Marikana — and South Africa’s frayed social fabric

By Terry Bell

September 22, 2012 — Terry Bell Writes — The mayhem at Marikana cast the spotlight on the platinum sector and on mining in general.  And while the concentration was on wages, a myriad other issues emerged, some all too briefly — and not the least of them the living conditions endured by many miners, 18 years after the transition from apartheid.

The utilitarian single sex hostels of that era still exist and shack “farms” comprising single room hovels without any amenities and rented out at between R500 and R800 a month have mushroomed around mine properties.  These are issues that are as much at the root of the recent troubles as inadequate wages.

So too is the fact that traditional authorities among the Bafokeng actively resist the provision of amenities such as potable water and sanitation, fearing that this will encourage permanent settlements for miners, mainly from the Eastern Cape.  And many of the migrant workers living in these abysmal conditions are also unemployed, some laid off as recently as last year.  They remain, increasingly desperate, hoping, almost against hope, that they will eventually find work.

It is against this background that the 22 per cent pay rise agreement struck at Lonmin seems to have been met with an almost unanimous sigh of relief, along with the expressed belief that the solution had been found;  that a particularly tragic episode was now behind us. This view was evident as the media focus moved to the knock-on effect the Marikana settlement has had — and may still have — especially throughout the mining sector.

It is a focus that concentrates on wages and the possible and probable effects these may have on the national economy.  The consensus among mainstream economists seems to be that such interim double-digit wage deals are bad because they are inflationary.

This may be so, but need not be. There is also the positive aspect that, with more money in their hands, miners and their families will be able to buy more, so increasing the demand for products.  Unfortunately, this often means imported products, so raising another issue that is seldom adequately addressed.

In any event, better pay, even at the level of R11,000 for rock drill operators, will not solve the lack of amenities, the usurious demands of the shack farm loan sharks, the mashonisas, or the fact that perhaps more than a third of miners are employed through outsourced companies who may pay considerably less.

For example, and despite the comment by National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) general secretary Frans Baleni, the 1200 mineworkers retrenched last week from a Lonmin development shaft, were not employed by Lonmin:  they worked for construction company, Murray and Roberts.  No details are yet available in this case, but construction company employees generally earn less than their mining company counterparts.

It is also accepted that at least 30 per cent of mineworkers are employed via outsourced labour brokers. Yet throughout all the argument about Marikana and the subsequent eruptions this issue was not dealt with in any depth and rumour abounded.  Contrary to one widespread item of gossip, businessman Cyril Ramaphosa, an ANC executive member, Lonmin director and former general secretary of NUM, does not own a labour broking company.

However, the ANC investment arm, Chancellor House, has mining interests and one of the fiercest critics of the mining industry, the South African Communist Party (SACP), has a connection with a controversial new platinum mine. Matlotlo Trading 115 is a wholly owned subsidiary of Masincazelane Trust, the “social investment arm” of the SACP.  It owns 10 per cent of Toboti Platinum at Kalkfontein.

Matlotlo is in partnership in Kalkfontein with major industry player, Impala Platinum. Implats has a 20 per cent stake in Toboti.

So while there clearly needs to be a thorough investigation into the role played by mining companies, there is also a need for considerable introspection on the part of shareholding entities and their beneficiaries.  But until and unless all the issues raised by the Marikana moment — and which apply to the country as a whole — are comprehensively addressed, the social fabric of South Africa will continue to become dangerously frayed.


About selcoolie

see: briefly: Born in Cape Town, South Africa; moved to Sweden in1969 and completed studies in 1983, then moved to Norway and then to S.A. in 1993 - back to Norway in 2005, and been there ever since! E-mail: Web Page: zcommunications/zspace/selcool In My Own Words: ¨ South African born ex-academic now retired, exiled and beyond redemption? Interests South African political economy and history; International Socialism and Marxist/Anarchist thought; anti-militarism and ecological questions My draft autobiography (ALL the "closet secrets" in the open! @ Aslo view:

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    Miners’ strikes add to fears of South African economic downturn


