Massacre of Striking Platinum Miners in South Africa

Justice for South African Miners!

Striking platinum miners, Marikana, South Africa.
We vigorously condemns the August 16 massacre of 34 miners and wounding of 78 others by South African police forces. The police were acting as strike-breakers for the London-based platinum mining monopoly Lonmin at the Marikana townsite. Adding insult to injury was the fact that despite video showing that it was police who fired on the strikers, authorities charged and detained more than 150 miners for murdering their fellow miners under an obscure apartheid-era legal doctrine known as “common purpose,” a form of collective punishment. There have yet to be any charges laid against the police involved in the massacre.

The strike by thousands of miners in Marikana has been underway since August 10. On September 5, news agencies report that more than 3,000 striking miners marched through streets near the mine, 100 km northwest of Johannesburg, in the largest protest since the August 16 massacre. It was announced on September 6 that a “peace deal” had been signed between Lonmin and some of the unions. However, this deal did not include the strikers themselves and the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) which represents about 23 per cent of workers at the mine. A representative of the workers pointed out that the peace accord did not address their demands, so nothing was signed.

Lonmin is a notorious British imperialist firm founded in May 1909 as the London and Rhodesian Mining and Land Company Limited, which evolved into a multi-branched corporation, Lonrho, denounced as “the unacceptable face of capitalism” in the 1980s. Today, renamed Lonmin, it focuses on the production of platinum and is the world’s third largest producer.

Platinum, the precious metal used mainly in catalytic converters in the auto industry as well as in electronics and jewellery, is in relative over-supply world-wide due to the economic crisis. Lonmin, in an attempt to maximize its own rate of profit despite declining platinum group metal prices, has been imposing the lowest wages on mine workers, most of whom live in wretched shanty towns.

Lomin pays mine workers approximately 4,000 Rand ($475 Canadian) a month. The strike of several thousands of the mine workers has the aim of raising their wages to a livable sum of 12,000 Rand ($1,400) a month. (By comparison South African police salaries range around 15,000-20,000 Rand monthly.)

The strikes were originally organized by the National Union of Mineworkers, the largest union in South Africa. However, ACMU, described by media as a “rival union,” has been in the forefront of the workers’ resistance struggle against the mining monopolies.

An August 18 Guardian article quotes several miners expressing their contempt for the mine owners. “‘Lonmin treat us like dogs,’ said Thembelani Khonto, 24. ‘When you’re underground, it’s like you’re a slave and they don’t know you. But on the surface people who don’t do anything in offices are earning more than us.'”

“Siphiwo Gqala, 25, said he sometimes spends up to 14 hours a day underground but does not receive overtime pay. ‘It’s dangerous work,’ he said. ‘Sometimes you go down there and a rock falls and you die. Big vehicles can come and kill you.’ Recalling the August 16 massacre, he said: ‘I’ve never seen something like that: people killed like chickens. One of my friends is still missing. I don’t know if he’s in the hospital or the mortuary.'”

Right from the outset of the strike on August 10 the company set the South African police against the workers. Four mineworkers were shot and wounded at the Lonmin platinum mine at Nkangeng near Rustenburg. On August 13, three miners were killed by police, when police allegedly opened fire in self-defence after two policemen were killed.

On August 16, mineworkers were anticipating negotiations with company representatives but, at the last minute, they cancelled the meetings and said the “matter would now be in the hands of the police.” The massacre took place when police opened fire on a large crowd of the mine workers angry at this turn of events. It has all the earmarks of a planned provocation to simply break the strike by unleashing massive anarchy and violence by police armed with automatic weapons against the mineworkers. Witnesses say many of those shot had bullet wounds in their backs.

South African President Jacob Zuma, head of the African National Congress government expressed his “shock and dismay” at the mass killing, ordered an official inquiry and said blame must be set aside until the inquiry is complete. His statement did not condemn the police action. Since then, not a few have been quick to suggest the police acted appropriately. This suggests the miners were to blame. All of it is used to guarantee that the miners’ just demands receive no attention whatsoever and that the filthy rich mine owners can continue to treat them like slaves.

The last time such a police massacre occurred in South Africa was in Soweto in June of 1976 where more than 700 youth were killed by South African police. The massacre sparked a national rebellion, the Soweto Uprising, that lasted (with ups and downs) until the demise of the apartheid regime.

A comparison of the two events, one in Apartheid South Africa, the other in post-Apartheid South Africa fifty-two years later, reveals they have something in common: the economy of this mineral rich country continues to be dominated by foreign, largely Anglo-American, finance capitalists who own the mining monopolies which harvest the rich mineral deposits through the super-exploitation of South Africa’s mine workers. Eighteen years after the South African people finally overthrew Apartheid, the rich still get richer, while the South African masses face ever increasing poverty and misery.

There is growing frustration amongst the people of South Africa for a new direction to their economy. Many call for the nationalization of South African mines, a call that resonates with the mineworkers, and especially the younger generation.

The present strike struggle and its brutal repression by the British monopoly Lonmin using South Africa’s police force to massacre the workers, underlines the growing division in the country between those who want to engage in a nation-building project using their rich mining assets to meet the needs of the South African people, and those who are servants of the capital-centred world of the monopolies headquartered in London and New York.

The deaths of the platinum mineworkers must be avenged on the basis of vigorously defending the rights of the mineworkers and people of South Africa to control their own lives. The demands for Lonmin to provide a living wage are entirely just. The people must control the direction of the economy and who it serves. Strike struggles today also necessarily encompass the political issue of making sure the neo-liberal vision for society is defeated and the people are able to govern themselves.

All workers stand shoulder to shoulder with the mineworkers and the people of South Africa to hold the perpetrators of this crime accountable. Those responsible for the killing of the mineworkers, the owners of Lonmin, must be at the centre of the inquiry into the deaths otherwise the inquiry will be a fraud. It is as simple as that. What would be its aim? It is not acceptable to make the aim an investigation into whether the killings were warranted. That is not an option. Justice for the South African mineworkers!

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