|Written by IWL (FI)|
|Wednesday, 12 September 2012 17:40|
The images of the massacreof 34 miners by heavily armed police officers aroused a strong reaction among those who keep in their memories one of the most just struggles of the 20th century, which has been the battle fought for decades of the workers and the black majority of South Africa against apartheid.
All those who have some experience in the workers movement, even not knowing well the demands and the concrete events of the struggle, tend naturally to side with the miners, brutalized by a police that came to help the mining company to break their strike. But what is strange in this case is that the main miners’ union, even without leading the strike, has not denounced the perpetrators of this heinous crime, and was dedicated to attack the rival union that supported the struggle and has not shown its complete solidarity to a struggle, that at the moment of writing this note, is still going on and involves at least 3 thousand miners.
The economic apartheid is still in force
We should verify the context within which develops this strike and the facts that surround it. The basic framework is given by the transition from apartheid that was negotiated by Mandela and the African National Congress (ANC), which allowed that the basic structures of the economy to remain in the hands of the big companies. More than that, in these 18 years since the end of apartheid, the ANC has adhered enthusiastically to the neoliberal and free-market precepts, and has led a wave of privatizations that sold at very low prices some of the country’s main companies, dismissed hundreds of thousands of public employees, authorized the big South-African companies to transfer their headquarters to London, what means they are beyond the reach of South-African laws.
The Black Economic Empowerment program, which, among other things, demanded the participation of some black people in the companies’ ownership, has enabled a black elite to have access to participate in some of the big firms. However, the conditions that most of blacks live are still very far away from those enjoyed by the white elite and their few black partners.
South Africa’s social indicators show that, in essence, the economic apartheid remains, and that the country ranks as one of the most socially unequal places in the world: 39% of the population live with less than 432 rands per month, real unemployment reaches 35-40%, being higher among women and youngsters. Another important measure is that 5% population earns 43% of the country’s income. As expected, because the economy is still in the hands of the great white capitalist groups, the relation between the income of blacks and whites is almost still the same than that in the times of the infamous apartheid: if in 1993 whites had an income that was 8.5 times higher than that of the blacks, in 2008 this relation was still 7.68 times higher (see at http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/0376835X.2012.645639, accessed in 08/29/12). The Gini index, one of the indices measuring inequality, has risen from 0.66 to 0.70 in the same period. But perhaps the best measure of the permanence and worsening of inequality in post-apartheid South Africa is that the share corresponding to profits in the economy has risen from 40% to 45% between 1993 and 2009.
How to corrupt a union
Mining has always one of the most important sectors in South-Africa’s economy, mainly gold and increasingly platinum, which is used in jewellery and car catalysers. Living conditions have been always very harsh: if during apartheid workers lived in common dormitories for men within the mines’ properties, now they tend to live with their families in miserable shacks in communities near the mines, without sanitation and always subject to professional diseases, such as tuberculosis and silicosis, which, added to accidents, dramatically reduce the lives of these workers. In the apartheid era there was a huge wage gap between black and white workers. With the end of the regime, inequality still exists and is further stimulated by the companies, mainly by means of subcontracting, in order to reduce the average wages, using for that workers from the poorest regions of the country and the innumerable immigrants. Subcontracted workers account nowadays for nearly 1/3 of the labour force in the mines.
The most important union that has been historically representing the miners, the NUM (NationalUnionofMineworkers), was founded in 1982 and has been a key part in the struggle against apartheidand to build the main central union, COSATU. However, since the end of apartheid, the close relation between NUM and the ANC government and its policy has determined important changes in its role. There is increasing criticism against its relations with the mining companies, and it did not come as a surprise that in its 2012 congress it has rejected the struggle for the nationalization of the mines, a historical demand of the movement in South Africa.
On the other hand, its structure has become a path for the social ascension of its shop-stewards and leaders. To promote this, NUM has created in 1995 an enterprise called Mineworkers’ Investment Trust, whose assets in 2011 reached 2.8 billion rands (fourteen times what it receives annually from its membership), and that has joint investments even with the mining companies, such as Lonmin.This phenomenon has further stimulated the enrichment of its leaders. The most outstanding example, but not the only one, is Cyril Ramaphosa, a former top leader of NUM, who became a millionaire and Lonmin’s minority shareholder.
But the union’s structure has also changed: becoming a shop-steward at NUM means an important salary raise, even for those who are not full time union leaders, who receive in average a salary 3 to 4 times higher than that they used to receive as a miner. Its company register is displaced to the personnel area and if not re-elected he/she has not to come back to work underground. (source:Sakhela Buhlungu,http://books.google.com.br/books?hl=pt-BR&lr=lang_en&id=VZvma2zVuqAC&oi=fnd&pg=PA245&dq=sakhela+buhlungu+miners+num&ots=mcMUCgS5Mn&sig=dPSCo_Vs38apxNsGUUS-LrddePI#v=onepage&q=sakhela%20buhlungu%20miners%20num&f=false, accessedin 08/29/12).
