(FinalCall.com) – South Africans are “reeling in horror” at the killing of 34 miners by police August 16, which to many brought back the darkest memories of the country’s apartheid past. The African National Congress expressed similar horror and outrage at what is being called the “Marikana massacre,” according to Open Democracy.net.
Wading into a sea of platinum miners and their families, expelled African National Congress Youth League leader Julius Malema told the thousands who gathered at the site, near Rustenberg in the country’s north, where the miners were killed, that South African police had no right to fire live ammunition that took their lives, reported The Independent.
Malema “refused police offers of protection, and walked unarmed and unescorted into a large open field where the striking miners were waiting for him,” reported Open Democracy. After standing and applauding him Malema took to the microphone and criticized President Zuma for coming “last night” under the cover of darkness and only meeting with management. “He went to speak to the White people, not you,” Malema said. “It was not the White British people (an obvious reference to the British-owned mining company Lonmin) who were killed, it was you.”
In addition Malema, the first politician to address the miners at the site where 10 people were killed before police shootings–including two officers hacked to death and two mine security guards strikers burned alive in their vehicle–not only said the government had turned its back on the strikers, “they (the police) had no right to shoot,” he said, even if the miners had opened fire first.
The police, who responded with volleys of automatic gunfire and pistols, said they acted in self-defense after a group of miners armed mainly with machetes and clubs charged, and at least one miner shot at them.
In contrast Malema’s former mentor, South African President Jacob Zuma could not get to Marikana, the site of the massacre earlier, probably because of the regional summit he was attending in Mozambique.
During his night visit he only met with management and visited the injured in hospital. Strikers complained after he cut short his participation in the regional summit so he could visit the wounded miners that he had not come to hear their side of the story. Zuma’s main response to the police killing was the appointment of a commission of inquiry.
Media reports concerning the Marikana massacre generally focus on the rivalry between the National Union of Mineworkers, the largest affiliate of the ANC-aligned Congress of South African Trade Unions, and the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union. The more “militant” and increasingly popular AMCU broke off from the National Union of Mineworkers in 1998. Both unions have been accused of aggressively campaigning to secure new membership, which increases bargaining power with Lonmin.
Roger Southhall writing in Open Democracy states that the “ensuing competition became increasingly violent, with both the NUM and Lonmin claiming to be victims–the former rogue forces seeking to divide the unity of the workers movement, the latter of an inter-union dispute which it claimed it was powerless to prevent.”
What is not said is that Lonmin benefits from the rivalry between the two unions. A case in point is Lonmin in March of 2012 informing NUM that since its union membership among the company’s employees had dropped below 51 percent it had six months to restore its union membership level. Failing to increase its membership would nullify its “recognition agreement.”
What is also not reported is the mining companies inordinate responsibility for the “abysmal” living conditions of miners.
According to John Capel, executive director of the Benchmark Foundation, an advocacy group committed to good corporate governance, and ethical and socially responsible investment; the majority of informal worker housing settlements have come about as a result of mines not providing housing for the migrants they hire and an inadequate living allowance. Miners are forced to find cheap accommodations in surrounding villages or settle in shacks near to the mines.
“There is an increased strain on the surrounding towns and its infrastructure as a result of the ever-increasing numbers in the informal settlements, this is a direct result of mining and mining corporations ignore this,” says Capel.
He also cites high unemployment rates in these settlements–the result of closures of certain mines. Many unemployed turn to crime or the sex trade.
“Another red flag that shouldn’t be ignored,” says Capel “is the mines attract migrant labor without providing the necessary resources to deal with them. These laborers flock at the promise of jobs. This flux creates tension between indigenous communities and migrant labor.”
In the community of Kanana, even though it’s close to 11 diamond and gold mines, unemployment is extremely high. Mines prefer to employ illegal immigrants as opposed to locals and pay lower wages.
In addition Capel cites huge profits mining companies have made over the years. “Why is it that companies do not make provision for the possibility of tough times when the going is good? Part of being a good corporate citizen is having sustainability practices that consider broader society and not just the narrow interests of the shareholders.”
Dissatisfaction among South Africa’s miners is at an all time high and labor struggles appear to be spreading to the entire platinum mining sector. According to published reports, “The violence at the mine north-west of Johannesburg erupted after 3,000 rock drill operators went on an unprotected strike nearly a fortnight ago.”
Anglo American Platinum (Amplats) announced Aug. 22nd that it received a demand for better wages from its South African workers. Amplats spokesperson Moumi Sithole told Reuters the formal demands were delivered to management by workers not by union reps.
And on top that miners at Roay Bafokeng Platinum’s Rasimone mine in S. Africa have been prevented from going to work by colleagues, NUM said.
Aubrey Mathiqi, a research fellow at the Helen Suzman Foundation, said, “I think the people of Marikana, particularly the miners, see themselves as the manifestation of the gap between mineral wealth and socioeconomic conditions. The death of so many miners has amplified the extent to which Julius Malema’s views on mine nationalization resonate with the people in the area.”
(Jehron Muhammad writes from Philadelphia and can be reached at [email protected].)
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- The exploitation of Africa’s land and people (FCN, 02-24-2009)
- Emira Woods on the global exploitation of Africa’s land and people (FCN, 08-21-2008)
- Gold, Oil, Africa and Why the West Wants Gadhafi Dead (FCN, 06-07-2011)