Spartacist South Africa No. 9
Workers Revolution Will Avenge the Marikana Massacre!
As we wrote in Black History and the Class Struggle No. 23, the cold-blooded murder of Lonmin workers on 16 August 2012 was “the worst instance of lethal police violence in response to struggle since the end of white-supremacist apartheid rule in 1994”. Even some bourgeois commentators compared it to the Sharpeville massacre that epitomised the apartheid regime’s terror against black people.
In spite of the drowning of their comrades in blood, Lonmin miners remained steadfast. Their militancy and determination inspired other miners throughout the country to protest, in defiance of both the Randlords and their African National Congress (ANC)-led Tripartite Alliance government, against their measly pay and miserable working conditions. Their rallying call was the R12 500 wage that the Marikana miners demanded. Within a few weeks, miners from Amandelbult in Limpopo to Kumba’s Sishen iron mine in Northern Cape downed tools demanding higher pay.
Clearly out of a concern to maintain the status quo, Zwelinzima Vavi left in the middle of the proceedings of the Congress of South African Trade Unions’ (COSATU’s) 11th national congress for Goldfields’ KDC mine in Carletonville to instruct gold miners to go back to work. At some point even the populist demagogue Julius Malema rode the strike wave for a while to gather support for his unsuccessful campaign to unseat Jacob Zuma as president of the ANC. This wave of wildcat strikes also reverberated across the Cape winelands, where farmworkers rose up in protest demanding a minimum wage of R150 a day.
Since the Marikana massacre, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) has displaced the COSATU-affiliated National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) as the majority union at Lonmin, Impala Platinum (Implats), Anglo-American Platinum (Amplats) and other mines around the platinum belt. To protect its cosy relationship with NUM, the management has delayed the recognition of AMCU, sanctioning the continued presence of NUM in the mines.
Inevitably this has led to conflict between the two unions. Earlier this year at Amplats’ Siphumelele mine, workers downed tools to protest what they perceived as the illegitimate occupation of union offices by NUM in the mine, and more recently a similar wildcat strike took place at Lonmin’s Marikana mine. Here the industrial action followed the murder of Mawethu Steven Khululekile, a regional organiser of AMCU. He is one of several victims of violence in the area that has claimed the lives of mineworkers.
At the same time, the ANC and its Alliance partners are more worried that a numerically weak NUM, once the largest union in the COSATU federation, would reduce their votes in the elections next year. As a result, they have been calling for the defence of NUM by starting what they call the “Hands off NUM” campaign. At the May Day rally in Rustenburg, for example, ANC deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa declared that “We must stand firm and united behind and defend this union”, explaining that a weak NUM means a weaker ANC.
Most importantly though, they are worried about maintaining stability in the platinum belt to ensure the flow of profits to the Randlords and their black henchmen like Ramaphosa. In addition, the ANC government has established an inter-ministerial task team led by deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe to find a solution to the crisis in the mining industry. It has emerged that the government is considering sending the army to Rustenburg to restore stability to the area. We should not forget that in the aftermath of the massacre last year soldiers were deployed to the Rustenburg area to support cops in their operation to maintain “law and order in the Marikana area”, i.e. to suppress the workers.
During the recent wildcat strike in Marikana, AMCU president Joseph Mathunjwa, anxious to defuse the tension and to ensure that production is not hampered at the mine, ordered members of his union to go back to work. When the workers committee at Amplats threatened to down tools amid reports that the company intends to retrench 6 000 workers, he declared, “It makes no sense, when employers are dismissing 6,000 workers, to go on strike illegally. How can you call such a strike? Those so-called workers’ committees are criminals and should be arrested. It is time for law enforcement to act on these criminal elements” (Business Day, 17 May).
