John Campbell

Africa in Transition

Campbell tracks political and security developments across sub-Saharan Africa.

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South Africa Mining Unrest Impacts ANC

by John Campbell
September 5, 2012

South Africa's President Jacob Zuma (L) addresses striking miners outside a South African mine in Rustenburg, 100 km (62 miles) northwest of Johannesburg August 22, 2012. (Stringer/Courtesy Reuters)


The Zuma government is handling poorly the upsurge in mining unrest at the Marikana platinum mine, which is spreading to gold mines near Johannesburg. Julius Malema, expelled African National Congress (ANC) bad boy, is exploiting these government errors to discredit President Jacob Zuma in the run up to the African National Congress (ANC) December party convention.

If Zuma is defeated in the contest for party leadership, the precedent is that he would resign as president of South Africa and there would be an interim government until the 2013 elections. Anger among the poor and dispossessed appears increasingly to be focused not on the big mining houses but on the tiny black elite that has grown rich because of its ANC connections.

At Marikana, the police shot and killed 34 strikers and wounded an additional 178. The police then arrested 278, some at the mine, others at a nearby squatter camp. Though President Zuma immediately left a Southern African Development Community (SADC) summit in Mozambique and went to Marikana, he failed to connect on a personal level with the miners. Photographs of him under an umbrella in a western suit and surrounded by body guards and aids emphasized rather than mitigated the profound distance between him and the miners.

To make matters worse, in the aftermath of the Marikana “massacre,” the acting director of public prosecutions announced the prosecution of 270 miners on murder charges under apartheid-era statutes—even though most of the victims had been shot by the police. In the face of widespread public outrage, she reversed herself, and those arrested are in the process of being released on bail. But, some of the newly released are credibly reporting in the media that they were subject to beatings and other forms of police torture.

Julius Malema, long an advocate of nationalization of the mines and expropriation without compensation of white-owned land, is reported by the New York Times as saying “President Zuma has presided over the massacre of our people.” He has threatened to make the mines “ungovernable,” an echo of liberation movements’ threat to make the townships “ungovernable” during the waning days of apartheid.

The episode is focusing attention on black elite links to the mining companies. Malema is directing his ire at a particular gold mined owned in part by Zuma’s nephew and a grandson of Nelson Mandela. Cyril Ramaphosa, one of the most important negotiators of the transition to non-racial democracy, is now a billionaire; according to the New York Times, he is on the board of Lonrho, the British based owner of the Marikana mine, and has also been a leader of the National Union of Mineworkers, which, in effect, participates in the ANC government.

In the townships there are frequent outbursts of anger. But, up to now, the anger has largely been directed toward specific, individual officials known for corruption or their failure to deliver expected services—not the ANC or the government. That may be changing, especially if the ANC comes to be associated with black elite privilege. Indeed, there is little reported anger directed toward South Africa’s wealthy white minority, the principal beneficiaries of current economic arrangements. Malema’s political strength seems to derive more from his articulation of anger at the South African “system” than his calls for white expropriation, though that may change.

Post a Comment 2 Comments

  • Posted by Jennifer Upton

    Apparently the lives of THESE men; hacked with Panga’s, tortured and then burned to death; were SO unimportant that it did not warrant news, or mourning, or any mention at all. For the record, whilst I agree that there is still a huge gap between managers and workers in the mining industry, and they do potentially hazardous work, Miners at the lowest levels earn FAR more than Police Officers; and Police Officer earn even more than Security Guards. (The murdered men were security guards). Police and Security ALSO have hazardous jobs. And on this day they were JUST DOING THEIR JOBS, before they were attacked they probably even empathised with the strikers. They did not deserve to die, and as horrible as the whole tragic chain of events was, THESE are the TRUE Victims. Yet nobody cared, nobody worried about them or their families….
    I have said it before and I say it again. ANYBODY who has not lived most of their life in AFRICA, and /or South Africa, should judge anything they see or hear on the radio, in the news or on TV. News is a business and they only show what SELLS, and what their and our Governments allow. I am very sorry for the families of the miner’s shot at Lonmin Mine, Marikana. BUT they were not sitting peacefully, they were NOT letting negotiations continue, and letting the law run its course. They were out of control, incited to anger, and with mob mentality, they went on the attack and they outnumbered the police. Please, do not ever again say “they ONLY had Panga’s”~! Not until you have SEEN someone hacked to death WITH a Panga, or faced a mob wielding Pangas and axes~! I do not condone the deaths, but I understand WHY the Police opened fire. And YES I would also have done so. I of all people BELEIVE in everyone’s right to stand up for their rights, to go on strike, BUT not for them to do so with violence, vandalism and murder~!! I am sorry if this upsets or offends anyone. Feel free to debate the issue with me, I welcome other people’s ideas and opinions, or feel free to UNfriend me if what I say disturbs you. Scary to find out what the News does NOT tell you, huh? How much they slant the stories to be sensational and politically correct~! I agree with this news article, the killers MUST be punished AND the police held accountable for their reaction to the violence:–outrageous—Godsell

  • Posted by sali abdul matheen


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