Marikana: a lanced boil on the face of Democracy or evidence of deeper infection?

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The Marikana Massacre, as it has been called by the press, has been at the forefront of news topics in South Africa and the world for some weeks.

If you don’t know about this, in brief: the death of thirty four (34) striking South African miners at the hands of South African police on Saturday, August 25, 2012.

The issue: this happened in a Democratic and free society! Not under a racially driven apartheid Nationalist rule but instead under our very own Democratically elected government.

How can this be!

Most South Africans are, sadly, desensitised and reports of violence in our news doesn’t usually draw much attention.  So sitting down to watch the television news on that fateful evening was something that no one could have guessed would run its ripples through the hearts of every single South African watching. Not necessarily because of the sheer horror of thirty four men being shot and killed by the very people entrusted with public safety but perhaps even more so because for the first time in years it was something so utterly horrific that even the greatest doubters and deniers of trouble among us could not ignore that this incident revealed something we have all known for some time: the social fabric of South African society is often delicate and volatile to say the least.

Police attack demo during the 2006 South African security guards strike.Photo: SATAWU (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The death and injury tally of this protest is in fact much higher than thirty four. A total of 36 mine workers, two police officers, four other unidentified persons and the injury of an additional 78 other workers and police’ 1.   Fathers, sons, brothers and although I have not read of any women, it is likely there are mothers, sisters and daughters amongst those injured or dead too.

The Marikana strike was not a political protest. These miners were striking because they wanted higher salaries and striking seemed to be the only way they could get themselves heard. All of us who have ever been employed can probably understand the frustration of needing to earn more than you are paid and having your pleas or needs fall on deaf ears.  Let’s face it too, mining is a high risk job with massive profit for mine owners and little assurances for miners, so their income really is the only way they can be sure to reap any rewards for their very hard labour.  Economics and finances are never that cut and dry of course, would that they were.

South Africa has experienced a dramatic increase in protests and strikes in the last couple of years from medical staff 2[a] to teachers 2[b], to public servants including police 2[c], communities 2[d] protesting lack of service delivery, municipal workers 2[e], truck drivers 2[f] and so forth. So striking miners was not a huge surprise, bearing in mind too that reports of miners going unpaid for extended periods 2[g] have been rife for years and ignoring this could not possibly make it go away any more than ignoring the ANC could have kept the Nationalist rule in place during apartheid.  It simply will not work; you cannot oppress people and not expect them to be dissatisfied, not racially and certainly not economically.

These strikes seem to provide hard evidence to support the fact that the workers of this country are losing faith in their Trade Unions and it is the duty of their elected government through the Department of Labour to ensure that good employment and business practices are followed and the interests of the workers are considered above all. Business cannot succeed with disgruntled employees and without business where does that leave the economy of a country.

Fat cats and gravy trainers disguised as capitalists appear to have jumped on board with government officials and a culture of corruption 2[g] and nepotism has developed. Whilst we know this is not uncommon globally, our focus is here and this seems to be rife and on the increase in South Africa. So don’t think for a moment that corruption is isolated to government although most of us know, more often than not, one has to look to ‘management’ to root out the source of problems.

Is the Marikana incident isolated or is it really symptomatic of what lies at the dark underbelly of society in South Africa? What do you think?

NOTE: Whilst writing this article news has reached me that Anglo American Platinum (Amplats) has fired 12,000 striking miners3 and yet more people have died.

 1.        Numbers of dead and injured in the Marikana protest.

 2.        Reports of Strkes from 2010 and beyond:

[a] Medical Staff Strikes from 2010.

[b] Teachers Strikes from 2010 and again in 2011.

[c] Public servants including police in 2010.

 [d] Communities protesting lack of service delivery going back to about 2004.

 [e] Municipal Workers Strikes from 2011

 [f] Truck Drivers still on strike at this time in 2012

 [g] Miners have not been paid in years, a culture of corruption

 3. Anglo American Bosses fire 12,000 striking miners after three weeks of protests

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