This reactionary appeal to the bourgeois state against workers is not a coincidence. Notwithstanding their claimed hostility to politics, AMCU leaders are just as class-collaborationist as NUM and COSATU leaders. AMCU is affiliated to the Pan Africanist Congress-dominated National Council of Trade Unions federation, which also has a pro-capitalist leadership. As we make a point to explain below, class independence is mandatory if the South African proletariat is to overthrow capitalist wage slavery.
Mathunjwa’s comment infuriated some of the workers at Amplats, especially after it had emerged that he has benefitted to the tune of up to R800 000 per annum from the treacherous “secondment arrangement” negotiated between the NUM and mine bosses. According to the bourgeois Daily Maverick, this so-called “special arrangement” was proposed by the NUM in the late 1980s, with the absurd justification that it would “protect the unions from corporations”. In case of the top bureaucrats, this practice includes payment of annual salaries from middle management level up to the company executive level, while for the shop stewards it entails a higher pay grade, including access to perks like company cars and petrol cards.
Although this practice extends to most unions organising mineworkers like the United Association of South Africa (UASA) and the reactionary Solidarity, most of the union officials benefiting from it are from NUM. Unfazed by this damaging exposure, NUM spokesperson Lesiba Seshoka defended the practice and intoned, “You can go to any other unions in South Africa. This is standard practice” (Daily Maverick, 25 April).
The Chamber of Mines recently decided, as the Daily Maverick (24 April) put it, that “in the interests of good governance and transparency, the ‘very uncomfortable’ situation should be terminated” at the national, provincial, regional and branch levels, but it will remain intact at the shop steward level. Of course, the mine bosses don’t give a damn about “good governance and transparency”; they have simply decided that it’s no longer a good investment to pay the NUM tops for policing the mineworkers, especially since AMCU is now the dominant union in the platinum belt.
This plan to terminate the arrangement has raised the ire of Senzeni Zokwana, NUM president and national chairman of the South African Communist Party (SACP). Zokwana was paid by AngloGold-Ashanti until 2006, but since then has been paid by the Chamber of Mines. His salary is said to be similar to that of NUM general secreary Frans Baleni, who reportedly earns R1,4 million per annum including perks. He promised that the NUM will fight the decision to terminate the arrangement. More worrying for the NUM tops is that they will have to start paying the salaries of the bureaucrats who benefited from the “secondment arrangement”. The revelation of this arrangement is added proof of what the Marikana miners said during their strike last year, when they complained that their leaders were misrepresenting them and accused them of being too close to the management.
Furthermore, this is also highlighted by the wholesale rejection of NUM in favour of AMCU in the platinum belt. Save for their members’ militancy, AMCU tops, as we noted above, accept class collaboration. Mathunjwa has on numerous occasions warned against “illegal unprotected strikes” and insisted that workers must follow prescribed arbitration procedures.
If the working class is to break free from bourgeois influence, it will have to fight against its class-collaborationist misleaders and replace them with class-struggle leaders. As Leon Trotsky observed in his unfinished manuscript, “Trade unions in the epoch of imperialist decay” (1940): “Either the trade unions of our time will serve as secondary instruments of imperialist capital to subordinate and discipline the workers and to obstruct the revolution or, on the contrary, the unions will become tools of the revolutionary movement of the proletariat.” It is from this perspective that we are calling for the breaking of the Tripartite Alliance along class lines (i.e. setting the working-class base of COSATU and the SACP against their pro-capitalist misleaders and the bourgeois ANC) and the building of a revolutionary workers party that is going to fight tooth and nail for the emancipation of the predominantly black proletariat, the poor, and all the oppressed. For a black-centred workers government!
We publish below, in an edited form, a presentation given earlier this year by comrade Kgori at a Johannesburg “Spartacists on the grass” readers’ circle for subscribers of Spartacist South Africa and Workers Vanguard.
