Workers’ Protest and New(?) Forms of State Violence

On August 16, 2015, South African police opened fire at thousand of striking miners in Marikana. They killed 34 people, and injured several others. This incident occured against the backdrop of South Africa’s awkward and iniquitous structural hegemony, certainly; but it also occurred specifically against the backdrop of the poor working conditions of lower-class South African workers, and the duplicitous neglect by the ANC government of the very people for whom their existence and rise to power is owed. Since the massacre on August 16, there have been several studies, dissertations, and articles accessing its intricacies specifically, and the South Africa’s (specifically, the ANC) anticlimactic government. This week, we read one of such studies — a book by a group of academics, journalists, and activists titled, Marikana: Voices from South Africa’s Mining Massacre. 

The authors of this book set out, on their account, to discover how and why the massacre happened. To achieve this, they conducted their research somewhat non-hierarchically and from the bottom up by analyzing the massacre from the viewpoint of those most affected: the miners themselves. We learn that contrary to their depiction in popular media, these protesters were neither barbaric nor combative. The authors also make explicit their bias, if it can be called that, towards the miners and their plight. This bias seems to permeate the rhetoric in every aspect: they interviewed only the miners, without seemingly questioning the veracity of their testaments; they do not interview any others who might have had different, but equally poignant, narratives of the massacre. They also make several conclusions based on these interviews; this, in its right, is not indefensible, but, in fact, quite understandable given the circumstances of the massacre and in consideration of the grief stricken. But it does make one question the extent to which it can be said that the authors achieved their goal of getting to the bottom of the nature of the massacre and its intricacies.

Nevertheless, many of these conclusions are not off-point or unprecedented. The massacre, as we learn in the book, was in fact premeditated one way another by the diabolical troika consisting of the police commissioner and the ANC government, Lonmin, and the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM). This response was in their eyes justified because the strikers had been attempting to usurp the existing power structure dominated by the aforementioned troika.

The issues that linger on after having read the book are as follows: now that the wage requested by the miners has been granted, are we to ignore the other problems inherent in the business of mining, not just for platinum, but for other resources. These miners, even when well-paid, are still having to work in sub-par conditions — and the business itself is profitable at a great cost to the environment. It is also important, I think, to point out the genealogical similarities between ANC and other black, African nationalist movements. In Tanzania, Julius Nyerere was, like Mandela, heralded as the liberator of indigenous Tanzanians and the progenitor of the Tanzanian state; he still is heralded as such, but upon ascension to power, his regime failed on several occasions to deliver on its promise of black liberation. The same trajectory of disappointment can be seen too in Ghana (Nkrumah), Zimbabwe (Mugabe), and so on. It is obvious at this point that as a democratic unit the ANC, like Mugabe in Zimbabwe, functions undemocratically, to a certain degree, and wields too much power. Without being theatrical, it can be said that until this power is checked, occurrences, like the Marikana massacre (which was not unprecedented), that shake the bones of human conscience will continue to happen.

Moyosore Arewa


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