Australasian Spartacist No. 217
South Africa Lonmin Massacre: ANC-Led Government Has Blood on Its Hands
Miners Win Bitter Strike, Strike Wave Spreads
SEPTEMBER 24—The leaders of South Africa’s Tripartite Alliance government, led by the African National Congress (ANC) and including the COSATU trade-union federation and the South African Communist Party (SACP), no doubt figured that the 16 August massacre of strikers at Lonmin’s Marikana platinum mine would break the workers’ resolve. They figured wrong. The 3,000 rock drill operators, organised mainly by the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU), remained on strike for another month, defying intimidation by the company and repression by the state. One striker told CNN that they would hold out in their demand for a pay increase to honour their 34 slain comrades, “otherwise they will have died in vain.” The six-week wildcat strike ended in victory for rock drillers and other platinum miners at the complex, who went back to work four days ago with wage increases ranging from 11 to 22 percent.
The miners’ militant struggle inspired tens of thousands of other platinum miners to launch their own strikes in defiance of the capitalist government. Now their wage victory has emboldened gold and chrome miners to strike, demanding a similar pay rise and even more. On 15 September, a government crackdown on mineworkers saw some 1,000 soldiers dispatched to the platinum mining areas while hundreds of police raided workers’ hostels at Marikana. At an Aquarius plant, cops reportedly fired teargas and stun grenades at a group of striking miners. In response, miners in Marikana and Rustenburg, mining centres not far from Johannesburg, marched to protest against police repression.
In South Africa and internationally, outrage over the August killings—an event that brought to mind the vicious repression of the old white-supremacist apartheid regime—was redoubled when the courts invoked a law from the apartheid era to charge 270 arrested strikers with the murder of their comrades by the police. Feeling the heat, the government provisionally withdrew the murder charges. At the same time, other charges remain. When the superexploited, mainly black working class fought courageously against the apartheid regime in the 1980s, its struggles won widespread sympathy and support from workers around the world. Today the South African proletariat’s fight against the same capitalist exploiters demands active solidarity by miners and other trade unionists internationally. Drop all charges! Free all arrested miners! Military out of the mining areas!
Workers have been battling not only the mine bosses and the government but also the misleaders of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), the largest component of COSATU, in which the SACP is politically dominant. The leaders of the SACP and COSATU were some of the loudest voices howling against the “violence” of the Marikana workers. And now they’re condemning the wage settlement precisely because it is inspiring more struggle! But miners have continued to defy these misleaders and the capitalist government they are beholden to.
On 29 August, 12,000 workers at Gold Fields’ KDC mine downed tools and demanded the rescinding of deductions from their wages as well as the resignation of the local NUM leadership. Even though the national NUM office got strikers back to work a week later by suspending the local union leadership, soon another 15,000 launched a wildcat strike at another section of the mine demanding a 12,500 rand ($1,500) monthly wage and the resignation of the local NUM leaders. COSATU leader Zwelinzima Vavi rushed out of his organisation’s national congress last week to lecture them that the strike was “illegal” and they should get back to work. The miners defied him and vowed to continue the strike until their demands were met.
In the aftermath of the Marikana massacre, considerable evidence has surfaced proving that trigger-happy cops hunted down and killed strikers in cold blood. One of the strikers told the Johannesburg Star (5 September): “People were shot for fun while down on their knees with their hands up in the air and begging for their lives.” The gut-wrenching footage of South African cops using high-calibre assault rifles to gun down striking miners armed with little more than homemade wooden spears evoked the 1879 slaughter at Ulundi carried out by British colonial forces, who mowed down similarly armed Zulu warriors by the hundreds using Gatling guns, an early type of machine gun.
In a country that produces 75 percent of the world’s platinum—a crucial component in auto production—and is also a leading producer of gold and chrome, the strikes have caused a major crisis for the capitalist ruling class and its Tripartite Alliance political police. ANC president Jacob Zuma announced last week he was deploying the army to back up police in the “maintenance of law and order in the Marikana Area
and other areas around the country” until the end of January.
