The Marikana Déjà vu and the two Mbekis
Anyone who is familiar with complex social systems would immediately admit that the causes of the Marikana incident are not that simple and straightforward as others would want us to believe. So, in this article I will deal with the following issues which I consider to be important building blocks or events that precipitated the Marikana incident: Firstly, the historical material development of South Africa and the roles of the major players, namely; the decedents of the British, the Boer and the black urban middle class that controls the ANC. Secondly, in relation to the British, I shall look at the concepts of colonialism and ‘pure’ capitalism and co-option. Thirdly, in relation to the Boer, I will look at the apartheid and its continuation of the ‘pure’ capitalism. Fourthly, with reference to the ANC, I will look into the role the National Union of Mine Workers [NUM] played to overthrow apartheid, its current struggle for legitimacy amongst the miners, the co-option of the ANC and PAC leaders into the business establishment through BEE, and the culture of self-enrichment at all cost and the arrogant behaviour of aloof and detached fat-cats, tenderpreneurs, and crony capitalists. Lastly, I will also try to make a connection between these players and current and historical events that precipitated the Marikana incident.
The role of the British
In 1978, Thabo Mbeki, member of the ANC NEC, made a speech at a seminar held in Ottawa, Canada, from February 19 to 22, the address was titled “The Historical Injustice”. This speech was a recollection of the historical material development of the South African society seen through the economic evolution of our society from the period of primitive capital accumulation by the English through to the industrialisation of our economy by the Afrikaner. This beautiful piece of work was not based on Mbeki’s personal views rather it was an academic work later published in Sechaba in March of the following year, in 1979. Using academic books such as “The Oxford History of South”, “Labour in the South African Gold mines”, “Apartheid”, “Introduction to Marx’s Class Struggle in France: On Historical Materialism”, “The Wretched of the Earth”, “The German Ideology” and many others, Mbeki sought to present the role ‘pure’ capitalism was playing to enslave the native people of South Africa. To do so, he had to examine the bedrock of the South African economy, namely; the mining industry.
He demonstrated the tangible connection between the rise of capitalism and colonial expansion using the Dutch East India Trading Company (VOC) as an example. Mbeki said that colonialism was necessary for the ‘pure’ capitalism to be realised by the VOC. This was because native Africans were living in their self-sufficient communities and did not have to labour in the mines in order to survive. So, forced evictions through the brutal use of might was utilised as a tool to push the native Africans from self-sufficiency to dependency. Of course, this led many native Africans to sell their abundant cheap and unskilled labour in the mines. This began the vicious cycle of poverty. This phenomenon went even further, for in 1909 [in response to the 1807 ban on the importation of slave labour in the Cape Colony], a vagrancy act was enacted and directed at the Khoi people who refused to work in the mines or elsewhere. Under this act, “Khoi people not in the employ of a white person were declared vagrants [a person without a settled home or regular work who wanders from place to place and lives by begging]….to prove that one was not a vagrant one had to produce a pass. To get the pass you had to enter into a written labour contract with a white employer.” Another draconian legislation was the Masters and Servant’s’ Act of 1856 that imposed taxes on the already poverty stricken African lumpen-proletariat. Suddenly, the mines of South Africa did not have a shortage for cheap black labour.
In this regard, colonialism directly benefited ‘pure’ capitalism and this would later be a similar case during apartheid. ‘Pure’ capitalism means the pursuit of profits at all costs. In this type of capitalism, the worker is given minimum input [wages, food, water, etc.] but is pushed to deliver maximum output [ounces of gold, platinum etc.]. This point was captured by the Chamber of Mine’s 1910 annual report that it “viewed the native purely as a machine, requiring a certain amount of fuel” ……”the minimum amount of food which will give them [black miners] maximum amount of work.” This is a purest form of capitalism that disregards human lives and cuts directly to the maximisation of profits at all costs. To these capitalists everything has a cash value even human life. As mentioned earlier, this was also the case during apartheid period that was characterised by townships created as dormitories of abundant cheap and largely unskilled labour.
The role played by the Boer
Mbeki continued that “the historic comprise of 1910 has therefore [this] significance that in grating the vanquished Boer equal political [rights] and social status with the British victor, it imposed on both the duty to defend the status quo.” So, in this regard, the Boer through apartheid continued to support ‘pure’ capitalism that exploited black workers. The Boer even took it to a higher level by practicing classism and racism as an official government policy. The Boer learned from the British that brutal force was crucial to them sustaining power. The Boer republic created a well-equipped and highly trained police and military to crush any popular uprising by the people, and the miners in particular. So, since the discovery of precious minerals in South Africa, the black miners have had to fight not only for decent wages and better working conditions, but they had to fight against pass laws, segregated neighbourhoods etc. Their struggle went beyond the mining areas into the popular struggle against apartheid. The police and the military were used to crush these rebellions. Thus creating a rift and an element of distrust amongst the agents of the state [the police] and the black people, and in particular the miners.
The role of the black urban middle class that controls the ANC
“In 1992 a flagship Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) company called New African Investments Limited (Nail) was created. Nail was funded by the National Party government-controlled Industrial Development Corporation (IDC), a state-owned industrial investment company created in 1940. The creation of Nail was followed by Real African Investment Limited (Rail), sponsored by mining giant Anglo American Corporation through its subsidiary Southern Life and Sanlam. Leaders of the ANC and the PAC were co-opted into the economic oligarchy and made dollar multi-millionaires overnight. Therefore, economic power continues to be polarised within the control of the minority English commercial elite and the Afrikaner elite.” (Mbeki 2009: 41).