NUM’s top leaders earn huge salaries paid by the union. Its secretary-general,Frans Baleni, earns 105 thousand rands per month, that is, nearly 25 times what a rock driller operator does. It is quite obvious that these facts determine a change in the union’s activity and representativeness, especially among the most underpaid sectors, the subcontracted workers (only 10% of NUM’s members are subcontracted workers), even when it is still the country’s main miners’ union. In 2001, some leaders expelled from NUMin 1998, under no clear accusations, founded a new union, the AMCU (Association of Mine workers and Construction Union), that became part of the miners union movement. As the NUM has been losing its prestige and influence, especially in the platinum belt, due to its role in the strikes and struggles of the last years, AMCU starts to grow and to achieve bargaining rights in some mines. The future path of AMCU cannot be predicted at this stage, but the fact is that it is part of the union movement of the miners, and not a union created by the mining companies as claims the NUM. By the way, the experienced mining companies would have made a really bad move if they helped to create a union that supports a strikes such Marikana’s, which is lasting for almost one month in a huge mining complex with nearly 28 thousand workers…
The world crisis since 2008 has decreased the demand for platinum by car makers, and the mining companies have tried to squeeze even more their salary costs. As a reaction to this, there have been several strikes and occupations in the platinum mines, with thousands of job cuts and some deaths. Police violence is constant in post-apartheid South-Africa: the police have mostly changed the colour of their skin, but not their practices, as we could watch in the videos on the massacre and in its subsequent justification by police officials. The insecurity about their jobs, the salary raises given to one sector of workers in detriment of others, the wage increases reached by neighbouring mines are the fuel that led 3 thousand mine workers, the rock-driller operators, to go on strike. These workers who toll under harsh conditions, partially covered by water, with heavy 25-kg devices, under the risk of collapses and being crushed by huge rocks, earn nearly 4-5 thousand rands after taxes and contributions. As it could not solve the conflict, Lonmin has appealed to the traditional resource: it called the security apparatus. The police action was clearly intended to teach the miners a lesson. It went to the place with heavy armament, helicopters, and has corralled the miners and massacred them cowardly when they were on a hill that is not owned by the company. As told the press the police PR hours before the massacre, “unfortunately, today is the D-day”. NUM and COSATU at no moment have expressed their unconditional solidarity to the massacred miners and their struggle (as of today, there is no statement supporting the strike, because it is supposedly illegal (in reality it is unprotected, under the law of the capitalist state of South-Africa) or led by another union, tarnishing the glorious tradition of the South-African working class, that has been always guided by the principle that “an injury to one is an injury to all”. The same regarding the South African Communist Party, which is also part of the ANC government (besides being part of the Tripartite Alliance that is composed also by COSATU), and has chosen to attack the splinter union and to neither dissociate itself from the government that sent the police nor to show solidarity for the striking miners.
Worse, after the massacre, it has dedicated itself to attack the rival union, saying that the workers had been deceived, that they were backwards, that the strike was demagogic. How far away from the heroic miners’ union that supported super exploited black workers during apartheid under “illegal” strikes. And they ignore that the wave of strikes in the mining sector follows a pattern, in which workers organize, start a struggle and call unions to support them. This explains the fact the AMCU’s leader went to the mine in the day of the massacre and asked the miners to retreat from there and withdrew after the miners refused to comply. And the strike has not ended after the massacre, organized in the surrounding communities and has also spread to other mines. After the massacre it was as if a still obscure plot became visible to the country: the police are the same, the mining companies are the same, and the economic system is essentially the same, but for the addition of a tiny black elite. The government tries to dissimulate its responsibility by indicating a controlled commission to investigate the facts, while the judicial-police apparatus seem to be a copy of the apartheid times: 259 striking miners have been arrested by the police, beaten, tortured, accused of murder of their own colleagues (under the infamous principle of “common purpose”, which the public prosecution has dropped for now due to the huge international and local outrage!) Instead of arresting the police officers implicated in the operation and incriminating the Minister in charge and president Zuma as the instigators of the crime, they use apartheid-era precepts to criminalize those who fight for their rights! (http://mg.co.za/article/2012-08-30-18-lonmin-miners-charged-with-murder). Up to now, neither NUM has said anything about this, nor the PC did it (the later has only asked the prison of the AMCU’s leaders for the deaths before the police massacre). COSATU made a mild statement, in which it complained about the supposed ill-treatment of the arrested workers, but at no time demanded their release (http://www.cosatu.org.za/show.php?ID=6446), and called to trust the investigations of the Zuma-appointed commission. Several unions and democratic organizations have created an organ in Johannesburg to coordinate the solidarity with the miners: the Marikana Solidarity Campaign.
Within this context, NUM is in a crossroads: will it consolidate as a sweet heart union, one that is increasingly representative of white collar workers and of those workers who do not work underground, and will it be overcome for other unions or it will come back to its glorious traditions? In the same way, COSATU, that is due to have its Congress later in September, will have to examine its alliance with the ANC government and its increasing weight among the best paid workers of the country and its increasing distance from the most militant and exploited sectors of the workers.
The government is in deep trouble, in unknown territory, trying to prevent the obvious association between the massacre and the long history of apartheid and of being associated to what is being called ANC’s Sharpeville. NUM’s representatives cannot go to the neighbouring miners’ communities, the 2 million rands offered by Cyril Ramaphosa for the victims’ funeral were proudly rejected (miners know who he is and that this sad character has recently bought a buffalo by 18 million rands…).
The poor people’s rebellion
The Marikana massacre is also inscribed into a context of important struggles in the poorest communities that have significantly increased since Jacob Zuma took office as president. These mobilizations can be counted by the thousands, according the own South-African police registers, being sometimes called service delivery protests or more generally the poor people’s rebellion. Several activists have died at the hands of the police, such as Andries Tatane, professor, activist, who was participating in a demonstration of 4 thousand people in Ficksburg last year.
A new step in the search for explanations about the post-apartheid developments as well as regarding to the alternatives to a nationalist leadership that, like many other in the African continent, after the liberation from national and/or racial oppression, started to develop a policy to keep the structures of capitalism and to create a black bourgeoisie from within the state structures. It will be a painful process, but one which will necessarily develop in the country and on which depends the future of millions of South-African workers.