The Platinum Mine Story That Isn’t Being Told – Solly Mapaila
“Since February there has been a reign of terror in these townships” (a worker). “AMCU thugs burnt my car yesterday (1st September 2012,” the local South African Communist Party branch secretary). “I’ve had to flee with my family from my shack on the Lonmin side of the settlement. We left behind all our possessions, a TV, a microwave. It’s too dangerous to go back there” (a NUM shopsteward). “If you wear a red T-shirt they will target you” (a worker).
These are some of the shocking things that we were told at the first community mass meeting convened by the SACP in Marikana last Sunday since the tragedy that befell that community. In a packed hall it is difficult to say the exact number of people present. I think there were between 700 and 1000 community members, many of them mine-workers from the nearby Lonmin and Impala Platinum mines and some old women concerned by the violence and disruptions of normal social life in the area.
We knew we were going into a terrorized community and it brought back memories of massacres like Boipatong in the early 1990s. In a tense situation like this, we had not expected such a large turnout. However, it was clear that those who were there were anxious to tell us of their traumatic experiences that stretched back over many months, if not years.
”In the days before the August 16 shootings the strikers were sleeping on the koppie”, one older workers explains. “The inyanga told them they mustn’t come near to women or the muti to protect them from bullets wouldn’t work. They are still going to the koppie now, but only during the day-time. Every morning AMCU thugs go shack to shack to grab any men they find to force them to go to the koppie.”
A woman in the gathering agrees that vigilantes search homes for men. “They don’t just take our men, they steal things. And worse, with our men gone tsotsis also come and steal and rape.” Another worker explains, “That’s why most workers have actually gone home to the rural areas. It always happens when there is violence like this.”
The view that much of the work-force is no longer at Marikana might be confirmed by reports that only 120 of the 270 men arrested on August 16 were actually Lonmin employees. However, we must also be careful about this statistic. Around one-third of Lonmin’s work-force are contract workers who are therefore supposedly the “employees” of the contractors and not of Lonmin. Nevertheless, it is clear that many of the “strikers” are probably unemployed men, some retrenched from the previous AMCU-inspired unprotected strikes at the nearby Implats mine, others are just press-ganged to the koppie or even unemployed hangers-on desperate for a job.
In my inquiry about how rife is this practice in the platinum belt with comrade Frans Baleni, the General Secretary of the NUM, he mentioned a scary fact that in the Anglo-platinum sector, of their 65 000 workers about 25 000 are not employed directly by Angloplats.
While anger and criticism from those attending our meeting was overwhelmingly directed at AMCU-mobilised vigilantes, there was also a general sense from the community that they had been let down by everyone and left to fend for themselves. “The police came in force only after two police and two securities were brutally murdered in the days before August 16 – but where were the police in the months and even years while we were being brutalized and murdered here in our homes by the same thugs?”
Others blamed the mine companies, the municipality and local traditional leadership structures for failing to build proper houses, or supply basic services to the informal settlements around the mines that mushroomed during the platinum boom of the last decade. Others felt that NUM had not provided proper leadership on the ground, leaving the door open to populist demagogues.
“These people spread lies about the NUM everyday – that the NUM has shares in Lonmin, that it receives money from the government, and the NUM has not been there to refute or clarify these lies” a Lonmin worker said. To this effect the matter was clarified that the NUM investment arm does not invest in the mining, energy and construction sectors, it does not receive money from government and on the contrary its J.B. Marks Trust has allocated over R69million worth of bursaries towards education for mineworkers and their children.
An older mine-worker, a local NUM shop-steward partly agreed. “It is true that we haven’t always adapted to the new and difficult realities. In the 1980s it was at first difficult for us to organize. There was the tightly controlled compound system with the hostels located on mine property. The mine bosses used ethnic “boss-boy” structures to maintain discipline, it was difficult for us to organize. But once we had penetrated the hostels the concentration of workers in one place meant that we could suddenly organize very quickly and maintain a very effective democratic union discipline.
