The labor unrest in South Africa’s mining industry is about more than wages. The Bench Marks Foundation, an influential South African non-governmental organization (NGO), issued a statement on October 14, in which John Capel, its executive director said, “Contrary to what is being reported, it is not purely about wages, but about the totality of people’s lives where they definitely do not feel respective and live under conditions that do not give them dignity.” In an October 4, press release, Bench Marks cited the cozy relationship between the mining companies and the government that “…raises questions as to government’s bias toward the mining companies and…why there is no real accountability in this sector.” The press release notes that the companies court government influence and the politicians are appointed to mining company boards or are shareholders. Bench Marks says, however, it is the government not the mining companies that is ultimately responsible for the appalling living conditions that many miners endure, and that feeds the anger behind the illegal strikes.
The Marikana strike and subsequent killings, mostly—not entirely—by the police have highlighted the close relationship between ANC politicians (current and former), the National Union of Miners, and the big mining companies. Bench Marks Foundation was founded by Archbishop Desmond Tutu essentially to monitor the big corporations from the perspective of corporate social responsibility. It is owned by the churches, and its current head is the Anglican bishop of Pretoria, Jo Seoka. Bench Marks is part of the rising tide of civic criticism that the ANC has lost its way and rather than being about liberation, it is too much about the enrichment of its leaders. That said, the ANC is a big tent, and especially among its grassroots, it retains considerable idealism.