Marikana Massacre: Causes and Consequences

Posted by on Nov 6, 2013

Marikana Massacre: Causes and Consequences

On the 16th of August 2012, when President Zuma left for the SADC meeting of Heads of States in Mozambique little did he know that this day would mark the darkest day of his presidency. A few hours after his departure from South Africa his government’s policy special unit mowed down 34 workers in cold blood and injured another 78. This was a tragic climax to six days of a wildcat strike by Lonmin’s rock-drillers who had demanded a minimum monthly wage of R12500 (approximately US$1510), leading to a total death of 42, inclusive of 2 policemen. In the annals of SA history, this will go down as a massacre that new South Africa never imagined possible under its democratic constitution. Dubbed as the Marikana massacre, the appalling incidence is the single most lethal use of force by South African security forces against civilians since 1960’s Sharpville massacre of the apartheid era.


The horrific events at Marikana have some multifaceted and deep political roots. Some aspects of it began over a decade ago within the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), and eventually culminated in the formation of the new union called Associated Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU). The top leadership of AMCU is hell bent on diluting NUM to insignificance! This was an intra-union but fierce fight with political undertones. However, in the current landscape where within the ANC alliance there are serious splits, and various groupings are contriving and conspiring to remove those in power, this has become a politically convenient platform for those opposed to NUM, and by extension opposed to President Zuma. It is noteworthy that NUM and its president are staunch supporters of President Zuma.  AMCU has been hard at work to raise the stakes at every opportunity over the past six months. AMCU activities have been mostly in the provinces of Limpopo and Mpumalanga, more recently spreading to the NW Province and the Northern Cape. Meanwhile, the anti-Zuma camp within the ANC alliance has been hard at work to strengthen AMCU.


With this in the background, Lonmin mismanaged its labour relations processes in the run up to August 10th, giving bonuses and allowances without proper communication, and totally oblivious to the underlying tensions between NUM and AMCU.  This gave AMCU a “golden opportunity” to agitate and undermine NUM, Lonmin management, and set the stage for a full-on confrontation. Despite evident signs, Lonmin remained insensitive to the bigger picture, resting assured that having Cyril Ramaphosa as their key high profile shareholder and director will save them! This was a fatal error of judgement. Expectedly, Julius Malema emerged as the champion of the striking workers, challenging the leadership of President Zuma and Cyril Ramophosa- both of whom had been instrumental in expelling him from the ANC Youth League last year. Malema had invested heavily in the previous two years to strengthen AMCU and set himself up as the champion of the working class, especially the mine workers.


Whilst this was going on, the police too made some elementary and fatal errors.  Chasing workers on foot in such a highly charged environment is sheer incompetence and indicative of the lack of basic training in crowd control. .As a result, two policemen were hacked to death in the events prior to August 16th, and then the lines were drawn in the sand within the policy force.


Without a doubt the Marikana tragedy has tarnished the country’s image badly, and has placed South Africa’s international credit rating at serious risk. The splintering within the ANC alliance has come to haunt the party, its integrity and all its leaders across the board whilst in the process claiming so many innocent lives.


At the time of writing, President Zuma has instituted a commission of inquiry into the Marikana massacre. Whilst the Commission will take some time to assemble the facts and evidences with a view to unearth the truth, South Africa remains stunned, the business sector shaken, with the investor community facing a new uncertainty.   Clearly, the tragedy in Marikana has demonstrated a failure of leadership across the board- in government, in unions, and in business. Furthermore, in the run-up to the ANC Elective Conference in December 2012 it is likely that the period is going to be rocky and eventful.  Forces at play appear to be set to use every simple and complex process to further their own cause- the cost to the country notwithstanding!