Message from Marikana

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

The apartheid-style execution of mine-workers, in the rural dust of Marikana, has alarmed comrades of the Rainbow Nation. South Africa’s Deputy President, Kgalema Motlanthe has spoken. Conspicuous consumption in the midst of grinding poverty, he says, is an ingredient for revolution. He offers no programme for how the insurrection should be organised, an unpardonable omission for a liberation leader.

Jay Naidoo, former unionist and broadcast minister, is just as concerned.  “There is growing ferment in our land. The people in our townships, rural areas and squatter camps are bitter that democracy has not delivered the fruits that they see a tiny elite enjoying… All they see is the obscenity of shocking wealth and the chasm of inequality growing.”

In an emotional outburst Nobel laureate, Bishop Desmond Tutu castigated greedy politicians for creating the “nightmare’ of Marikana. “People are going to sleep hungry in this freedom for which people were tortured and harmed… It is difficult to believe people are getting such money and benefits, and are driving such flashy cars while the masses suffer in cramped shacks.”

As Mr. Naidoo says, democracy has not delivered. Waiting around is not going to make that happen either. Under the neo-liberal economic model, increasing shareholder value is the only legitimate goal. Altruism is a sin in Ayn Rand heaven where impersonal market forces rule.

Well-being is conflated with economic growth, a dangerous term that includes waste, war profiteering and unproductive speculation. We’re sold the idea that economic advance depends on how quickly the rich get richer so that there are more crumbs for the rest. Social spending on education, health, environment, services that enhance our quality of life – are determined by demand and the price consumers will bear. Money talks and the majority of people on the planet are therefore technically silent about the things they need.

Knowledge and information are refracted through the same market prism until most of us are left in the dark. National assets are flogged at bargain basement prices as part of a theology of corruption and crime that subsumes every instinct of decency. Democracy hasn’t delivered because it is simply a fig leaf to cover ruthlessness.

William Bowles directed the creation of the ANC’s Election Information Unit in 1994. His view – shared by many others who remained silent hoping for better – is that ordinary South Africans have been betrayed. The very comrades now bewailing the slaughter chose the path to Marikana.

“In South Africa a window of opportunity existed within which it was possible for progressive forces to gain an advantage. Not necessarily socialism but, as some advocated at the time, progressive structural changes could have been implemented in South Africa that would have been difficult to reverse, had the ANC had the desire to do so.  But from my observations from within the ANC’s election campaign it was clear that Mbeki and those around him had already thrown in their lot, first with Tony Blair’s Labour Party (major advisors in the run-up to the election) and second with Clinton’s Democratic Party. The deal was done…The final (literal) nail in the coffin of a potentially progressive South Africa was the assassination of Chris Hani…”

Indigenous reverence for the exiles, their contacts and connections may account for the ease with which the neo-liberal compact and the Rainbow Nation were packaged for Western corporations. Atavism provides a neat way of evading responsibility some 20 years later.  Mr. Naidoo says, “When I think of Marikana, I am reminded of Frantz Fanon in Wretched of the Earth: ‘Come, then, comrades; it would be as well to decide at once to change our ways. We must shake off the heavy darkness in which we were plunged, and leave it behind. The new day which is already at hand must find us firm, prudent and resolute’.”  He seems to forget he was a cabinet minister in real time but perhaps the passage will inspire others.

Vishwas Satgar of the Democratic Left Front suggests public attention was diverted from what was happening. “At one time, violent crime – car jackings, robberies, rapes, murders – defined our everyday understandings of violence…It has been our undeclared civil war.” The ‘Marikana moment’ has changed perceptions and there is a growing realisation that the South African state is waging a low intensity war against the working class.

This is true, not just in South Africa, but in every nation captured by globalisation. Even worse, such a war will become progressively more vicious in the absence of effective resistance.  Fred Goldstein in his book “Low Wage Capitalism” notes, “The principal feature of the present stage of globalisation is worldwide wage competition among the workers of the globe, organised by giant corporations that are orchestrating the depression of wages in a race to the bottom.”

In the last decade the active work force available to world capitalism and imperialism doubled from 1.5 billion to 3 billion. Transnational corporations are using technology to restructure production so that they can use the cheapest labour. South African workers, like workers everywhere, must slave for constantly decreasing wages or become surplus. Under this turbo-charged international division of labour, national wage levels are being depressed even in richer industrialized nations.

For the past 30 years, the real income of workers has fallen inexorably while social benefits have been slashed. Working conditions – even in the West- have become harsher and debt slavery the norm. In the current great depression, for which there is no end in sight, millions of workers face losing their homes. Vulnerable South Africans can only expect the worst.

But of course, none of this is necessary in the least. South Africans do not have to die in dangerous mine shafts or in the open air under a hail of bullets. Neither they nor their children have to endure deprivation in perpetuity. It is remarkable that a nation so long oppressed and streetwise should have been conned into believing it has no future.



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