute one of the facets of a deep and ongoing crisis of capitalism.”

Capitalism creates the severe conditions experienced by ignored communities like Wonderkop and other black working-class areas across the length and breadth of South Africa. Ramaphosa’s apology ignores all this.

A member of Sikhala Sonke said, “We are being raped because of lack of street lights. We want our houses to have toilets inside them because it is dangerous to go outside to the toilet at night.”

Having your safety compromised when going to the toilet, a necessary bodily function, is not something any person should experience on a daily basis. Ramaphosa’s apology, focused as it is on the language he used and not the capitalism he practises, ignores all this.

Lonmin’s attack against the working class is a double-edged sword which not only super-exploits the mineworkers but also subjects the workers and their families to inhuman living conditions. These extreme living conditions are further aggravated by a lack of basic social services such as passable roads. A community member explains this, saying, “The living conditions of this community are deteriorating daily. Cars struggle to reach certain areas in this community because of the terrible conditions of our roads. People die here because ambulances cannot reach our homes.”

Environmental pollution directly created and maintained by Lonmin is another assault on the people of Marikana. An Nkaneng community member said, “What Lonmin does best is pollute the air and all of us are coughing because of that. The smelters give us platinum smoke and our health is under attack. Even when people go to the clinic they are told their lungs are severely damaged.”

True to his capitalist values and philosophy, Ramaphosa has championed the introduction of starvation wages through the R3,500 national minimum wage. He celebrates this as the realisation of the Freedom Charter when clearly this handpicking of one demand and turning it upside down empties the revolutionary content of the Freedom Charter. Ramaphosa’s National Minimum Wage of R20 per hour will trap the black working-class majority in abject poverty through debt. The hourly amount is not nearly enough to sustain a family, forcing the working class to depend on loans for survival.

Speaking at the Moses Kotane Memorial Lecture in Rustenburg, Ramaphosa embarked on a moral crusade, cautioning the ANC and SACP supporters to avoid allowing South Africa to become a Mafia state. The reality is that Ramaphosa is part of a neoliberal Mafia matrimony between private capital and government. Together these agents of mass exploitation continually rob the working class. The irony is that Ramaphosa was once a trade unionist and leader of the National Union of Mineworkers.

Recently, Ramaphosa’s antics of attempting to win political support have included invoking the revolutionary spirit of Chris Hani at Hani’s memorial lecture. In his address, he cited The Hani Memorandum. This was cheap and without any commitment to the ethical admonition espoused in the document. The rich in the ANC leadership like Ramaphosa are the very reason why Hani and his comrades penned their memorandum. Remember, Ramaphosa has no qualms about spending the millions in his possession on buffaloes.

Hani and his co-authors of the memorandum stated,

We are disturbed by the careerism of the ANC leadership abroad who have, in every sense, become professional politicians rather than professional revolutionaries.”

Ramaphosa is the paragon of a professional politician. He has abandoned the revolutionary path Hani and a host of principally committed people envisioned for South Africa. Instead he has embarked on a private capital accumulation campaign at the expense of the poor.

Despite the SACP’s desperate attempts to reinvent Ramaphosa’s tainted legacy, they will never succeed in transforming him into the kind of revolutionary that Hani wished the leaders of the ANC to be. No anointing of Ramaphosa’s campaign by the South African Council of Churches can magically transform the lived reality of the people of Marikana. No marinating of his statements with struggle credentials can help him mask his true character.

The resilience of the people of Wonderkop has led them to organise themselves to fight against the injustices at Lonmin. The women of Sikhala Sonke are fighting for social justice specifically for the families and communities of the mineworkers who were killed. A garden project based in Nkaneng has been established by Sikhala Sonke as a tool to deal with unbearable poverty conditions. One member of the organisation emphasised this point, “Among these things we want to begin with is the gardening project. People are hungry here and they are also sick. They need vegetables.” However, lack of money to buy gardening tools is thwarting this vision.

Angela Davis in her autobiography clearly explains the solution to the capitalist crisis in Marikana when she reflects on the Communist Manifesto:

The most powerful impact the Manifesto had on me – what moved me most – was the vision of a new society, without exploiters and exploited, a society without classes, a society where no one would be permitted to own so much that he could use his possessions to exploit other human beings.”

Ramaphosa does not envision a South Africa without exploitation as he is clearly a capitalist. Restoring human dignity by abolishing capitalism and its exploitation is the solution to all our problems. Not Ramaphosa’s rhetoric and political ambitions. It is through the implementation of the Freedom Charter, and onwards to socialism, that the wounds in Marikana can begin to heal. DM

Vuyolwethu Toli is a recent Masters graduate at the University Currently Known as Rhodes. Toli was part of #FeesMustFall and #OutsourcingMustFall movements there. His thesis is titled ‘Lived experience of positional suffering for room attendants at Rhodes University’. He is also associated with the Movement for Socialism in Numsa.


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