South African police forces have fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse protesters at the strike-hit Marikana platinum mine after raiding hostels and seizing weapons amid growing unrest.
Hundreds of protesters in the shantytown threw stones at officers and burned tires on Saturday.
About 500 officers took part in an early-morning raids on worker hostels around the platinum mine, west of the capital Pretoria, taking machetes, spears and arresting five people.
The government had threatened to clamp down on unrest which had been spreading in gold and platinum mines.
The long-month mining unrest that hit the northwest town of Rustenburg’s platinum belt over a wage battle has seen hundreds of protesting workers brandishing sticks and machetes march from mine to mine around Marikana and other areas, threatening anyone reporting for work.
The strike has been marked by violent clashes, including the shooting dead of 34 striking miners by police in August. In all, 45 people have died in violence related to the unrest.
The world’s top platinum producer Anglo American Platinum has been forced to close five of its mines over safety fears after intimidation and threats of violence on staff trying to go to work.
South Africa’s mining sector directly employs around 500,000 people and accounts for nearly one-fifth of gross domestic product of the country.
- South African police fire tear gas and rubber bullets at striking miners (rt.com)
- South African police shoot four miners (morningstaronline.co.uk)
South African workers arrested after a shooting at a platinum mine have been charged with killing 34 of their colleagues, despite confirmation that police committed the murders. The officers, who did not deny using guns, face no charges.
The Lonmin platinum mine in Marikana, in the country’s North West province, made headlines on August 16, when protesters, who demanded their wages be raised to over $1,000 a month, clashed with police. The crackdown claimed the lives of 36 people – miners and two policemen, and left 78 injured.
All of the 270 arrested miners, including the six hospitalized, were previously said to be charged with attempted murder or public violence. But state prosecutor Nigel Carpenter increased the charges against them.
The miners are to be tried under the “common purpose” doctrine, which implies that all participants in a criminal activity can be charged for its consequences.
“This is under common law, where people are charged with common purpose in a situation where there are suspects with guns or any weapons and they confront or attack the police and a shooting takes place, and there are fatalities,”Frank Lesenyego, spokesman for South Africa’s National Prosecuting Authority, said.
The lawyers representing the Marikana strikers are expected to challenge the charges. A prior application for bail was rejected, and the hearing was delayed till September 6. Until then, the miners will remain in custody in three area police stations.
At the same time, the policemen involved in the deadly clashes at the Marikana mine will undergo a Commission of Inquiry investigation separately.
That is despite police commissioner Riah Phiyega’s confirmation a few days after the tragedy that the 34 people were killed by police. However, police officers insist that they opened fire to defend themselves against a wave of strikers armed with machetes, who allegedly charged barricades. Prior to gunshots, the police used tear gas and water cannons.
However, leaked findings of victims’ autopsies were published by the South African Star newspaper, and showed that the miners were shot in the back while running away.
The post-mortem results suggested that the strikers posed no danger to law enforcement at the time of the shooting.
An official spokesman refused to confirm or deny the accusations on what’s already being dubbed the Marikana Massacre – the most violent episode in South Africa’s history since the 1994 end of apartheid.
- South Africa’s Unfinished Revolution and the Massacre at Marikana (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Shocking autopsy: South African police ‘shot fleeing protesters in the back’ (rt.com)
When thousands of miners went on strike at South Africa’s largest platinum mine, in Marikana, they were confronting not only the London-based owners, but the South African state, which since 1994 has been dominated by the African National Congress (ANC); COSATU, the Congress of South African Trade Unions; and the South African Communist Party. This week, the full weight of the state was brought down on the Black miners, 34 of whom were massacred by police gunfire. Many of the survivors face charges of murder in the earlier deaths of two policemen and eight other miners.
The National Union of Mineworkers, whose representation the strikers rejected, and the Communist Party head in the region claim the strikers are at fault, that they have committed the sin of choosing an alternative union to argue their case for higher wages and, therefore, deserve severe punishment. They are “anarchists,” say these two allies of the South African state, and guilty of fomenting “dual unionism” – which is now, apparently, a capital crime. With a straight face, the Communist Party had the gall to call on all South African workers to “remain united in the fight against exploitation under capitalism.”
That is precisely what the Marikana miners were doing – the struggle they gave their lives for. However, since the peaceful transition to state power to the ANC and its very junior partners, the COSATU unions and the Communist Party, in 1994, the South African state has had different priorities. The “revolution” was put on indefinite hold, so that a new Black capitalist class could be created, largely from the ranks of well-connected members of the ruling party and even union leaders. It is only logical that, if the priority of the state is to nurture Black capitalists, then it must maintain and defend capitalism. This is the central contradiction of the South African arrangement, and the massacre at Marikana is its inevitable result.
The 1994 agreement between Nelson Mandela’s ANC and the white South African regime was a pact with the devil, which could only be tolerated by the masses of the country’s poor because it was seen as averting a bloodbath, and because it was assumed to be temporary. But, 18 years later, the arrangement has calcified into a bizarre protectorate for foreign white capital and the small class of Blacks that have attached themselves to the global rich. Apologists for the African National Congress regime will prattle on about the “complexity” of the issue, but the central truth is that South Africa did not complete its revolution.
