South Africa at the Crossroads III: Lessons of Marikana

October 4, 2012 4:07 pm

Striking miners at Marikana in South Africa have won a historic victory.

The disgraceful shootings last month (August 16) saw 34 miners killed by police, 78 wounded AND 270 arrested and accused of their colleagues’ murders in a kind of sick, Orwellian twist. Despite beatings, widely alleged torture and harassment, the strike not only held firm, but has now spread across the mining sector as a whole forcing those taken into custody to be released.

Workers at the London-based Lonmin platinum mines have returned to work, for the time being, after winning a 22% pay rise, winning pay increases of R11,000 just falling short of their original demand of R12,500. Nevertheless, tens of thousands more miners across the platinum and gold fields have been inspired to make their own demands to end poverty wages. The struggle for a living wage has spread like a wildfire and has blown up in the faces of the bosses, and their political backers, the ANC government.

General Strike

The ruling elite will do all in their power to dampen down further industrial unrest. They will use blackmail, suggesting that economic recovery will be ‘at risk’. Or they will employ more repressive ‘strongarm’ tactics such as the dawn raids on September 15, by upto 500 police, on workers’ shacks. They used helicopters, rubber bullets and tear gas to attack miners and their families, women and children, gathered in a field near the Marikana mine.

Traditional structures, such as the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), have been found wanting. Their officials have done their utmost to dilute negotiations and tried to persuade strikers to go back to work. Even the breakaway union – the AMCU – seems to have been more concerned with its rivalry with the NUM than bringing the dispute to a successful conclusion. Accordingly, the miners have taken charge of their own struggle, working closely with the Democratic Socialist Movement (an affiliate of the Committee for a Workers International – CWI).

As the South African Times newspaper wrote: ‘In the North West, mineworkers rejecting the formal unions have formed a ‘Rustenburg Workers and Communities Forum’ under the leadership of the Democratic Socialist Movement. Executive member Mametlwe Sebei tried to persuade miners that a general strike should start in Rustenburg and be followed by a national strike and march to the Union Buildings.’

‘This battle can only be won if we are united,’ Sebei urged at a mass meeting. The DSM calls for the nationalisation of the mines under democratic control in order to put the country’s wealth and growing economy to work for the majority, as part of a democratic socialist plan.

Some have tried to downplay the victory at Marikana, such as ‘political analyst’ Ralph Mathekga, calling the pay rise ‘moderate’.

Valuable Lesson

However, this victory is already chiming with tens of thousands of miners across the region who are also striking. Whatever trust ordinary South African workers had in the ANC government, and their shadows in the NUM, it has now been severely dented.

The ANC, and their governing partners in the South African Communist Party (SACP) and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), are seen by many to have squandered their reputation as the anti-apartheid vanguard. They now preside over an equally oppressive ‘economic apartheid’. Many of their leading members – including President Jacob Zuma – have tainted their reputations after being involved in accusations of corruption and enriching themselves while serving the interests of  ‘big business’.

But, since Marikana, and the miners’ victory, workers have learned a valuable lesson – if they organise, stand firm and fight back – they can win and a whole new world of possibilities opens up before them.

While millions live in deprivation and poverty, South Africa is a wealthy country, but the wealth is concentrated in too few hands.

Only a socialist revolution can bring change to the lives of the majority of its people. It is a lesson to be learned by millions more around the globe as the crisis of capitalism continues to blight our lives.

As Karl Marx wrote: ‘An ounce of experience is worth a ton of theory.’

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