As labour turmoil continues, is a new South Africa possible?Published by MAC on 2012-11-01
Source: Mining.com, Reuters
Following the September 2012 massacre of dissident workers at Lonmin's Markana mine, a chequered "pattern" of re-hiring and firing is emerging in South Africa's gold and platinum fields.
A few mine managers have taken back workers they previously sacked, but others are refusing to re-employ them.
Last Tuesday, police fired rubber bullets at strikers objecting to a pay deal which was brokered by the official National Union of Mineworkers at one of Anglo American's platinum mines.
Jus a week before, Patrick Bond advised against equating post-Marikana developments with those which followed earlier atrocities in the country's history.
He pointed to "new political opportunities that might fuse worker, community and women's interests in improving conditions for the reproduction of labour power", which "perhaps one day [might be] joined by environmentalists".
Nonetheless, said Bond, these opportunies "are fragile and easy to lose."
"What is definitive ... is the waning of any remaining illusions that the forces of ‘liberation' led by the ANC will take South Africa to genuine freedom and a new society.
"Marikana will have that effect, permanently, I suspect, so long as protesters keep dodging police bullets and moving the socio-economic and political-ecological questions to centre stage."
South African police fire rubber bullets at striking Amplats miners
By Sherilee Lakmidas
30 October 2012
RUSTENBURG, South Africa - South African police fired rubber bullets and teargas on Tuesday at striking Amplats miners who were protesting against a union-brokered deal to end a six-week wildcat walkout at the top platinum producer.
As they moved into a shanty town near the mines, police also deployed water cannons and stun grenades against groups of protesters armed with wooden sticks and stones. Women and children fled as they fanned out through the maze of tin huts.
One protester was dragged away bleeding heavily and unable to walk,and was treated by paramedics, a Reuters witness said.
The strikers at Anglo American Platinum (Amplats) mines near Rustenburg, 120 km (70 miles) northwest of Johannesburg, had been due to return to work following a company offer to reinstate 12,000 men sacked for downing tools six weeks ago.
"We are not giving up, we will soldier on," said striker John Tonsi, who had been shot in the leg by a rubber bullet. "We will fight for our cause until management comes to its senses."
Months of labour unrest in the mines have hit platinum and gold output, threatened growth in Africa's biggest economy and drawn criticism of President Jacob Zuma for his handling of the most damaging strikes since the end of apartheid in 1994.
Amplats said at the weekend it had reached a deal with several unions and would be offering sweeteners, such as a one-off hardship payment of 2,000 rand ($230), to end a strike that has crippled production.
A return to work on Tuesday was one of the conditions attached to the deal.
However, at Amplats' Thembelani mine, hundreds of miners barricaded a road with burning tyres, and police said an electricity sub-station atanother mine was set alight.
Amplats said it was still working out attendance numbers at its four strike-hit Rustenburg mines. For the past few weeks, fewer than 20 percent of staff have been turning up.
The strikes have shone a harsh spotlight on South Africa's persistent income inequality and the promise by Nelson Mandela's African National Congress (ANC) to build "a better life for all" following the end of
The strikes have also been a major test for Zuma, who faces an ANC leadership election in December.
Even though the handling of the unrest has caused internal party concern, he remains favourite to win re-election, teeing him up for another five years as national president from 2014.
Management threats of mass dismissals, along with pay sweeteners, have ended most of the strikes in the last two weeks, but workers at Thembelani said they were determined to hold out.
Their main demand is for Amplats to match a salary increase of up to 22 percent offered by rival Lonmin after a violent wildcat walkout at its nearby Marikana platinum mine in August.
The Lonmin offer came in the wake of the police killing of 34 miners on Aug. 16, the bloodiest security incident since apartheid. Lonmin said on Tuesday it wanted to raise $800 million via a rights issue to help it recover from the strikes.
MacDonald Motsaathebe, who has been with Amplats for 12 years, said workers did not agree to the deal struck at the weekend between Amplats and unions including the National Union of Mineworkers.
"We didn't agree to the offer. We want 16,000 rand. Lonmin miners got it, and we want it," said the 35-year-old, whose salary supports nine people. "We earn peanuts."
Strikers at gold firms including AngloGold Ashanti and Gold Fields returned to work last week after threats of mass dismissals and an offer of a small pay increase.
