On the 27th of April 2017, the SAWIP Gauteng cohort watched a documentary titled Miners Shot Down by Rehad Desai. After watching the documentary I developed a sense of anger coupled with a great degree of fear, the fear of being cheap and disposable. The death of the 34 mineworkers symbolised the power of greed and the true essence of capitalism. It further exposed and simplified the notion that the cornerstone of the South African economy is based on the victimisation and exploitation of the working class.
Coincidentally I write this blog on the 1st of May which is popularly known as International Workers Day. A day where the gains of the working class are celebrated throughout the world. A day where the narrative of the victory of the working class should be celebrated but we find ourselves in a difficult and different trajectory where on this day we weep and mourn the death of workers. The day in the context of the South African landscape remains paradoxical in nature.
The 16th of August 2012 symbolises the peak of capitalism in South Africa. The day showed the world, to which extent are people willing to go to sustain their wealth. Even if it means the dehumanisation of others, to them their wealth is more important. The inherent tension between labour and capital is resolved through collective bargaining and wage negotiations but in this event the barrel of a gun was the only viable method. In the midst of this, lies the reality that the life of a black worker is cheap and easily disposable.
The documentary reminded me of the narrative of how the South African mining sector was developed especially the gold mines. The exploitation of black mineworkers was the catalyst for the wealth of many mine owners. The Marikana massacre is no different from the events which occurred in the 20th century. The only difference is that there are now trade unions which are supposed to vanguard the interests of workers and ironically trade unions have found themselves safeguarding the interests of the employers.
Trade unions such as the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) were actively involved in the fight for liberation and ironically the very same NUM was actively involved coming about of the Marikana massacre. The irony of this is that when the NUM was formed by activists such as Deputy President of South Africa Cyril Ramaphosa who was at the time of the event a shareholder in Lonmin, it was formed to champion the interest of the working class and protect their interests. The rise of the Association of Moneworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) showed how the NUM failed to discharge its duty of protecting the workers. The capture of the working class into a populist rhetoric serves as a great danger towards the realisation of the emancipation of the working class from class oppression. To whom should the workers go to when they are in a time of despair? The unions have become the defence line of the employers and workers are left alone in the dark. A clear example would be the fight for in-sourcing of workers in universities in South Africa and the loud silence of the Congress of South Africa Trade Unions (COSATU) on the matter.
The documentary showed how the police are a tool of class oppression and do not serve in the interest of general society but the interest of a particular class which has the power and influence to command the police. The interests of powerful politicians such as the current Deputy President, Mr Cyril Ramaphosa have shown to be of more significance than the life of a mineworker. A mineworker who left home to find employment in order to provide for his family. A worker who never chose to be poor but he is poor because of historical circumstances. A worker who has nothing but a shack and worn clothing. What did they gain by ending such a life?
In paying my respect to the fallen mineworkers at Marikana, the following poem by Dr Benedict Wallet Vilakazi epitomises my message.
Bury me where the grasses grow
Below the weeping willow trees
To let their branches shed upon me
Leaves of varied greens.
Then, as I lie there, I shall hear
The grasses sigh a soft behest:
Sleep, beloved one, sleep and rest.
Bury me in a place like this:
Where those who scheme and give their tongues
To plots and anger, never can
Displace the earth that covers me
Nor ever keep me from my sleep.
If you who read these lines should chance
To find me, 0 then bury me
Where grasses whisper this behest
Sleep, beloved one, sleep and rest”
May your souls find eternal rest. Amadelakufa! Sofasgijima!!