The South African ruling class and its financial senior partners in London and New York dread the prospect that the mechanisms put in place to control black labour—arbitration courts, nationally negotiated contracts, etc.—are breaking down. After the strike wave hit AngloGold Ashanti, the world’s third-largest bullion producer, the Financial Times (21 September) noted that gold companies had wrongly assumed they would be spared because they “use collective bargaining” and because AMCU, which led many of the striking platinum miners, has “a much weaker presence in gold mining, where the NUM dominates.” The article continued: “But the unrest has shown workers becoming increasingly frustrated with their union representatives and taking unilateral action that exacerbates tensions and complicates negotiations.” NUM spokesman Lesiba Seshoka is quoted moaning that the “contagious” wage demands “will undermine collective bargaining and that’s going to be chaos.” Fearing just that, mining bosses called the NUM leadership into a 21 September emergency meeting at the Chamber of Mines.
Mining has powered the South African economy from the late 19th century under British colonial empire-builder Cecil Rhodes up through the apartheid Afrikaner regime installed in the 1940s to today, under neo-apartheid capitalist rule. While the economy has somewhat diversified in the last half century, mining still accounts directly or indirectly for well over a quarter of the country’s economic activity and employs half a million workers.
Platinum mining is particularly labour intensive and dangerous. Rock drillers toil in some of the deepest mines in the world at temperatures approaching 46 degrees in cramped, damp, poorly ventilated areas where rocks can fall at any time. Drill operators, who perform the most gruelling and dangerous work, are mostly migrants, mainly from the Eastern Cape but also from other South African provinces and neighbouring countries like Lesotho, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. In the shantytowns, where they live in makeshift tin shacks, outside toilets are shared among up to 50 people. There are few water taps, raw sewage leaks from burst pipes, and children scavenge in rubbish dumps.
Government statistics tracking mine fatalities—on average one miner in South Africa dies every three days in underground accidents—deliberately understate the dangers by not including those miners who contract tuberculosis, silicosis and other work-related diseases. These victims of brutal exploitation are simply sent back to their homes in rural areas or in neighbouring countries to die.
It took class war for the Marikana miners to win a pay increase that barely begins to redress the miserable wage structure inherited from apartheid. That settlement excludes the 9,000 even more miserably paid workers—nearly one-fourth of the mine’s workforce—supplied by blood-sucking labour brokers (contractors). In Spartacist South Africa No. 7 (Winter 2011), our comrades called for “smashing the parasitic labour-broker middlemen through class-struggle means.” Their article stressed: “The fight to defend brokered workers should be tied to a struggle to organize the unorganized and to defend immigrant workers and others of the most oppressed layers in the working class” (see “For a Class-Struggle Fight Against Labor Broker Parasites!” Workers Vanguard No. 985, 2 September 2011).
Increasingly, the lower-paid mine workers have been leaving the NUM to join AMCU, the union which originated as a split from the NUM in 1998. Outrageously, NUM bureaucrats and SACP spokesmen have called for state repression against AMCU, which has been violence-baited by COSATU leaders. In general, revolutionaries favour maximum unity in struggle. But we do not automatically condemn all splits within the trade-union movement; these must be judged on a case by case basis. We defend AMCU against state repression. And we defend the right of workers to be represented by AMCU if they so wish.
The ANC’s labour lieutenants have furiously tried to squelch any solidarity with the Marikana miners. Bureaucrats at the COSATU congress mobilised a goon squad to attack and set fire to a Spartacist/South Africa literature table, angered by placards denouncing the 16 August massacre and calling to break workers from the Tripartite Alliance (see page 5).
In neo-apartheid South Africa, massive anger at the base of society is reflected in a distorted way in bitter divisions at the top of the ANC and the Alliance. With populist appeals to disillusioned workers and youth, former ANC Youth League (ANCYL) president Julius Malema has emerged as the most outspoken representative of anti-Zuma forces in the ANC. Four years ago, he was among the foremost promoters of Zuma’s ascendancy in the ANC. Now, having been expelled from the party earlier this year, he denounces ANC and NUM leaders as “bloodsuckers.” He spews racialist demagogy in order to divert workers from a class understanding of the neo-apartheid order. Marxists give no political support to any of the politicians of the capitalist ANC, regardless of their particular policies. Malema, who heads four companies and sports Gucci suits, has nevertheless gained a lot of popularity by calling for nationalisation of the mines. As the SSA has written:
“The Malema/ANCYL nationalisation policies are bourgeois reform schemes which would not end the superexploitation of the mineworkers. Their policy document proposes joint share holdings between the current mine owners and the government (with a majority share for the latter), meaning that the bourgeois state becomes a partner in directly exploiting the workers.”
