Unrest continues in South Africa mines after Marikana massacre

Mineworkers and their supporters have continued to express outrage at the police killing of 34 strikers and wounding of 78 others at the Marikana mines on Aug. 16 through mass memorial services and rallies. Autopsies show that most of 34 miners who were killed were shot in the back. Miners have continued to protest the deplorable working conditions that led to the strike.

Strike actions spread to the Royal Bakofeng platinum mines where workers walked out for three days. They returned to the mines after the company said it would respond to the strikers’ issues within two weeks. However, mining officials reported, “The delegation of workers made a formal list of demands, among them the 12,500 rand wage increase. … It was agreed that those issues are going to be resolved inside the normal structures and the company is not in a position to negotiate. All the parties are bound with a wage agreement until June 2014.” (Agence France-Presse, Aug. 25)

Lonmin’s mine owners backed off their ultimatum to striking rock-drill operators on Aug. 20 that they must return to work or lose their jobs. On Aug. 27, still unwilling to return to work without adequate pay and benefit hikes, the striking workers blocked fellow miners from going down the shafts. The two-week strike by 3,000 mineworkers forced Lonmin to suspend operations, and is preventing a total of 25,000 employees from working. Mine executives reported that they couldn’t run the facility because only 13 percent of the workforce was showing up.

Lonmin’s statement on Aug. 27 said, “There have been incidents of intimidation towards bus drivers overnight as well as intimidation of Eastern workers this morning, preventing them from coming to work.” (Reuters)

More than 260 miners at the Marikana mines are locked up and face criminal charges ranging from assault to murder. More than 150 of those detained report that police have beaten them in jail.

ANC leader apologizes

Members of the African National Congress government, including President Jacob Zuma, visited the area during the week after the Aug. 16 police massacre. Clashes between security forces and rival members of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) led to another 10 deaths prior to Aug. 16.

NUM is the largest and official representative of the workers. AMCU officials, many of whom are former NUM members, say that the NUM has not fought hard enough to secure decent salary and benefit increases for their members. Unfortunately, rival AMCU members who are walking off their jobs can’t reopen existing contracts.

Minister of Defense and Veteran Affairs Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula visited the Marikana site and apologized for the government’s failure to handle the situation properly. The government has set up a team to investigate the Marikana situation; team members visited the mines following the killings.

Mapisa-Nqakula told the angry crowd: “We agree with you that blood was spilled here. This is not something we condone. … We are sorry, this hurts all of us. As government, we would like to assist you with the organization of Thursday’s memorial service.” (Mail & Guardian, Aug. 22)

Former ANC Youth League leaders Julius Malema, Andile Lungisa and others spent considerable time in the area after the killings. They were involved with the memorial services where government members were present and reportedly left amidst harsh criticism from Malema.

Lungisa, the expelled ANCYL deputy president, said, “The police acted like they did before apartheid ended. It is not right and you must not accept it.” (Mail & Guardian, Aug. 22)

Former ANCYL leaders, now named “Friends of the Youth League,” reported that they are assembling a defense committee to work for the release of jailed miners.

Nationalization of industry needed

During the five years since the world economic crisis began, the platinum industry has lost considerable value. Lonmin was valued at $10 billion in 2008; today its value is $2 billion.

The Mail & Guardian article reports, “The world’s third-largest platinum miner faces uncertain time. Lonmin is losing money and faces the prospect of going cap in hand to shareholders to raise cash to keep it going.”

The recent developments within the platinum industry will undoubtedly fuel the debate and struggle within the ANC and other allied organizations over their future social and economic policies. Until the country moves toward a noncapitalist path of development involving the nationalization of industry, finance and agriculture based upon the interests of working people and farmers, the class struggle inside of South Africa will intensify.