Saturday, August 17, 2013

South Africa marks Marikana bloodbath ...//...South Africa’s Marikana Massacre: A Year Later, Workers and Unions Still Up in Arms

South Africa marks Marikana bloodbath

Mine workers during a memorial service near the Marikana
Thousands of people have gathered to remember the 34 miners shot dead by police at Marikana.Source: AAP
COMRADES and families of 34 striking miners shot dead by police have marked the anniversary of the bloodbath at Marikana in an emotional event boycotted by South Africa's ruling ANC.
An estimated 10,000 people gathered at the foot of a dusty outcrop where on August 16, 2012, police unleashed a 284-bullet barrage that plunged South Africa into crisis and shocked the world.
The crowd, included workers wearing green trade union t-shirts and wielding sticks, chanted and sang, in scenes reminiscent of the day the young "Rainbow Nation" lost its innocence.
But the ruling African National Congress boycotted the event, which it said was being politicised after organisers invited a militant mining union and opposition leaders to speak.
With many ANC members serving on the boards of mining firms and the government firmly defending police tactics, members of the party may not have been welcome.
President Jacob Zuma, who launched a state inquiry into the deaths but has avoided becoming publicly entangled in the crisis, was in Malawi, ahead of a regional summit.
No one has yet been held responsible for the 34 deaths, and with fury still raw, police in riot vans kept their distance as helicopters circled overhead.
"We want to know the truth. Who sent the police to come and kill us?" said 24-year-old Mzoxolo Magidwana who was shot eight times.
The chief executive of Lonmin, which runs the platinum mine, was among those addressing the emotional but calm crowd.
"We will never replace your loved ones, and I say we are truly sorry for that," said CEO Ben Magara.
"It should not have taken so many lives for us ... as a nation to learn that this should not have happened and this should never happen again."
He said the London-listed firm would pay for the schooling of dead mineworkers' children.
The violence is seen by many as the worst since apartheid ended in 1994.
In the run-up to the killings at least 10 other people - including two police officers - died amid a highly charged work stoppage over wages at the London-listed mining firm.
The event will culminate in a moment of silence shortly, around the same time a year ago police opened fire at the foot of a hill.
"We've come here to take a stand, to say never again will peaceful actions be countered with violence," bishop Jo Seoka told the crowd.
On the eve of the commemorations the national police commissioner called for calm.
"We wish to appeal to everyone who will be in attendance to conduct themselves appropriately," said Riah Phiyega, who as commanding officer gave evidence before the inquest.
Many of those present said the low wages and poor living standards that sparked the upwelling of anger a year ago remain present.
"These people died for nothing," said Gabriel Shakhane, 42, a migrant miner from Lesotho.
The inquest has yet to conclude, mired by delays and bogged down by disputes about the lack of state funding for the victims' legal fees.
"We still haven't got the facts of what happened at Marikana, the commission of inquiry hasn't wrapped up its work - we are not close to knowing who is legally responsible for the deaths of 34 miners," said political commentator Eusebius McKaiser.
The event is being organised by a group linked to the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU), which has fought a sometimes bloody battle for power with the ANC-allied National Union of Mineworkers (NUM).
Several assassinations have taken place over the last year, with leaders from both sides dying amid the battle for supremacy.
AMCU's leader Joseph Mathunjwa, who had invitated NUM's leaders to attend, said the event was "not about politicking".
He had earlier extended an invitation to NUM's leaders "to be part" of the events.
But at the 11th hour, NUM announced that it will stay away because it believed the event had been "hijacked" and politicised.

South Africa’s Marikana Massacre: A Year Later, Workers and Unions Still Up in Arms