The fundamental contradictions of the rule of the many by the few, remain in place – only now, another layer of repression has been added: a Black aristocracy that has soaked itself in the blood of the miners of Marikana.
South Africa remains the continent’s best hope for a fundamental break with colonialism in its new forms. But, as in all anti-colonial struggles, the biggest casualties will occur in the clash between those who truly desire liberation, and those who are intent on an accommodation with the old master.
BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com.
- Echoes of the Past: Marikana, Cheap Labour and the 1946 Miners Strike (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- South African miners’ families back Julius Malema’s call for nationalisation (guardian.co.uk)
On August 4, 1946 over one thousand miners assembled in Market Square in Johannesburg, South Africa. No hall in the town was big enough to hold them, and no one would have rented one to them anyway. The miners were members of the African Mine Worker’s Union (AMWU), a non-European union which was formed five years earlier in order to address the 12 to 1 pay differential between white and black mineworkers. The gathering carried forward just one unanimous resolution: African miners would demand a minimum wage of ten shillings (about 1 Rand) per day. If the Transvaal Chamber of Mines did not meet this demand, all African mine workers would embark on a general strike immediately. Workers mounted the platform one after the other to testify: “When I think of how we left our homes in the reserves, our children naked and starving, we have nothing more to say. Every man must agree to strike on 12 August. It is better to die than go back with empty hands.” The progressive Guardian newspaper reported an old miner getting to his feet and addressing his comrades: “We on the mines are dead men already!”
The massacre of 45 people, including 34 miners, at Marikana in the North West province is an inevitable outcome of a system of production and exploitation that has historically treated human life as cheap and disposable. If there is a central core – a stem in relation to which so many other events are branches – that runs through South African history, it is the demand for cheap labour for South Africa’s mines. “There is no industry of the size and prosperity of this that has managed its cheap labour policy so successfully,” wrote Ruth First in reference to the Chamber of Mines ability to pressure the government for policies that displaced Africans from their land and put them under the boot of mining bosses.
Masters and Servants
Mechanisms such as poll and hut taxes, pass laws, Masters and Servants Acts and grinding rural poverty were all integral in ensuring a cheap and uninterrupted supply of labour for the mines. Pass laws were created in order to forge a society in which farm work or mining were the only viable employment options for the black population. And yet the low wages and dangerous work conditions kept many within the country away, forcing the Chamber of Mines to recruit labour from as far afield as Malawi and China throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Sordid deals between Portuguese East Africa and Apartheid South Africa ensured forced labour to be recruited for the mines and by 1929 there were 115,000 Mozambicans working underground. “It has been said,” wrote First in her study of migrant Mozambican miners, “that the wealth of Reef gold mines lies not in the richness of the strike but in the low costs of production kept down by cheap labour.”
When AMWU was formed in 1941 black miners earned 70 Rand a year while white workers received 848 Rand. White miners had been organized for many years, but there was little solidarity between the two groups as evidenced by the 1922 Rand Rebellion led by the whites-only Mine Workers Union. White miners went on strike against management’s attempt at weakening the colour bar in order to facilitate the entry of cheaper black labour into skilled positions. Supported by the Communist Party of South Africa under the banner of “Unite and Fight for a White South Africa!” the rebellion was viciously crushed by the state leaving over 200 dead. The growth of non-European unions in the 1940s was dramatic and for the very first time the interests of African mineworkers were on the table. Their demands threatened the very foundations of the cheap labour system, and so in 1944 Prime Minister Jan Smuts tabled the War Measure 1425 preventing a gathering of 20 or more on mine property. Despite these difficulties the union pressed on and in 1946 they approached the Chamber of Mines with their demand for wage increases. A letter calling for last minute negotiations with the Chamber of Mines was, as usual, ignored.
By August 12th tens-of-thousands of black miners were on strike from the East to the West Rand. The state showed the utmost brutality, chasing workers down mineshafts with live ammunition and cracking down on potential sympathy strikes in the city of Johannesburg. By August 16th the state had bludgeoned 100,000 miners back to work and nine lay dead. Throughout the four-day strike hundreds of trade union leaders were arrested, with the central committee of the Communist Party and local ANC leaders arrested and tried for treason and sedition. The violence came on the cusp of the 1948 elections, which would see further repression and the beginning of the country’s anti-communist hysteria.
National Union of Mineworkers Poster on Fortieth Anniversary of 1946 Strike
While it did not succeed in its immediate aims, the strike was a watershed moment in South African politics and would forever change the consciousness of the labour movement. Thirty years later Monty Naicker, one of the leading figures in the South African Indian Congress, argued that the strike “transformed African politics overnight. It spelt the end of the compromising, concession-begging tendencies that dominated African politics. The timid opportunism and begging for favours disappeared.” The Native Representative Council, formed by the state in 1937 to address the age old ‘native question,’ disbanded on August 15th and ANC president Dr. A.B. Xuma reiterated the demand for “recognition of African trade unions and adequate wages for African workers including mineworkers.”
