By Kim Heller. Article first published in The New Age
Picture: Thapelo Morebudi
IT IS a sight that I will never forget. The unspeakable hurt of an elderly infirm woman whose protection was in the cavity of a large tree trunk – her only home and sanctuary. The lone anguish of an indigent wife of a mine worker, waiting, with hope her only companion, for her husband, to return from the City of Gold to their Limpopo village. He never did. During my final year of undergraduate study in politics in the late ’80s, I researched how in the ruthless build of the mining industry, black families were split in shreds, and often entirely devastated in the wholesale pursuit of profit.
I bore witness to just a breath of the grief caused by white monopoly capital in its capture over the mining industry. The development of the mining industry should have served up a feast of economic prospects for black South Africans, but instead the majority were purposefully and systematically plummeted into a gorge of servitude, in a windfall of fortune for monopoly capital. After centuries of economic deprivation, the contemporary economic landscape remains a grove of brazen economic exclusion for most blacks.
The ANC government’s reticence in fully confronting the exhaustive white hold over key economic sectors has seen the patterns of white ownership and control in the mining industry remain largely intact and who remain at the helm, with uncontested control and power. Today the silent tears of those in the bondage of the mining industry, continue to fall. But there is little comfort or relief. Ask the wives of the mine workers, whose husbands were gunned down in Lonmin Marikana in 2012 for simply asking for a living wage. Ask the wives of the 10 police officers who also lost their lives defending the purse of white monopoly capital during the massacre.
Despite persistent calls for justice from community activists and human rights groupings, locally and internationally, very little has changed in Marikana. Frustration continue to fester. A 2016 report published by Amnesty International, titled Smoke and Mirrors: Lonmin’s failure to address housing conditions at Marikana, exposed not only how Lonmin failed to honour their pledge to build 5 500 houses for workers by 2011 – under its 2006 social and labour plan, but how the appalling housing conditions faced by Lonmin employees, alongside complaints over paltry wages, fuelled the 2012 mine workers’ strike. In September 2016, the Presidency issued a statement which was highly critical of Lonmin’s lack of delivery on housing obligations. The Presidency stated that if Lonmin failed to provide a compliant housing plan, it could face suspension or cancellation of mining rights. Yet to date Lonmin has not delivered and there has still been no sanction. Lonmin mine workers continue, in the main, to live in shacks without electricity or toilet facilities. Mine workers in Marikana are today still subjected to the brutal working and living conditions that were at the very stem of their protest in 2012, and which many activists and rights groups have warned have and will trigger ongoing community discontent and strife. When, on January 16, 2017, Napoleon Webster, a well-known Marikana activist, entered the Tlhabane Magistrate’s Court in Rustenburg with his white shirt splattered with blood, it was a sight that pained me deeply.
I know Napoleon personally and can testify unreservedly that he is a true community activist who has worked selflessly and courageously for social and economic justice, not only in Marikana but across some of the most impoverished and forsaken communities in South Africa. He claims that he was shot in the head with a rubber bullet by police officers during his arrest for his alleged involvement in the mob murder of a man in Marikana West on December 8, 2016, following clashes over the occupation of RDP housing. Napoleon, who was recently released on bail after more than 200 days in prison, told the media that his arrest was a direct upshot of his unremitting pursuit of justice for the families of 34 mine workers killed in the Lonmin Marikana massacre, his vocal stance on Lonmin’s failure to provide housing and because of his strident calls for Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, who was an executive director of Lonmin in 2012, to take full responsibility for his culpability in the massacre. Shenilah Mohammed of Amnesty International South Africa, was correct when she said “the tragedy of the Marikana killings is that no one responsible for the bloodshed has yet to be held accountable”. If the ANC government is truly serious about radical economic transformation, it must take action against those in its ranks who are found to have put the interests of white monopoly capital ahead of the well-being of its people on that fateful day in August 2012.
Last week Napoleon was sworn in as PR councillor for political party Forum For Service Delivery. While he has made it clear that Ramaphosa is not welcome in Marikana, a sentiment shared by the widows of the slaughtered mine workers, he has extended an invitation to the Mining and Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Joseph Zwane. In a decisive and bold move to advance the programme of radical economic transformation, Zwane launched a revised Mining Charter earlier this year, which will strongly advance black ownership and control of the mining sector, as well as community and worker participation. It would be a winning move for radical economic transformation if Zwane engaged with Marikana mine workers as he prepares the final workings of the new Mining Charter. Economic emancipation in South Africa will require authentic assemblies of solidarity with ordinary economically disempowered South Africans.
Economic liberation is the only worthy shrine we should construct to honour the mine workers who died in the Marikana massacre of 2012, and the millions of other workers, who have lost their fortunes, their families and their lives in the cold-blooded evolution of the mining industry in South Africa. Anything less is a perpetuation of injustice.
Kim Heller is a writer and commentator