Now most of the hostels have been closed and the work-force is living scattered outside. In the past the mine would supply a concrete “bed” and meals. Workers could send home to the rural areas most of their pay – there wasn’t much else to spend it on except at the local “Bantu” store and on drink. Now workers get paid a R1800 “living out allowance” and we all know that isn’t enough to pay for a real house. So we live in these shacks like animals. On our small wages we have to pay for our own beds and meals.
Many workers now have two families here and back home. Money is short. This means that many of our workers have become easy prey to mashonisas, pyramid schemes, shack-lords and various forms of criminality and vigilantism. This is soil of desperation and vulnerability in which the renegades in AMCU, and before it the brutal Five Madoda and the warmongering Workers Mouthpiece have been ploughing.”
I was reminded of the words of this older worker this morning when I read an article by former COSATU general secretary Jay Naidoo in the The New Age (“Democracy is non-existent”). Cde Naidoo writes: “So today, let us ask ourselves if splinter unions are just the work of opportunists. Are we saying that seasoned trade unionists are so weak, pliant and intellectually inferior that they will risk losing their jobs and their lives – and for what?”
I am not sure what exactly cde Naidoo is trying to say. The leadership of AMCU did lose their jobs when they were fired from NUM for undemocratic populism that risked the health and lives of OTHERS in an illegal sit-in underground for three weeks. Again they risked OTHER peoples lives at Marikana – and for what? In order to muscle in on the multi-million rand business of workers’ subs.
But now is not the time to get into lengthy polemics with cde Naidoo who has clearly forgotten his own battles with renegade unions like UWUSA that were nurtured by the bosses and based themselves on anti-worker violence, vigilantism and backward superstitions of all kinds. The leader of UWUSA stayed in my township of Thokoza on the East Rand, I can attest to the same pattern of violence and backward ethnic mobilization. Now is the time for the maximum unity within COSATU, and between COSATU and its alliance partners in the face of a multi-pronged attack on the organized working class in the context of a serious global capitalist crisis.
And such a unity has to be based on a correct identification of what exactly we are confronting. The voices from Marikana at the SACP’s, Sunday September 02, 2012, community meeting remind us that there is a very different story to be told from that which is the dominant story in the media at present. Before the August 16 tragedy, the dominant story was “trade union rivalry” – as if AMCU was a normal union, as if NUM and AMCU were equally to blame for the violence that saw two policemen, two security guards securing NUM offices in Rustenburg and six NUM shopstewards murdered. (This was a 2012 re-play of the “black on black violence” propaganda lie of the early 1990s).
After the August 16 tragedy the dominant story became “a brutal authoritarian state versus unarmed strikers” – we were asked to remember Sharpeville (but not Boipatong, not the witdoeke, not the killing fields of the Midlands, Sebokeng, Kathorus (Katlehong – Thokoza – Voslorus) not even the more recent killing spree of the Five Madoda and the Workers Mouth Piece in Rustenburg).
I am reminding us of all of this not to draw a veil over what happened on August 16. There needs to be a thorough, no-holds-barred investigation into the conduct of the police on that day and also into allegations of torture afterwards. For this reason the SACP has fully supported the establishment of an independent judicial commission.
The commission will take evidence from all sides and we will certainly seek to ensure that the voices of the Marikana community have an opportunity to present their story. Their story is part of a different narrative from that which prevails – Marikana is just one facet of an all-round anti-worker offensive in the context of a capitalist crisis.
It is an offensive led, not by the state or the police, but in varying ways by the mining houses, the parliamentary opposition parties (with their endless attack on Big Unions), labour-brokers, and much of the media local and international. In this offensive they flirt dangerously with demagogues and opportunists of all kinds to split and divide working people and their communities.
The community has called for an active role and presence of the alliance in the area to restore normality, help to improve their livelihoods amidst the mineral wealth and be counted on their side during this most difficult period.