Marikana aftermath – Outrageous claims or outrageous order?

2012-08-25 11:54

Andries Bezuidenhout, Crispen Chinguno and Karl von Holdt make sense of the violent mayhem at Marikana

The massacre at Lonmin’s Marikana mine evoked memories of apartheid-era police brutality.

How can this be explained?

Two factors are related to the platinum-area institutional failure:
» Industrial relations institutions centred on collective bargaining are unable to contain conflict in the context of the social dislocations and gross inequalities of the booming platinum mining region; and
» Weak local government institutions on the platinum belt are failing in developing orderly communal life.

This creates the context for violent practices to emerge as legitimate and normal ways to establish order.

During the 1922 Rand Revolt by white miners, snipers assassinated “scabs”, or strike breakers, from the top of Johannesburg’s mine dumps, strikers dug trenches and used municipal ablutions facilities as ammunition dumps.

The army bombarded strikers and towards the end of the strike then prime minister Jan Smuts sent in the air force to quell the revolt.

The answer to avoiding further violence was to institutionalise the conflict. Centralised collective bargaining was allowed for white miners, but black South Africans were excluded from the system.

In 1946, a strike led by the African Mineworkers’ Union was violently put down by the state.

Towards the end of the 1970s, conflict between various groups of workers had become so endemic the industry again saw the need for institutionalisation through collective bargaining.

Anglo American created space for union organisation, which saw the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) emerge in 1982.

Now, collective bargaining in coal and gold mines happens on a regular basis in the Chamber of Mines.

In platinum, however, the NUM negotiates with companies at a decentralised level.

At Impala, strikers forced an increase in remuneration for rock-drill operators to R9 000 a month, while some operators at Lonmin were still paid R4 000 a month.

At Impala Platinum, the strike started with operators demanding a wage adjustment outside the bargaining unit, following a similar award to miners with blasting certificates.

From the onset, they rejected NUM involvement and set up interim committees instead.

They alleged the NUM had been co-opted by management.

Most of the NUM’s branch leaders are now drawn from job categories that were previously dominated by white miners.

Despite their strategic role, rock-drill operators feel alienated and disregarded as uneducated, cheap and unskilled.

The NUM uses English and other local languages in meetings, while the rock-drill operators are sceptical of the educated and English speakers.

They use Fanakalo, which they see as a language of unity among workers.

This division between leadership and membership presented unprecedented opportunities to rival unions and the Association of Mining and Construction Union moved in.

Managers and the NUM tried to convince workers to abandon the strike, but the new committee dismissed the NUM’s agreements and standing rules, and seemed reluctant to enter into new institutional arrangements.

One of their slogans is: “We don’t talk of percentages, but money.”

This is sustained by violence.

At Impala they demanded the resignation of two managers and threatened to kill them if challenged.

The skill levels of black workers have broadened and some have moved into the suburbs, while the old hostel-based residential arrangements have fragmented.

There are now 36 informal settlements around Rustenburg, which the police are said to avoid.

The scene of the massacre is next to a sprawling informal settlement.

Frustrated strikers forge “solidarity” through the use of violence directed at strike breakers.

The massive fire power unleashed by the police appears as an attempt to restore a crumbling industrial relations order based on an outrageous level of poverty and inequality.

These events are a sign of things to come, unless we find a new path of development.

»Bezuidenhout, Chinguno and Von Holdt are Gauteng-based academics involved with the Society, Work and Development Institute

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