Condemn the Marikana massacre! Defend trade unionism and democratic rights!

This article by Phil Hearse first appeared on his site Crisis and Revolt.

At least 34 striking miners were shot dead by police yesterday at the Marikana platinum mine 60 miles north of Johannesburg on Friday. This was a planned and deliberate massacre. In a widely shown TV clip a South African police spokesperson indicated that “We are going to end this today”. What they were planning to end of course was the encampment outside the mine, organised by the strike leaders the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union.

Film of the massacre shown round the world reveals the truth: it is impossible that such a sustained burst of automatic gunfire could have been allowed without the knowledge that many deaths would be caused. It is unlikely that such a massacre would not have been pre-authorised from the top, ie by Jacob Zuma himself.

Right at the beginning of any analysis of the strike and the inter-union conflict it has promoted, every socialist, trade union and human rights defender should say one thing loud and clear: this bloody and disgusting massacre of striking workers should be condemned. Nothing anybody has alleged about the strikers or their leadership justifies such a violent and brutal action. As far as we now know the number of dead is around 40: but it is not clear that the footage of people being shot so widely shown yesterday was the only police attack yesterday. There may be still more deaths uncovered.

Before looking at the response of the ANC, NUM, COSATU and the SACP, let’s recall the background of the conflict.

First, the AMCU launched a recruitment campaign in June. At a press conference announcing this (see video here) the AMCU made clear that it would not ally itself – like COSATU, the NUM and the SACP – with the government, but only with the interests of the workers.

Second, there have been a series of conflicts between the AMCU and the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), which is affiliated to COSATU. The AMCU has tried to recruit NUM members and present itself as more militant than the NUM, and its leadership of the strike at Marikana is an indication of that tactic.

Third, the strike was declared on Friday 10 August. The next day workers attempting to go back to work (whether led by the NUM is not clear) were attacked by strikers. On Saturday and Sunday there were 9 deaths, including two policemen and two security guards. Both the NUM and the AMCU have accused each other of being responsible for the inter-workforce violence.

There is no doubt that this is a real strike over real demands by the workforce. The employers, but also NUM and its allies have attempted to portray the AMCU as not a real trade union and ‘criminal’. Bernard Mokwena, Lonmin’s human resources dirctor said "Violence at the Marikana is purely criminal and has nothing to do with workers’ rights". NUM general secretary Frans Baleni has also referred to the AMCU leaders as ‘criminals’.

In the aftermath of the shooting the response of the ANC-COSATU-SACP-NUM has been virtually identical (as can be seen at their websites). They ‘regret’ the loss of life, as does the company.But not a word of condemnation of the police. On the contrary, blame is laid at the door of the AMCU. COSATU goes further. They intend to convene a conference, not to condemn the police or the employers, but rival unions:

"The CEC (central executive council) agreed to convene an urgent meeting of the unions’ leaderships to discuss what is emerging as a co-ordinated political strategy to use intimidation and violence, manipulated by disgruntled former union leaders, in a concerted drive to create breakaway ‘unions’ and divide and weaken the trade union movement."

‘Disgruntled former union leaders’ is a reference to the fact that the AMCU was organised by people who split from the NUM. From this distance it is impossible to know the exact character of the AMCU and the truth about who has been responsible for inter-union violence at Marikana and other mines. Whatever the precise assessment of those things, none of them would justify the police massacre.

Some things it is possible to know from London however. First is that the ANC-SACP-COSATU alliance aims at maintaining a political and trade union monopoly and has a decades-long history of trying to denigrate and de-legitimise potential rivals.

Second, the situation of the vast majority non-white population is dire. Eighteen years after the ANC was elected to government has dogmatically held fast to neoliberal economic principles at the expense of the non-white masses. Unemployment in South Africa today is at least 50%. Half of all employed workers get no more than R20 a day – that’s about the price of a loaf of bread in a white supermarket. The wonderful roads, housing, shopping malls and other infrastructure enjoyed by the white population and the new black middle class has been paid for by the expropriation of hundreds of millions of hours of non-white labour. Far from the end of apartheid leading to a transformation of the living standards of the black masses, ANC government has effectively sanctioned mass exploitation and misery.

The situation in the townships today is horrendous. Criminal activity and violence (especially against women) is endemic, as is the holocaust of thre HIV-AIDS epidemic. Youth, among whom unemployment is way over 50%, have no future and no hope. And as is revealed by the article by Bobby Wilcox on this site, corruption in the ANC is endemic.

The response of the South African Communist Party is appalling. Its local organisation near the mine has called for the arrest of the strike leaders! This must be one of the first times in the history of the workers’ movement that communists have excused a police massacre and sided with the murderers against their own class. We reject this and call for the arrest of the killers and their political bosses and the immediate granting of the strikers’ demands.

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