[Marxism] Blame Flies Over Police Massacre of 34 South African Miners

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Aug 17 13:58:31 MDT 2012


Friday Aug 17, 2012 1:40 pm
Blame Flies Over Police Massacre of 34 South African Miners
By Mike Elk

Coauthored with Bhaskar Sunkara.

Yesterday in Marikana, South Africa, at least 34 striking miners were 
shot dead by police and another 78 were wounded. The incident, which was 
caught on tape, occurred as police were attempting to clear striking 
miners from a hilltop outside of the Lonmin mine. In response to 
authorities firing stun grenades and tear gas, a number of miners began 
to charge. Without warning, dozens of officers opened fire with 
automatic weapons.

It is unclear how many of the miners were actually carrying clubs or 
machetes as they surged forward. There are allegations that some miners 
were firing at the police, which are hard to substantiate since the 
police were firing non-lethal munitions—stun guns and tear gas—at the 
time of the charge, obscuring the scene. But based on the footage, the 
hundreds of rounds fired at protesters appear starkly disproportionate 
to the threat posed by men wielding clubs.

Instead of focusing on whether the police used excessive force, the 
South African media has been quick to claim the incident stemmed from 
violent clashes earlier in the week between two rival unions.

The government-backed National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) faces 
competition for members from the Association of Construction and 
Mineworkers Union, a newer union formed by disgruntled NUM members who 
say the NUM was too concessionary and was resistant to change from 
within. In 2007, the NUM refused to allow a disgruntled rank-and-file 
worker to challenge the head of the NUM, on the grounds that the worker 
was merely an employee and not already an elected official. The more 
militant ACMU claims to have already surpassed NUM in membership.

At the mine in Marikana, NUM represented approximately 30 percent of the 
workers, while another 30 percent were represented by the ACMU. Some 
3,000 rock drill operators belonging to both unions walked out on August 
10 in a strike for better conditions. The NUM cut a deal with mine 
management and wanted to return to work this week—but told media that 
they felt they couldn’t because of ACMU interference.

Earlier this week, 10 people were killed in clashes between the ACMU and 
the NUM, including two police officers. ACMU’s general secretary, 
Jeffrey Mphahlele, said the conflict between the two unions began with 
NUM members shooting ACMU members. The more radical ACMU has said that 
the NUM routinely engages in violence when challenged by ACMU at a mine, 
in order to scare workers tempted to defect.

The NUM disputes these claims and says that ACMU started the incident. 
It has also blamed the mine owners, saying on its Twitter account today 
that, “the background of the violence at Lonmin lies in the companies 
undermining the bargaining process and structures.”

The shootings happened yesterday when police attempted to clear the 
hillside of striking miners from both unions. ACMU leaders say that part 
of the reason that miners refused to leave the hill was because that 
day, the company had at the last second reneged on a deal with ACMU that 
would have ended the strike. ACMU President Joseph Mathunjwa told the 
Mail and Guardian that he pleaded with the miners to abandon the 
hillside, fearing for their safety at the hands of the police: “I said 
leave this place, they’re going to kill you.”

The Association of Construction and Mineworkers Union has placed the 
blame for the massacre, in which 34 have been confirmed dead, at the 
hands of the mine management, the police and the NUM. The National Union 
of Mineworkers, however, has stood behind the police. “The police were 
patient, but these people were extremely armed with dangerous weapons,” 
NUM General Secretary Frans Baleni told Kaya FM.

NUM's collusion with the state is symptomatic of power structures in 
South African since the end of apartheid. The 300,000-member NUM is the 
largest affiliate of the Congress of South African Trade Unions, which 
forms the “tripartite” governing alliance along with the ruling African 
National Congress and the South African Communist Party.

The union was founded in 1982 and eventually won an end to a racist 
reservation system, which denied black South Africans access to 
better-paying jobs. The ANC, similarly, earned international praise and 
recognition during its battle against apartheid, which culminated in its 
victory in South Africa's first democratic election with universal adult 
suffrage in 1994. Since then the ANC has dominated politics in the 
country. But allegations of corruption and waste have dodged the party. 
For many, it has come to symbolize to many the unfulfilled promises of 
the national liberation struggle.

The response from the ANC's President Jacob Zuma, himself a 
self-described socialist with trade union roots, was muted. He merely 
expressed “regret” for the killings, adding that “today is not an 
occasion for blame, finger-pointing or recrimination.”

Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO in the U.S., said to In These 
Times: "Once again, mineworkers who produce so much wealth under often 
dangerous daily working conditions have paid the highest price--their 
lives--in a completely avoidable industrial conflict. We send our 
deepest condolences to the families of these workers and call on the 
South African government to take immediate action to address the brutality."

Ultimately, the primary responsibility for these clashes hangs with 
neither union, but with the company and the state that endorses these 
conditions. South African miners work in a dangerous environment and 
face constant exploitation while earning only a pittance, even though 
demand has soared for the platinum they extract. This year alone, 40 
miners have died in South Africa.

The strike was a natural outcrop of these conditions and is not likely 
to fade away without significant redress. But even if a settlement is 
reached, another blow has been dealt to the legacy of the once-proud 
African National Congress and its allies in the trade union movement.

The political consequences could be lasting.

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