—“Populist Demagogue Malema and the ANC,” Workers Vanguard No. 1006, 3 August
Counterposed to bourgeois “nationalisation” schemes, the SSA fights for a black-centred workers government that will expropriate the mines, banks and industry without compensation, linking that struggle to the fight for workers power in the imperialist countries. Seizing the mine shafts, machinery and mountains of finance capital—now mainly in London, New York and other banking centres—that the mining bosses have heaped up through more than a century of superexploitation of mainly black labour will be a necessary step in liberation from capitalist oppression.
The following statement was issued by Spartacist/South Africa on 23 August, titled: “The Lonmin Massacre: ANC/SACP/COSATU Tripartite Alliance Government’s Hands Covered in Blood of Striking Black Mineworkers.”
* * *
August 16, 2012, will go down in history for one of the bloodiest crimes ever committed against the workers movement in South Africa. About 100 kilometres northwest of Johannesburg, at the Marikana mine of the London-based company Lonmin—the world’s third largest producer of platinum—the cops of the capitalist Tripartite Alliance government carried out a gruesome massacre of striking black mineworkers, killing at least 34 and injuring 78 others, many of whom remain in critical condition in hospital. The blood-drenched scenes aired on TV recall the most infamous apartheid-era slaughters: March 21, 1960, in Sharpeville; June 16, 1976, in Soweto. They provide a bloody, stomach-churning picture of the brutality inherent in this neo-apartheid capitalist system, where workers are gunned down like wild animals by police automatic rifles for the “crimes” of fighting against starvation and trying to defend themselves. Make no mistake: the blood of these massacred workers is on the hands of the leaders of the ANC/SACP/COSATU Tripartite Alliance and their government, who have demonstrated yet again their reliability to the Randlord rulers and their imperialist senior partners.
As communists, who stand for working-class emancipation from wage slavery and sweeping away this system to make way for a truly just society free of all exploitation and oppression, Spartacist/South Africa, section of the International Communist League, grieves along with the families of the victims, their comrades who survived the massacre and many others saddened by this tragic loss. The pain and suffering of this gruesome mass murder must be burnt into the memory of the working class—here and internationally—and all other opponents of capitalist oppression, as a reminder of the lengths to which the bourgeoisie and its repressive state machine will go to protect their class rule and profits. It will require iron determination, consciousness of the proletariat’s independent interests and world-historic tasks, and a tested, uncompromising, revolutionary leadership, to rip power out of their bloody hands. Workers revolution will avenge the victims of the Lonmin massacre! Break with the bourgeois Tripartite Alliance! Forge a Leninist-Trotskyist vanguard party!
This slaughter was clearly pre-meditated and deliberately carried out by the capitalist state. In the week leading up to it, the capitalist media mouthpieces, together with the Lonmin owners and government ministers, whipped up a hysterical frenzy denouncing the mineworkers as violent “thugs” and calling for a clamp-down to end their “illegal” strike. By the day of the massacre, the police commanders were speaking of a “D-Day” which would crush the strike. The hill next to one of the mine shafts, where thousands of striking workers had gathered, was cordoned off with barbed wire by the cops. This was accompanied by a massive mobilisation of repressive force, including police units mounted on horseback, armoured vehicles, SANDF (army) soldiers, and a deployment of up to 3000 police thugs in the Marikana area. The aim was clearly to teach the striking miners a bloody lesson, especially as “pay back” for the two police officers and two security guards killed during the week-old strike. That the cops were out for bloody revenge is absolutely clear from the comments made by Police Commissioner Riah Phiyega (recently appointed by President Jacob Zuma) following the massacre, telling the cops she commands that they should not regret what happened (Sowetan, 20 August).
In a despicable attempt to cover up for their bloody crime, the leaders of the Tripartite Alliance—echoed by virtually all the bourgeois media, speaking in unison—are now trying to place the blame for the “senseless violence” ... on the striking mineworkers who were massacred! From COSATU general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi, to the SACP’s Blade Nzimande, to ANC President Zuma, this is the line of all the Alliance leaders. The aim of this campaign was spelled out clearly in a grotesque whitewash penned by the City Press editors, who wrote: “But this happened in a democratic state. And while the nervous and jittery police who pulled the trigger must answer for their actions, it is important to remember that the strikers were armed to the teeth and behaved in a threatening manner. The lines between innocent and guilty are not drawn as sharply as those at Sharpeville in 1960 or at Soweto in 1976” (“Marikana. Tragic, but it’s not Sharpeville”, 19 August). The truth is that the blood of black workers is just as cheap today as it was under apartheid rule.
