SONA: Averting the Minefield of the Nation's Conscience

2016-02-14 17:25

In his SONA Address this past week, Jacob Zuma delivered yet more of what we've come to expect in his addresses. Needless Oscar like glamour encapsulated the event, while The petulance of the EFF in their disruptive behaviour came to the fore once again. As neither the glamour or the farce that's become the hallmark of African state processions proved distracting enough from the dire state of our nation, mine workers trapped beneath hundreds of metres of rock and rubble fought for their lives. Ironically, a story encapsulating the vicious dichotomy of South Africa's socio-economic reality, was both figuratively and literally, buried beneath the feet and consciousness of most South Africans. While the air thinned and the oxygen escaped the lungs and lives of the trapped mine workers, promises to speed up infrastructure for the delivery of precious metals and minerals were spouted from the disparaging figure of the President.

  Mine ownership and profitability are topical issues given rightly taking space in the spotlight following the harrowing events of Marikana, but albeit with no lasting or reflective impact for either citizenry or executives (corporate or government alike). The safety and security of mine workers in South Africa is still appalling, as stories of deadly conditions and lagging equipment go unheard. Legal routes like the Compensation Commission for Occupational Diseases and the Occupational Diseases in Mines and Works Act (of 1973) are still permeated with veracious efficiency by mining corporations. As vehicles for accessing salaries and wages while injured or grievously harmed on the job, these laws and commissions are setup and read in such a way that allows employers to flee corporate social responsibility and commitment (vis a vis the livelihoods of employees/workers). This is a reflection of the influence that companies have over the legislative, and in response, the leeway afforded to corporations should they seek to navigate legal loopholes. As the French liberal theorist Frederic Bastiat once wrote:

When plunder becomes a way of life for a group of men living together in society, they create for themselves in the course of time, a legal system that authorizes it and a moral code that glorifies it"

The changing attitude of mining executives to the narratives and discourse surrounding mining activity and wealth has led to a spate of mine sales in the last two years. Simply put, it could be viewed as such, given that worker rights and dignity are now more sought after since 2012. Mine sales by Anglo-Platinum and other houses reveal the scramble that has beset corporations intent on pleasing investors amid economic systems fostering disparity (in the Case of South Africa, our dependence on minerals). There can be no greater irony than the one which played itself this past Thursday, as the cramped, humid conditions kilometers beneath the earth suffered by workers trying to earn a living were contrasted with the needless splendour, glamour and spectacle of what should have been a simple and straightforward state procession. Sadly this is a trait which most (if not all) African governments have come to epitomize, as Orwellian logic triumphs above all other mindsets and attitudes by those in power.

I could be forgiven for mistaking Hollywood for choosing to depict the stories of Chilean miners trapped under a mineshaft two years ago, simply because CNN and other international news agencies decided to make it a story. The context of South Africa, and of the continent in general perhaps does hark back to the notion that #BlackLives[Don't]Matter. Alas, depictions of our mining woes do receive attention, but only when the humanity of our fellowman suffers to the point of negation (at the hands of our own state police no less). Although the 'State (and morale) of the Nation' is attributed in large part to the failure and corruption of government, capital has also played its part amid a morally decaying society, where the price of life has become cheap, subject to market exploitation and profit.

Right now, as much of the country obsesses on our President and his never-ending dramas, three of our fellow citizens are trapped in a sinkhole as wide as a rugby field... seems to me that beyond party affiliation, or personality politics...this is what we as a nation should be focusing our energies and prayers on RIGHT NOW.

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