Unrest Continues in South African Mines in Aftermath of Marikana Massacre
Thousands mourn mineworkers while industry bosses take losses
By Abayomi Azikiwe - Pan-African News Wire – Mineworkers and their supporters have continued to express outrage at the police killing of 34 strikers at the Marikana mines on August 16 through mass memorial services and rallies. In addition, strike actions spread to another platinum facility for three-days as workers in the Royal Bafokeng mines reached an agreement with management.
At the Lonmin facility mine owners backed off their ultimatum delivered to striking rock drill operators on August 20 that they must return to work or lose their jobs. On August 27, still unwilling to return to the job without an adequate pay and benefit hike, the striking workers blocked fellow employees from going down the shafts.
Lonmin has been forced to suspend operations for the last two weeks due to the strike of 3,000 workers preventing at least another 25,000 employees from going to work. Mine executives reported that only 13 percent of the workforce was showing up and consequently they were not able to run the facility.
In a statement issued by Lonmin on August 27 , it says of the situation surrounding the mines that “There have been incidents of intimidation towards bus drivers overnight as well as intimidation of Eastern workers this morning, preventing them from coming to work.” (Reuters, August 27)
Over the previous week miners have continued to rally and protest the deplorable working conditions and the police response to the strike resulting in 34 deaths and 78 injuries. It has been reported that over 260 miners are locked up in jail and face criminal charges ranges from assault to murder.
Members of the African National Congress (ANC) government, including President Jacob Zuma, visited the area during the week following the deaths of 10 people in clashes between security forces and rival members of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) and the subsequent police firing on workers on August 16. Minister of Defense and Veteran Affairs Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula visited the Marikana site and apologized for the failure of the government to handle the situation properly.
Mapisa-Nqakula said to the angry crowd assembled that “We agree with you that blood was spilled here. This is not something we condone.” (Mail & Guardian, August 22)
She went on to say “We are sorry, this hurts all of us. As government we would like to assist you with the organization of Thursday’s memorial service.”
The government has set up a task team to investigate the situation at Marikana. Members of the team visited the mines the week following the killings.
Former ANC Youth League leaders Julius Malema, Andile Lungisa and others spent considerable time in the area following the killings. They involved themselves with the memorial services where members of the government were present and reportedly left abruptly in the midst of harsh criticism from Malema.
Lungisa, the expelled deputy president of the ANCYL said “The police acted like they did before apartheid ended. It is not right and you must not accept it.” (Mail & Guardian, August 22)
Former ANCYL leaders, now calling themselves the “Friends of the Youth League”, have also said that they are assembling a defense committee to work for the release of jailed miners. These efforts by the Friends of the Youth League have been attacked and even condemned by leaders of NUM, COSATU and the ANC.
ANC Secretary General Gwede Mantashe told a public meeting of the Young Communist League (YCL) in Katlehong that “Marikana was taken over and hijacked. Out of it came counter-revolutionaries to undermine our movement.” (Mail & Guardian, August 27)
Unrest Spreads to Bafokeng Platinum Mine
For three days mineworkers also struck at the Bafokeng Platinum facility. After the three day work stoppage, the miners returned with the agreement that within two weeks the company would provide responses to the issues raised in the strike.
Mining officials reported that “The delegation of workers made a formal list of demands, among them the 12,500 rand wage increase….It was agreed that those issues are going to be resolved inside the normal structures and the company is not in a position to negotiate. All the parties are bound with a wage agreement until June 2014.” (AFP, August 25)
With the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) as the largest and official representative of the workers, the rival AMCU members who are engaging in walk-outs are not in a position to re-open existing contracts. AMCU officials, many of whom are former members of NUM, say that the largest union has not fought hard enough to secure decent salary and benefit increases for their constituents.
Over the last five years since the beginning of the world economic crisis, the platinum industry has lost considerable value. With respect to Lonmin, which was valued at $10 billion in 2008, today has fallen to $2 billion.