In an article on their website, the Financial Times noted that “every big government upheaval has been preceded by trouble at the mines” (ft.com, 17 February). The trouble that this bourgeois mouthpiece is whining about is the series of wildcat strikes that started in Marikana last year. For a lot of people it was inconceivable that the police of the “democratic government” would commit such an atrocity. We are all familiar with the story now. Rock drillers downed tools on the 10th of August 2012 and they were quickly joined by other sections of mineworkers demanding a wage increase to a minimum of R12 500 per month.
From the onset, striking workers were faced with repression from both the state and mining security guards. The climax of this was reached six days later when the armed thugs of the neo-apartheid South African state, which is administered by the ANC-led Tripartite Alliance, brutally shot and killed 34 miners and injured 78. The police justified their actions by saying that they shot workers in self-defence because they felt threatened by sticks, homemade spears, and pangas that the workers had. This was used by bourgeois commentators to apportion the blame to the workers—which is akin to saying, as our statement that we put out in the aftermath of the massacre emphasised, “the Zulu, Xhosa and other native African warriors who were mowed down by the guns of British and Dutch colonisers should have also accepted part of the blame for the ‘senseless loss of life’, because they tried to fight back with spears and other primitive weapons”. We are for armed self-defence by the working class against the cops, security guards and the bosses. In a word, we are against the monopolisation of violence by the bourgeois state. Workers must establish defence guards to protect their strikes and picket lines.
This is counterposed to the line pushed by most of our opponents. For example, in a 17 September 2012 statement the SACP said that it fully supported the actions of the government and the “ring-leaders must be dealt with”; and the DSM [Democratic Socialist Movement] said it was a mistake for the workers to respond in kind to the violence that was meted out by the cops and the security guards. You see, at bottom this stems out from the anti-Marxist view of the state that these organisations espouse. They both believe that the cops are part of the working class and they argue that they should be organised into the workers movement. We say no! Cops and security guards out of the working-class movement! These are nothing but hired thugs of the capitalist class. This is what V. I. Lenin said of the state in his seminal work The State and Revolution: “The state is a special organisation of force: it is an organisation of violence for the suppression of some class.” In other words, “the state is an organ of class domination” composed of the special bodies of armed men. That is the cops, the standing army, and including prisons, courts, and other institutions of coercion.
Central to the role of the state is the monopolisation of violence by the bourgeoisie, as I had indicated earlier. The Marikana massacre and its aftermath clearly elucidate this. Not only did the cops lie about the weapons that the workers had, they shot most of them in the back while they were fleeing and far from the firing lines. The military was called in to implement an undeclared, quasi state of emergency. In addition, the NPA [National Prosecuting Authority] utilised an apartheid law to charge the miners for the deaths of their comrades and the courts were used to keep the miners in prisons.
The SACP would have us believe that the neo-apartheid South African state, as well as their alliance with the ANC and COSATU, are “class-contested”. But facts are stubborn things and difficult to ignore. As our comrade from the Spartacist League/U.S., Jon Brule, stated in his class, “when you become part of a capitalist government, like the SACP is, you have to take responsibility for the policies of that government, which are premised fundamentally on maintaining capitalist profit” (“Miners Strikes Shake Neo-Apartheid South Africa”, Workers Vanguard No. 1016, 25 January). It is in this vein that the COSATU bureaucracy is preaching to workers that the cops are there to protect and serve them. But facts are stubborn things, like I said, especially when these armed thugs of the neo-apartheid state steal, kill, maim, and rape with impunity. The recent death of Emidio Macia only opened the lid on what most people already knew [see article on page 22].
The most important thing about this “illegal” wildcat strike, however, is that the workers persevered and won. And this caused a big headache for the COSATU bureaucrats, which can be seen on the tweet that Vavi issued after the deal was struck. He said, “Cosatu and NUM will have to act fast or this deal can collapse…every bargaining system in place…it can communicates [sic] the message workers can lead themselves and get what they want” (Mail & Guardian online, 19 September 2012). That is exactly what happened. From Limpopo, Gauteng and Northern Cape to KwaZulu-Natal, miners downed tools and their example was replicated in the Cape winelands by farmworkers. As is the norm, cop terror was unleashed to repress these workers as well. As we wrote in “Neo-Apartheid Capitalism and Rising Police Terror” in Spartacist South Africa No. 7 [Winter 2011], “With mounting social unrest come increased attacks on democratic rights and threats of police Bonapartism.”
