Murdering Miners

While ANC leader and South African president Joseph Zuma has called for a commission of inquiry and declared a national week of mourning.  Cyril Ramaphosa, once a militant workers’ leader and now a multi-millionaire with shares in the Lonmin mine, has offered to pay for the funerals.  Zuma and Ramaphosa are total hypocrites.  The massacre of these workers is the perfectly logical outcome of the entire course of the ANC since it won the country’s first democratic elections in 1994 - Shan Van Vocht

Earlier this month at the Marikana platinum mine near Johannesburg armed South African police massacred striking miners who attacked their lines. 34 lives were lost. That's 20 more than the Irish experienced in a similar massacre in Derry just over 40 years ago and which continues to shape Irish perceptions of the British state's security trumps rights agenda.

To think that only two years ago the global sporting fraternity was watching soccer’s World Cup finals being played out in South Africa. Its very location suggested a monumental amount of progress having been made since the murderous days of Sharpville in 1960 or Soweto in 1976. In that bygone era a headline that armed South African police massacred children or workers was the stuff that could send reverberations pulsating throughout the world. That was under the apartheid system and that type of headline was supposed to have died with white minority rule. Had the ANC not brought the curtain down on police massacres of black civilians?

What is there to be said about working men being gunned down in a clash that has its origins in demands for better wages? Whatever it is it must surely be more than the words of the country's president Jacob Zuma, 'I do feel your pain.' Not felt that much however, with him choosing to speak publicly about the matter from a private lodge owned by the mine company. Only after he was bounced into it by political opponents did he venture onto "miners' territory."

Such vacuous gestures cannot fill the vacuum created by mass murder nor should it it be allowed to function as a balm designed to take the sting out of the injury as a prelude to things carrying on much as they always did. Why has he not said that he feels the rage and molten anger of the striking miners towards the barbarism that was inflicted on them by the country's murderous police carrying on in the brutal tradition of their apartheid era precursors?

For those who thought the burden that the multitude of South African blacks laboured under was transient white power there will be a lack of comprehension. Those who thought that permanent greed played a part will be less stumped for an explanation.

Even the Thatcher government in its long running dispute with the Scargill-led NUM did not gun striking miners down in the streets, political savvy curbing the murderous Tory instinct that was on public display on the streets of Derry a decade earlier.

For both sides in the mine dispute wages is the life or death struggle. The sheer callous audacity with which the mine owners seek to press home their right to keep pay down was evident in its post-massacre demeanour. Since the slayings the British listed Lonmin company, which has 28 000 workers on its payroll, has persisted in its refusal to pay higher wages and at one point threatened to sack those continuing to take strike action in pursuit of better pay and conditions:

The final ultimatum provides RDOs (rock drill operators) with a last opportunity to return to work or face possible dismissal ... Employees could therefore be dismissed if they fail to heed the final ultimatum.

For the workers poor pay has given rise to widespread resentment. One miner said after the massacre, ‘it's better to die than to work for that shit.’ Another said ‘you work so very hard for very little pay. It is almost like death.’

Colleague Kaizer Madiba added his voice:

People have died already so we have nothing more to lose ... we are going to continue fighting for what we believe is a legitimate fight for living wages. We would rather die like our comrades than back down.

It is not as if the mining companies cannot afford to pay them, something acknowledged by the country’s president when he threatened to cancel licences to companies that refused to improve living accommodation for mine workers. He added, 'in fact it should not be such an industry that has the lowest paid worker, given the wealth they have.'

Lonmin's adherence to the profit before people concept was summed up by the resident of a village near the mine who while airing no sympathy for the strikers’ actions nevertheless claimed:

We are so angry. They (Lonmin) don't treat us like people. Lonmin has done nothing for the local community. They take our platinum and enrich themselves but where is our royalty money going? We don'thave tar roads and our youth are unemployed.

A political opponent of Zuma, Julius Malema - a former ANC Youth League president expelled from the party for his strident flaunting of leadership authority - tapped into this sentiment and called for nationalistion of the mines, alleging that the ANC government 'has turned into a pig. It eats its own people.'

The South African 'corruption-riddled, scandal-plagued police service' hardly comes with a record that inspires confidence. It is gripped by an apartheid mindset. National Education, Health, and Allied Workers' Union spokesman Sizwe Pamla firmly pointed this out in saying 'our police service has adopted and perfected the apartheid tactics and the militarisation of the service, and encouraged the use of force to resolve disputes and conflicts.' Nor is it a mindset restricted to dealing with the mining industry. According to a recent report sex workers have been gang raped by police.

Is this what an ANC government in a supposedly post-apartheid age has brought to the black workers of South Africa - a state of affairs where the country's police 'are there not to protect the lives of people, but the property of the mine'? Is Jimmy Kruger still Minister for Justice and Police?


