Week 10: Workers Protests and State Violence

This week we are focussing on worker’s protests and state violence and focussing specifically on the Marikana Massacre through the book Marikana: Voices from South Africa’s Mining Massacre. The massacre that occurred in Marikana, South Africa took place on August 16th, 2012 after miners from the local Lonmin mine went on strike in protest for wage increases. On this day, 44 people were killed and 78 were injured. This incident is largely criticized due to the records of men being shot from behind as they were running away, contradicting the legitimate use of force argued by police forces. According to the authors, this event has been reported at the most lethal use of force by South African security forces since the apartheid ended in the 1960s. The book Marikana: Voices from South Africa’s Mining Massacre is an attempt to examine the history of events that led to the massacre and the role of the South African government, the Lonmin mining company and the National Union of Mineworkers in creating the conditions that led to the massacre. According to the authors, “As we learned more about this merciless and bloody massacre through the worker’s voices and eye-witness accounts, we came to the realisation that this was not only preventable, it had been planned in advance.” (16) During the strike, the media portrayed the men on strike as savage and ruthless, however, this book exposes the truth behind the individual fathers and husbands that were killed fighting for a better life for their families. “In contrast to the dominant view put forth by the media, government and the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), which suggests that the workers were an unruly and dangerous mob who needed to be controlled and contained, we learned that the workers were, and remain, disciplined, peaceful and very well organized.” (16) As a result, this book is an attempt to understand the massacre that occurred on August 16 through interviews with the workers involved and people who witnessed it first hand, along with the family members of those who were killed. Through their researchers, the authors also attempted to build relationships with those that they interviewed and in the end came to feel a sense of solidarity with them.

Overall, I think that this book largely forces its readers to call into question the continuing injustices that are being faced throughout the world. It exposes not only the mal treatment and horrible working conditions of miners in South Africa, but also the repercussions that they face by their government and security forces when they try to stand up for themselves. This book provides an extremely personal account of those who suffer the most from these injustices, as well as the lack of consideration that is given to them in a country that considers itself to be ‘democratic’.

How can these examples of state violence be related within a Canadian context? What does this say about systemic oppression? What is the point of a Union that works to oppress you?

– M. Thwaites

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