But one can ask why there is social discontent in South Africa and especially in the mines. When it came to power, the ANC promised people a better life for all. A promise they never kept, and never could keep. Instead, what we are seeing is a better life for the Randlords, politically connected BEE tycoons, politicians and most of the white people. On the other hand, inflation is running rampant, urged on by the global economic crisis. This has found explicit expression in the mines and other sectors, like in the farms, where superexploitation reigns supreme.
I am going to focus a bit on platinum mining in Rustenburg. Platinum is mainly used in autocatalysts to remove harmful emissions from diesel-driven cars and heavy-duty vehicles. In the early 2000s there was a strong demand for platinum in Europe and this led to over-investment in the sector. According to the Financial Mail (7-12 September 2012), in the ten-year period from 2001 until 2010 employee numbers rose from around 95 000 to around 180 000 and production peaked in 2006 at 169,9 metric tons (up from 129,7 metric tons in 2001). The price of platinum was hovering around $1 800 per ounce.
But then the global economic crisis brought trade to a screeching halt. As governments in Europe began attacking workers and the poor through austerity measures, platinum mineowners over here were looking for ways of cutting back production and ensuring that their profit margins remain high. It is not uncommon today to hear economists say that the market is over-supplied, which means that the price of platinum is down and that the bosses’ bottom line is threatened. For example, we are aware of the fact that some mining houses intend to retrench a significant number of workers.
On the other hand, the workers are demanding a living wage. This is because they are subjected to some of the worst working conditions out there and palpable desolation where they stay. For instance, in this country one miner dies every three days. Meanwhile, investment in safety equipment is seen as an operational cost which, according to Implats CEO Terence Goodlace, will put “margins” (i.e. profits) “under pressure” [quoted in Financial Mail, 7-12 September 2012].
What’s more, the places that most of these miners originally come from are impoverished homelands, and the places where they currently stay are also very depressed. The hostels used to accommodate them are filthy; some of them have run-down toilets without seats, shared by hundreds of workers. It is no wonder some of these workers choose to stay in squatter camps where half of their housing allowance is used to pay rent and the other half to supplement the remittance sent back home. For those staying in the hostels, all of the allowance is used to pay the mine for living conditions that are qualitatively similar to the squatter camps. Not only do they have to contend with providing for extended family members, they also have to contend with high costs of living too. And it has just gotten worse with the hike in fuel prices, electricity, and certainly food prices will follow suit. These miserable conditions are a reflection of the migrant labour system which epitomised the superexploitation of black labour during apartheid and continues to this day in the “new South Africa”.
It is in the context of these conditions that the workers in Marikana struck in defiance of their leadership. Then they were members of the NUM and they just could not stomach any more treacherous betrayal by the NUM bureaucracy. For many years NUM had been misleading/misrepresenting workers. In January-February 2012 workers, again in defiance of the NUM leadership, shut down Impala Platinum mine for six weeks and they also won a wage increase. [See “Implats Strike Beats Back Mass Dismissals, Betrayals by NUM Tops” in SSA No. 8, Winter 2012, for more on that strike.]
Adding to their years of betrayals, in Marikana the NUM misleaders literally called on the capitalist state to send its armed thugs to “stabilise the situation”, i.e. to drown the workers in their own blood. Almost a dozen of the workers killed in the massacre were NUM members. Today this sweetheart union is totally discredited in Rustenburg.
