Saturday 8 September 2012

Marikana and the Anti-Worker Role of the ANC-led Alliance

(A shorter version of this blog piece was published in this weeks Mail and Guardian in the Comment and Analysis pages under the heading: Marikana Marks Rift in ANC
Ideology. See 


Workers in South Africa live and work in a social system premised on violence. This is not exceptional, but inherent to the general condition of capitalism. Karl Marx described it as a system, ‘drenched in blood and dirt’.  On August 16th the  Marikana Massacre brought to the fore two forms of violence coursing through the everyday lives of workers. The first is an asymmetric violence expressed through the coercive capacity of the ANC state: the hi-tech and militarised fire power of the police force. The second, more invisible, but shaping the lives of the workers is the structural violence of a globalised and financialised capitalism. It is a violence that works through creating a society in which the link between wage labour and reproducing human life is  broken. Put differently, super exploited, precarious and disciplined work is far from sufficient to ensure a descent life. This implies the secular trend of super profits of South Africa’s platinum mines, despite short-term fluctuations in prices, is simply an act of violence aimed at producing impoverished and degraded human life. It is an act of violence supported, encouraged and promoted by the ANC government’s commitment to deep globalisation and foreign direct investment led growth. More sharply, this is a government that privileges risk to capital over risk to human life (particularly the working class) and nature.

The Marikana Massacre as an event takes on a profound historical meaning,  as a defining moment in post-apartheid South Africa, in this context. It is a defining moment in its withdrawal of  the ideological warrant for core tenets of national liberation ideology: ‘the working class leads’ and   ‘working class bias’ of the much vaunted ANC-led ‘National Democratic Revolution’. If these ideological precepts had traction in reality Marikana should not have happened. The murder of workers by the ANC state renders hollow and hypocritical these ideological props. After Marikana, working class support and commitment to the ANC and its monopoly of power is unhinged; it is no longer a certainty in South African politics. The memorialising of Marikana (like Andries Tatane) at the grassroots, as a massacre of workers by the ANC state, can never be erased from working class consciousness in South Africa. After Marikana, when the ANC calls on workers to vote for it the foremost question in the minds of workers would always be that this state has murdered workers; the lives of workers are not important to the ANC state. The workers that make up COSATU and the working class in general will find it impossible to ignore this fact. Marikana as a defining moment in post-apartheid South Africa represents  a fundamental rupture  in working class consciousness and its  commitment to ANC rule.

It is this recognition by the ANC state that assists in explaining how it has tried to smear and scape goat the Marikana workers with collective purpose murder charges but then temporarily withdrawn by the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA). In itself this is an act of desperation which has not worked and which has prompted  more serious questions to come to the fore in the  national conversation: why has the ANC state not suspended, charged and started investigating the police officers that shot the workers, the National Police Commissioner and Minister of Police  for the Marikana Massacre? Why has Zuma not fired the head of the NPA after the ridiculous collective purpose murder charges were imposed?  These are the questions on the minds of most South Africans which further expose the anti-worker orientation of the ANC government and ultimately ANC-led Alliance.

However, since August 16th the ANC state and Alliance has not only tried to smear the Marikana workers with collective murder charges to crush the strike. Various reports from Marikana community members suggest ongoing police harassment and arrests. This accounts for the 270 (not just miners but also community members) that were arrested over two weeks since August 16th but recently released. Currently, there is a heavy police presence in and around Marikana. In addition, the most insidious move by the ANC state and alliance to crush the strike has been to actively champion from above a ‘peace accord process’. This process was surfaced in the public arena by none other than Cyril Ramaphosa, former general secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers, member of the National Executive Committee of the ANC and board member of Lonmin. This entire process centred around pressurising the workers to return to work and then bargain for wages. Essentially the ‘peace accord’ has been a strike breaking tactic, supported by the ANC-led Alliance, that has been emphatically rejected by the striking miners and AMCU(  Association of Mine Workers and  Construction Union). With the ANC-led Alliance being out manoeuvred by the workers the most Gwede Mantashe, General Secretary of the ANC, could concede on national radio was the ongoing strike was because of Lonmin. Actually, the ongoing strike was more than this but a rejection of ANC rule and the dubious anti-worker leadership of the ANC-led Alliance.

Will Julius Malema save the ANC by preventing working class re-alignments away from the ANC? To answer this question requires a distinction between Malema the individual and Malema the populist phenomenon. Malema the populist phenomenon is scripted and performed by Malema but constituted in our public sphere by sections of the media. The Malema phenomenon  in the context of the Marikana Massacre has been brazenly opportunistic, as captured by the cartoonist Zapiro.  However, it is an opportunism that extends to sections of the media that constitute this phenomenon and cheer Malema on. After August 16th, Malema was given space and voice in two leading Sunday newspapers. Malema’s populist politics was diffused into our national conversation as a cleavage in the ANC-led Alliance. This is the real value of Malema to sections of the media. However, like him these sections of the media are also responsible for his unscrupulous appropriation and instrumentalising of the Marikana tragedy.

But despite support for the Malema phenomenon, within sections of the media, it is not given that Malema would build a political base amongst the working class outside the ANC. The Congress of the People (COPE) experience highlights the limits of building an alternative to the ANC in the mould of the ANC; it is not given that the working class has an appetite for another dead end. Moreover, it is not given that Malema’s facile populism has a class belonging amongst the working class despite his rhetoric about nationalisation. If it did, all of COSATU and the unemployed would be marching behind him, for instance.  Moreover, it would seem that the post-Marikana working class are likely to use Malema rather than be  instrumentalised by his narrow self-seeking populist politics. Although building a political base amongst the working class is  a  necessary condition  for his survival outside the ANC, the most Malema might  achieve is a deepening rift in the ANC. Such a rift  might split the ANC, given the deep factional cleavages tearing through the ANC,  but Malema is unlikely to deliver the awakened post-Marikana working class back to the ANC.

However, the blind spot in this very fluid Marikana moment are the convergences taking place in progressive civil society. Mainly unreported and unacknowledged by most in the media. This confluence of solidarity with the Marikana workers  in this space is around building the Campaign For Solidarity With Marikana, based on two guiding principles. First, determining solidarity actions in dialogue with the Marikana workers and communities. Second, democratic practice within the campaign that is transparent and mediated through collective decision-making. Both these principles keep in check crusading and opportunism; instead this engenders a principled solidarity. For the first time since the 1980s, the dynamism of progressive civil society solidarity is bringing together grass roots movements, legal NGOs, humanitarian organisations, womens groups, religious organisations, left groups, transnational activist networks and concerned individuals to take a stand with the Marikana workers.  The organising practices coming to the fore straddle face-book networking, online petitions, blogging, symbolic protest actions, pamphleteering, localised community actions, mobilising solidarity funds, building watchdog capacity over the governments judicial commission and organising conventional mass protest actions. The Democratic Left Front is a crucial non-vanguardist actor within this emergent campaign to build principled solidarity with the Marikana workers. Inadvertently, the Marikana moment is also strengthening the tide for a post-national liberation and post-neoliberal politics in South Africa; it is bringing to the fore alternative political forces unwilling to sit back and let South Africa’s democracy be destroyed by an increasing authoritarian but self destructing ANC-led Alliance.

 Author: Dr. Vishwas Satgar is a senior lecturer in international relations at WITS University. He is a member of the national convening committee of the Democratic Left Front.

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