Mine shootings threaten Zuma, ANC

2012-08-25 23:03
Jacob Zuma (File, Sapa)

Jacob Zuma (File, Sapa)

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Johannesburg - Powerful trade unions are in turmoil following violence that killed 44 people at a platinum mine strike that has wide-ranging political implications.

Labour leaders charge that rivalry between new and old unions is an orchestrated plot to destroy the labour movement. Others hint darkly at political manipulation. Some talk of collusion by mining companies.

What's clear is that the fall-out from new union rivalry and the government's violent reaction could affect the future of President Jacob Zuma and the ANC.

Thirty-four strikers were shot dead by police in a three-minute barrage of automatic gunfire last week that also injured 78 others. Ten other people were killed the week before, including two police officers who were hacked to death with machetes by strikers who also burned alive two mine security guards.

"The events may well prove to be a watershed in the decline of the African National Congress' national legitimacy and hold onto political power," said Nicolas van de Walle, professor of government at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY, and author of African Economies and the Politics of Permanent Crisis.

'Co-ordinated political strategy'

The brutal violence occurred at the strike at the Lonmin platinum mine in Marikana by the new Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu), which has won over tens of thousands of members in a matter of months in its bid to unseat the long-established and politically connected National Union of Mineworkers (NUM).

The new union charges that the national union is no longer aggressively pressing for higher wages and better working conditions because its leadership is too entrenched with the government and is cozying up to the management of big mining firms.

The older unions, which played a vital role in the struggle against apartheid, are trying to reassert themselves. The general secretary of the Congress of South African Trade Unions, Zwelinzima Vavi, spoke on Friday of the need to defeat "bogus breakaway 'unions' and their political and financial backers".

He charged on Friday that the upstart union's illegal strike demanding higher salaries at Lonmin was part of "a co-ordinated political strategy" using intimidation and violence "to divide and weaken the trade union movement".

Amcu says its very attraction is that it is not linked to any political party.

And it says the National Union of Mineworkers' close affiliation with the ANC is bringing about its downfall.

'Bloated with corrupt fat cats'


Over the years, the NUM enjoyed almost a monopoly in the mines around Rustenberg including the Lonmin mine where the shootings occurred.

But now it has become over-politicised, too close to the government and the ANC to properly represent the interests of the poorest miners, according to Joseph Mathunjwa, the new union's president.

The complaint is a microcosm of broader charges that the leadership of the ANC has become bloated with corrupt fat cats who no longer care about its core constituents, the poorest of the poor.

Since the first democratic elections in 1994, South Africa has become the richest country on the continent, but that wealth has benefited only whites who continue to control the economy and a small new black elite while the majority of its 48 million citizens continue to battle unemployment, housing shortages and poor service delivery.

It is no coincidence that three former leaders of the National Union of Mineworkers went on to become leaders of the ANC , including Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, said Jan de Lange, a veteran mining writer for Sake24.com.

"The NUM is probably the most disciplined and significant supporter of Jacob Zuma in his quest for a second [presidential] term and this may dent Zuma's chances," he said.

Far-reaching fall-out

Van de Walle, the Cornell professor, sees a far-reaching fall-out: "Even as [the ANC] has increasingly been undermined by the stench of corruption and power abuses, its inability to undo the sharp socio-economic inequalities of the apartheid era combined with a record of mediocre economic growth may finally be corroding the enormous capital of goodwill it gained by leading the struggle against white minority rule."

Van de Walle said the "sheer symbolism" of policemen shooting at protesters would have suggested to many South Africans that "little has changed and that the state still serves a small rich minority rather than the impoverished majority".

That thought was put more crudely by expelled ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema, who accused Zuma's government of complicity in the killings. He told striking miners that the government was unable to stand up to the mines because top leaders have shares in those mines that conflict with supporting workers' interests.

Some South Africans see the police shootings as the government using officers to put down challenges to its authority.

Zuma, whose re-election bid is spearheaded by leaders of the challenged National Union of Mineworkers, can expect to confront many more such challenges, with every day bringing more of the sometimes violent service protests by poor South Africans discouraged by their lack of progress, while they see an ostentatious display of wealth exhibited by the black elite.

The shootings have this traumatised nation soul-searching, asking why violence has become an everyday matter in their society, which suffers some of the highest murder and rape rates in the world.
Read more on:    anc  |  jacob zuma ­  |  mining unrest  |  politics

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