South African Platinum Miner’s Struggle Challenges ANC Leadership
Patrick Bond: 2012 Marikana massacre and the militancy of the miners is changing the face of South African politics
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay.
Twenty years ago were the first elections held in South Africa, first democratic elections, where it was one person, one vote. The world all considered it a great victory for the people of South Africa. But there was a debate at the time leading up to and after: should the struggle go to the next stage right away, the next stage being a fight for economic justice, a fight for, many people said, for socialism? The ANC leadership said no, let’s first of all deal with apartheid and democratization, which means elections; someday in the future there will be a fight for more economic equality. Well, some people have said where that led to today is great economic inequality, except the face of some of that inequality is black. There are many black billionaires and multimillionaires in South Africa now.
Well, whoever won or should have won that debate, one thing seems to be clear: there is now a second stage. There is a fight now, an express fight, for socialism and more economic justice in South Africa. And much of that is coming from the South African miners.
And now joining us to talk about all of this is Patrick Bond. Patrick Bond, who’s normally in South Africa but is now in the studio with us, teaches political economy and eco-social policy and directs the Centre for Civil Society at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban, South Africa. He’s involved in research on economic justice, geopolitics, climate, energy, and water. And his latest book, which has just come out, he coauthored with John Saul, is South Africa: The Present As History.
Thanks for joining us, Patrick.
PATRICK BOND, DIRECTOR, CENTRE FOR CIVIL SOCIETY: It’s so good to be with you here in Baltimore. Thanks.
JAY: So there’s some tumultuous and precedent-setting events, it seems, in South Africa. Give us a little bit of context about the gold miners strike. And then now there’s–I think we’re in the 11th or 12th week of a platinum miners strike. And it’s not just a strike. It’s started to change the face of South African politics.
BOND: That’s right, Paul. And the critical moment, the inflection point was August 16, 2012, the Marikana massacre, indeed of the some of those same platinum mineworkers whose colleagues now are on strike for the 11th week. They are in a dusty and desolate part of South Africa, not too far from the main urban core in the capital of Pretoria, Johannesburg, the financial district. It’s a place called Marikana an Madibeng municipality.
And what this site represents is continuations of migrant labor, the old core, political-economic mechanism of apartheid to make black workers cheap by tossing them back to their bantustans, the homelands, where women would be in charge of social reproduction, reproducing the family. Ultracheap. The men would just come back once a year for a month.
And in that sense, racial apartheid ended in terms of laws, but too many aspects of the core class apartheid systems have not only been continued but actually amplified. And that’s why when Marikana had a massacre of mineworkers who were on strike, it went like wildfire into many other sectors of the country in late 2012. Nelson Mandela, as you know, he died in December 2013, and within about a week and a half, the Metalworkers, the biggest union, they broke. And that was the other major inflection point. They said, look, this African National Congress, with some of its leaders intimately involved in the corruption and the corporate power, propping up big foreign multinationals–in one case, Cyril Ramaphosa, who will be the deputy president of the country–.
JAY: Who has now been shown to have been directly involved in the massacre, ’cause he owned some of the stock in that mining company.
BOND: Indeed, more than that, his 9 percent ownership gave him an incentive to crush a strike, a strike, by the way, of workers who 20 years ago he was the leader of. He was the Mineworkers leader until the early ’90s, and in 1987 had been the main organizer of a national mineworkers strike. Very formidable.
JAY: And when you say it broke, the Mineworkers broke, they broke in terms of support for the ANC. Did they also leave the Labour Centre?
BOND: Yes. The two different groups now that are coming into–of workers are coming into conflict with the ANC. The first are these mineworkers at Marikana. And not only did they stay out after the massacre and demand a large increase–and they won 22 percent, which–6 percent inflation, that’s a very large increase–was reported, and that set wildfires and, you know, kind of wildcat strikes across the country.
The Metalworkers are the largest union, and they are in a very, I’d say, arm’s-length relationship to these mineworkers who broke away in Marikana and who are now in another union. The mineworkers from Marikana, represented by AMCU, Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union, they were never in this alliance where labor connected to the ruling party and the Communist Party.
