Marikana: 4-reasons we reject Ramaphosa's non-apology - NUMSA

Irvin Jim says ANC DP's actions as a Lonmin board member were telling

Four reasons why NUMSA rejects Cyril Ramaphosa’s un-apology for Marikana

The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa, (NUMSA) rejects the un-apology made by the Deputy President of the country and the ANC, Cyril Ramaphosa, regarding his role in the Marikana Massacre. At the time of the tragedy, Ramaphosa was a director at Lonmin, the thoroughly discredited mining house that was at the epicenter of the events that transpired. His board membership of Lonmin came as a result of his political connections.

Ramaphosa wasted no time and put his connections straight to use, pulling strings in the background to ensure that the mining house continued to house miners in apartheid style conditions and persisted in paying them slave wages while suffering no consequences. Ramaphosa’s actions a few days before the Massacre were telling.

In an email which he sent to Lonmin’s chief commercial officer, Albert Jamieson, the day before the fateful killing of workers on August 16, 2012, Ramaphosa described the strike action taken by the miners as ‘dastardly criminal acts’ which required ‘concomitant action’ from authorities to address the situation. Ramaphosa’s apology nearly five years later is no more than empty words. There is no substance whatsoever to his expression of regret and below are five reasons why:

1. At the time that the miners of Marikana were shot down by South African police Ramaphosa was a board member of Lonmin. The labour dispute which sparked the violent strike at Marikana was precipitated by poor wages and terrible working and living conditions of miners in the area. Ramaphosa’s past experience as a trade unionist and founder of NUM did nothing to improve the conditions of miners in Marikana. Under his watch as a Lonmin executive the majority of miners lived, and continue to live, in the same hovels which existed under Apartheid.

It was the dehumanizing experience of living in squalor, in shacks with no water, no electricity or basic sanitation services, that the demand for a living wage of R12 500 was made. Ramaphosa had the power as an executive to make decisions which could have vastly improved the lives of the miners, but he chose not to. Instead, when the interests of white monopoly capital were threatened, and workers were forced to go on an illegal strike, because they had organizational problems with the trade union of their choice, the National Union of Mineworkers (which he helped establish) he called for and colluded with the minister of police to end the strike, by any means necessary. Why did Ramaphosa not use his skill as a negotiator in the union to find a solution?

During the Farlam Commission hearings it was found that the state planned for the massacre by ordering several mortuary vans in advance, therefore any claims by officials that the killings were unintentional are hollow. And now Ramaphosa is part of the same government that refuses to compensate the widows of the miners and the injured. He now dares to apologise, almost five years after the fact, and at a time when it’s politically expedient for him.

2.  The National Minimum Wage is further evidence that Ramaphosa is lying when he claims that he cares about workers. He has been spearheading a campaign, on behalf of big business to legalize R20 per hour as a minimum wage so that workers in South Africa can be exploited far more than they are already. There can be no radical economic transformation when workers are earning less than R3500 per month, and yet that is precisely what Ramaphosa is advocating for. We live in a country of extreme inequality, rampant poverty, and an unemployment rate of at least 25%.

The miners of Marikana were shot and killed, for daring to demand a living wage of R12500 as a living wage, and the deputy president responds by implementing a minimum wage which will have no impact on alleviating poverty and inequality. In fact his proposal of a R3500 salary spits on the graves of the martyrs of the Marikana Massacre. The only way he can redeem his blood stained legacy would be for him to propose a minimum wage of R12500, in honour of the sacrifices made by those who were murdered by this government on that day.

3.  Ramaphosa, and the ANC which he leads have spent the last 23 years defending and protecting white monopoly capital, and they will continue to do so. On the one hand Ramaphosa claims that radical economic transformation is an imperative, but at the same time, he keeps celebrating the NDP (National Development Plan) as the vehicle through which this transformation will be achieved. He uncritically celebrates a constitution with a property clause that maintains the current status quo where white monopoly capital and the white population continue to own 90% of South Africa’s wealth and the economy, whilst blacks and Africans, continue to be at the bottom of the food chain languishing in poverty. The NDP together with its predecessor GEAR are neo-liberal economic policies which have been harmful to workers and their families for the past 23 years.

The ANC as the governing party, has refused to use its majority in parliament to implement policies of nationalization which would radically transform the lives of the African majority immediately. They have refused to nationalize the land; the banks as well as the commanding heights of the economy. Instead they continue to pursue neo liberal capitalist economic policies which are responsible for the suffering of workers and their families. The ANC is fighting to ensure that this oppressive economic system which is characterized by low pay, and poor working conditions continues, because they want to please ratings agencies and foreign investors – they don’t care about African majority which elected them into power.

4.  Ramaphosa and the ANC have launched a shameless attack on the working class, which is reminiscent of the right wing policies of Margaret Thatcher, the former British Prime Minister. The Deputy President is driving legislation that will tamper with the constitutional right of workers to strike. This former trade unionist is fighting to undo all the work that workers in South Africa fought and died for under Apartheid. Whilst the lives of millions of South Africans haven’t changed much since the days of Apartheid, Ramaphosa has undergone a personal radical economic transformation of epic proportions. In the past two decades he has gone from trade union leader, to big business billionaire and union basher. He is promoting the kind of radical economic transformation which empowers a small elite at the expense of the African working class majority. He is a billionaire who is not wasting any time in ensuring he acts in the interest of his class – the capitalist class, of which he is a proud member.

As NUMSA we cannot take the utterances of the Deputy President seriously.  Ramaphosa and the ANC that he leads do not have any solutions for the working class. It is also clear that his apology is nothing more than a brazen attempt to get workers to support his bid for the presidency of the governing party. For the last 23 years the ANC has bent over backwards in an attempt to please big business, for example, by commercializing the roads through e-tolls and allowing labour brokers to flourish. They even went as far as implementing a Youth Wage subsidy, where they basically pay employers for hiring young people and exploiting them with poor wages! It was the ANC’s senseless pursuit of rampant capitalism which eventually forced NUMSA to reject President Jacob Zuma and the ANC.

When we criticize Ramaphosa, we are not narrow in our analysis. We cannot support anyone from the ANC because we know that the ANC does not have any solutions for the challenges facing the poor and the working class of South Africa. It is bizarre therefore, that given extensive evidence to the latter, that any credible labour or leftist movement would still remain in the alliance when the governing party, has done nothing but show workers the middle finger! We are not part of the ideological confusion created by COSATU and the South African Communist Party who have involved themselves in the ANC’s factional battles. They are mobilizing workers to support and vote for their worst butcher by endorsing Ramaphosa as a viable candidate to replace Zuma. They are driven purely by selfish interests.

NUMSA does not suffer from this kind of ideological confusion. We are proud of our reputation in the labour movement as a truly militant, worker-driven formation. After 30 years in the battle for workers, we remain, not just the largest worker-led formation in the country, but we have a clear working class agenda which we will continue to pursue.

Statement issued by Irvin Jim, NUMSA General Secretary, 8 May 2017