Background to massacre of South African miners

REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

Given the harrowing images, confusing information circulating and lack of reportage about the killing by police of over 30 miners in Marikana, South Africa, I have tried to gather together information on the event itself and the lead up to it here. (Warning: There are disturbing images below.)

Short background

Actual clashes between the relevant unions and the police at Marikana seem to have begun within the last week. These however of course stem from existing antagonisms within the South African mining industry and the unions that represent its workers. It should be noted that the strikers who were shot dead on Thursday were part of a wildcat action undertaken by workers in the Lonmin platinum mine. As far back as 2010 (and perhaps earlier) there have been antagonisms between elected officials within the largest union representing workers in the industry, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), that may be broadly characterised as: representatives of platinum miners politically supporting Thabo Mbeki and the incumbent union leadership supporting President Jacob Zuma of the ANC.

Another union which has its roots in the NUM has been in competition with the larger union for rights to negotiate on behalf of workers at sites including the Lonmin mine. The Association of Mineworkers and Construction union has recently described itself as distinct from NUM party because it is “apolitical and noncommunist”. Whilst the AMCU seems to at least be on the same side as the striking miners at Marikana, the NUM have asked miners to return to work. As said this is a wildcat strike and the relationship between the rank and file and the AMCU is unclear.

The strike action itself began on 10 May 2012 and has been conducted over pay as miners want an increase from R4,000 to R12,500 ($1,500) a month. These demands are made specifically by the rock-drillers, arguably the most dangerous role in the entire mining operation. The action also follows strikes at a nearby Impala Platinum mine where rock-drillers won a increase from their R4,000 wage. Questions of nationalising South Africa’s rich mines have been brought up, but in July of this year President Zuma noted that it was not a policy recommendation from the ANC conference and thus unlikely to be perused by the government. This particular strike remains directed at Lonmin however.

The violence

As far as official reports suggest there has been violence between the two unions since last Friday with two people wounded after clashes over entry to the site. This continued to 13th August 2012 where nine people were killed, which includes three mine workers killed by officers and two officers according to South African police. This all lead up to the horrific shooting of a huge number of people on Thursday by the South African Police Service.

Whilst police claim they were acting in self defence the shooting dead of over 30 workers is inexcusable especially when footage from the massacre is viewed.

The widely circulated initial video is here. The scenes are distressing and graphic.

This video from Al Jazeera English shows that police initially boxed strikers who were only lightly armed into a small area before the events in the video above take place.

Other information

Whilst most news outlets are quick to point out how this has all effected Lonmin’s financial situation we should be looking very critically at how this company has profited from mining South Africa’s resources until now as well as the state’s repression of workers’ organisation.  This statement of solidarity by Abahlali baseMjondolo is hugely important.

South African newspaper Mail & Guardian’s liveblog is also useful.

For those in London, a solidarity demonstration has been called by Bloomsbury Fightback! at Lonmin’s headquarters (4 Grosvenor Square, SW1X 7YL) for 4pm Saturday. Please do attend if you can and share the event with others.

Background to massacre of South African miners

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