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Let’s never forget the Marikana massacre and start the daunting task of building a social pact

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Adam Habib is Director of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.

August 16 will forever be etched in the minds of South Africans, given the tragic events of that day, 10 years ago. The killing of 34 mine workers is a tragedy under any circumstances, but it is even more painful to know that it happened under the tutelage of a democratic government a mere 18 years after the formal end of apartheid.

This memorial, and many other remembrances we have, reflects a collective desire to ensure that this tragedy, or something akin to it, is never again repeated. But if this is to be realised, our conversations and deliberations need to go beyond critique and blame, to also think through ways and measures to heal our divides and address our systemic challenges. 

I cannot and will not ask the children, wives and family members to forgive those who perpetrated this act. I have no right to make such a request – this is only for them to decide. What I can say is that we, as a collective society in Marikana and in South Africa as a whole, cannot avert another disaster like this unless we learn to govern and manage our affairs differently. 

We can find blame for the massacre and there is much to go around. We can accuse the mining industry that has gone on for over a century and enriched some and dispossessed so many. We can also blame a government whose cadre deployment measures and patronage appointments have crippled municipal service delivery and enabled corruption on a large scale. The effects of this have been devastating. 

Not only has it led to a police force that is largely ineffective, but is also prone to extreme acts of violence in managing protests. 

Visit Daily Maverick’s Marikana anniversary page for more analysis and reflections.

The consequences were deadly and tragic for the communities of Marikana. We are on the receiving end of municipal incompetence and police violence. We can also blame the state of our unions, which are meant to represent workers but spend so much of their time fighting each other for access to resources. Also, the mobilisation of workers is so often prone to violence. They too pushed the boundaries of what is acceptable, as we have often seen in violent actions and counteractions around the country. 

We can blame all of these actors, but if we only stop there, we will not avoid the repeat of these tragedies somewhere else and we will not heal the divides of our past.

So, what do we do? 

First, we never forget, but we let the rage and motivation thereof lead not to violence or emotional reaction, but to interventions that change our circumstances, both personal and systemic, so that these tragedies do not happen again. 

Second, we start, as government has so far suggested, by building a social pact. But such a pact will not emerge through some grand agreement in a lekgotla at a national level. This has been the modus operandi of the Presidency over the last few years and it is bound to fail. 

This is because social pacts are built on the implicit foundation of trust by citizens that their circumstances will change by allowing these interventions. But such trust does not exist in South Africa. 


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Our citizens have heard it all before – promises by politicians (both ruling politicians and oppositional politicians) that things will change, and then years go by and all we have to show for it is more rich politicians and their business handlers who have feathered the nest egg for themselves and their families. 

The only way out of this tragedy is to build citizens’ trust through small local actions that demonstrate short-term benefits for citizens themselves. As this happens, so too will trust get built on which further interventions could be established. 

Some of this has already been undertaken by government and Sibanye-Stillwater through the Marikana renewal process under the leadership of Archbishop Thabo Makgoba. This renewal process is defined by the following pillars: honour, engage and create. 

The commitments to provide widows with houses and to educate the children of the miners are important elements of this initiative. I am told that we have our first doctoral graduate from these interventions. 

These are important first steps, but we now need more systemic interventions that enable the development of a more inclusive socioeconomic and spatial environment. What would this involve? 

It would require an economic and social investment into Marikana as a community. Schools, hospitals, community centres need to be built and developed. Townships need to be upgraded, suburbs developed. Sanitation, water and electricity modernised and made widely available. Local businesses need to be redeveloped, not only those that are downstream businesses of mining, but also businesses that enable recreation and services for a thriving community.

There needs to be an explicit investment in enabling the development of spatial communities across the class, race and ethnic divides. Essentially, what we require is the building of inclusive communities as envisaged in our Constitution. None of this can happen without building a local, social pact. 

It is going to require businesses like Sibanye-Stillwater to make investments into the local community through the tax regime, both national corporate and local municipal, and through additional corporate social investment initiatives. 

But it will also require government, particularly local government, to take seriously the appointment of capable people and the delivery of social services. It will also require national government to ring-fence investment into the region and into the local community. 

And, finally, it will require unions to be focused less on fighting each other and more on representing their members.

It also requires us, and union leaders, to be less ideologically rigid and more pragmatic with the view to finding solutions to contemporary challenges. None of this will be easy. It would mean insisting on corporates to take on their social obligations seriously, and on having the courage to call out corrupt and inefficient practices – both within it and on the part of government officials. 

Too often, corporates become complicit partners in official corruption. 

But it would also require local communities to focus on appointing local representatives at the municipal level who are less focused on spewing ideological rhetoric and more directed to finding pragmatic solutions to the challenges confronted by the community. 

They need to be focused on getting better teachers, doctors, nurses at schools, hospitals and clinics, respectively, and how to ensure that public infrastructure is not vandalised.

They also need to ensure that their access to offices is not used as an excuse to procure contracts through their families and through their friends, and it will require us to call out union officials and others and socially exclude them when they are intent on enabling internecine conflict. 

All of this is about building local, social pacts. It is multiple versions of these social pacts around South Africa that will return trust to the citizenry and enable the broader national social pact on which South Africa’s development agenda can be built. 

It is truly a daunting task. But imagine building this agenda from the ashes of Marikana. Can there be a more fitting tribute to the mine workers who perished on that fateful day, 16 August 2012? BM/DM

This is an address by Professor Adam Habib, Director of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, to Sibanye-Stillwater’s ‘10 years of learning’ commemoration of the 10th anniversary of the Marikana massacre.

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