    By Jordan Shilton

    26 September 2012

    The African National Congress (ANC) government has reaffirmed its determination to pursue right wing economic and social “reforms.” It did so after complaints about the impact of the recent strikes in the mining industry on an economy showing signs of stagnation.
    In an address to the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) last week, President Jacob Zuma said that strikes and protests threatened to provoke a recession.
    “We cannot afford to go into a recession and revert to the 2008 and 2009 period [when] the country lost close to a million jobs, [from] which we are still battling to recover,” he said.
    Last week, workers at the Lonmin Platinum mine in Marikana, near Johannesburg, accepted an 11 to 22 percent pay deal. It came after a bitter six-week strike that saw the police massacre of 34 strikers on August 16.
    The massacre was authorised and sanctioned by the ANC and the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), which acts as a company union, and led to further wild cat strikes in the platinum, gold and chrome sectors. The Lonmin miners’ pay offer has become a benchmark demand for other workers.
    As well as an attempt to intimidate these strikes and dissuade others from taking action, Zuma’s remarks were meant to assuage international investors that the ANC will do whatever is necessary to safeguard their interests.
    The grassroots revolt of miners saw the exchange rate for the rand decline by over 3 percent against the dollar one week earlier this month. Credit default swaps on government debt have also risen considerably, leading to renewed warnings about a credit downgrade.
    South Africa’s credit rating, at BBB+, is at the third lowest investment grade, and has been on negative watch since March. In a statement at the time, Standard & Poor’s noted South Africa’s heavy reliance on debt markets, commenting, “Fundamental structural economic and social problems continue, such as very high unemployment and a structural current-account deficit that makes the economy dependent on external financing.”
    In its most recent budget in February, the ANC said it intended to slash South Africa’s budget deficit from its current level of around 5 percent to 3 percent of GDP by 2015. But it is reported that the monthly budget deficit for July reached a record high of 6.4 percent. Achieving the 3 percent target has already been pushed back from 2013-14 to the current target of the 2014-15 fiscal year.
    The government has imposed strict controls on funding for local government. Last Friday, for example, the education department in the Eastern Cape Province reported plans to lay off more than 11,000 teachers next year due to a budget shortfall of over 3 billion rand.
    With the 18 years since the end of apartheid having offered no improvements for broad sections of the working population, the current economic slowdown is preparing further social explosions. Social inequality has increased under ANC rule, thanks to the policy of black economic empowerment which has enriched a thin layer fabulously at the expense of the working class.
    These social divisions are being exacerbated severely by the global capitalist crisis. Europe is one of South Africa’s main export regions, accounting for 25 percent of exports, but the debt crisis in the European Union has seen this fall. Slowing growth in China and other emerging markets has put an end to any hopes of relying on these areas as new sources of business expansion.
    A recently published report from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) raised concerns about how such economic stagnation will impact on political and social stability. The report warns, “If not addressed, the stubbornly high unemployment rate could become politically and socially unsustainable.”
    Ruling circles have been even more explicit in identifying the danger posed by working class struggles becoming increasingly political as the main threat to the government’s reforms. Michael Hough of the University of Pretoria’s institute for strategic studies told Times Live, “General strikes are known factors for revolutionary ideas and precipitate the final stages of revolutions. They are the cause of economic collapse, which, if infused with politics, as is happening, becomes an uncontrollable revolutionary force.”
    In line with the government’s own figures, the IMF cut the growth outlook for the economy to 2.6 percent this year and 3.4 percent in 2013. As a so-called “developing economy,” any rate of growth below 6 percent annually will lead to an increase in unemployment, which already stands officially at 25 percent.
    Fully 15 million South Africans depend on welfare payments to survive. The government’s drive to reduce the budget deficit will see this increase by over a million in the coming years, to 16.5 million. Zuma commented at the end of last year, “We cannot sustain a situation where social grants are growing all the time and think it can be a permanent feature.”
    The IMF called in its report for the imposition of labour market “reforms” and cutting public sector wages. It noted that South Africa suffered from a competitive disadvantage, with its labour unit costs being much too high. It drew attention to the increase in the public sector pay bill, which it warned could prevent the government from meeting its budget deficit targets.
    This is a view shared within growing sections of business, calling for payroll costs to be slashed. As a recent Reuters article stated, “South Africa’s union-friendly labour legislation enforces a minimum monthly wage of about $230-$240, much higher than $55 and $70 in neighbours Zimbabwe and Mozambique.”
    The ANC has made clear in the brutality meted out to the Lonmin miners, as well as the on-going repressive measures taken against other strikes, that workers’ resistance will be met with state violence. Zuma’s move to allow the domestic deployment of the army shows that ruling circles are preparing for such conflicts.
    This is a strategy supported fully by the ANC’s allies in the tripartite alliance, the South African Communist Party (SACP) and COSATU. Having supported the repression and denounced the pay award, the unions are now threatening that workers’ demands will lead to job losses and damage the economy.
    Last week Lonmin confirmed that it will put one of its mine shafts into care and terminate its contract with a labour agency that supplies around 1,200 staff.

