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South Africa – government tries to keep the lid on a boiling pot

This article is over 10 years, 9 months old
Rehad Desai looks at the continuing inquiry into South Africa’s Marikana massacre and how the fall out is affecting the country
Issue 2343

The police officers who oversaw the Marikana massacre and the triggermen who unleashed an estimated 3,000 bullets will face an official inquiry this month.

They will be among 19 police witnesses giving evidence during March.

Disgust at the shootings triggered a 100,000-strong strike wave that brought the whole economy to its knees.

This level and intensity of class struggle has irreversibly changed our political landscape.

While repression failed to stop the strikes, most miners returned to work with little to show for two months of action. But they did build workers committees, some of which continue to operate.

These are largely in those mines where the mass of workers left their traditional union the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM).

Most joined the more openly militant Associated and Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU). This is now negotiating new union recognition agreements.

These seek to ensure unions work more from the bottom up, rather than top down as was the case with many NUM branches.

These are the mines where stoppages continue and where workers are preparing official strikes against job losses and for higher wages.

The NUM is seen as traitorous and workers in mine after mine refuse to have it occupy offices at the various shaft heads.

This anger reflects the strike breaking tactics of the union. It naively believed it could regain strongholds through a strategy of collusion with the bosses and the police.

Both the mine owners and union bosses of NUM are trying to tilt the balance of power back in their favour.

Meanwhile two of the three mining giants have instituted small scale redundancies in the last few months.


Massive redundancies loom at the biggest platinum producer, Anglo American Platinum (Amplats). Very shortly it plans to announce 14,000 job losses—3 percent of the total mining workforce.

Mine bosses deem shafts that generate less than 14 percent profit as expendable.

The two mines Amplats wants to close are those where the majority of the company’s AMCU membership is situated.

If Amplats succeeds it will dampen the huge appetite for industrial action around wages and undermine the militancy and influence of the new union.

At the same time the NUM and its partners in government have browbeaten the AMCU into behaving more like the established unions.

AMCU has now signed an agreement with mine bosses and the NUM which states, “All workers have been asked to refrain from violence, intimidation, illegal gatherings and strikes as leaders work to normalise the working environment and officials are hammering out a detailed implementation action, on which a report back will take place as soon as possible.”

Finally, Zwelinzima Vavi, general secretary of the trade union federation Cosatu, is trying to regain credibility by holding out an olive branch to splinter unions.

He is also reasserting Cosatu’s political independence in its alliance with the ruling ANC.

This has not been received well by Cosatu’s bigger unions, now inside a bloc aligned to the South African Communist Party, who have slavishly defended the ANC.

The knives are out as they attempt to purge him.

But the groundswell of working class militancy is the key driver in all these events.

Rehad Desai is leading member of the Democratic Left Front

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