Amplats Rustenburg strike to continue
By SAPA / Reuters
29 October 2012
The strike at Anglo American Platinum (Amplats) in Rustenburg will continue, the Rustenburg strike co-ordinating committee said on Monday.
"The strike is on. Workers have crushed the proposal to return to work," committee spokesman Gaddafhi Mdoda said.
Amplats said in a statement at the weekend it had reached an agreement with unions and workers' representatives to reinstate the 12,000 employees dismissed, and that they were expected to return to work on Tuesday.
Mdoda said workers had heard of this through the media, which made it difficult for their representatives to explain the agreement to them.
"We have been in meetings with management and the unions. We cannot take any offer without consulting the workers. They have rejected the offer."
He expressed concern that the situation could turn violent on Tuesday if some workers did report for duty.
"We have not signed that agreement. The sms sent by the company to workers is complicating this issue and confusing workers. We call on workers not to be violent, but to resolve this peacefully."
Amplats said it had offered to reinstate all workers on the same terms and conditions of employment as applied before their illegal strike.
The workers would receive a final written disciplinary warning instead of being dismissed.
The company had further offered a once-off hardship allowance of R2000 to help workers deal with financial difficulties arising from the no-work, no-pay principle in place while they were striking.
Workers who did not participate in the strike would receive a once-off loyalty allowance of R2000.
In addition, employees affected by the no-work, no-pay rule could apply for loan of up to R2500 each, repayable over six months from January 2013.
Workers were expected to report for duty at 7am on Tuesday.
Amplats workers went on strike on September 12, demanding a monthly salary of R16 000.
On Saturday, National Union of Mineworkers' secretary Frans Baleni said strikes could score short-term gains, but result in permanent losses.
"Prolonged strikes may lead to the company closing down," he said after a Congress of SA Trade Unions rally in Rustenburg. -Sapa
South African unions sign deal with gold companies
25 October 2012
The South African National Union of Mineworkers and two other unions signed Thursday a deal with industry body the Chamber of Mines (CoM), agreeing to a new pay structure for the strike-hit gold mining sector.
CoM representing gold producers AngloGold Ashanti, Gold Fields and Harmony, agreed to an addendum to the gold sector's 2011 to 2013 previous wage agreement.
Gold miners will see their monthly salaries up about 500 rand ($57), on top of a pay raise of up to 10% that workers got in July, weeks before wildcat strikes hit South Africa's platinum and gold mines.
The sum, however, still fall short of what most strikers are demanding: 16,000 rand (about $1,800) in monthly pay.
Most miners currently earn about 4,000 rand ($500).
Harmony Gold's Kusasalethu workers went back in time for their 6am ultimatum on Thursday to avoid being fired, the company said. The miner will provide an update later on when operations would restart, but in the meantime it said it was doing procedural medicals and safety checks.
AngloGold Ashanti has yet to issue dismissal letters to 12,000 striking workers who ignored an ultimatum to return to their posts or be fired, spokesman Alan Fine told Business Report.
And Gold Fields said 7,300 people out of 8,100 were sacked at its KDC East mine on Tuesday. Their appeals started on Thursday morning and would take place over the next week.
Although today's pact promises gold producers to resume normal activities, the platinum sector remains affected by labour unrest with several mines still closed.
Part of the issue is, as BBC News analyst Matthew Davies writes, that platinum mines tend to negotiate with their own workers rather than with unions across the sector. This would explain why Lonmin's miners obtained a 22% pay increase, while 12,000 of those at Anglo American Platinum (Amplats) were fired.
Globally South Africa is the fourth largest producer of iron ore, holds the same rank for annual gold production, is number one in platinum output and holds fifth spot for steam coal.
AngloGold miners report for duty at West Wits operations
26 October 2012
JOHANNESBURG - AngloGold Ashanti said on Friday workers at its West Wits operations in South Africa had returned to work, bringing the curtain down on the worst industrial unrest in the gold sector since apartheid.
After threats of mass firings and a wage deal agreed between the industry and National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), the only mine not up and running is one of Gold Fields' three operations, where sacked workers are appealing their dismissal.
"It appears that the strike is over. Workers have proceeded underground at two of the three mines affected and it appears that the same is happening at the third," AngloGold spokesman Alan Fine said of the West Wits operations.
Workers at AngloGold's Vaal River complex, which was also hit by an illegal strike, returned to work earlier this week.
