Marikana aftermath – Union leaders caught between a Rock and a Hard place

2012-08-25 12:11

The killed miners were the victims of a black bourgeoisie who have sold out to the interests of white capital, write Martin Jansen and Mziwamadoda Velapi

The massacre of the Lonmin miners is likely to be another political turning point in the class struggle in South Africa.

Apartheid capitalism and white minority rule rested firmly on the super-exploitation of black mine workers and labour in general.

To preserve the system, any threat by workers was met with bloody brutality and deaths, meted out by mine security, the police and even the state’s army.

During the 1987 mine workers’ strike, then National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) general secretary Cyril Ramaphosa stated: “I don’t know how one shares power with people who have shotguns in their hands, people who have tear gas canisters, and I really don’t know how one shares power with people who continue to pay starvation wages.”

This was in response to the then Anglo Ashanti chief executive Bobby Godsell’s statement about the need for liberal business to share power with black workers.

The 1987 strike involved more than 300 000 miners, 50 000 of whom were dismissed and 10 lost their lives.

Now blood has been spilt once more and this time Cyril Ramaphosa and the former NUM president who led the 1987 strike, James Motlatsi, are mine bosses with shares in Lonmin through the Shanduka Group.

Over the years, under the initial leadership of Ramaphosa, the NUM has developed a very effective leadership cabal that became a conduit for a small powerful group within the new black elite to climb the social and political ladder – from mine workers’ leaders and union fat cats to political and capitalist bosses.

The treacherous role of the NUM leadership in the Lonmin strike is therefore not accidental.

Cyril Ramaphosa, Kgalema Motlanthe and Gwede Mantashe all once held the position of NUM general secretary.

They also personify the ANC’s shift from a radical petit bourgeois nationalist liberation movement to a bourgeois nationalist ruling party that protects the interests of the black bourgeoisie that is tied up with the economically dominant white monopoly capitalists.

Politically, this new dispensation is held up by the structure and political glue of the tripartite alliance, but this government is emphatically pro-business.

It used taxpayers’ money to meddle in labour disputes in favour of the employer by literally smashing the Lonmin workers’ strike.

The best special reaction units, including Unit 432 that committed the massacre, was called in.

The massacre of the Lonmin workers should also be seen as part of an increased conservatism and repressive approach by the ruling party over the last decade in relation to the ordinary masses, political opposition and even within its own ranks.

There have been other examples, such as the brutal killing of protester Andries Tatane.

With South Africa’s black elite inextricably tied to and intertwined with white monopoly capital and the entire capitalist system that breeds ever-expanding poverty and inequality, in the context of a global economic crisis, repression is their only realistic means of preserving the status quo.

Much of the tension among mine workers has its roots in the discontent of rank-and-file workers with the NUM leadership.

The formation of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union and the consequent inter-union rivalry has its roots in the high-handedness of the leadership and the lack of genuine democracy in NUM.

Over many years, NUM has failed to represent the real interests of their members and not fought vigorously to fundamentally improve the conditions of most mine workers.

So it, and gradually several other trade unions in South Africa, have become corporatised with top officials earning the salaries of company directors.

Most of our trade unions are no longer genuine fighting organisations of impoverished workers, but instead serve as a useful buffer for the bosses, managing workers’ aspirations and demands, and even policing them.

It is imperative that our unions return to the unwavering universal trade union principles of unity, independence (both organisational and political) and internal democracy.

» Jansen and Velapi work for Workers’ World Media Productions as director/editor and journalist/radio producer respectively

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