Week 10: Workers’ Protest and New(?) forms of State Violence

Sarah Virani

            Marikana: Voices from South Africa’s Mining Massacre discusses the massacre of strikers in the mining industry on August 16, 2012. The book provides testimonies from various mineworkers, which delivers a view of the incident from a perspective that you would not be exposed to traditionally, allowing the Marikana workers to speak for themselves and tell their own accounts of the events that led up to the massacre in 2012. After their employer Lomnin failed to listen to their basis for a decent wage, workers began to strike. Not only did the workers want a decent wage, but they also wanted improved working conditions as they were forced to work in hazardous conditions under fear or threat. This book truly draws upon the failed objectives of the National Union of Mineworkers as it failed to equally represent the workers and the African National Congress which did not stop the events from being carried out in post-apartheid South Africa.

The fear of being shot at again forced them to carry weapons, which is interesting because they did not initially arm themselves, but peacefully protested until the police attacked them. Rather than arming themselves with guns, which the police force did, they carried traditional weapons appropriate to their culture such as sticks and spears. It makes me question why the police had to use such violent force in order to diffuse the strikers, when the strikers were peacefully protesting. The presence of corruption is a problem and especially in the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), and this must be addressed in order for the mineworkers to be rightfully represented and to prevent another incident like the Marikana massacre from occurring.

I believe that it is very important for books like this one to be published as they expose the sides to conflicts and incidents that are often ignored in the media and remain unknown. By giving agency to the workers to speak about the issue, we are able to see how the issue affected them rather than the fabrication of the truth, which is what we normally hear. As we often only hear one side to the case, this book does an adequate job of displaying how mineworkers resisted the capitalist labour relations of production affected the lives of the workers. The number of people that were massacred varied depending on who released the number, thus its important to reveal the other side to the one-sided story that is the one we often hear most frequently.

It is also important to draw upon the social class differences amongst the police and the mineworkers and how this affects their treatment. In the book, one of the miners wives mentions how without her husband it is very hard to sustain a living while the children of the police officers were able to eat better food and had a chance at more opportunities. The oppression that the miners were faced with from the state and its institutions reflect the greater issue of systemic violence and oppression that exists in South Africa. In conclusion, this book is an eye opener as it depicts how the miners resisted the oppression that they were faced with, standing up for themselves, yet it backfired at them and they encountered horrific violence. It allows outsiders to see how miners are treated and the many inequalities that they are faced with by giving those involved the agency to share their experiences.

Miners Shot Down is a documentary about the massacre in Marikana and follows the events of the strike from the beginning, also portraying the events from the miners’ perspective.  Here is the trailer for the documentary: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pkK_T_vz7cY

Discussion Questions

  • What lessons can be learned from the Marikana massacre?
  • How can we hold corporations accountable for the irreversible effects that mining has on the miners, the communities nearby, the environment, etc? Is it even possible?
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