According to the Mail & Guardian, “The world’s third-largest platinum miner faces uncertain times. Lonmin is losing money and faces the prospect of going cap in hand to shareholders to raise cash to keep it going.” (August 25)
This same article goes on to point out that “Lonmin has debt facilities totaling $945 million….All Lonmin’s mining operations are in the Bushveld complex, and Marikana, where 34 miners were killed by police of August 16, contributes 92 percent of its annual production. Production there has been disrupted by an illegal strike for the past two weeks.”
On August 22, the company issued a statement indicating that the banks were putting pressure on the bosses to increase its exploitative practices in order to meet its loan payments. Apparently the firm has run into serious financial difficulty since September 2011.
The Lonmin statement stressed that “Consequently, constructive discussions are now taking place with Lonmin’s banking group to address this potential situation. Alongside these discussions, the company is reviewing all the options available to strengthen its financial structure, including possible access to the equity capital markets.”
The platinum industry overall is struggling with low prices for its product. This factor compounded by Lonmin’s financial difficulty and the ongoing labor unrest at Marikana has presented the firm, which produces 15 percent of the world’s platinum, with a serious crisis.
A financial analyst at Cadiz Corporate Solutions, Peter Major, said of Lonmin’s status that the firm “isn’t broken financially. But, if you look at its cash flow this year and how the debt is building up, it’s getting there, so talk of a rights issue is not just hot air.”
Xstrata, one of its largest shareholders, had offered to buy-out other investors in the firm in 2008. The bid for control was rejected and considered opportunistic due to the depth of the economic crisis during the period.
At the same time, Xstrata is facing a possible takeover bid itself by Glencore. However, the deal is complicated by the uncertainty over whether shareholders will accept the Glencore offer which of course is clouded by the fall in prices prior to the Marikana crisis.
Another significant player in the Lonmin saga is Shanduka, a firm owned by Cyril Ramaphosa, the former leader of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) turned businessman in the post-apartheid era. Ramaphosa’s role as the leader of Shanduka has come under fire since the NUM leadership is being accused by AMCU as well as disgruntled alliance members as having a conflict of interests with industry leaders.
The Mail & Guardian reports that Shanduka and the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) “hold their share (of Lonmin) through the Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) company Incwala Resources, which has 18 percent. Shanduka holds 50 percent in Incwala and the IDC and Lonmin have 23.6 percent share each.” (August 24)
The decline in earnings for the company and the subsequent unrest can only make its situation more precarious. NUM has accused AMCU of opportunistically exploiting the disgruntled workers by promising to negotiate larger contract deals for more money and improved benefits.
NUM is contending that a workforce of 28,000 employees are being held hostage by the wildcat strike. Lesiba Seshoka, a spokesperson for NUM, said that “They (AMCU) are holding to ransom the future of all the workers at Lomin.”
The recent developments within the platinum industry will undoubtedly fuel the debate and struggle within the ANC and other allied organizations over the future social and economic policy. Until the country moves towards a non-capitalist path of development involving the nationalization of industry, finance and agriculture based upon the interests of working people and farmers, the class struggle inside of South Africa will intensify.
From Marikana to Manguang: The Future of the National Democratic Movement
Obviously there are sharp differences of opinion within the ANC and COSATU over which way to move forward in regard to fulfilling the aims and objectives of the South African revolution. Since 1994, the ANC has remained dominant in most provinces throughout the country and the party will host its national congress in December at Manguang, the birth place of the organization a century ago.
The Marikana unrest will in all likelihood play a significant role in determining the outcome of the Manguang congress. There is already speculation that President Jacob Zuma, who was elected as the leader of the party in 2007 at the last congress, will face a leadership challenge, possibly by Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, although this is not certain.
Irrespective of whether anyone officially challenges the Zuma leadership group, the discontent will inevitably be centered around the economic and social conditions facing the majority of workers, farmers and youth. With South Africa being firmly integrated into the world economic system, the ongoing global crisis of capitalism will have a formidable impact on South Africa.