What’s more important, in a way, is the biggest union, the Metalworkers, breaking away from the alliance for the purpose of reelecting the African National Congress. And they said, look, Jacob Zuma, the president of the country, has betrayed the working class too much by continuing neoliberal free-market economic policies that are much more favorable to big business. One of these is putting in a new regime to subsidize the youth employees, who would then take the jobs of the older employees, their fear is. They’ve also got many, many other grievances about national public policy: the lack of a serious industrial policy; privatization even of the roads around Johannesburg has been a big issue.
Those are the kinds of issues that workers probably across South Africa would generally agree, I think, with the Metalworkers, who are now talking about a united front, no longer a “big A” alliance with the African National Congress, but a “small a” alliance, as my coauthor John Saul put it about 15 years ago, an alliance of poor and working-class people, so the Metalworkers, with fairly good wages in comparative terms, now looking down to communities from where their workers had once lived, shack settlements, rural areas, environmentalists, gay and lesbians. And it’s sort of a rainbow of groups that have begun to come together. They’ve had some major marches in the past few weeks.
JAY: Now, are the metalworkers using some of the overt language that I believe the new miners workers union is using, which is overtly talking about confronting capitalism and for socialism and such?
BOND: Many of these mineworkers put nationalization of the mines in strategic industries onto the agenda, and they were assisted by a young leader of the African National Congress, Julius Malema, who was kicked out. He was kicked out because his calls for nationalization of the mines and a socialist project did very explicitly conflict with Cyril Ramaphosa, who, as you mentioned, was responsible for–.
JAY: He’s a billionaire, Cyril Ramaphosa.
BOND: Yes. He’s worth about $800 million, maybe over $1 billion, yeah, roughly $1 billion.
Now, his emails the day before that massacre in Marikana were very revealing, because they showed he had the capacity to bring in the police minister, the mining minister, and he described this labor unrest as criminal, “dastardly criminal”. And the resulting massacre–Rehad Desai’s new film, called Miners Shot Down, very clearly shows, probably for many South Africans for the first time, just how much a premeditated massacre this was.
Now, what this means is the militancy of the workers generally and the Metalworkers could take on a much more political tone now that it was clear that the state was in league with, in this case, a big London mining house, Lonmin, with men like Cyril Ramaphosa fronting, and in that sense a very explicit decision in December last year to break out because of this inflection point of Marikana. With Mandela dead that probably wasn’t much of a factor, but it certainly made it easy for people to say the old ANC wouldn’t have killed its own black workers, its own constituents on behalf of a London mining house.
JAY: So how profoundly is this reverberating through the whole of society? Or is it more just amongst the minors? Like, how big is this going to get?
BOND: Well, the Metalworkers, who are in mostly big smelting and automobile and other metals shops, have not had that much of an opportunity yet to fuse with the Mineworkers, who’ve broken away.
JAY: And just to give–I think the Metalworkers are about 350,000 members.
BOND: Yeah, 340,000. So their challenge probably is to not only work with other labor unions, and some of them in the agricultural sector, some of them in a few of the other–there are about nine unions that have pulled together to basically oppose President Jacob Zuma and to support a former trade union leader who just this week was allowed to get his job back, Zwelinzima Vavi. And his role is very important as a left-leaning, extremely articulate–and, until he was tossed out of the union movement, seemed to be probably the most principled leftist.
Now, what these men have been–and a few women as well have been doing is suggesting a movement toward socialism can be built, especially when the relatively privileged layer of workers unites with poor people in townships, in shack settlements, and these other sites of struggle, rural areas. And it’s in those sites, Paul, where we have–well, the police measured 12,400 what they call gathering incidents, basically protests, 1,880 of which were violent just last year. This rate is rising rapidly. And there’s a sort of rebellion of the poor, as our colleagues at the University of Johannesburg have been arguing and showing. And this rebellion hasn’t had the coherence that’s needed to make it a socialist movement.
