To add unmitigated insult to violent injury, South African prosecutors charged 270 Marikana mine workers with the murder of their comrades at the Lonmin platinum mine on 16 August.
After wide protests, the charges have now been “suspended”; but, using the notorious “common purpose” law, prosecutors at first wanted to blame the miners for the deaths because of their involvement in the demonstration.
Most of the workers to be prosecuted were unarmed and peacefully protesting. Accounts vary about the massacre itself but it is apparent that the police were trying to kettle the demonstrators when the miners began to fight back.
Many of the workers are migrants from Lesotho and all of them are paid a pittance and have long campaigned for higher wages. Most of the workforce stayed away from work after the massacre and there is a high degree of solidarity for the demands of the striking miners in the South African labour movement, if not among the leaders of the official ANC backed National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and the main union federation, COSATU.
The mine-owner, Lonmin, is a piratical extractor of resources in South Africa and has a long history of vicious assaults on its own workforces long pre-dating the first democratic elections of 1994.
Cyril Ramaphosa, former NUM leader and then a leader of the ANC in the transition to power, is now a executive director of Lonmin.
He exemplifies those within the ANC who see their portfolio as personal enrichment to the detriment of the vast majority of the South African working class who live in poverty and poor housing.
The vague social democratic settlement of the early 1990s engineered by the “progressive” elements of the old National Party state under De Klerk and the ANC and the South African Community Party has been replaced by a much more hawkish internal regime where dissent and freedom of expression are decreasingly tolerated by the ANC state — leaving Capital unchallenged and unthreatened and the mass poverty of the townships unchanged.
The best-known challenger to the ANC’s old guard is one-time Zuma supporter Julius Malema, who came to prominence as the head of the ANC youth league.
A populist and demagogue, he has been accused of hate crime against the white majority with controversies around the “Shoot the Boer” anthem used by himself and his followers.
He is also a wealthy resident of Joburg’s previously white-only northern suburbs and is an expert in personal enrichment much like the rest of the ANC leadership.
He is a long-time proponent of the nationalisation of the mine industry.
That might make Malema look like a left-wing politician, but he is no such thing. His links to the autocratic Zimbabwean regime of Mugabe and his criticisms of the democratic movement there put the lie to that — his nationalisation is one in which another autocratic, if indigenous, elite seizes the mines for their own private benefit even if in the name of the working class and poor.
We should oppose both the demagogue Malema and the ANC assault on the miners.
There are movements within COSATU, in the independent left and in other workplaces across South Africa which are struggling to forge political independence from the ANC.
Marikana and its aftermath will go down in history as a defining moment comparable to the Sharpeville massacre and the Soweto uprising — a moment which marks a decisive shift in our understanding the nature of the ANC state and a move to a higher level of class struggle against capital in South Africa.