The Marikana Massacre was a landmark event in the history of post-apartheid South Africa. It represented the most brutal attack since the end of apartheid in 1994. The savagery of the murders removed any pretentions that a neo-colonial South Africa was a structural deviation from its white supremacist past. The massacre was intended to intimidate South African mine workers, the workers who produce the wealth for the nation. The massacre signaled that corporations were still in charge despite Black faces in government and that these corporations would not suffer any challenge to their power. If there was any question about the loyalty of the “new” South African government (corporate vs. South African people) the Marikana Massare was the answer.
In sum, on August 16, 2012, South African police fired on a group of Lonmin Company Platinum mineworkers, striking for an increase in wages. The mining company and police refused to bargain with the mineworkers in good faith and pursued an escalating violent strategy. The police opened fire, wounding 112 and killing 34 protesters. Marikana is located 80 miles north of Johannesburg.
The ANC attempted to diminish the state-sponsored murders of the Marikana miners, but South African filmmaker/Director Rehad Desai has thwarted these plans. His film, Miners Shot Down has blown the whistle on the illicit, deadly relationship between multinational mining concerns and the Zuma government. The commission established to investigate this crime against humanity punted on the issue of holding police accountable and pronounced that “many should share in the blame.”
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Rehadis a producer/director of Uhuru Productions, where he is the CEO. Following his return from exile in the UK, Rehad worked as a trade union organizer; a health and safety/media officer for a chemical workers union and a Director of an HIV prevention NGO. In 1997, he completed his Master’s Degree in Social History at the University of the Witwatersrand. Rehad then entered the TV and film industry as a current affairs journalist and soon moved his focus to historical and socio-political documentary film.
Rehad is on the National Executive of the Democratic Left Front, a socialist organization that believes socialism can only be brought about through the self-emancipation of the working class. He is also the Chairperson of SOS Support Public Broadcasting and sits on the National Steering Committee of the United Against Corruption Coalition.
He has produced and directed over 20 documentaries that have received critical acclaim. This two-part interview focuses on Rehad’s documentary: Miners Shot Dead.
Marsha Coleman-Adebayo: Today we will talk about the Marikana Massacre. You have been at the forefront of exposing the conditions that led to the Massacre:
Rahad Desai: Despite the propaganda that followed the beginning of that strike it was simply a group of workers, mainly from the majority union, the National Union of Mine Workers (NUM) who were seeking a wage increase. Many of their rock drillers had no assistants while across the Platinum sector all rock drillers have assistants. The negotiations on this point continued for a couple of months with the company before the strike began. When the workers decided to expand their demands, such as pay equity; cash increase, rather than a percentage increase; and a minimum wage, the Lonmin Company decided at that point that the negotiations were over. The mineworkers turned to the majority union, National Union of Mine Workers (NUMSA), for assistance.
But, instead of assisting the mine workers, union officials claimed that they felt under threat and that the office was under attack.
Two workers were shot at the first meeting?
Yes, two workers were shot as they approached the offices of their local union. This was the first meeting. They were shot by the union branch leadership. They attempted to return to the stadium where other mineworkers were congregating and they were locked out by mine management who ordered their security staff to shoot these workers. Thankfully, the security officers mainly shot over their heads. At that point, the mineworkers had no choice but to retreat to a small Kopje – a mountain.
The mine workers had retreated to a small Kopje and the mine management was now working in concert with the union; what happened the following day?
The following day, August 12th, 2,000 to 3,000 miners attempted to walk back to the union offices to convince other miners not to work. And, they were fired upon by security guards. But it was only a handful of security guards who were sent out to contain this massive group of workers. The mineworkers advanced on the security guards and in the process two security guards were killed, in fact quite brutally. The following day, generally quiet but there was a steady build-up of police at the mine. The date, August 13th presents another turning point in this story. On this day, 200 miners left the Kopje and proceeded to shops where people were working. When they arrived, they were met by mine security who told them that there were lots of police around and to be safe they should cross the railroad tracks to get back to theKopje. Believing these security guards, the miners attempted to skirt the police only to be confronted by police on the railroad tracks. The mineworkers attempted to negotiate with police arguing that they (the police) should not interfere since the dispute involved mine management and mine workers. The police demanded that they give up their arms. The miners explained that they were armed because they were being fired upon by their union, mine security and by the police. Therefore, they were unwilling to give up their arms (machetes, fighting sticks, pangas and assegais etc.)
Through negotiations with the mineworkers, the police agreed to escort the miners back to theKopje in exchange for the workers agreeing to surrender their arms. An official of the Lonmin mine watching the negotiations play out between the police and mine workers instructed the police to force the workers to “stand down” and surrender their arms before reaching theKopje. The mineworkers refused and started to march to the Kopje. 800 meters down the road, they were met by police who fired sting grenades and tear gas. Chaos broke out. In the process, 3 mineworkers were killed. Two were shot execution style by snipers while fleeing.
How did the miner’s view this situation?