NUMSA’s genius is to immediately (maybe they’re a little overdue, some would say) start luring in allies from these social movements. So, for example, in January they had an expo of struggle, and they compared strategies and tactics. And these tactics are quite advanced. They are tried and [tested] tactics that, for example, allowed the Treatment Action Campaign, the medicines campaign for HIV-positive people, to win, now, two and a half million people on AIDS medicines not paying anything, whereas 15 years ago they would have paid over $10,000 had they had it. They didn’t, and that’s why this was a huge victory. And those–that’s in turn raised the life expectancy by about nine years over the past decade, a very, very dramatic increase, because of activism. That’s the missing link is to bring organized labor with these social movements and find some fusion.
JAY: Now, the Metalworkers have broken with the ANC. This new miners union, I assume, is not–never had anything to do with ANC.
BOND: It’s never [crosstalk] support in ANC. That’s right.
JAY: In the labor center itself, is that going to fracture further? And then where does this lead? I mean, if they’re going to take on the ANC, it has to lead to another party.
BOND: That’s right. But I think the first step is indeed whether the Labour Centre will be under the control of those close to the ruling party, the ANC. The president of COSATU, whose name’s Sidumo Dlamini, is very tightly allied with President Zuma. And then the general secretary, who just this week has got his job back after a court case (he was suspended and procedures weren’t handled properly), he is much more seen as an independent leftist with more integrity and certainly a regular critic of the government. That means that COSATU, the Congress of South African Trade Unions–some joke that it’s been a congress of sweethearts and trade unions–some sweetheart unions are in this center–is still going to be split for some time to come.
And that means probably the hard work of building a labor party, a workers party, a workers and poor people’s party, a people’s party of some sort, is going to be delayed. There was no way that they could get a party together to contest the May 7 election. But municipal elections two years later probably will include a number of major cities where the left would potentially get a third of the vote in this first attempt to build up from below. You may remember the Brazilian Workers’ Party, the PT, started in a similar way. They won quite a few municipalities before finally, after about five tries, winning the presidency.
JAY: Right. Now, the theory always was more or less trickle-down economics in South Africa, that if you had black-empowered capital and a section of the elite became black and rich, that that would trickle down and life would get better for the poor. You did get, clearly, a big stratum or a significant stratum of blacks that are very, very rich. How much did that actually trickle down?
BOND: Well, nothing, really, because the inequality statistics, more or less everyone agrees, have worsened. In other words, since 1994, when apartheid ended, inequality amongst the society as a whole get worse. Inequality got much worse within the black, the African population. And for a while, actually, whites were–under Mandela’s government, even, whites were getting more rich. All blacks were getting poorer on average. And that meant that those who had money were rewarded. And the reason was interest rates went fairly high, and so financial assets and the sort of assets that whites had, especially networks around the world as sanctions were dropped and opportunities for global trade emerged, that trickled up the wealth.
And the trickle-down politics of particularly Thabo Mbeki, the prior president, and Jacob Zuma, have really failed. They basically [incompr.] about 15 million grants. But these grants are rather tokenistic. They’re small in relation to the broader economy. About three and a half percent of GDP has been increased in the spending on grants. Similarly for projects. People have struggled for water, getting water and sanitation, a free lifeline, human right. It’s been so tokenistic that once you get a free amount (it’s only about two flushes’ worth a day), your price goes through the roof, and then you can’t afford your full amount, so you do get disconnected. People are now having to illegally reconnect their water and electricity. That means when you hear claims like 92 percent of the people now have water, they really have to be looked at with great suspicion, because in many, many–maybe a third of those cases, the government has to admit there’s not water in the taps, that it’s been cut off or there’s some problem in the supply.
In other words, it’s a very tense place with high numbers of protests, a working class that’s as militant as any in the world. The World Economic Forum has decided that in the last two global competitiveness reports–they do ratings, and South Africa’s 148th in the world in labor-employer harmony the last two years–the gold medal in class struggle, if you will. And that means, I think, there’s a ripeness, that if you think of a war of position that Gramsci would have talked about, of positioning a left, now maybe a war of movement can begin.
JAY: Okay. We’re going to obviously stay on the South African story–in fact, we hope, more than stay on it. We’re actually hoping sometime before this year is over to create the beginnings of a Real News South Africa Bureau.
Thanks very much for joining us.
BOND: Great to be with you, Paul.
JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.