Marikana: Cause and Effects
On 6 August 2012, South Africa (SA) woke up to a massive tragedy where it was reported thatpolice had gunned down 34 Lonmin workers during a protest action at Marikana. Rock drill operators from the Lonmin platinum mine were protesting against low wages and like in Kiev, the state responded with massive violence, resulting in the death of their own people. While it is true that the workers had turned to violence, at the time of the shooting they had indicated that they would hand over their weapons if the mine owners agreed to speak to them. This has been regarded as marking a turning point in democratic South Africa’s history. Unlike the Sharpeville and Soweto massacres, the killing of striking miners in Marikana was carried out by a democratically elected government.
Role of companies involved
Lonmin Plc (LMI) is a UK mining company with its operational headquarters in Johannesburg. Marikana is the company's biggest South African mine. Within 15 months of the massacre, executives from British-owned Lonmin, which counts the Church of England Commissioners and several UK borough councils among its shareholders, have not yet been called to appear before the official commission of inquiry into the massacre. Evidence examined by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism raises new and potentially damaging questions about the relationship between Lonmin, the company at the centre of the strike, the police and the government. Evidence shows meetings between police and employees of mine owners Lonmin in the crucial days before the killings.
Lonmin grew out of mining firm Lonrho, the company that owned the Observer from 1981-93. In 1999, Lonrho was renamed Lonmin. In 2013, the company announced its end-of-year results, recording a profit and increased production for 2013.
The company came to international attention when the week-long strike came to its bloody climax. There is no suggestion that either the police or Lonmin officials intended for shots to be fired that day. However, evidence shows that on 14 August, just two days before the massacre, there was a joint agreement between the company’s management and police that the strike should be broken in a decisive manner (source: Bureau of Investigative Journalism)
The impact of Marikana
Mining is an important sector in the South African economy. It had been reported that in 2012 it brought in $21bn, or 5.5% of GDP and 38% of all South African exports.
An internal memorandum from Lonmin officials shows that in July the company knew it was paying its rock drill operators less than other companies. The decision then to engage with workers directly, rather than through the unions, was approved by the executive committee.
Some of the miners are from SA's neighbouring countries, e.g. Lesotho. Sotho men are known to be generally peaceful in their relationships with women, but lately it has been reported that levels of violence against women is on the rise in Lesotho. This has been attributed to the negative impact of the system in which miners are finding themselves. Miners go into those mines happy and come out angry. Violence brews in mines. Mines had become not only a source of capital but as institutions of violence, where human rights are abused. It was that abuse that lead to anger, which spilled over to violence. Lerato Mbele wrote that, “ The tragedy has left Africa's wealthiest economy anxious for peace and equilibrium to be restored.”
Sexual exploitation, physical abuse, enforced prostitution (possibly leading to sexually transmitted infections, HIV/AIDS – and ultimately to early death): These predicaments do not only affect women in or outside mines, but women in rural areas and outside South Africa's borders. They became exposed to poverty because money is spent on relationships outside wedlock, sexually transmitted diseases through having more than one woman – depending how much money a man has in his pocket (with more money, you have more women, the thinking goes) – and more risks to STI's and HIV/AIDS.
One of the structural problems in mines is that the mining industry bosses do not establish family units and do not employ local labourers.
The current migrant labour system in South Africa serves as a place to brew anger, violence that spills over to more intense violence which had led to Marika incident. The question is, if nothing changes, “How many more Marikanas we can expect?”
Mlu Dywili is a former political activist, former high school teacher with BA degree and HDE post grad. from University of the Western Cape, completed Lifeskills facilitator' course from University of Cape Town, a community mediator, Abet educator, peace worker who holds a Masters Degree in Conflict Transformation and Management through Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University and is skilled in the areas of social research, workshop facilitation, training and capacity building and Community Public Participation Processes. He is currently serving as an intern for War Resisters' International (WRI) organisation in London, UK.