Marikana: Why the deafening silence?

Jeremy Gordin says he's still waiting for a squeak of anguish from Vavi & Co.

1. Silent Night, Unholy night

I like it here in the dead of night, if it's not too cold. We're half-way down - or up - Wicklow Avenue, Parkview. At 3am, when there's no traffic whatsoever, it's very silent.

It's so silent that one night I heard a woman screaming; it seemed to be happening just next to my right shoulder. On venturing out to save her or get hurt as well, I found she was actually three blocks down the road. The hill going down towards the golf course, with walls on either side, acts as a sort of funnel that magnifies sound. (We'll have reason to talk of funnels or corrals in a moment.)

But in the early hours of Friday or Saturday or Sunday, during the week just gone by, I couldn't hear a damn thing. I strained my ears for a sound, till I thought my eardrums would pop. Still, I couldn't hear anything.

I was waiting for a cry - or even merely a squeak - of anguish from Zwelinzima Vavi, general-secretary of Cosatu and former organizer at the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM). Or maybe from Gwede Mantashe, the secretary-general of the ANC, who was SG of NUM until their 12th National Conference in May 2006 when he was succeeded by Frans Baleni.

Or maybe from Baleni, an apparently jovial fellow who receives a salary of R1, 4-million a year. Or perhaps from Kgalema Motlanthe, deputy-president of the beloved republic, who was one of NUM's SGs. Or how about Blade Nzimande, GS of the SACP? Or even his deputy, Jeremy Cronin?

I thought I would definitely hear from Mantashe, Nzimande and Vavi, as well as from Tony Yengeni, the alleged author of the Third Transition of the Fourth New Dawn, and Jackson "just one more tincture before I-go-go" Mthembu.

I was particularly hoping to hear from these five men because they, if I am not mistaken, were the brave men, the valiant men, the outspoken and fearless men, who led the charge against the Goodman Gallery and City Press in the matter of President Jacob Zuma's exposed peanut.

Yet, after 34 miners were gunned down and 78 were injured by the SA police services at Lonmin's Marikana mine near Rustenburg - which followed the deaths of 10 other people - there was not even a peep from these featherless bipeds.

Not a sound.

Well, I guess there's nothing to say when you weigh up the president's peanut versus 44 dead people - 34 of them gunned down in the dust by an inept, over-armed, and leaderless police force. 

On Saturday, I believe it was, in Braamfontein, Nzimande mumbled something about "labour brokering and sub-contracting [being] behind the deadly clashes between police and striking miners at Lonmin's Marikana mine in Northwest, which claimed 34 lives ...". (I'm quoting from a Citizen reporter, who was quoting on Sunday from a press release.)

Too little, too late, my china. And nothing from Vavi. And not much compassion around - well, none that I could hear or find.

And I was reminded of Ariel "Arik" Sharon, sitting somewhere near the edge of the canal in October 1973, and being told by the Commander of the South, General "Gorodish" Gonen, that he couldn't head out for the canal to try and save such men as were still alive because it was too risky and not according to plan.

And Sharon is understood to have replied: "You know, Gonen, if you had any balls, I'd tell you to bite them off and eat them."

2. Why the silence?

I touched on the reason for the deafening silence from those who count in my column last week. The coming out on strike by those men at Marikana - whether or not they were all genuine Rock Drill Operators (RDOs), whether or not they were all high on some bizarre muti, and whether or not they were all happily operating under the aegis of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) and Joseph Mathunjwa - their strike action signified one very important thing: the end of NUM hegemony.

Charles Van Onselen put it in his usual elegant manner in RW Johnson's piece on Marikana (see here): "The troubles at the mine have their root in the ongoing disintegration of the National Union of Mineworkers. The NUM is the biggest union and its leaders provide the labour federation, Cosatu, the Communist Party and the African National Congress with many of their leaders.

"So this is the entire spinal column of the ANC alliance which is fragmenting. The police have been quite routinely tolerant of violence - as during the xenophobic riots when over 60 were killed - but this time they drew a line in the sand because that is what the NUM and the ANC wanted."

I don't know if the "entire spinal column" of the ANC alliance has disintegrated; that might be a slight exaggeration. But I do think Cosatu (think of the organisation as a man, think of it as Vavi, if you can bear/bare it) is suddenly standing on a bare stage with a bright spotlight on it - and with its trousers around its ankles.

Of course they have been falling for some time; but now it's actually happened. It's not rocket science really. "The working class can kiss my ass/ I have the foreman's job at last." That pretty much sums it up, doesn't it?

Besides, the Mineworkers Investment Company (MIC) has tons of boodle; everyone in the upper echelons of the unions and Cosatu is getting a handsome salary these days and pontificating about the state of the nation, and so on and so forth.