From a mine strikers point of view, 5 members of their group had been killed that day. The following day, a NUM union official made his way up to the Kopje. He was discovered and killed. The NUM and its officers were now seen as traitors.
By the end of August 14th, the death toll, including security guards and strikers, totaled 10. Instead of attempting to quell this situation through dialogue, the leading ANC and Lonmin share-holder, Cyril Ramaphosa, a stakeholder in the Lonmin Mining Company (and considered the author of the new South African constitution, one of the great heroes of the anti-apartheid movement), continued to press for more police, calling the striker’s action criminal rather than a labor dispute. He argued that force (rather than dialogue) was needed to meet the level of violence. There are a string of e-mails and phone messages that confirm that Ramaphosa was in regular contact with Lonmin mine management, police, politicians and NUM to attempt to break the strike.
When was the decision made by the Lonmin Mining company, the ANC and Police to escalate this crisis to military confrontation?
On August 15th,there was a meeting in Cape Town of cabinet ministers. That evening, there was also a meeting of the National Police Management Force. The National Police Management Force is the highest decision making group inside the South African police force. They decided to conduct an operation that involved 4,000 rounds of live ammunition, extra ambulances, extra police and, most shockingly, four mortuary bags – each of which can contain eight bodies. This arrived on the morning of the Marikana Masacre.
If I could ask you to look into the future what will the August 16th Marikana Massacre represent in South African history?
When we look back on August 16th, the day of the Marikana Massacre we will contemplate other water-shed moments in South African history, such as, Soweto and Sharpeville that radicalized an entire generation and led to the fall of apartheid. However, the Marikana Massacre will represent the beginning of the end of the African National Congress.
Part II of this interview explores the tragic events of August 16, 2012 at the Lonmin Platinum Mine at Marikana.
I would like to focus on the role of Cyril Ramaphosa, considered the author of the new South African constitution, one of the heroes of the anti-apartheid movement and a stakeholder in the Lonmin Mining Company. What was his role, if any, in the decision of the police to attack the striking miners?
Cyril Ramaphosa, was a stakeholder in the Lonmin Mining Company. Instead of attempting to quell this situation through dialogue he continued to press for more police, calling the striker’s action “criminal” rather than a labor dispute. He argued that force (rather than dialogue) was needed to meet the level of violence. There are a string of e-mails and phone messages that confirm that Ramaphosa was in regular contact with Lonmin mine management, police, politicians and NUM (National Union of Mineworkers) officials in an attempt to break the strike.
You mentioned earlier that the day before the Massacre On August 15th,there was a meeting in Cape Town of cabinet ministers. That evening, there was also a meeting of the National Police Management Force. The National Police Management Force is the highest decision making group inside the South African police force. They decided to conduct an operation against the striking miners that involved 4,000 rounds of live ammunition, extra ambulances, extra police and 4 mortuary bags – each of which each can hold 8 bodies. These items arrived, August 16th, the morning of the Massacre. Do we know if Cyril Ramaphosa was aware that the police were arming themselves for such an attack?
No, what we can say is that it was clear that Cyril Ramaphosa wanted an end to the disruption and an end to what he called the “wanton violence.” Ramaphosa was instructing the Police Minister and Minister of Mineral Resources to do what they needed to do to end the strike. Ramaphosa was a far more senior politician than the Police Minister and Minister of Mineral Resources so it’s understandable how his message of “ending the violence” could be interpreted by subordinates. But, you also need to understand that the Minister of Mineral Resources was formerly the Minister of Police. In 2011, he told a large assembly of senior policemen that the way to deal with criminals was to shoot to kill…. they (the police) should not waste bullets…and not ask for permission. This goes to the wider conversation about the political economy of South Africa where the vast bulk of the population, the black population, has been left out of the economic dividends of democracy that was promised. We have widening unemployment, gross inequality, substantial problems with crime and the only way the government is dealing with this failure to deliver a meaningful measure of democracy, is to turn towards more authoritative type policing.
Who owns Lonmin? What is the history of this mining company?
Lonmin plc, formerly the mining division of Lonrho plc, is a British producer ofplatinum group of metals operating in the Bushveld Complex of South Africa. The company is listed on the London Stock Exchange. Its registered office is in London, and its operational headquarters are in Johannesburg, South Africa. The Company was incorporated in the United Kingdom on 13 May 1909 as the London and Rho desian Mining and Land Company Limited.
I think we both agree that the Massacre at Marikana represents, for many of us outside of South Africa, a turning point in understanding post-Apartheid South Africa. This understanding is a crystallization of what has gone wrong since independence. Let’s explore the political and symbolic meaning of the Massacre in its wider implications.
What it means to the vast majority of South African workers is that they can no longer trust the ANC, after 20 years to deliver on its promises of “a better life for all.” The social compact between the trade unions, the ANC and business was about holding wages down in order for (according to the mining corporations scenario,) a “slow takeoff” of the South African economy. In return for a cooperative relationship with the trade unions, the ruling party (ANC) would partner with big Capital and thereby the country would “takeoff” and benefit from a growing capitalist economy. But what has actually happened is just the opposite. The inequalities have widened since 1994 and there is more money in white households as compared to black households.
