What to make of the fact that the people who set the Marikana massacre in motion now sit in South Africa’s halls of power? The lesson of the massacre is that we should all forget about trying to advance working class demands. The price of pushing too keenly is death.
I’m not exactly sure how many hours I spent covering the Marikana Commission of Inquiry, but it was a bitter lesson in the dissipation of popular fervour for justice in favour of… well, whatever this moment we find ourselves in is.
What struck me repeatedly at the time was that even as the commission examined evidence that showed – on the face of it – that the South African Police Service (SAPS) had committed a gross crime on that fateful day, survivors were being harassed.
One tactic the police used was to stop the vehicles carrying the survivors and their families from the commission venue in an overly aggressive manner, doubtlessly to sow fear among those people. Many of the arrested miners were tortured in custody.
Even as the state pretended on the one hand to help the victims of the massacre find justice, it was pummelling them with the other. The findings of the commission were crushingly disappointing – the political and business actors in the affair were exonerated.
Seven years later, the situation has not changed.
Former North West deputy police commissioner William Mpembe and police officers Gideon van Zyl, Dingaan Madoda and Oupa Pule are in court in the North West for defeating the ends of justice, contravening the Independent Police Investigative Directorate Act and the Commissions Act.
The families have been struggling in vain to keep the case in the public eye, virtually the only guarantee that any justice will be served at all.
The power relations that made Marikana possible remain undisturbed. Lonmin, the company at the centre of the scandal that had caused it over the years – including by failing to fulfil its obligations as per the 2002 Mining Charter – was allowed to continue to operate. Its former non-executive director Cyril Ramaphosa is president of the republic now. The other minions of capitalism that made this possible – Susan Shabangu as mineral resources minister at the time, and Nathi Mthethwa who was police minister – have enjoyed long and healthy careers in government too.
It later emerged that Lonmin had been for years siphoning profits off to hidden accounts in tax havens in the Caribbean instead of paying proper wages in South Africa, or meeting its social investment obligations. In June, Lonmin was sold off to Sibanye, with no discussion whatsoever about these stolen monies.
Again, nothing has come of this. The people behind all of this are all still free. And they will do it again.
Joseph Mathunjwa, the president of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU), warned recently that the mining companies are gearing for another Marikana massacre by once again offering insulting wage increases to workers.
That is the real lesson of Marikana. We learned that the power of corporations is to flout the law, under-invest, pollute, corrupt and murder, and there is nothing we can do about it.
But at least it’s the New Dawn now, right?
Featured image by Ihsaan Haffajee