After three weeks of talks, NUM and the gold industry, which employs around 157,000 people, announced an agreement on Thursday on wage hikes of between 1.5 and 10.8 percent for different categories of workers.
Resolution of the gold sector strike is likely to bring relief to the African National Congress and President Jacob Zuma, who remains favourite to win re-election as head of the ruling party at an internal election in December.
However, large parts of the platinum sector remain idle, with no end in sight to a six-week strike at Anglo American Platinum (Amplats), the world's top producer of the metal.
Some 20,500 workers at Amplats' Union and Amandelbult operations are still holding out for higher wages, and the company has also sacked 12,000 wildcat strikers at its Rustenburg mines northwest of Johannesburg.
In all, 100,000 downed tools across South Africa since August in often violent strikes that triggered ratings downgrades and a slight reduction in this year's economic growth forecast from Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan.
(Reporting by Olivia Kumwenda; Editing by Ed Cropley)
Gold Fields fires 8,500 striking workers as mining companies get tough on unrest
23 October 2012
Gold Fields has fired 8,500 striking workers at a mine in South Africa following their failure to respond to an ultimatum to abandon the strike.
Bloomberg reports that the retrenchments come just as other leading miners in South Africa get tough on the wave of labour unrest and wildcat strikes which has afflicted the nation's resources sector since August.
Africa's biggest gold producer AngloGold Ashanti has issued a "final call" for all striking miners to resume their work duties by midday tomorrow or face retrenchment, while Harmony Gold has issued a similar ultimatum to its own restive miners.
AngloGold, which derives a third of its output from South Africa, was forced to suspend operations in the country at the end of September after suffering heavy losses as a result of the strikes.
The spate of labour unrest in South Africa's mining sector has persisted for over two months, first hitting the platinum sector before spreading swiftly to gold, iron ore and other areas.
Marikana's momentum still moves the masses - but where?
Pambazuka Issue 603
24 October 2012
How long can the amazing upsurge of class struggle in South Africa go on? Living here 22 years, I've never witnessed such a period of vibrant, explosive, but uncoordinated worker militancy.
The latest news from the labour front is that 12,000 workers were fired on 12 October by Angloplats for a wildcat strike (it is likely most will be rehired in coming days if an above-inflation wage settlement is reached), and thousands of others are threatened by the mining houses. Jacob Zuma's government is panicking about lost elite legitimacy, calling on 17 October for a pay freeze for top private sector, parastatal and state management to make a token gesture at addressing unemployment.
As the African National Congress (ANC), Congress of SA Trade Unions (Cosatu) and SA Communist Party (SACP) continuously fail to put a lid on the boiling labour pot, no one can offer sure predictions.
To try, nevertheless, to assess the durability of this surge of working class revulsion, now two months after the August 16 Marikana Massacre of 34 wildcat-striking platinum mineworkers (plus 78 wounded), requires sifting through the various ideological biases that have surfaced in the commentariat, as well as first considering precedents. How much can the balance of forces be shifted if the ruling elite overplay their hand - and what organizational forms are needed to prevent divide-and-conquer of the forces gathering from below?
Metaphors From Marikana from the Bad Old Days
We must be wary of drawing a comparison to the South African state's last mineworker massacre, in 1922 when Johannesburg's white gold miners rebelled against the increasing use of competing black labour (to the sound of the Communist Party of South Africa's notorious slogan, ‘Workers of the World Unite for a White South Africa!').
They were resoundingly defeated and then co-opted, a fate that Marikana workers and 100,000 others who went wildcat in recent weeks have so far avoided. Those workers are now moving by the tens of thousands from Cosatu affiliates to upstart - albeit economistic, wages-oriented and openly apolitical - unions like the Association of Mining and Construction Union (AMCU), predictably labeled by tired ANC Alliance hacks as the new ‘counter-revolutionaries'.
The aftermaths of more recent political massacres may have more to teach us. After March 21, 1960 at Sharpeville, where 69 were shot dead for burning the apartheid regime's racist passbooks an hour's drive south of Johannesburg, there was an immediate downswing in mass-resistance politics, followed by a hapless turn to armed struggle and the shift of resources and personnel to ineffectual exile-based liberation movements. It was not until 1973 that mass-based organizing resumed, starting in the Durban dockyards with resurgent trade unionism.