AMCU, which the NUM leadership initially blamed for the violence, has stepped in and is now a majority union in many of the mines in the Rustenburg area. NUM president Zokwana accused AMCU of violence during the massacre. The SACP also decried the “violence associated with AMCU” (SACP Central Committee press statement, 19 August 2012), and their branch in the North West province called for the arrest of AMCU’s leaders. Zokwana has since publicly withdrawn his accusation at the Farlam commission of inquiry.
In our Marikana massacre statement, we defended AMCU against state repression and also stated that “we defend the right of the mineworkers to be represented by AMCU if that’s what they desire”. But as we emphasised, the wretched class-collaborationist betrayals by leaders of NUM and COSATU can only be combated by the base of these unions going against their sellout leaders and replacing them with a class-struggle leadership.
Some of our opponents in the left, like the DSM and Democratic Left Front (DLF), took advantage of the crisis in Marikana to peddle their illusions in bourgeois parliament and the state. The DSM is currently busy amassing a million signatures to jump-start their electoral campaign, which includes campaigning to recall ANC councillors and replace them with theirs. At the same time, Trevor Ngwane of the DLF lectured mineworkers about the need to start a “peace process” with the neo-apartheid capitalist state that butchered their comrades (“Message to the Amplats mineworkers rally in Rustenburg”, 13 November 2012, democraticleft.za.net).
The SACP on the other hand is still committed to the “Rainbow Nation” promoted through its so-called National Democratic Revolution (NDR). Ironically, the Financial Times article quoted earlier is titled “South Africa: A faded rainbow”. There never was a rainbow nation to begin with. All races are not treated equally in South Africa, whites are still on top and blacks at the bottom. In Workers Vanguard No. 600, published in 1994, we emphasised that blacks can only be freed through socialist revolution, not the power-sharing deal that the ANC signed with the National Party, which the SACP falsely peddles as the NDR. Also, the National Party dissolved into the ANC in 2005.
The NDR is an application of a Menshevik two-stage theory which argues that the route to socialism is charted through an enactment of an initial stage, where the working class supports capitalism to fight against national oppression, before proceeding to socialism at a later stage. And of course, the only way to reach this is to join the capitalists in their government and pressure them to act in the interest of the working class. When you join the capitalist government you don’t end up forcing it to carry out pro-working class policies, you essentially are tasked with making sure that the country is investor-friendly, which means exploiting labour is profitable. This is what the SACP’s and COSATU’s policy of “swelling the ranks” of the ANC amounts to.
To be sure, the 1993/94 deal ended the rigid, legally-enforced system of racial segregation and subjugation. However, the socio-economic relations that characterised apartheid remained intact, except that over the past 19-20 years a small layer of blacks has been inducted into the elite at the expense of the majority through BEE. We have all seen the despicable role that Cyril Ramaphosa, a former NUM general secretary, played in the lead up to the massacre. The question is, does the elevation of people like Ramaphosa to black capitalists through the gravy train guarantee the emancipation of black people? The answer is a big no. In fact, the history of this country since 1994 demonstrates that, even the massacre itself demonstrates this.
Historically there is an intersection of race and class in South Africa. The majority of the working class is made up of blacks and the capitalists are mainly white. When you go to a strike you are more likely to see blacks on the picket line than whites, for example. Just look at the inequality statistic in this country. According to the World Bank, at 0,7 in 2008 South Africa’s Gini coeffient was among the highest, which means that this country is among the most unequal societies in the world. The average white household earns about R365 000 every year, compared to R60 000 for blacks.
If anything, the ANC-led Alliance government protects white privilege. To disguise this basic truth and maintain capitalist order the ANC government has relied on ideological weapons like nationalism and, where this proves inadequate, brute force or violence. Ideological weapons are usually conveyed through the media, schools and religion. The occurrence of this massacre has clearly shown that the ideological weapons have reached their limit and in general the increased cop terror illustrates this.