3. Inquiry?

There is going to be a judicial commission of inquiry into the massacre. I am not entirely certain why. It's going to take time and money. Yet it seems to me that it was clear what happened from the footage that Al-Jazeera had on its website on Thursday night. And seems to me that General Bantubonke Holomisa had it correct in parliament yesterday.

The cops corralled the strikers with razor wire, leaving only a narrow funnel through which the men could move. Then the cops shot tear gas at them, to disperse them. So they fled through the one space are that was open, the funnel.

Standing opposite this opening were the lines of cops you saw on TV. The strikers couldn't really see them properly because of the tear gas (and vice-versa) - and no one had told the waiting cops that the strikers were going to be fleeing through the hole in the barbed wire. The waiting cops saw this crowd of strikers coming at them - and opened fire.

What do they give these guys these days? I've lost track. The R4? The R5? Which can fire about 600 rounds a minute? Surprising that only 34 people were gunned down.

In brief; the strikers weren't attacking anyone; they were on the run. You don't believe me? How come there were no police injuries at all?

4. The strikers & Amcu

Politicsweb's Ratcatcher had a good piece yesterday (see here) pointing out that the no one in the media had apparently bothered to verify the R4 000 salary figure over which the strikers were apparently striking.

It was actually deputy general-secretary Gideon du Plessis of trade union Solidarity, not terribly popular with the lefties and sickly liberals, such as me and, say, Justice Malala, who reported that "The adjusted total cost package of a Lonmin rock drill operator is approximately R10 500 a month, excluding bonuses."

I take the Ratcatcher's point but does it really matter - now - precisely what salary level the strike was about?  Clearly, the Marikana miners were upset, dismayed, fired up - and wanting more money. Seems to me the real question is this: why did the police shoot down a mob of men who were fleeing tear gas?

The Ratcatcher also seemed interested in Du Plessis having noted that "the rock drill operators and their representative union, Amcu, did not submit written demands nor declare a wage dispute, which is the norm in a process of collective bargaining."

So? Those guys out there had gone past all that stuff - isn't that clear by now? And no one was paying any attention until they started hacking people up.

But if you are interested in Amcu and Mathunjwa, there was a piece written on 2 August by Jan de Lange (see here) as part of the Miningmx Mining Yearbook. It's a fascinating read. You might find the following excerpts interesting:

Archie Palane, at the time Deputy General Secretary of the NUM, was sent to investigate the charge against Mathunjwa, but found the local chair had done nothing wrong. Another official from Johannesburg was sent for the same reason, but he also found no reason to discipline Mathunjwa.

However, Gwede Mantashe, then the union's General Secretary, insisted that Mathunjwa appear before a disciplinary hearing chaired by Mantashe himself.

Mathunjwa refused as he had previously clashed with Mantashe over the handling of money paid by employers to a job creation trust. Mathunjwa insisted that an independent person should chair the hearing, not Mantashe.

And this:

Mathunjwa was, however, very popular among the workforce. Among other notable successes he forced the management of Douglas to implement a bonus system for underground workers. When a worker had died under mysterious circumstances, Mathunjwa forced management to not only deliver the body to the family in Mozambique , but also to accompany the body and explain in person the circumstances surrounding the death.

And finally this:

... a gradual change had taken place in the profile of the NUM membership over the last 15 years; one that nobody had taken notice of.

The NUM was originally borne out of the lowest job categories of South African mineworkers, mainly from gold mines. More than 60% of its members were foreigners, mostly illiterate migrant labourers who were not interested in a career path.

Nowadays that number has dropped to below 40%. On the other hand, an increasing portion of the NUM's membership comes from what can be described as white-collar mining staff, who had previously been represented exclusively by Solidarity and Uasa. The local NUM structures in Rustenburg, like the branch office bearers and the shop stewards, are dominated by these skilled, higher level workers. They are literate, well spoken and wealthy compared to the general workers and machine operators underground.

For instance, there are two NUM branches at Implats - North and South. And the chairpersons at both these branches were beneficiaries of the 18% bonus that sparked the strike.

During wage negotiations in September 2011 Implats wanted to give rock-drill operators a higher increase than the rest of the workforce, but a committee of NUM shop stewards demanded the money be split among the whole workforce. Needless to say, there wasn't a single rock-drill operator on the shop stewards' committee. The NUM head office moved quickly after the strike to correct the situation, but it was way too late.

It is circumstances like these that become an entry point for a rival union. It is a fairly well-established principle in industrial relations that the interests of different categories of workers are not aligned. They differ vastly, especially in societies where inequality is as extreme as in South Africa.

5. Enter Little Julie

And so on Saturday Little Julie Malema walked where apparently neither President Jacob Zuma nor NUM president Senzeni Zokwana could go with impunity - and launched an anti-Zuma, an anti-Nathi Mthethwa, and an anti-Cyril Ramaphosa barrage.

Then he returned yesterday to help the miners lay charges of murder against the police.

I love the farce. But it doesn't bring back any dead people or provide money for their extended families.

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