The next big apartheid massacre was in June 1976 when in Soweto as many as 1,000 school children were murdered by the police and army for resisting the teaching of Afrikaans and taking to the streets. In the 1980s and early 1990s, there were periodic massacres by men who apparently fused ethnic interests of migrant workers (mainly from KwaZulu) to the Inkatha Freedom Party and the regime's ‘Third Force' provocateurs. But that era's most comparable event to Marikana was the Bisho Massacre in which 28 were shot dead by a Bantustan army at the conclusion of a march in the Eastern Cape's Ciskei homeland.
In 1960, the effect of the killings was first desperation and then more than a decade of quiescence. In 1976, the Soweto uprising put South Africa on the world solidarity map and along with liberation movement victories in Mozambique, Angola and then Zimbabwe, kickstarted other communities, workers, women and youth into the action-packed 1980s. In 1992, the revulsion from what happened at Bisho followed by Chris Hani's assassination in April 1993 were the catalysts to finally set the April 1994 date for the first one-person one-vote election. Is there a historical analogy to pursue?
In other words, if today's struggle is against what might be termed class apartheid, then is the disparate resistance signified by Marikana similar to the early 1960s and hence will there be much more repression before a coherent opposition emerges?
Or will the contagion of protest from this and thousands of other micro-protests across the country start to coagulate, as in the 1976-94 period, into a network similar to the United Democratic Front (implying an inevitable split in the ANC-Cosatu-SACP Alliance, led by genuine communists and progressive post-nationalist workers), and then the formation of Worker's Party to challenge ANC electoral dominance?
Or, might something happen quite suddenly to rearrange power relations, as in 1992, and as we saw in Egypt in the wake of independent labour organizing against state-corporate-trade union arrangements in the years prior to the massive Tahrir Square mobilizations in early 2011? ‘Tunisia Day' for South Africa could come in 2020, according to high-profile commentator Moeletsi Mbeki (younger brother of the former president).
But if the strike wave continues to build and if capital insists the state put its foot down on the workers, aided by sweetheart unions, as the Cosatu-affiliated National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) is now known, things may come to a head sooner.
On October 17, Zuma's remarks about the need to ‘get back to work' had an ominous sound, and the next day the Marikana workers went on another wildcat strike because the police moved in to the platinum mine once again, arresting a few central leaders.
Fractured Political Certainties
Endless debates about these matters are underway, especially between the centre-left unionists and communists who are close to official power and thus defensive of the political status quo, on the one hand; and on the other, critical, independent progressives (my own bias).
Overlaying the crisis and these debates is the internal ANC split between pro- and anti-Zuma forces, which spilled over into Cosatu prior to its September congress. It was this that initially paralysed labour leadership, given the danger Cosatu would unleash centrifugal forces that its popular, leftist leader Zwelinzima Vavi could not control. There was even talk of NUM opening up a leadership challenge to Vavi, on grounds that the 300,000-member union (Cosatu's largest single member) was strongly pro-Zuma and insisted on the official Cosatu support that Vavi had initially resisted.
Until September, Zuma did indeed appear vulnerable to an ANC leadership challenge, but by ensuring the support of NUM and other unions, as well as a huge increase in membership in his home province of KwaZulu-Natal, he appears certain to win re-election as ANC president at the party's congress in December.
Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe has been publicly vague on whether he will challenge Zuma, but recent events ironically strengthened the current configuration of personalities, as major blocs all sought stability - drawing the wagons around in a ‘laager', is the local Afrikaans metaphor - on a terrain of such socio-political turmoil.
In the meantime, this political maneuvering left Cosatu mostly silenced about Marikana, as NUM's weight and the parallel subversion of other union leaders made it too difficult for the federation to visibly back the upstart platinum, gold and other mineworkers. In any case, what these wildcat strikers were doing might, unionists reckoned, even throw the institutions of centralised bargaining into chaos.
The demand for higher wages was both extreme, and thus opposed by NUM, and ultimately successful in the case of Marikana's courageous workers. The 22 percent raise - at a time inflation is around six percent - they won after a month of striking was remarkable, and inspired the country's labour force to look at their own pay packets askance.
By failing to issue immediate statements about Marikana, much less mobilise workers for solidarity against multinational capital's and the state's onslaught, Cosatu was simply unable to intervene at a time so many cried out for a shift from the War of Position to a War of Movement.
