On August 16, 2012, police fired into a crowd of protesting workers at South Africa’s Marikana platinum mine. More than 35 miners were killed and more than 75 were injured. The mine is owned by U.K.-based Lonmin corporation.
The scale of this massacre compares with the police slaughter of protesters during the 1960 Sharpeville massacre, the 1976 Soweto uprising, and throughout the anti-apartheid struggles of the 1980s.
As shocking as it was, this massacre was the ‘price of doing business’ and not only in South Africa.
Capitalism has become so desperate for profit that it must grind workers’ conditions into the ground, even as these workers produce record wealth. While South Africa’s mining corporations make billions of dollars, their workers suffer extreme poverty, toxic working conditions, and premature death.
To maintain such inequality, capitalists use every possible means of divide and rule: seducing union leaders; funding inter-union rivalry; importing temporary labor; cultivating strike-breakers; arming security forces, bribing public officials, funding political parties, and so on.
These methods succeed because capitalism breeds opportunists who will sacrifice others in order to advance themselves.
One such opportunist is Cyril Ramaphosa, who helped build South Africa’s National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) into a fighting force against apartheid. Once apartheid ended, Ramaphosa joined the emerging Black-African capitalist class. He currently heads a major investment group, sits on the board of directors of Coca-Cola and is one of South Africa’s wealthiest citizens. Yet he claims to be a socialist.
Then there are the current NUM leaders, who are paid far more than their members and who view any challenge to their leadership (and their gravy train) as criminal. The NUM supported the African National Congress (ANC) before it came to power, and it continues to befriend the ANC as a capitalist government, even as it intensifies worker exploitation.
Add the Association of Mine Workers and Construction Unions (AMCU), launched by two former NUM members, and allegedly funded by a multinational mining, oil, and gas company (BHP Billiton corporation) to undermine the NUM. The NUm has assisted this process by allowing corporations to use subcontracted labor that depresses wages for all workers. In Lonmin’s Marikana mines, nearly one-third of the workers are subcontracted.
What should be done? Opportunists call on the same forces that caused the massacre to address the problem.
- South African President Jacob Zuma called for calm and announced a commission of inquiry into the tragedy.
- The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) “calls on Lonmin to initiate a full investigation into the violence. We also call on law enforcement agencies to leave no stone unturned and bring the culprits to justice.”
- Amandla! titled its editorial, “A Brutal Tragedy That Should Never Have Happened,” and blamed all the parties who contributed to the massacre for not being more responsible.
- Proving its utter irrelevance, the American AFL-CIO denounced the tragedy as “a completely avoidable industrial conflict” and called on the Lonmin corporation “to ensure calm and safety is restored so that miners can return to work.”
The youth league of the ANC came closest to the truth when it indicted “South Africa’s exploitative mining regime, capitalist greed, and the poverty of our people” as the cause of the massacre.
South Africa is no different from any other nation. Workers will only find their collective voice when they take democratic control of their unions and reject the ‘advice and guidance’ of the capitalist class.
In December, 2013, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) resolved to end its political alliance with the ruling ANC/SACP and “lead in the establishment of a new UNITED FRONT that will coordinate struggles in the workplace and in communities” and “explore the establishment of a MOVEMENT FOR SOCIALISM.”