When Zuma took over as leader of the ANC at the Polokwane Congress of 2007, it was with the understanding that his administration within the government would place more emphasis on social spending, the empowerment of workers, educational access and land reform. Nonetheless, such policy shifts within South Africa would require a challenge on the part of the government to the strength and dominance of finance capital.
Of course in such a set of circumstances there would be retaliation from the corporations and the banks against the ANC as a political party. This push back would be international and would bring in the wrath of United States imperialism along with Britain and the European Union capitalist states.
The question is what will be the character of the debate shaping up at Manguang and how will the outcomes of the party congress be implemented in regard to government policy? If the elements within the party who are opposed to Zuma from the left take control will they have the ideological clarity and political will to speed up the transformation process and go after capital and its allies within the South African political economy?
One interesting contribution to the discussion over the future of the ANC-COSATU-SACP alliance came through an essay written by Jay Naidoo, the former secretary general of COSATU. This essay attempts to take on the contradictions that are manifesting themselves now within and without of the party structures.
Naidoo said that “When I think of Marikana, I am reminded of Frantz Fanon in the “Wretched of the Earth”: ‘Come, then, comrades; it would be as well as to decide at once to change our ways. We must shake off the heavy darkness in which we were plunged, and leave it behind. The new day which is already at hand must find us firm, prudent and resolute.”
The former COSATU leader asks how could the Marikana massacre occur some 18 years after the fall of apartheid and the ascendancy of the ANC through three successive governments?
Naidoo answers that “there has been a massive failure of leadership on all sides. The critical question is why we did not act earlier on this festering dispute that today the nation mourns?”
The essay raises questions related to the failure of party leaders and government officials to listen to the people. He points out that there is a growing gap between the earnings of workers in the mines and the executives at a ratio of 250-1.
He notes that many rank-and-file workers feel that they are not aware of what the union leadership is doing. Naidoo says the fact that even a minority of workers who are joining the rival unions that challenge COSATU is an indication of the inability to address the grievances of the majority.
The former COSATU Secretary General says that “Just as Marikana is a wake-up call for COSATU, so it is for business and the ANC. Our democracy needs a strong union movement independent of political parties and business interests. But too much of COSATU’s time is occupied debating the upcoming ANC leadership contest. The coming COSATU Congress will be a watershed, where political divisions in the movement may herald the death knell of an independent labor movement than can represent the interests of the poor and marginalized.”
Nonetheless, Naidoo says honestly that he has more questions than answers. He says of the people that they want “solutions not more task teams, policy statements and conferences. They want action that improves the day-to-day lives, that delivers water and textbooks to schools, ARVs and medicines to our clinics.”
Yet how will these reforms be instituted? Can the fulfillment of the national democratic revolution by carried out absent of a fundamental shift in relations with the capitalist ruling class in South Africa and internationally?
Meanwhile there are rumblings within the party over the apparent continuation of the current path. The OR Tambo chairperson Thandekile Sabisa was re-elected in Mthatha on August 26 purportedly in opposition to the wishes of the Zuma supporters.
The OR Tambo group wants Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe as the new party leader and consequent candidate for president in 2014. The OR Tambo region is the party’s second largest regional bloc next to Ethekwini in Kwazulu-Natal, which still remains a stronghold of the Zuma supporters.
However, whichever personalities or factions within the party and its allies of COSATU and the SACP takes charge in December at the Manguang congress they will face the same questions and similar challenges. The people of South Africa require change, a change which will have a tremendous impact not only on the people inside the country but within the entire region of Southern Africa and indeed Africa as a whole.
As the struggle against apartheid and settler colonialism in Southern Africa shook the world during the period between 1976 and 1994, the ongoing movement towards fulfilling the revolution’s imperatives will have international ramifications as well. As the struggle against capitalism and imperialism is not confined to one section of the world, the power of class war in one section of the globe will of course teach monumental lessons to other geo-political regions as well.