Before Marikana, there was a chance Vavi would have been replaced by forces to his right, driven by NUM, but because he chose to close ranks, he won re-election as general secretary, building on a successful term over the past 13 years in which more than any other figure in South African society, he has vocally demanded economic justice - until Marikana.
Indeed Vavi's most conspicuous moves throughout the mining belt in subsequent weeks were out of character: hand-in-hand with NUM's leadership, using his enormous prestige to throw cold water on the workers.
Overall, the configuration has Cosatu gazing upwards longingly for a relationship with state power, as with labour's support for Zuma even during the darkest 2005-07 days of corruption and rape charges. Many on the left are convinced, now, that Cosatu's conservatism is the principal barrier to progress. I wish this was not so, but find it hard to rebut.
The resulting void is vast. Only the so-called populist hypocrite Julius Malema, the ANC's former youth leader who is himself allegedly implicated in corrupt ‘tenderpreneurship' (insider deals for state contracts) in the neighbouring province of Limpopo, could gather 15,000 people at Marikana two days after the massacre. There he voiced the needed critique of Zuma, Lonmin and their associated black-parasitical capitalists, such as Lonmin part-owner Cyril Ramaphosa, who had just offered $240,000 of his company's funds to bury the murdered strikers, but whose company Shanduka is paid $360,000/year by Lonmin for providing ‘empowerment' consulting.
The billionaire Ramaphosa's recent attempt to purchase a prize bull cow for $2.3 million was mentioned by Malema as indicative of the gulf between the new South African 1% and the workers. Malema was rewarded by overwhelming support from Marikana miners on two occasions - including a memorial ceremony he arranged, at which he kicked out several of Zuma's cabinet ministers who had come to pay respects - but on his third visit, police denied him his constitutional rights to address another huge crowd.
Even while contesting fraud charges in his home base, where facilitating provincial tenders made him rich, Malema has been an unstoppable force across the mining belt in North West and Limpopo Provinces, and even Zimbabwe, calling for radical redistribution. Each time he does so, it seems to pull Zuma's rhetoric marginally leftwards as well.
Rebuilding from Micropolitics
But the forces for genuine change have to be gathered from below, for Malema's agenda is still apparently a reentry to the ANC, from which he was recently expelled for pulling the party into disrepute. Instead, the labour and community activists at the base need our attention, for to exist in Marikana and these mining dorpies is to face incessant repression bordering on brutality. Police arrogance continues undisturbed by the hatred expressed by workers and the disgust of so many in the society.
For example, the emergence of a women's mutual-aid movement amongst mineworker wives and girlfriends, as well as other women from the impoverished Marikana community, is one reflection of a new bottom-up politics. At least one martyr emerged from their ranks: Paulina Masuhlo, an unusually sympatico ANC municipal councilor in Marikana who sided with the workers and who was shot in the abdomen and leg with rubber bullets during a police and army invasion of Nkaneng on August 25. She died of the wounds on August 30.
Yet for the following week and a half, police and malevolently bureaucratic municipal officials refused the women's attempts to memorialize Masuhlo with a long protest march from Nkaneng to the Marikana police station. Persistence and legal support prevailed, so 800 demanded justice in a women's-only trek from Nkaneng to Marikana police station on September 1, dignified and without casualties.
But the political opportunities that might fuse worker, community and women's interests in improving conditions for the reproduction of labour power - perhaps one day too joined by environmentalists - are fragile and easy to lose.
Male migrant workers typically maintain two households and hence channel resources back to the Eastern Cape, Lesotho, Mozambique and other home bases. This process of mixing short-term residents with long-term Tswana-speaking inhabitants is fraught with potential xenophobia and ethnicism, and is a site in which syndicates of illicit drugs, transactional sex (even forced sexual labour), traditional patriarchy, dysfunctional spiritual suspicions (e.g, the use of traditional medicine muti against bullets which allegedly wears off quickly in the presence of women), widespread labour-broking and other super-exploitative relations thrive.
As a result, it can be extremely expensive to swim within this sea of poverty. For example, reflecting the broader financialization of South Africa's economy since the early 2000s, microfinance short-term loans that carry exceptionally high interest rates are offered to mineworkers by institutions ranging from established banks - one (Ubank) even co-owned by NUM and another (Capitec) replete with powerful ANC patrons - down to fly-by-night ‘mashonisha' loan sharks. The extremely high interest rates charged, especially once arrears mount, are understood to be one of the central pressures requiring workers to demand higher wages.