South Africa Mine Violence Anniversary
Denis Farrell / AP
An unidentified miner contemplates as he looks over the area near Marikana platinum mine in South Africa, Aug. 16, 2013.
Christopher Samkelo, a 23-year-old quarryman, is standing outside Billy’s Tavern, a smokey pub in the heart of South Africa’s platinum belt with a sign above the entrance that reads “no weapons or guns.” The tavern has been a site of the turf war between the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU). In May, Mawethu Steven, a charismatic AMCU leader, was gunned down at the tavern, one of an estimated 20 union-related murders to have taken place in the Marikana area over the past year. “I have that fear,” says Samkelo, a 23-year-old employee at Impala Platinum, a mining company. “I ask myself, why black people? Why do they always die?”
One year after 34 striking workers from a Lonmin mine were shot dead by South African police in a massacre that captured the world’s attention, the turmoil continues. The tensions between the rival unions are a sign of political unrest in the sector, which is dominated by NUM, the powerful political ally of the ruling ANC party. Workers, poverty-stricken and desperate, have left NUM for AMCU, a more militant party that says it is fighting for the people, not the government. The country’s unions are politically influential heavyweights and the protracted union war promises sustained productivity losses and more strikes, scaring investors from South Africa and hurting the country’s economy, Africa’s largest.
Despite South African President Jacob Zuma promising change — “We must unite against violence from whatever quarter,” he said — and launching a commission to investigate the deaths, no charges have been laid and miners say their conditions have not improved. The Farlam Commission of Inquiry, convened by Zuma to investigate the deaths of 44 people at the Lonmin Marikana mine last August, has undergone multiple delays, most recently because the miners have been unable to secure legal funding, damaging its credibility. Zuma also set up a committee to find solutions to social inequities in the mining communities, but it has yet to make any recommendations.
Though some miners, who earn around $500 a month, have received salary hikes, they say life continues to be poor. Many struggle with debt and continue to live in squalid townships with homes made of rusted, corrugated tin sheets. AMCU, currently in gold sector wage negotiations, wants workers be paid an entry-level minimum of $1,251 a month, a demand that has so far been rebuffed by company executives.
Miners, integral to the South African economy, seem to trust AMCU to win them the concessions they demand. Yet in the run-up to the 2014 elections, the ruling ANC government won’t want NUM, a longtime political ally, to totally lose its hold of the mining proletariat to AMCU, the upstart union that has won majority status in some mines—promising continued unrest as workers feel their voices are marginalized. “The unions are better organized than the ANC branches, so they’ve been able to use union organizational power to get the vote out,” says Roger Southall, sociology professor at the University of the Witwatersrand, in Johannesburg. “If people like NUM are less organized, that could have major implications for the ANC.”
AMCU unseated NUM, the longtime union powerhouse, as the majority union in some mines, many of them platinum, this year. Its president, Joseph Mathunjwa, was a former NUM member before being expelled after a public fall out with the union’s general-secretary, now ANC general secretary, Gwede Mantashe. When Mathunjwa addresses the miners, the 48-year-old son of a Christian Salvation Army preacher, likes to quote from the Book of James, chapter 5: “Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you. Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are motheaten.”
Mathunjwa says his union has traction because it is free of political connections. “We won’t cry foul and say we want to be cushioned by the government, then we will be no different than NUM,” he said, adding that he had recently presided over a funeral of an AMCU member shot late July. “You stay focused on the issues that affect your members, you don’t expect any help from anyone, except if you talk about supernatural powers, the trinity, the son and the holy ghost.”
NUM, whose membership is 280,000, down from 337,000 last year, has been reluctant to give up power and is disputing AMCU’s majority claims. “We think that this is a temporary measure, a temporary issued caused by threats and intimidation,” says Lesiba Seshoka, NUM spokesman, about AMCU’s popularity. Seshoka was on his way to Marikana. That day, a female NUM shop steward had been shot in the head after leaving her house to buy a chicken. Both unions say the violence is beyond their control. “The way things are going now, I’m afraid that things may go out of hand,” says Shesoka.
The ANC government has been criticized for failing to tackle the labor instability. Its longtime political alliance with NUM is partly to blame for the inaction. South Africa’s ruling coalition is a “Tripartite Alliance” between COSATU, the national federation of trade unions, including NUM, the Communist Party, and the ANC, the former liberation movement led by Nelson Mandela. Prominent members of the party’s top brass have origins in NUM: the union was formed by ANC Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, and ANC General Secretary Gwede Mantashe served as the union’s general secretary, as did former South African president Kgalema Motlanthe.
“These unions played more of a role than in most places in radically changing the circumstances and bringing a political party to power,” says Douglas Foster, author of After Mandela: The Struggle for Freedom in Post-Apartheid South Africa. “Now what’s being figured out is the extent to which this movement is being called to account by members supposedly represented by it, saying we need more attention to the workplace issues, to the equality issues, to health and safety issues, and want to be less impacted in this political process.”
The sustained unrest saps investor confidence in South Africa, says Maurice Mason, a former employee at Anglo American who now works as a mining analyst at Peel Hunt, a broking house. “There are attractive mining environments with compelling economics, which means you don’t have to go to South Africa unless you have an established base there,” says Mason. The country’s economy has taken a hit with the mining industry slump, with its GDP forecast lowered to 2 percent, and the rand falling as low as 15 percent against the dollar. ”Where the majority union status is under threat, that can be particularly damaging to productivity,” says Mason, referring to the turf wars between AMCU and NUM. “There is no exaggeration that there are lives at stake.”
Back at Billy’s Tavern, Shimane Phiri is drinking a Castle Lite beer from a can. Phiri works for the South African National Civic Organisation, a mediating group that seeks to prevent violence. But the unions “don’t want to negotiate,” says the 40-year-old, wearing a red beret. “People of AMCU don’t want to see people of NUM. The people of NUM want to destroy AMCU,” says Phiri. “People are miserable,” he says, “they don’t know what to do.”

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