The South African government has been singed by the political aftermath of the Marikana massacre ( Frontline, September 21). Instead of trying to heal the wounds the incident had inflicted on the working class movement, which is the backbone of the ruling African National Congress (ANC), the government used the provisions of an apartheid-era law to slap charges of murder on the striking miners of Marikana for the death of their 34 compatriots in police firing. This was in addition to other charges. Only after a public outcry did the government drop the charges and start releasing the 270 workers who had been arrested following the shooting on August 16. The Marikana massacre has been described as the worst incident of violence since the end of apartheid in 1994.
Political parties, trade unions, civil society and the legal fraternity were united on the issue of granting immediate bail to the arrested workers. In an open letter to President Jacob Zuma, lawyers for the accused said that the detention of the 270 workers was unlawful.
Meanwhile, workers in another key mineGold Fields KDCs gold minehave resorted to strike action, demanding better pay and working conditions. South Africa is among the worlds biggest producers of gold. If the strike spreads to other mines, it will have a serious impact on the countrys economy.
In a bid to deflect public criticism, the ANC leadership is blaming the mine owners for precipitating the crisis. A statement issued by the ANC, the South African Communist Party (SACP ) and Cosatu (Congress of South African Trade Unions)the coalition that runs the governmentsaid that some companies were guilty of fanning up conflict between the unions, and thus, conflict among the workers themselves. The aim of the employers, it said, is to reverse the gains made by the workers over a long period of time.
The striking Marikana workers had accused the representatives of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) of cosying up to the management. The NUM is an important component of Cosatu.
There were loud demands from radical sections of the ANC at the partys last national meeting for the nationalisation of all mines. They argued that it was one of the ways to distribute wealth equitably. Julius Malema, the former ANC youth wing leader, was in the forefront of the campaign. He now says mines all over the country should be made unworkable until the demands of the Marikana mineworkers are met.
At the ANCs national meeting scheduled for December, Zuma is once again expected to be a candidate for the leadership post. But the contest may no longer be a cakewalk for him. Zwelinzima Vavi, the secretary general of Cosatu, who is opposed to Zuma, has said that the violence that erupted in the Lonmin mine in Marikana was a reflection of the publics anger against the growing inequality and poverty in the country.John Cherian