Uproar about legal costs for Marikana workers reflects a political retreat

A short article arguing that the debate around the state's refusal to carry the legal costs of Marikana mine workers reflects a retreat into the politics of reconciliation.

In a recent article Jackie Dugard defends Dali Mpofu against accusations of greed and self-promotion made by Nathan Geffen and Jack Lewis among others. Mpofu is an advocate representing mine workers injured and arrested last year during the strikes associated with the Marikana massacre. After police killed 34, injured 80 and arrested 270 strikers on 16 August last year, President Jacob Zuma instituted the Farlam commission of enquiry into the violence. At present the injured and arrested mine workers have withdrawn from the commission after government has refused to pay the legal fees of Mpofu and his colleagues while spending millions on legal representation for the police. In response Geffen and others have criticised Mpofu for hogging public attention at the expense of the miners and for charging them unaffordable rates. But Dugard points out that this is unfair as Mpofu has done most of his work on behalf of the miners for free and has been working full time on these cases and is therefore right to try to get payment from the state and to withdraw from the work that he is no longer able to sustain. Dugard argues that public outrage should be directed at the state.

Dugard and Geffen both make good points. Compared to most other advocates Mpofu's work with the Marikana workers are praiseworthy, and this work compares well with that of other public-interest advocates who have received praise and honour for doing less than Mpofu in this case. Geffen is rather obviously right in pointing out that even at discounted rates the services of advocates are still unaffordable for working class people and this restricts access to the courts on a class basis. Also it is rather problematic that Mpofu and not the miners has now become the public face of this campaign to pressurise government to pay the fees, although it is not clear whether this is Mpofu's doing or that of the media. Despite Dugard and Geffen's opposing views on Mpofu, they have something extremely important in common: they both accept and even promote a liberal, legalistic approach to this struggle.

Neither asks given the apparent hostility of commission proceedings to the interests of the miners, should the workers participate at all? Of course this reflects the presence of the liberal, legalistic approach within the Marikana Solidarity Campaign itself. In the memorandum to Jacob Zuma the campaign says: 'Without the participation of the victims, no credible or legitimate outcome can come out of the Commission. Certainly no closure, reconciliation, truth and/or justice can result from it.' This casts the struggle of the Marikana mine workers within the established liberal framework of reconciliation through truthful dialogue in a neo-liberal capitalist system - the very framework embedded within the legal and social system in South Africa that is the ultimate cause of the suffering and strife of the workers.

One should therefore say that the positions of Dugard, Geffen and this memorandum reflect a political retreat. The very reason why the state reacted with such vicious hatred was that the workers broke out of the collective bargaining framework instituted to manage protests and resistance in a way that reconciles workers with capitalists and the state on terms that does not threaten the interests of the state-capitalist elite. Even the massacre was not enough reason for the workers to retreat from this position, and they continued with their irreconcilable militancy. One wonders therefore what role the friends and allies of the workers have played in this retreat into the politics of reconciliation.

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Sep 16 2013 14:00


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