Mineworkers of the Marikana diamond mine in South Africa are continuing their strike. Their perseverence comes after violent police efforts to suppress the strike, efforts culminating in a horrendous bloodbath on 16 August, when police machinegunned protesting miners, killing 34 and arresting at least 250 of them.
Note: this is the article I wrote for the September issue of Freedom; of course, it's best to buy the issue itself. Here, I publish the version I sent in, with footnotes that did not make it into the printed version. ofcourse, the article is dated because so much has happened since.
On 10 August, 3.000 of the 28.000 Marikana miners went on strike to support a wage demand. The strikers belonged to a category of very low-paid miners doing arduous, risky work deep down below. The National Union of Miners (NUM), belonging tot the mainstream union federation COSATU, neglected these workers and their needs. Another union, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) took a more militant pose and tried to make itself into the voice of the angry miners. Soon the strike was accompanied by violence between strikers on the one hand, police, security, and NUM supporters being attacked by strikers on the other.
But it would be very wrong to blame it all on 'inter-union rivalry'. AMCU sounds more militant and is more in touch. But the battle line is not AMCU versus NUM; the frontline is angry workers pressing a wage demand against management that refuses. A violent impasse followed. Then, police – encouraged by NUM and COSATU – moved into action.
They attacked the strikers who had assembled on a nearby hill , some of them armed with nives and the likes, encircled them, tied to disperse them by teargas. A group of strikers refused to disperse and, according to the police version, attack their attackers. Police opened fire with machine guns and shot 34 miners dead in the most ferocious repression against protesting workers in post-Apartheid South Africa. It reminded people of the violence the apartheid regime meted out against protests, for instance in Sharpeville, 1961 and Soweto, 1976. The skin colour of the state-funded murderers had changed, but no much more.
Since the massacre, government-linked progressives like the South African Communist Party (SACP) have supported the police repression, calling the event “not a massacre”, but “a battle”, and the police operation “admirable” (1). Defending capital, the state and the police is more important to these so-called leftists than defending workers in struggle. Different reactions are coming from opoor people in struggle against the authorities, as a solidarity declaration of a slum dwellers organisation shows (2). Meanwhile, Lomnin, the mine owning company, tried to force the miners back to work with an ultimatum that they later softened. However, at the moment of writing – 28 August - the strike is still continuing, while reports of arrested workers having been mistreated by police are now surfacing (3). The angry miners have not been defeated by the massacre. There is more resistance to come.
(1): “The Marikana Massacre: a premeditated killing?”, Benjamin Fogel,, on Libcom.org, 24 August
(3): “Solidarity with mine workers at Marikana Platinum”,on Libcom.org, 17 August.
(3): “Tensions as S. African miners continue strikes”, Aljazeera, 27 August.