For Workers Defence Guards!
Much is being made of the fact that the striking miners had weapons such as home-made spears, pangas, and even a few guns. To listen to the sanctimonious bourgeois editorialists and Alliance tops talk, the Zulu, Xhosa, and other native African warriors who were mowed down by the guns of British and Dutch colonisers should also have accepted part of the blame for the “senseless loss of life”, because they tried to fight back with spears and other primitive weapons! We stand forthrightly for the right of armed self-defence of the working class against the bloody violence of the capitalist state, the bosses’ security guard thugs and other professional strikebreakers. For workers defence guards to protect the picket lines! As the bloody massacre showed, the workers and oppressed have to be better prepared and better organised in the face of this brutal killing machine.
We reject with utter contempt the bourgeois propaganda lumping together the workers massacred on August 16 with the two cops and two security guards who were killed during the preceding week, allegedly by striking mineworkers. We do not pretend to know the precise circumstances surrounding these deaths, but one thing is for sure: we shed no tears over the death of the bourgeoisie’s professional strikebreakers. This propaganda campaign is part of the ongoing repression against the striking mineworkers who survived the massacre. Some 260 workers who were arrested on August 16 are still being held in custody, denied bail, and are facing charges that include public violence, and even murder and attempted murder for the killing of these cops and security guards. Workers in South Africa and internationally must protest this bloody massacre and the continued repression: Drop all charges against arrested Lonmin striking workers! Notwithstanding the loss of their comrades the Lonmin workers have courageously vowed to continue their fight until their demands are met. The Lonmin bosses are holding the threat of mass dismissals over the striking workers’ heads, demanding that they return to work immediately. We stand in solidarity with these workers’ demands for a living wage of R12 500 per month and improved conditions of employment. This week, strikes have spread to other mines in North West province, where workers are also demanding R12 500. Solidarity strikes in the mining industry and elsewhere are urgently needed to support the Lonmin workers and stand up against the government’s bloody anti-worker terror.
NUM Misleaders Called for Blood of Striking Mineworkers
Despicably, the leaders of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) were among those calling loudest for a crackdown on the mineworkers strike in the week leading up to the August 16 massacre. Just a few days before, NUM general secretary Frans Baleni ranted, “[We are] alarmed that the escalating violence has been allowed to continue unabated by the law enforcement agencies in that area in North West Province,” and called for “the deployment of a special task force or the SANDF to deal decisively with the criminal elements in Rustenburg and its surrounding mine” (Mail & Guardian online, 14 August)! NUM spokesman Lesiba Seshoka appeared on TV the same week, denouncing the striking workers as “thugs” who could not be negotiated with but must be met with force. Baleni and other NUM leaders came out in defence of the cops after the bloody massacre!
To divert from their wretched, class collaborationist betrayals of the mineworkers in their own union—betrayals now sealed with the blood of the 34 massacred workers—the NUM tops have sought to lay the blame on a rival union, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU), which has been making inroads especially among the lowest-paid sections of the mineworkers. The extent of AMCU’s representation among workers at Lonmin remains unclear, with contradictory reports from different sources. Certainly, NUM members were among the workers massacred in the state repression Baleni had called for. They, as well as many others who had left the NUM and went looking for another representative out of desperation, had gone into revolt against the NUM leadership. Similar developments have already been seen at Impala Platinum, where a bitter strike in February had to face down both state repression and betrayals of the NUM bureaucracy (see article reprinted in Spartacist South Africa No. 8, Winter 2012).
Following years of betrayals, the disgruntled mineworkers at Lonmin decided to make their demands themselves. These demands included a wage increase from R4 000 to R12 500 per month and decent conditions of employment. The NUM bureaucrats and their apologists denounce these wage demands as “unrealistic”, showing how much they identify with the mine bosses, having become integrated in the privileged black elite who act as frontmen for the Randlords. Baleni earns a salary of R77 000 per month! Cyril Ramaphosa, a former NUM general secretary and a leading negotiator of the 1994 sellout deal with the white rulers, is a shareholder at Lonmin who recently bid R19.5 million for a buffalo!
