Monday, August 20, 2012

Massacre at Marikana

AS distraught wives and relatives of missing miners waited in vain outside the morgue to see if their loved one was among those shot by South African police, the Lonmin bosses of the Marikana platinum mine issued an ultimatum to strikers to return to work today or be sacked.
"The final ultimatum provides rock drill operators with a last opportunity to return to work or face possible dismissal," said spokeswoman Gillian Findlay. "Employees could therefore be dismissed if they fail to heed it."

At least 34 workers were killed when police opened fire at strikers at the mine. The police said later that they had come under fire themselves, and two policemen had been killed in an earlier clash with miners said to be armed with machetes. In the scene we saw on television though the police show no sign of taking cover from gunfire but stand calmly in a row emptying automatic weapons at the crowd.

Workers at the mine about 60 miles north west of Johannesburg said they will press on with wage demands and slammed a return to work as "an insult" to their colleagues who were gunned down after police failed to disperse strikers on Thursday.

British-owned Lonmin is the world's third biggest platinum producer, but workers at Marikana mine and their families say it is time they saw some of the wealth that they bring out of the ground.

Thousands of miners and their families welcomed former African National Congress youth leader Julius Malema yesterday. He told the thousands who gathered at the mine that South African police "had no right to shoot."

Malema, who was expelled from the ANC in April for sowing division, said top-ranking ANC members had shares in the Lonmin company that owns the platinum mine and no interest in seeing miners earn higher wages. He called for President Jacob Zuma and his police minister to either resign or back the striking miners' wage demands.

Earlier Zuma had condemned the killings but made no reference to the handling of the situation by the police. "We are shocked and dismayed at this senseless violence," he said. "We believe there is enough space in our democratic order for any dispute to be resolved through dialogue without any breaches of the law or violence.

"We call upon the labour movement and business to work with government to arrest the situation before it deteriorates any further. I have instructed law enforcement agencies to do everything possible to bring the situation under control and to bring the perpetrators of violence to book." Zuma added: "We extend our deepest condolences to the families of all who have lost their lives since the beginning of this violent action."

"The British are owning this mine," he said. "The British are making money out of this mine ... It is not the British who were killed. It is our black brothers. But it is not these brothers who are mourned by the president. Instead he goes to meet capitalists in air-conditioned offices."

"President Zuma said to the police they must act with maximum force. He did not say act with restraint. He presided over the murder of our people and therefore he must step down. "

The South African Communist Party welcomed President Zuma's commitment to a full inquiry and warned that it must include analysis of the company's role in the tragedy, in its use of contract labour and sowing division among its workforce.

"It is not possible to understand the tragedy without understanding how profit-maximising corporate greed has deliberately sought to undercut an established trade union and collective bargaining by conniving with demagogic forces," it warned.

It looks as though the massacre at Marikana was planned and deliberate, rather than police panicking. 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 was the encampment outside the mine, organised by the strike leaders the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Unions.

This has been presented as a clash between different unions, but what that ignores is the nature of the difference. The union which is accused of muscling in on the Marikana mine by "taking advantage" of workers' discontent is the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU). His voice shaking with anger, its leader Joseph Mathunjwa accused the Lonmin management of colluding with a rival union to orchestrate the massacre. Mathunjwa told the eNews channel: "We have to send condolences to those families whose members were brutally murdered by a lack of co-operation from management. We have done our bit. If the management had changed their commitment, surely lives could have been saved."

The union which management nave preferred to deal with is the more established National Union of Mineworkers in South Africa. Its founder and former president Cyril Ramaphosa, played a leading role in the negotiations which brought about the present regime to replace apartheid. He also persuaded the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) to shelve calls for a Workers Charter, which would have included workers rights, public ownership and land reform, in favour of adopting the ANC's so-called Freedom Charter. The ANC, in which Ramaphosa became a leading figure, adopted its calls for racial equality into the new South African constitution, but not calls for land redistribution or nationalisation of industry

Ramaphosa turned from trade unions and politics to business. He is an executive chairman of Shanduka Group, which has investments in the resources Sector, energy, banking and real estate. He is chairman of the Bidwest group and has directorships in Standard Bank, AngloAmerican and other companies. Ramaphosa is a member of the Coca Cola company's international board, and Unilever'Africa Advisory Council.

If he can find the time, someone has proposed him this year to take over as ANC Secretary General.

The former NUM leader is also on the board of Lonmin.

Julus Malema told his audience at Marikana:

"Lonmin had a high political connection that is why our people were killed. They were killed to protect the shares of Cyril Ramaphosa." He said that the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) was no longer a union that represented the interests of the workers but was interested in making more money. "NUM is not a union, it's a company. They hold shares in mining companies, that is why when there are problems in the mines they are the first to sell out the workers."

People listened intently to Maloma's speech, cheering his attacks on the government and his call for Lonmin to be taken into public ownership.

Aubrey Matshiqi, 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 nationalisation resonate with the people in the area."

The massacre at Marikana is not the first time the South African state has clashed with workers. All the same its scale has shocked working people in South Africa and their friends around the world, who invested so much faith and hope in the new South Africa that would emerge from the anti-Apartheid struggle.

What has disgusted as well as opened the eyes of a lot of people on the left is the way the supposedly communist Morning Star went out of its way to blame the militant union for the killing, with a report on Friday

NUM: Rival union 'may have planned' mine violence

and quoting Frank Baleni of the NUM and a police spokesperson saying strikers had opened fire first.

Since then the Star has tried to adjust its line, with an editorial saying nothing could justify the killing.

But the Communist Party here and in South Africa has invested a lot of support in the current balance of the South African regime, which includes CP members. Cyril Ramaphosa has ben at least an ally of the Party, and Jacob Zuma was on the Central Committee for some years. Only last month the President spoke of the important part the Communist Party still has to play.

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