In Black History and the Class Struggle No. 12 (February 1995) we stated that, “The ANC-led nationalist movement cannot achieve any semblance of ‘liberation’ for the nonwhite masses since it is committed to maintaining South African capitalism, which has always been based on the brutal exploitation of the black toilers.” As indicated earlier, only a socialist revolution can lead to national emancipation of non-white people. To realise this, we call for a black-centred workers government, which is an application of Leon Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution.
Other measures that signify increased terror are the proposed Protection of Information Bill and Traditional Courts Bill. The former is obviously meant to clamp down on exposures of ANC government corruption and the latter to control rural life in a manner akin to the role that the chiefs played during apartheid.
If the Traditional Courts Bill is implemented, it would adversely affect women, whose condition deserves a special mention. After the cops mowed down workers in Marikana, women from nearby squatter camps took to the streets and were also greeted with rubber bullets by the cops. Seeing women embark on the solidarity protest was encouraging, but one cannot help but think about the migrant labour system and how it affects the life of some of these women. For example, some of them are in polygamous marriages as men usually take second wives when they get to the mines since they are essentially separated from their rural wives as a result of the migrant labour system. Women in the rural areas are subject to abject poverty, where lack of resources and unemployment are widespread; and in urban areas they stay in squatter camps, where they endure horrible living conditions, unemployment and lack of sanitation. For example, in Nkaneng near Marikana up to 50 inhabitants share outdoor toilets and one water tap and there isn’t proper sanitation.
Like comrade Karen asserted in the Young Spartacus pages of Workers Vanguard, “Black women in this country have nothing. They are the slaves of the slaves” (“‘Traditional Culture’ vs Fight for Women’s Liberation”, WV No. 1016, 25 January). There is just tokenism that is supposed to make women think that their interests are being championed, like having women in higher places in parliament, for example. In fact the nationalists have no programme for women’s liberation whatsoever. South Africa has one of the most liberal constitutions in the world, guaranteeing rights that are not realisable in real life. Look at the right of abortion, for instance. There is so much backlog and inefficiency in government-run hospitals that a lot of women end up going to the life-threatening backdoor abortionist. Indeed, a lot of women took part in the struggle against apartheid but for most of them it was back to the kitchen afterwards. Even worse, the baas’s kitchen.
As Marxists we understand that oppression of women is rooted in the family. For instance, here in South Africa to get married men pay lobola for women, which ensures that women are subordinated to their husbands. You get a lot of romantics arguing that lobola is a way of expressing gratitude. Well, you can say thank you without having to pay for it.
One thing’s for sure: the masses of oppressed women in this country must have no illusions that bourgeois politicians will represent their interests. This includes Mamphela Ramphele, who, as a former director at the World Bank and former chair of the board at Gold Fields, is a spokesperson for the capitalist class which is the enemy of women’s liberation and of the workers in general. Bourgeois politicians like Ramphele hypocritically pose as “friends” of women and the poor through charity work, including promoting so-called non-governmental organisations. This is just tossing back a few crumbs from the profits their system has sucked out of the blood of the workers. The capitalists and their government can never be pressured into serving the interests of the poor.
What you need is a system based on production for human need not profit. It would take nothing short of a proletarian revolution to emancipate women, just like the October 1917 Russian Revolution demonstrated. This was very important to the Bolsheviks—so much that they established a special commission to champion the interests of women.
So the question is: how do we achieve this? Well, the first thing that needs to happen is that the Tripartite Alliance has to be broken and the class-collaborationist misleaders in COSATU and other unions replaced with class-struggle leaders. Those militants in the SACP who genuinely want to fight for socialism would also have to break with their pro-capitalist leaders and join the struggle to forge a genuinely revolutionary (i.e. Trotskyist) party that is going to fight for a black-centred workers government! Such a government would uphold full democratic rights for the coloured and Indian people, and those whites who would accept a government centrally based on the black working class. At the same time, the workers state would have to expropriate the land and the means of production from the bourgeoisie, and fight like hell to extend workers revolution to the advanced industrial countries or imperialist centres of America, West Europe and Japan.