The NUM bureaucrats and other Tripartite Alliance tops are calling for state repression against AMCU in the aftermath of the massacre, including a call by the SACP leadership in North West to arrest the leaders of AMCU. We defend AMCU against state repression, and we defend the right of the mineworkers to be represented by AMCU if that’s what they desire. But the answer to the betrayals by the leaders of the NUM and other COSATU unions cannot be to simply leave and set up separate unions, which tends to weaken and divide the workers. The base of these unions must be set against the sellout tops. What’s needed is a hard struggle to oust the current, pro-capitalist leaders and replace them with a class-struggle leadership, fighting for industrial unions to unite all workers for maximum power to fight the bosses. This is bound up with the fight for a revolutionary vanguard party, which is necessary to put an end to capitalism through workers revolution.
The Lonmin massacre underlines in blood the truth of what Bolshevik leader V.I. Lenin wrote in State and Revolution (1917): “The state is an organ of class domination, an organ of oppression of one class by another.” The bourgeois state cannot be reformed or pressured into acting on behalf of the working people and the oppressed. Both black and white cops carried out the massacre of striking black mineworkers, highlighting the nature of all cops as professional strikebreakers and hired guns of the capitalist class. We say: Cops and security guards out of the unions! This neo-apartheid capitalist state continues to enforce the brutal oppression of the black majority and defend the rule and profits of the overwhelmingly white capitalist class. It must be overthrown through workers socialist revolution and replaced by a workers state.
This basic Marxist understanding of the capitalist state is in stark contrast to the reformist leaders of the SACP and COSATU, who consider the cops their “comrades”, and to their left hangers-on who posture as “socialist” critics of the Tripartite Alliance leaders, only to peddle a different variant of reformist politics. For example, the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM, South African section of Peter Taaffe’s Committee for a Workers’ International), issued a statement protesting the Lonmin massacre that denounces the NUM leaders for “betraying every key principle of the workers’ struggle”. This is rich, coming from a group that pushes the grotesque line that cops are “workers in uniform”! True to form, the DSM statement goes on to scold the Lonmin strikers for “killing first two security guards, on Saturday, and then two police officers on Monday. This did not move the workers’ struggle forward but divided it” (“For a general strike to end the Marikana massacre”, 17 August). Thus the DSM fake socialists do their bit to chime in to the violence-baiting campaign against the striking workers, and advise them to submit to the bourgeois state.
NUM president Senzeni Zokwana went to address the striking workers at Lonmin, trying from inside an armoured police Nyala to convince them to end the strike. Not surprisingly, they shouted him down and he retreated to behind the police lines, showing graphically the seething discontent the workers feel toward their treacherous misleaders. This discontent has been building for years, as a result of the huge gulf between the “better life for all” that was promised when the Tripartite Alliance came to power, and the continued, desperate reality of neo-apartheid capitalist misery. The wretched conditions in the shacks around Lonmin and other mines in the “platinum belt” are a grim testament to this.
The reformists of the Stalinist-derived SACP, which recently elected Zokwana chairman, have for years churned out bogus “theories” about the different “stages” of the “National Democratic Revolution” with the aim of justifying their alliance with the bourgeois-nationalist ANC and their role in administering capitalism in the Tripartite Alliance. As we have repeatedly warned, the Stalinist “theory” of “two-stage revolution” is a bloody lie: the second “stage” is always the bourgeois-nationalists turning on and slaughtering communists and workers. Lonmin is a deadly warning! Trade union militants from COSATU and SACP members who genuinely want to fight for communism must be broken from the pro-capitalist programme of these organisations and won to a policy based on the independence of the working class from all bourgeois-nationalist forces. That includes former ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema, a populist demagogue who has gained a lot of popularity among the mineworkers. While Malema today poses as a friend of the workers, he is a bourgeois politician who stands for the maintenance of this bloody capitalist system and only a few years ago vowed to “kill” for Zuma.
Working-class independence from bourgeois nationalism is at the core of the Trotskyist theory of permanent revolution. The national oppression endured by the black majority, imperialist domination, and many-layered oppression and backwardness characteristic of capitalism in South Africa can only be overcome through workers revolution, extending internationally. We need a black-centred workers government, part of a socialist federation of Southern Africa, which fights like hell to link up with workers revolution in the imperialist centres and create an international socialist planned economy. Then bloody horrors like the Lonmin massacre will belong to the past, part of a dark chapter in human history. This is what we fight for.