Twenty years after democracy, the gap between the rich and poor has widened. But we must understand that there is a co-determination between race and class in South Africa. This co-determination also expresses itself as a gap between white and black communities. But within each demographic, whether white or black we have seen major inequality gaps. This has led to a situation of social conflicts, particularly in the trade unions, where many of their leaders are paid by the Corporations handsome wages on par with senior management. This has led to a weakening of trade unions and a strengthening of corporate unions – some call them business unions – where the “deals” are done at the top and the unions no longer act on behalf of the workers they represent. This has resulted in a massive and growing distrust by the workers of the unions. A recent survey of workers indicated that 45% of respondents believed that their union leaders were corrupt. This has led to workers independently taking action on their own.
As a result, any trade union leader prepared to give expression to this disaffection of workers are given a big elbow and booted out.
Are you referring to Zwelinzima Vavi, the former General Secretary of COSATU (Congress of South African Trade Unions ?)
Yes. Vavi is now working with NUMSA (National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa) to build a new trade union federation. The union has been registered and they are recruiting new members. I believe we will see a viable new public sector union made up of teachers and also health workers moving over from the other big union – COSATU. We will see the coming together of the mine and metal workers inside the new union federation. This will not be a small, toothless and powerless trade union federation but an organization representing 365,000 metal workers plus 180,000 mineworkers. This will be a significant new political and economic force in the country.
Can you comment on recent student strikes on South African campuses calling for free education?
In the past few weeks, South African students across the country have conducted strikes refusing to pay fee increases and calling for “free education.” They have closed their campuses down in protest. I’m not talking about a few hundred students but tens of thousands of students who are organizing this militant campaign. These students understand the necessity of public education and the need for public access to higher learning as a pre-condition to fighting inequality and a sustainable democracy. South Africa is now considered one of the most unequal countries in the world.
Could you comment on the Zuma Administration and the legacy of Nelson Mandela?
Unfortunately, Nelson Mandela and his colleagues made the decision to follow a neo-liberal economic policy. This shifted the direction of the country from one based on the Freedom Charter to one of a capitalist direct-investment policy. The crop of leaders around Mandela, I believe truly believed that the neo-liberal route was the best way to create a Black middle class and shift from a broad based empowerment policy to capitalist direction. They believed that these policies would “trickle down” to the masses. Of course, the “captains of industry” cautioned the new ANC leadership about implementing policies of nationalization and distribution of wealth. They intimidated the leadership by threatening economic backlash and isolation, threatening the leadership with the destruction of the South African economy. Mandela tried to walk a thin tight rope between both sides of the equation and he became a prisoner of the system. That led to the ditching of the Freedom Charter. In today’s terms, the Freedom Charter is a radical declaration of social democracy.
What happened to the Freedom Charter? After all, Mandela said, before his release from prison, that it was “inconceivable” that he would not support the Freedom Charter.
Mandela was lobbied, quite heavily, even by the Chinese Communist Party, against policies of nationalization. Outside forces, including the active participation of the multinational mining concerns convinced ANC economists that any radical transformation of the South African economy would mean the destruction of the South African economy. It took Mandela a couple of years before he was confident enough to ditch any efforts at redistribution of wealth in the country.
Will the Marikana Massacre intimidate the trade unions into compliance or will trade unions continue to pursue aggressive pro-worker/ liberation policies?
I think the State will be very careful in its future policing policies. We will see some policing reforms. I think we will see the State/government separate itself from corporations involved in labor disputes. The ANC would tell you that the Marikana Massacre happened because of poor intelligence. That’s their excuse. But, we know that the State planned Marikana. The ANC leadership know that when workers are shot down simply because they are asking for the right to dialogue, in this brutal fashion, by hundreds of policemen and 34 killed – that you have to take a side. Ordinary mine workers, who do back-breaking work – usually 6 days a week – at least 12 hours a day – in unbearable temperatures are clear that they are the economic engine of the country and without their sacrifice the country will be deprived of necessary foreign currency.
It should be noted that the students in South Africa have been inspired by the Black Lives Matter Movement. I think we are entering into a very tumultuous political period in South Africa. As I stated earlier, the Marikana Massacre will take its place next to the Soweto and the Sharpeville Massacres.
Marikana was a watershed moment in South African history, where the youth, the labor movement have seen the ANC for what it is.It is clear that the State is not a neutral player. It acts in the interest of Capital. The ANC has been willing to do the bidding of the corporations and to turn its guns towards the very people who produce the wealth of the nation. This is obvious for hundreds of thousands of thinking people in South Africa. Why was 1960 significant? 1960 led the ANC to embark on a phase of armed struggle and radical transformative politics. What did 1976 do? It drove thousands of militants into revolutionary politics and the Black Consciousness Movement. The 2012 Marikana Massacre represents the beginning of the end of the African National Congress.