According to Mbeki (2009) the objectives of the first BEE transaction in 1992 was intended to achieve the following:
1] Wean the ANC from radical economic ambitions, such as nationalisation of the commanding heights of the economy;
2] Provide the oligarchs with prominent and influential seats at the high table of the ANC government’s economic policy formulation system;
3] Allow those oligarchs who wanted to shift their company’s primary listings and headquarters from Johannesburg to London to do so;
4] Give the oligarchs and their companies the first bite at government contracts that interested them; and
5] Protect the oligarchs from foreign competition while opening up the rest of the economy, especially the consumer goods and manufacturing sector, to the chill winds of international competition.
We can see from this account by Moeletsi Mbeki [young brother of Thabo Mbeki] that the black urban middle class has become both a dominant political class [through their majority control of parliament] and an economic class [through BEE deals]. Just like the vanquished Boer of 1909, they were also co-opted into the business establishment [economic oligarchy] by both the Boer and the English. In return, they would ensure that the status quo continues unchanged. This status quo includes the hierarchical society that exploits working class miners and the use police brutality at will.
I think that we can conclude that the Marikana incident should be seen through these glasses:
Firstly, because ‘pure’ capitalism has always used brutal force [through police and military] to crush workers’ demands for decent wages, better working conditions and a democratic South Africa, this phenomenon of police and military brutality is still present in the collective memory of the mine workers. These stories of police and military brutality are passed on from generations of miners through songs and stories told in the mining compounds to pass time. People do not understand that songs and stories in African culture are important and this is because most of our history is spoken rather than written.
Secondly, we have seen that the British are very good at co-option. In 1910, they co-opted the Boer and in 1992 they co-opted the black urban middle class that leads the ANC, the PAC, the IFP and other political parties. In essence, this co-option ensures that the leadership responsible for running the country will continue the status quo that exploits the miners and crushes popular uprisings using police and military brutality.
Thirdly, we should appreciate the history that brought South Africa to where it is today. By this I mean that we should appreciate the violent role played ‘pure’ capitalism during colonialism, apartheid and democratic South Africa. Due to total disenfranchisement and a feeling of dispossession, the miners never felt that they were a part of South Africa, they were used as machines that drove the industrialisation of South Africa, and naturally these miners belonged to either the ANC or the PAC that was fighting a broader and more violent struggle against colonialism and apartheid. Inevitably, this meant that the miners struggle was also violent and hence the violence today. This violence might even be explained by the violent tactics [justified as a modest response to apartheid brutality] used by uMkhonto weSizwe [an armed wing of the ANC] to sabotage the apartheid economy by targeting the economic lifeblood of the South African economy mainly the Minerals Energy Complex (MEC). MEC includes mining companies and electricity generating company Eskom.
Fourthly, although the police and military are transformed, in the eyes of the miners they remain a symbol of oppression. They are seen by the miners as puppets that are protecting the interests of the mining bosses. In the language of the mining strikers they [police] might qualify to be called Amakundwane [Zulu word for rats but metaphorically meaning sell-outs]. During the struggle against apartheid Amakundwane were publicly executed by hacking them to death or putting a tyre over their neck, pouring petrol and setting it on fire while the ‘rat’ was still alive. It is shocking but we all know about this violence.
Fifthly, the crisis of legitimacy of NUM stems from many things but in my opinion the following are important: NUM has become a very aloof, complex and wealthy trade union connected to the ANC [through Cosatu in the tripartite alliance]. So, stories of ANC heavy weights such as Cyril Ramaphosa, Toyko Sexwale, Jacob Zuma’s family etc. involvement with the old mining companies is seen by the workers as collaboration with the exploiters. This has not helped the image of the ANC. To pour salt to the wound, many ANC fat-cats, tenderpreneurs and crony capitalists are becoming wealthy at the expense of the poor and the working class. This was the case in the Aurora mining company owned by Jacob Zuma’s nephew Khulubuse Zuma who failed to pay workers’ wages for months on end. So, this why the miners dispersed peacefully after the expelled ANCYL leader Julius Malema spoke to them. In Malema, they saw someone with legitimacy. In their eyes, his legitimacy comes from the fact that he claims that he grew up in poverty [so he can relate to their misery], he speaks truth to power [the tripartite alliance and their white business partners], is fighting for workers’ rights and so forth. Lastly, Cyril Ramaphosa who was a senior leader of NUM is today a significant shareholder in the Lonmin mining company. He must be caught between a rock and a hard place.
Information about the Anglo-Boer war obtained from the AngloBoerWar website. URL Link: http://angloboerwar.com/boer-war
Information about the Marikana incident obtained from news articles published on News24 website. URL Link: http://www.news24.com/
Mbeki, Moeletsi. 2009. Architects of Poverty: why African capitalism needs changing. Picador Africa: Johannesburg.
Mbeki, Thabo.1978. The Historical Injustice. Sechaba: 1-19. URL Link: http://www.marxists.org/subject/africa/anc/1978/historical-injustice.htm
Disclaimer: All articles and letters published on MyNews24 have been independently written by members of News24's community. The views of users published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24. News24 editors also reserve the right to edit or delete any and all comments received.