The 1946 mineworkers strike was the spark that ignited the anti-apartheid movement. The ANC Youth League’s 1949 Program of Action owes much to the militancy of these workers as does the Defiance Campaign of the 1950s and the emergence of the ANC’s armed wing Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation) in the 1960s. It is too early to say what sort of impact the current Lonmin strike will have on South African politics, but it seems unlikely that it will be as transformative as those of the past. The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), arguably the heirs to the 1946 strike are currently engaged in a series of territorial disputes with the breakaway Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU). Meanwhile COSATU’s muted response has echoed the ANC’s line of equal-culpability and half-mast public mourning. The increasingly incoherent South African Communist Party has called for the arrest of AMCU leaders with some of its so-called cadres defending the police action. Former ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema’s plea for miners to hold the line and form a more militant union reek of political opportunism.
Still Dependent on Cheap and Flexible Labour
What no one has dared to say, aside from the miners themselves, is that the mining industry remains dependent on cheap and flexible labour, much of it continuing to come from neighbouring countries. This has historically been the source of most miner’s grievances. A recent Bench Marks Foundation study of platinum mines in the North West province uncovered a number of factors linked to rising worker discontent in the region. Lonmin was singled out as a mine with high levels of fatalities, very poor living conditions for workers and unfulfilled community demands for employment. Perhaps most significant is the fact that almost a third of Lonmin’s workforce is employed through third party contractors. This form of employment is not new in the mining industry. In fact, since minerals were discovered in the 19th century labour recruiters have scoured the southern half of the continent for workers. The continued presence of these ‘labour brokers’ on the mines and the ANC’s unwillingness to ban them – opting instead for a system of increasing regulation – is the bloody truth of South Africa’s so-called ‘regulated flexibility.’
There are a number other findings from the Bench Marks study that are worth mentioning as they illuminate some of the real grievances that have been lost amid photos of waving pangas. The number of fatalities at Lonmin has doubled since January 2011, and the company has consistently ignored community calls for employment, favouring contractors and migrant workers. A visit by the Bench Marks Foundation research team to Marikana revealed:
“A proliferation of shacks and informal settlements, the rapid deterioration of formal infra-structure and housing in Marikana itself, and the fact that a section of the township constructed by Lonmin did not have electricity for more than a month during the time of our last visit. At the RDP Township we found broken down drainage systems spilling directly into the river at three different points.”
In fact, the study predicted further violent protests at Marikana in the coming year. The mass dismissal of 9,000 workers in May last year inflamed already tense relations between the community and the mine as dismissed workers lost their homes in the company’s housing scheme.
Once again, these facts are hardly new in the world of South African mining. Behind the squalid settlements that surround the mine shafts there are immense profits to be made. In recent years the platinum mining industry has prospered like no other thanks to the increased popularity of platinum jewellery and the use of the metal in vehicle exhaust systems in the United State and European countries. Production increased by 60 per cent between 1980 and 1994, while the price soared almost fivefold. The value of sales, almost all exported, thus increased to almost 12 per cent of total sales by the mining industry. The price rose so dramatically throughout the 1990s that it is on par with gold as the country’s leading mineral export. South Africa’s platinum industry is the largest in the world and in 2011 reported total revenues of $13.3-billion, which is expected to increase by 15.8% over the next five years. Lonmin itself is one of the largest producers of platinum in the world, and the bulk of its tonnage comes from the Marikana mine. The company recorded revenues of $1.9-billion in 2011, an increase of 25.7%, the majority of which would come from the Marikana shafts.
For risking mutilation and death underground workers at Marikana made only 4000 Rand, or $480 a month. As one miner told South Africa’s Mail and Guardian newspaper that, “It’s better to die than to work for that shit … I am not going to stop striking. We are going to protest until we get what we want. They have said nothing to us. Police can try and kill us but we won’t move.” These expressions of frustration and anger could be from 1922, 1946 or today. They are scathing indictments of an industry that continues to treat its workers as disposable and a state that upholds apartheid’s cheap labour policies.
1. Monty Naicker, “The African Miners Strike of 1946,” 1976.
2. Ruth First, “The Gold of Migrant Labour,” Spearhead, 1962.
3. Ruth First, “The Gold of Migrant Labour,” Spearhead, 1962.
4. Monty Naicker, “The African Miners Strike of 1946,” 1976.
5. Dr. A.B. Xuma quoted in Monty Naicker, “The African Miners Strike of 1946.”
6. The Bench Marks Foundation, “Communities in the Platinum Minefields,” 2012.
7. The Bench Marks Foundation, “Communities in the Platinum Minefields,” 2012.
8. Charles Feinstein, “An Economic History of South Africa,” Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005, 211.
9. Marketline Advantage Reports on South Africa’s Platinum Group Metals, 2011.
Chris Webb is a postgraduate student at York University, Toronto where he is researching labour restructuring in South African agriculture. He can be reached at christopherswebb_AT_yahoo.ca.
- Striking South African miners defy Lonmin ultimatum (guardian.co.uk)
- South Africa tells Lonmin to drop threat to sack striking miners (guardian.co.uk)