New versions of a debt moratorium or organized debtor's cartel - such as the ‘bond boycott' strategies that were so common in the early 1990s, in which borrowers banded together to gain strength for collective defaults - are a logical progression for a micropolitics of resistance in Marikana and so many other similar situations. The ‘repo man' tends to resort to threats and practices of violence, of course, so this is not a decision to be taken lightly (in Mexico in early 1995, it took a jump in interest rates from 14 to 120 percent to catalyse the ‘El Barzon' - the yoke - movement which gathered a million members to renegotiate debts on the basis of the financial reality, ‘Can't pay, won't pay!')
Jumping scale to other visions of post-exploitative economics, there is also loose talk of nationalization, of which Mining Minister Susan Shabangu and her pro-business allies have been attempting to rid the ANC, especially since Malema's troubles rose to crisis proportions. The expulsion of the ANC Youth League faux-radicals left virtually no major figures aside from the general secretary of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa, Irvin Jim, to demand nationalisation of strategic resources - even though it was a policy position adopted just weeks earlier at an ANC national policy conference.
Nationalising platinum would be a smart move, for South Africa controls more than 80 percent of world platinum resources, and the price spike occasioned by the Lonmin, Implats and Angoplats strikes - now 30 percent over six weeks - suggests great potential for a platinum cartel similar to OPEC's oil cartel. The main buyer of platinum is the European auto industry, so while the economic crisis continues, demand will remain soft, with the consequent threat that the major platinum mines will simply close shafts. The same week that Lonmin conceded the big wage increase to the 4000 Marikana rock drill operators, it found it could cancel short-term contracts of another 1200 workers, for example.
Narratives of Revolution, Revulsion and Rearguard Defense
How far will the diverse momentums of Marikana pull South African society? Which political narratives are emerging, and can they become the basis for a social understanding that will mobilise the tens of millions of disgruntled South Africans into a force capable of breaking sweetheart relations between state, ruling party, labour aristocrats, parasitical capital and the London/Melbourne mining houses? The answer, so far, is not encouraging.
For some, this is potentially the breakthrough event that independent progressives have sought, so as to unveil the intrinsic anti-social tendencies associated with the ANC-Alliance's elite transition from revolutionaries to willing partners of some of the world's most wicked corporations. Such a narrative is promoted by the extremely fractured South African left, with some factions associated with the relatively broad-based (though labour-less) Democratic Left Front and the Marikana Support Campaign, which from Johannesburg and Cape Town have sponsored regular political meetings and solidaristic activities in the platinum belt.
Because the first such meeting at the University of Johannesburg a week after the Marikana Massacre provisionally included a NUM representative on the programme (though he was chased from the hall), another left faction led by Johannesburg's Khanya College broke away to found the ‘We are all Marikana' campaign. Resolutely opposed to any legitimation of Cosatu's Alliance unionism, this network has also gathered ordinary workers for educational events.
There are at least two other small revolutionary parties in Marikana engaged in recruiting and consciousness-raising: the Democratic Socialist Movement and the Committee for a Workers' International. Unfortunately, even though it may often seem like a ‘pre-revolutionary' situation in a South Africa with amongst the highest protest rates in the world, the lack of connectivity between those with grievances is a crippling problem.
That is why it is worrisome to hear dissonant narratives from others who might potentially move together into, at the very lleast, a more united oppositional discursive mode, not to mention joint activist initiatives.
One of these might have included coordinated international solidarity, which became a huge void in Marikana-reaction work given the willingness of NGOs to already call on the World Bank to divest from Lonmin the day after the massacre, and given that at least a dozen spontaneous protests broke out at SA embassies and consulate offices across the world in subsequent days.
To illustrate, although an impressive revival of the Black Consciousness (BC) tradition has occurred over the last decade through the New Frank Talk series, for example, the sole public intervention on Marikana by the September National Imbizo was to visit two days after the massacre to begin the reconstruction of events (resulting in their later accusations against others who arrived soon after, of political plagiarism), but without subsequent commentary or activism.
A month after the massacre, I witnessed BC adherents along with an unusually subdued left-autonomist network conjoined in an intellectual conference at Johannesburg's Wits University, in an event known as the ‘Tribe of Moles', led by an emerging black intelligentsia suspicious of classical socialist formulations and friendly to insurgent opportunities.
