Comment | After Marikana: Black life is still worth nothing in South Africa

Ben Fogel considers the context and repercussions of the Maricana massacre, in the wake of the extraordinary decision this week by the South African authorities to charge surviving miners for the murder of their colleagues by police.

Ideas, New in Ceasefire - Posted on Thursday, August 30, 2012 15:03 - 4 Comments

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“despite 18 years of black rule, black life is still worth nothing in South Africa, and the structural economic inequality which characterized apartheid persists unchallenged by the ruling party”

Two weeks after the Marikana massacre, the state/capital/police’s narrative of the events that led up to the slaughter of 34 miners on the 16th of August has collapsed. Autopsy reports have confirmed the majority of those killed on that fateful day were shot in the back, contradicting the official narrative largely endorsed by an unquestioning fourth estate – that the police shot the miners in self-defense.

Subsequently, an article by Greg Marinovitch for the Daily Maverick has confirmed the reports delivered by the left, that there was a ‘second kill zone’ in which the majority of miners were murdered and that the still-living bodies of the miners were driven over by police Nyalas (armoured cars).

It also appears as if the state is continuing to persecute the miners, who have continued their strike against all odds into the third week. Reports from those miners who were arrested on the day and who still linger in jail- denied bail – have suggested that many of those arrested have been subject to torture inflicted by a vengeful police force.

This week, in a truly surreal twist -these miners have not only been charged with public violence, as previously suggested by the NPA (National Prosecuting Authority), but have, incredibly, also been charged with murder; not the murders of the two policemen and two security guards in the days leading up to the shooting, but those of their 34 comrades gunned down by the police!

Drawing on an archaic clause in apartheid era law, the state has – let me repeat- charged the survivors of the worst act of state violence in South Africa since the end of apartheid with murdering their comrades.

Other revelations have included the fact that a labour broking firm with strong links to Zuma’s son does business with Lonmin. An elite police squad was sent hundreds of kilometers to Marikana and allegedly opened fire first on the miners. The NUM (National Union of Mineworkers)’s investment wing has significant shares in Lonmin. Frans Baleni – the chairperson of NUM earns around 1.4 Million Rand ($165000) a year, 77000 over $9000 rand a month (104000 when adjusted for total pay package). While NUM members working for Lonmin earn around 4000 rand a month or around $500.

These sort of revelations have been largely ignored in the narrative still being pushed by the majority of the mainstream media which has focused instead on absurd speculation around the miners’ alleged use of ‘muti’ (magic). The best example of this was a monty pythonesque story about a sacrificed rabbit which, according to the Sangoma (diviner) had rendered the miners’ muti (intended to make them ‘invulnerable’ to bullets) redundant.

This racist bullshit is an attempt to remove the agency of the striking workers fighting quite rationally for a basic salary of 12500 rand a month. The miners are attempting to transform the structural inequality present in a mining industry completely untransformed from that which sustained the apartheid system, dependent on cheap migrant labour from the former Bantustans and violence. Instead of this, the miners are reduced in a narrative pushed by many within the mainstream media into a primal black mass of medieval superstition, something straight out of Heart of Darkness.

With few exceptions, the media overage of Marikana has been a complete and utter disgrace. Marinovitch’s big break was built on two things which apparently no journalist had bothered to do over the last two weeks: He walked around the Marikana site with a camera and discovered markings made by the forensics team made where a dead body was found and, secondly, he bothered to talk to the miners and actually took their story seriously. Somehow this was beyond the capability, capacity or imagination of the country’s fourth estate. Who knew that talking to poor black people might actually be worthwhile for something else than some racist crap about muti?

At the core of Marikana stand two things: despite 18 years of black rule, black life is still worth nothing in South Africa, and the structural economic inequality which characterised apartheid persists unchallenged by the ruling party. Somehow the demand for 12500 rand a month is crazy and unsustainable in South Africa for working-class blacks, while it’s quite reasonable for Canadian miners doing essentially the same job to be paid $130.000 a month as proper compensation for performing a depressing and dangerous job. Somehow it’s okay for black workers to live in squalid hostels or shacks, while their white compatriots working at the same mine get paid well enough to live a comfortable life in the suburbs. Somehow it’s unreasonable to ask for 12500 rand a month, when, on average, each miner is supporting over 10 people. And, of course, it’s completely reasonable for the police to murder these men, when they try and upset this inhumane system. It was “self-defense”, the fact that the police turned up with assault rifles which are incapable of firing rubber bullets was merely a side issue.

Last year in the United Kingdom one man was murdered by the police and cities burned, here in South Africa 34 men get gunned down and only a few hundred people turn up to protests across the country. If this happened in a country where black life meant something, the government would have collapsed, instead people shrug their shoulders and go on with their lives.

The only major political figure to display any sort of open support for the miners has been the opportunistic ex-ANC Youth League president Julius Malema, who has been using the miners to fight back against his nemesis, president Zuma. The best the ANC-aligned left can do, is speak of some mysterious “third force” involved in the massacre, the lack of class consciousness among striking workers and the threat of an upstart union like AMCU (Association of Mining and Construction Workers Union) to established labour relations.

The most disturbing thing about this strange and terrible saga is that odds are things are only going to get worse – the state’s use of violence to suppress dissent will be employed again and the mining industry will continue to reproduce the apartheid system which sustains its profits, while a small black elite connected to largely white mining capital profit off the corpses of those murdered at Marikana.

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Benjamin Fogel is a writer and activist based in South Africa, he also edits the amandla blog http://www.amandlapublishers.co.za/blog

4 Comments

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JC McAlistair
Sep 1, 2012 7:50

No life is worth anything in South Africa. A woman is raped every 26 seconds here. Come over a see how everyone lives. This is a horribly racist headline. Good for your ratings, though.

Bob
Sep 3, 2012 19:07

How is it racist to say that black people are still being persecuted in South Africa? It’s simply accurate. There is a huge and growing inequality gap with the majority black population suffering the most. A system that creates inequality and such poor conditions is the root problem, the Maricana massacre is one of many that exemplifies just how bad it is. This line hits the nail on the head: “despite 18 years of black rule, black life is still worth nothing in South Africa, and the structural economic inequality which characterised apartheid persists unchallenged by the ruling party.”

Thanks for this excellent article Benjamin and please do keep us updated on the topic.

Wilfred Paulse
Sep 4, 2012 16:26

Excellent article interpreting the facts without ceding to any newspaper’s or news media’s policy to benefit some parties. Should you believe in justice,

Read Sign and Share this petition so that the families of the imprisoned mine workers can have their breadwinners back at home.

http://www.avaaz.org/en/petition/Release_the_270_Lonmin_Miners/?Day2Share

Norma J F Harrison
Sep 25, 2012 20:20

The headline is sorrowing over the horror remaining after the demi-revolution in S.A. – and so many other places. It is not saying anything bad about any People, just about the people whose ruination of the society propagates this – and the crimes that infect profiteering societies, racist or not. This happens too, in lands not so riven by state-made dissension.

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