    Political and historical issues in the South African miners’ revolt

    20 September 2012

    The August 16 massacre of 34 striking miners at the Lonmin platinum mine in Marikana and the spreading confrontation between miners and the African National Congress (ANC) regime have exposed the reactionary character of racial and nationalist politics.
    Eighteen years since the struggle of millions forced a legal end to white minority rule, South Africa’s super-exploited workers are once again being brutalized and killed in the interests of transnational mining and mineral corporations. Their oppressors now, however, are the once-avowed “liberators” of the black masses in the ANC, alongside their partners in the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) and the Stalinist South African Communist Party (SACP).
    Unsurprisingly, President Jacob Zuma has denounced as “irresponsible” comparisons between Marikana and the police state measures employed under apartheid—most notably the Sharpeville Massacre of March 21, 1960 that left 69 black youth dead.
    But the continuity between pre- and post-apartheid South Africa does not end with that bloody event. The ANC, which came to power under conditions of a virtual insurrection by the black majority, has used apartheid-era security laws to suppress the rank-and-file revolt against the mining conglomerates and their stooges in the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM).
    The ANC’s brutal assault on the miners has the full support of the NUM, COSATU and the SACP, which, if anything, have demanded even tougher measures against the wildcat strikes that have spread across the platinum belt into the gold and chrome sectors.
    The Lonmin miners have reportedly accepted a 22 percent pay rise, but strikes continue elsewhere. Yesterday it was reported that police used rubber bullets and tear gas against protestors near an Anglo American mine.
    The violent state repression of the miners is a powerful confirmation that class—not race, ethnicity or other considerations—is the fundamental dividing line in South African society and throughout the world. If the ANC and its partners are acting no differently than their white predecessors, it is because the miners’ revolt threatens not only the mining operations, but also their own social interests.
    When it negotiated the end of apartheid in 1994, the bourgeois nationalist ANC undertook to preserve capitalist property relations, while claiming that its policy of “Black Economic Empowerment” would end oppression and provide jobs and rising living standards for all. This political fiction was bolstered by the SACP. Having long before rejected internationalism and the political independence of the working class, it insisted that workers had to subordinate their class interests to the installation of black majority rule, resting on capitalist foundations.
    The last two decades have proved conclusively that the basic democratic and social needs of the working class and oppressed masses cannot be met under the rule of the national bourgeoisie, no matter how supposedly radical or “left.” The extension of the franchise concealed that the interests of the same transnational and South African firms that profited under white minority rule remained intact.
    The incorporation of the ANC, the trade unions and the SACP into the post-apartheid state stamped them as the political representatives of the South African bourgeoisie and global capital. The directive that companies had to place a portion of their ownership in black hands provided a mechanism for the enrichment of a tiny layer within the black population.
    The events of the past month have demonstrated that these black bourgeois are no less vicious toward the working class than their white counterparts.
    The class lineup is nowhere more clear than in the lucrative mining industry. ANC Justice Minister and leading SACP official Jeff Radebe, who last weekend authorised yet another crackdown against the Marikana miners, has close family ties to mining interests through his wife, Bridgette Radebe, the head of Mmakau Mining and the wealthiest woman in South Africa. His brother-in-law, Patrice Motsepe, also a mining magnate, was designated the richest man in South Africa in the Sunday Times Rich List in 2011.
    NUM founder and former ANC General Secretary Cyril Ramaphosa is one of the country’s richest businessmen. He is a non-executive director of Lonmin and has stakes in the company’s mines.
    These are only two examples, amongst many others, which underscore that the ANC and its partners have a direct stake in the exploitation of the working class and a vested material interest in suppressing any threats from below. This is the source of the conflict between the miners and the NUM.
    These relations are by no means confined to the mines. For the mass of workers, conditions are now worse than under apartheid. South Africa is one of the most socially unequal countries in the world, with 60 percent of total income going to the top 10 percent, while the bottom 50 percent accounts for less than 8 percent of earnings. Some 20 million people are out of work.
    The miners’ strikes are only the latest and most explosive indicators of the social and political tensions that have built up in South Africa. According to Time magazine, this year has already seen more street protests than any year since the ANC took power. The magazine notes that “most of those protests have targeted ANC-run local authorities (many of them corrupt) over failure to deliver on services.”
    Hence Zuma’s pledge that the ban on “illegal” gatherings “applies not only to labour disputes, but also in service delivery protests which are at times also accompanied by violence, including the destruction of property.”
    What is involved is not simply personal corruption. Nor are these conditions confined to South Africa. The lineup of forces against the miners illustrates the absence of any viable perspective for the working class, whether in the historically oppressed countries or the advanced countries, outside of socialist revolution.
    The fundamentals of Marxism—that the history of mankind is the history of class struggle, that economic relations ultimately determine political relations, that there exists an irreconcilable conflict between the interests of the working class and those of the bourgeoisie—are being confirmed in the explosive events in South Africa before the eyes of the world.
    This signifies the reemergence of class struggle and social revolution on a global scale. The central issue is the urgent need for the building of revolutionary parties based on Leon Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution.
    The evolution of the ANC underscores Trotsky’s insistence that the national bourgeoisie, which is economically dependent on imperialism, is incapable of resolving the democratic and social tasks facing the masses. That can be achieved only under the leadership of the working class and by means of the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism, as part of an international struggle to put an end to imperialism and establish world socialism.
    Julie Hyland


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