  1. Incredible to think that after the ANC had Mandela voted in as President and aparthied was apparently ended the shanty towns and shacks remain a quarter of a century on. Even durung the fledgling industrial revolution in Victorian Britain, back to back terrace housing was built by mine and mill owners. Squalid as they were, they were provided. With the experience of history and all their resources, South Afrca seems to have no interest in its peoples welfare. Maybe that's the reason Johannesberg is described as the most dabgerous city on earth for tourists. The more things change the more they stay the same. SF wont do anything to upset the real power structure here in Ireland either. That's why they are unrecognisable as the same party either side of the border. As for the massacre in S. Africa, it was brutal. Straighforward revenge for two policemen being hacked to death a day or two previous. The amount of firepower unleashed into rather than over the crowd just proves the revenge factor I think.

  2. Larry,

    'The amount of firepower unleashed into rather than over the crowd just proves the revenge factor I think.'

    Good point. They never sought the alternative.

  3. SA'S economy , like Zimbabwe performed better under white rule. Completely predictable. Shame on black Africans for being totally inept, corupt. Mandela, all talk, no substance. Where's Annie Lennox and Bob Geldof ? L'Pool still can't win, plus ca change.

  4. Looks like the same ones who are opposed to the ANC also oppose Sinn Fein-such is life-

    I have no time for those that brought guns and knifes to that strike and put the other miners lifes on risk-they wanted to kill but got death instead-

    Who ever is in charge of the police
    should be put on trial with those police that shot and killed-be it those that give the order to shoot or their over-all commander-the president-
    Julius Malema has that much money that he cant hide it-but he is ok to some because he is against the ANC that fought and won the war-

  5. Dreadful massacre, Larry is spot on this is an indictment of the way the ANC has ruled since it gained power.

    These workers had need of what weapons they could lay their hands on as they were caught between a neo liberal corporation which is in bed with the ANC government and a corrupt trade union leadership, whose former head is on the board of the very company they are in dispute with.

    The police massacred these men because they had been green lighted to do so. Just as bloody Sunday was an attempt by the British state to intimidate the nationalist community, these shooting were an attempt to drive these workers back to the NUM, which has morphed into a corrupt company union.

    Before Michael continues to defend the indefensible within 25 years of the Cuban revolution, illiteracy had become almost a thing of the past and health care was on a par with the USA. This from a nation which was under a US blockade and with no natural resource beyond the revolutionary spirit of the cuban leadership and the determination of the cuban people.

    SA has gold and countless other natural resources, it had the support of the overwhelming majority of the worlds people. It should have become a beacon of freedom and prosperity for all. Instead the ANC governments dragged their feet and willingly fell into bed with neo liberal multi national corporations.

    I know its easy for me to criticise but perhaps the ANC has outlasted its usefulness, It was a vehicle which was designed to be inclusive to all who wished to fight apartheid, that struggle was won, the ANC was necessary during the struggle and the transition period, but now it has morphed into governing what amounts to a one party state.

    What ever the south africans decide it cannot carry on as it is.

    Finally I would add this, history teaches soldiers make piss poor democratic politicians and Jacob Zuma is not an exception.

  6. Organized Rage-

    You are correct when you say that this was a dreadful massacre which took place at that mine-but it was not on the same par as bloody sunday as those miners were armed to the teeth-whist the marches in Derry were un-armed when they were cut-down by the paras-

    You are also correct about the Cuban health care and the hard work to tackle illiteracy- but those figures have been helped by the many Thousands of poor Cubans who deserted their homeland for the USA- Millions of poor have flooded into South Africa after the
    ANC win which is their right-but it made a difficult situation harder-but as you say- more should be done-

    " history teaches soldiers make piss poor democratic politicians "

    Again true- but history also teaches us that bankers,reporters,buisness people can also become piss poor politicians- its the peoples choice-sometimes they have not got a good selection during a election-

  7. Michael,

    The point I was making was why these workers felt the need to arm themselves, and it was little different from the reason why people like MM carried arms in Derry on Bloody Sunday, ie they felt they had no alternative.

    As it turned out their weapons were not used on that day; and we only have the evidence from a discredited section of the SA police that the striking workers used their weapons at the mine. Indeed new evidence is emerging most of the dead miners were shot in the back.

    There is a good reason why solders often make poor politicians and it is to do with the nature of soldering, which in many ways is the opposite of democratic accountability.


  8. A friend in London sent me the link to the following page. He recommends it as one of the best pieces written on the matter.

    The Marikana Mine Worker's Massacre – a Massive Escalation in the War on the Poor

  9. These kinds of events show us that the shift in South Africa was never controlled by "race." Race was just a tool for the rich to use to divide powerful from powerless. Now, with political discourse largely turned away from race (except against Arabs/Muslims, which can still be targets of more open racism), we see the same exploitation happening under a different banner.