But surprisingly, in a whole day of debating race, representation and radical politics, the word Marikana was not mentioned once from the stage or floor. When asked during a break about the evolving situation, including Marikana women's organising, the country's most prominent BC proponent, Andile Mngxitama, called the cross-racial/class/geographical gender organizing underway (including middle-class women from NGOs) a distraction, for after all the corpses were ‘black bodies' - and hence he gave impetus to the frequent claim that contemporary South African BC argumentation soon degenerates into race essentialism.
There is hope that women of Marikana organising across the divides of labour and community can set the example so desperately needed to connect the dots elsewhere in the society, including in nearby terrains ranging from mining dorpies to land struggles in North West, Limpopo and Gauteng provinces. Yet these women are as diverse (and ethnically divided) as the broader society: wives, girlfriends, mothers, daughters, sisters, healthworkers, educators, sexworkers, cooks, cleaners, salespersons.
In two cases, there are even women serving as superexploitative mining house managers (Cynthia Carroll of Anglo and Mamphela Ramphele of Goldfields: capitalist ideologues who have provided very little in the way of sisterhood, though at least the former World Bank managing director Ramphele did acknowledge that migrant labour needs a rethink). These women have the additional burdens of handling trauma counseling for victims of violence, and of providing mutual aid to those who are suffering enormously, directly and indirectly, as a result of the wildcat strike wave's reduction of immediate cash in communities.
What about progressives who have long been associated with the ANC because of the 100-year old party's best instincts, but who after 1994 continued their sincerely liberatory work mainly from civil society? Here one might include organisations which jumped into the Marikana political breech with much needed support activities, including the Socio-Economic Rights Institute, Sonke Gender Justice, Studies in Poverty and Inequality, Students for Law and Social Justice, the Treatment Action Campaign and Section 27 (which is named after the country's Bill of Rights).
A leader of the latter very vigorous NGO, Mark Heywood (formerly a leading AIDS-medicines activist), was on the one hand a vital supplier of solidarity, yet on the other, perhaps a victim of his own belief in liberal muti (traditional medicine), when speaking to the Marikana workers and community in late September: ‘The Constitution of South Africa is the most important weapon we have. It is more powerful than Jacob Zuma, but it will only give you power if you organise around the Constitution, if you organise around its rights.' Shown this quote, one leading left intellectual chuckled, ‘I don't think the workers won their 22 percent raise with a second thought about the Constitution.'
And what of the official ‘left'? Nothing if not brutally frank, Business Day newspaper editor Peter Bruce wrote four days after the massacre, ‘What's scary about Marikana is that, for the first time, for me, the fact that the ANC and its government do not have the handle they once did on the African majority has come home. The party is already losing the middle classes. If they are now also losing the marginal and the dispossessed, what is left? Ah yes, Cosatu and the communists - Zuma's creditors.'
Indeed it is surreal to find Cosatu and communist leaders so racked with anxiety at the prospect of widening worker revolt. In the most extreme case, an SACP ideologue was used by controversy-seeking liberal journalist RW Johnson as the useful idiot for a bizarre conclusion: ‘this time the Left was in favour of the massacre [emphasis added]. Dominic Tweedie of the Communist University, Johannesburg, commented "This was no massacre, this was a battle. The police used their weapons in exactly the way they were supposed to. That's what they have them for. The people they shot didn't look like workers to me. We should be happy. The police were admirable." The Communist Party's North West section demanded the arrest of AMCU's Joseph Muthunjwa and his deputy, James Kholelile.'
Johnson, a regular London Review of Books blogger, has apparently no interest in engaging a genuine Left, and indeed he confesses that he taught ‘vulgar Marxism' to Zuma in Durban fifty years ago (obviously rather poorly). Yet his point about SACP inclinations to put the dissenters up against the wall is chillingly familiar.
If dismissing the courage and persistence of Marikana workers is the objective, then the partner in crime of both gleeful old-line liberalism and control-freak stalinism is nihilism, as represented in an Africa Report article by maverick commentator Heinrich Bohmke, well known in Durban as a political kill-joy with an eloquent spear of a pen. Writing six days after the massacre, Bohmke predicted, ‘the repertoire of counter-insurgency (for lack of a softer term) available to those working on behalf of the status quo is too great to allow much to come of Marikana... Bosses of all hues will consider this a boon. Instead of menace and the hope for an upsurge in struggle, what Marikana may end up marking is the beginning of a tripartite backlash against what government, established trade unions and business have all called "anarchy".'
