In the September 1 edition of LARB, historian Alex Lichtenstein examined the background of the massacre of striking miners at Marikana, looking closely at the dismal record of South Africa’s platinum industry. Here, in a review of the first full-length study of the events of August 2012, he brings the story up to date.
LESS THAN FIVE MONTHS after South African police shot down 34 striking miners at Marikana, North West Province, on August 16, 2012, life goes on in South Africa, although perhaps it would be an overstatement to say that things have returned to normal. As Peter Alexander and his colleagues note in their stunning and timely postmortem investigation of the massacre, in South Africa “one has to go back to the Soweto Uprising of 1976 to find an example of government security forces murdering more protestors than at Marikana.”
Then, of course, security police murdered schoolchildren who lived in a racial dictatorship. Today, workers are being shot down by a government they elected to power. Nevertheless, at the recent African National Congress (ANC) elective party conference at Manguang, President Jacob Zuma received reaffirmation and will stand for a second term as the party’s presidential candidate in the 2014 elections. Selected as Deputy President of the ANC was Cyril Ramaphosa, who as a Board member of Lonmin mining corporation (and owner of nine percent of that company’s shares) was deeply involved in the labor management conflict at the platinum mines that touched off the strike and the August bloodletting. Indeed, Ramaphosa has been accused of urging police to suppress the unauthorized strike in the first place. Gwede Mantashe, former leader of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) remains as ANC general secretary. Current NUM President, Senzeni Zokwana was elected to the ANC’s National Executive Committee. The three main forces that Alexander charges with culpability in the massacre — party, company, and union — now constitute half of the ANC’s political leadership, and thus South Africa’s. Many South Africans anxiously await the official Farlam Commission of Inquiry report on the massacre, though given the growing distrust of the government, few really imagine it will get to the bottom of things.
Under apartheid, the white supremacist government loved to establish commissions to investigate every social “tragedy” bedeviling the country, whether it be the economic unsustainability of African reserves (1954), the Sharpeville Massacre (1960), the Soweto uprising (1976), the need for black trade unions (1977–79), or, back in the 1940s, gold miners’ strikes. Today, the testimony contained in these reports serves as a fabulous resource for historians. At the time, however, each one, released to great fanfare, engaged in handwringing and then promoted mild reform as a means of staving off larger transformations. As Peter Alexander, Thapelo Lekgowa, Botsang Mmope, Luke Sinwell, and Bongani Xezwi suggest in their courageous independent investigation of Marikana, A View from the Mountain and a Case to Answer, post-apartheid commissions may be equally limited in their vision. The Farlam Commission, they charge, “has not observed working conditions underground and operates in a courtroom environment alienating for ordinary people.” Nor did press cov...read more