Khanya Journal Editorial Statement on the Marikana Massacre
The murder of 35- 34 miners by the South African police at Marikana on Thursday 16 August marks a watershed in South Africa’s post-apartheid history. Attempts by the media, the state, the ANC, other established political parties, and the established trade unions, including Cosatu, to portray the massacre and the strike by Lonmin workers as caused by inter-trade union rivalry cannot hide the fact that the massacre put South Africa’s democracy on trial.
A strike driven by deepening poverty and Inequality
The strike at Lonmin, one of the world’s largest platinum producers, is driven by the deep and systemic poverty of the workers and their communities in South Africa today. While a few rich bosses and their BEE hangers-on flaunt their wealth, the working class continues to endure poor wages, a lack of housing and other social services, a lack of education, and deteriorating food security. The Marikana workers’ refusal to end the strike was primarily driven by the need for survival and to defend their living standards.
The ANC government defends the platinum bosses
Today the platinum bosses occupy the same position that had been occupied by the gold mining bosses throughout the history of capitalism in South Africa. With gold mining on the decline, and with South African capitalism set to continue on its road of being an extractive economy, the future of South African capitalism is now linked to the future of platinum group metals mining. It is this industry that will settle the future of the black capitalist class and its ANC connections, the role of the state, its political parties and its economic policy. What is done with platinum wealth will also determine whether South African capitalism can be tamed to provide a decent, if basic, standard of living for the majority black working class. Over the last few months, the platinum bosses have been calling on the state to ‘rescue’ them from the effects of the global economic crisis. Workers in the platinum mines have refused to shoulder the burden of the crisis, and have mounted ongoing battles to defend their living standards. A planned mining lekgotla is a signal that the state is prepared to lower safety standards on the mines and consider supporting the mining bosses. These are the responses by the ANC government. The intervention of the SAPS to break the strike by Marikana workers using force is the latest in these responses to the pleas of the mining bosses. All that was left was to find a pretext to move in and break the strike. On 15 August the ANC issued a statement commending the SAPS for deploying “3 000 heavily armed police” in Marikana.
The ANC government takes the road of violence against the working class
The massacre in Marikana marks an important moment in the growing brutality of the post-apartheid state against working class communities. The road from Ficksburg to Marikana is littered with bullets and armoured cars that have been used to suppress the struggles of communities and workers for social justice and a decent life. With the massacre at Marikana, the ANC government has finally abandoned any attemptor pretence to respect the rights of the working class to struggle, and has embraced the philosophy of the old Apartheid state of ‘shoot first and set up a commission later’. With Marikana, the ANC government has placed itself in a long line of massacres of the working class from Bulhoek in 1921, the massacres of miners in 1946, Sharpville in 1960, Soweto in 1976, Langa in 1985, and Boipatong in 1992. South African capitalism was built on the massacres of the black working class and the ANC government has now placed itself as an inheritor of this tradition of massacres.
The end of the anti-apartheid democratic labour Movement
The Marikana massacre also marked a watershed moment in the history of the labour movement that was born out of the Durban strikes of 1973. For Cosatu, the slogan of ‘an injury to one is an injury to all’ has now lost any meaning; working class solidarity and struggle no longer concern the federation. At its CEC convened after the massacre, Cosatu said not a word about the demands of the workers, not a word about the mining bosses, not a line of criticism of the SAPS, and not a word about the appalling living conditions of the miners. Cosatu focused on condemning ‘breakaway unions’ and made arrangements to convene an urgent CEC, on ‘breakaways’. For Cosatu, the road to Marikana began over a decade ago, with the old labour movement consistently refusing to support and linkup with communities struggling for a better life. With the Marikana massacre, the old labour movement completed its delinking from the working class and its struggle.
A weak working class movement and a culture of political violence
The Marikana massacre, the workers’ refusal to end the strike and their preparedness to face state machine guns speaks to a deep preparedness to struggle. The levels and strategies of organising by the workers also reveal a weak and divided working class. As a new labour movement emerges out of the factories and mines, and as a new working class movement emerges out of the townships, universities and schools, all of us who are committed to a socially just world need to dedicate ourselves to overcoming the deep organisational, political and strategic weaknesses of this new movement. A major challenge facing a new cadre of struggle is to overcome the culture of political violence that has been inherited from the previous cycle of struggle (against apartheid). A new working class cadre needs to learn that violence within the working class is not a method of organising, and that the terrain of political and organisational violence is the terrain of the ruling class.
Mobilise! Don’t mourn!
The spirit of the workers who died at Marikana will not be defeated by attempts to turn the massacre into an instance of ‘black on black violence’. The apartheid state tried this and failed. It will not be defeated by turning it into ‘union faction fights’. With Marikana, it is not enough to condemn the state, the bosses and all those who support and defend capitalism. The spirit of the Marikana workers can only be honoured by an intensification of the struggle to build and strengthen a new, organised and militant anti-capitalist working class movement.
Arm yourself with Knowledge! Organise and Fight!