How wrong can you get. The panic of bosses and their spokespeople - neoliberals such as Bruce - is easy to discern, at a time social protest in townships reached very high levels in mid-2012, with no hope of relief. Some commentators apparently fearing the potentially uncontrollable contagion of disrespect, like Frans Cronje of the SA Institute of Race Relations, immediately rose to the ANC's defense, declaring in mid-September, ‘A myth has taken hold in South Africa that service delivery was a failure.' Cronje's defense of state provision of water, electricity, housing, etc reverberated well with Business Day editorialists as well as SACP leader Blade Nzimande, who warmly endorsed the ‘research'.
But when I asked Cronje whether he had determined what percentage of post-1994 communal water taps were still working amongst those the ruling party claim serve more than fifteen million people, he conceded that he had no clue. The last serious audit I know of - a decade ago by David Hemson, at the behest of then water minister Ronnie Kasrils - put the share at less than half, using even the most generous definition of what is ‘working,' and by all accounts the sector's management has degenerated since then.
Others in this apparently frightened camp, like Business Day columnist Steven Friedman, appeal for a return to a ‘social partnership' strategy in the wake of Marikana, because such an approach ‘has not failed us - it has not been tried.' The corporatist elites, now including Vavi, did meet in mid-October, issuing what will be soon seen as meaningless statements against wildcat strikes and worker violence against scabs. The big business representatives at that gabfest were apparently loathe to even name themselves publicly.
Economic Potholes Ahead
Unfortunately for them, no matter the narratives of renewed social ‘leadership', the strike wave may continue rising if desperation levels and worker militancy continue. Truck drivers received an above-inflation settlement on October 12 after resorting to sometimes intensely violent methods to disrupt scab drivers, in the process creating shortages of petrol and retail goods in parts of the country. If municipal workers go on strike next, the piling up of garbage and then its spillage on main roads - the typical tactic to infuriate wealthier residents so as to compel local government officials to settle - will add to the impression that South Africa has won amongst world capitalists: socio-economic rot and an inability to control the unruly proletariat.
In mid-September, the World Economic Forum's Global Competitiveness Report placed South Africa in the number one position for adverse employee-employer relations (in a survey done prior to Marikana), whereas last year in this measure of class struggle, South African workers were only in 7th place of 144 countries surveyed. Partly as a result of labour militancy, major ratings agencies are now downgrading the country's bond rating, most recently to BBB level by Standard & Poor's. The resulting higher interest rates to be paid on the country's prolific foreign borrowings - about five times higher today in absolute terms than inherited from apartheid in 1994 - will create yet more fiscal pressures as well as household and corporate repayment stress.
Given Europe's crisis and South Africa's vulnerability, much lower GDP growth rates in coming quarters are anticipated. And instead of countering that prospect with an interest rate cut by the SA Reserve Bank in coming weeks, as was projected just weeks ago, the country's shaky financial standing will put countervailing upward pressure on rates. A rates increase is possible, just so as to stem rampant capital flight, even while Citigroup's long-planned inclusion of SA securities in its global state bond reporting portfolio expands the purchasing base for Pretoria's bonds. The only soothing answer for bankers from the finance minister, former communist Pravin Gordhan, is to hint at fiscal austerity in his upcoming budget speech.
All this is to say that the situation remains too fluid to assess which forces will emerge from the chaos. It is here that contemporary South African narratives from within ‘nationalism', ‘populism', ‘stalinism', ‘trotskyism', ‘autonomism', ‘black consciousness', ‘feminism', ‘nihilism', ‘corporatism', ‘liberalism' and ‘neoliberalism' all appear inadequate to the tasks at hand on the platinum belt and so many other workplaces and communities. No ideologues have yet posed a vision to rescue South Africa from intense pressures that seem to grow stronger each week.
What is definitive, though, is the waning of any remaining illusions that the forces of ‘liberation' led by the ANC will take South Africa to genuine freedom and a new society. Marikana will have that effect, permanently, I suspect, so long as protesters keep dodging police bullets and moving the socio-economic and political-ecological questions to centre stage, from where ANC neoliberal nationalism could either arrange a properly fascist backlash, or more likely under Zuma's ongoing misrule, continue shrinking in confusion and regular doses of necessary humility.