FIVE years after the Marikana Massacre, platinum miners in the Rustenburg area are still being shot dead, but there will be no international outcry because they are National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) members.
Film coverage of the police slaughter on August 16 2012 of 34 members of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) that split from the NUM went viral then — understandably so.
South Africa has a gory history of state forces crushing workers’ resistance at the behest of transnational corporations, especially in the mining sector, but this was the first such occasion since the advent of democracy.
Vociferous liberals and ultra-lefts offered a simplistic lesson in state power — government controls police, police shot workers, therefore government ordered the massacre.
This explanation met the agendas of transnational capital and various formations lined up in opposition to the African National Congress and its allies in the Communist Party (SACP) and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) to which the NUM is affiliated.
British transnational Lonmin, which owns Marikana, was heavily implicated in events before August 2012, having undermined collective bargaining with the NUM by authorising pay rises for some miners unilaterally.
It also stoked resentment among workers and their families by its failure to build housing and infrastructure, thereby creating space for vigilantism and trade union warlordism to take root.
The NUM had experienced this phenomenon elsewhere in the mining industry, but company collusion exacerbated it at Marikana.
Several NUM members, especially trade union activists and shop stewards, were murdered in the run-up to August 16 as Amcu strove to replace NUM as the recognised bargaining agent.
Two security guards were also murdered and two police officers chopped to death and robbed of their pistols, shotgun and rifle.
Despite the combined efforts of Julius Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and Mmusi Maimane’s Democratic Alliance to blame President Jacob Zuma or then ANC secretary-general Cyril Ramaphosa for ordering police to open fire the following day on Amcu members armed with clubs, machetes and spears, no credible case has been made.
Marikana Support Campaign’s Peter Alexander takes issue with Ramaphosa’s email to Lonmin chief commercial officer Albert Jamieson on August 15 2012 in which he wrote: “The terrible events that have unfolded cannot be described as a labour dispute. They are plainly dastardly criminal and must be characterised as such.”
But Ramaphosa was right. Murdering police, security guards and members of another union is not part of any normal labour dispute. It is criminal behaviour.
Rather than high-ranking ANC leaders ordering a bloodbath, it is more likely that police exacted unlawful retribution for the murder of their comrades, perhaps confident that history suggested that there would be no price to pay.
Cosatu expressed its anger yesterday, after yet another NUM shop steward was murdered — in this case, one of a growing number to have turned their backs recently on Amcu — to universal indifference.
Dozens of local NUM leaders have had their lives snuffed out, usually shot, in the five years since the Marikana Massacre, yet the world remains fixated with the blood spilt on one day only.
The ANC, SACP, Cosatu and NUM are linked in the revolutionary alliance that led South Africa’s liberation struggle.
Britain’s labour movement stood four-square with this alliance and should not be budged from that principled position by a concerted campaign by its opponents to project a one-sided, politically motivated parody of reality.