The demise of NUM hegemony?

Jeremy Gordin on what the carnage at Marikana mine may mean

Last evening I encountered Fred de Vries and the lovely Jo-Anne Richards at the launch of Mampoer (interesting that if you mis-type the second M and drop a W in, it becomes "manpower"), a new venture for Seffrican non-fiction writing in cyber space, the brainchild of Anton Harber, Antony Altbeker, Fred Withers, Irwin Manoim and someone called Noko Makgato, though the last-mentioned, mentioned in an earlier letter, was not mentioned last night.

Now, although "Mampoer" seems to me to be a tad "nineties" (mampoer, Herman Charles Bosman, early Jo'burg, drinking at the Troyeville Hotel, being really cool, hanging out with Rian Malan, though he wasn't there, etc, etc), it seems a great project, a wonderful idea - and I hope it all goes well.

Of course people such as the Bullfinch and I are not going to make it since we deal strictly in fiction ... but hey, maybe we could broaden our horizons.

But back to De Vries. He's a kaaskop, a Hollander, and, as you might know, Hollanders are not exactly famous for their subtlety. And he said to me - at which point Jo-Anne, a well-brought-up, young (well, sort of) lady from the Eastern Cape, was cringing - he said: "Why don't you shorten your pieces? Often I think to myself, ‘Well, ok, ok, you've made your point already, so ..."

I replied; "Well, you know, the discursive Gordin essay, kayaking from one part of my cerebral cortex to another, is a particular sort of art form, much loved by Politicsweb readers ..."

But Fred wasn't having any. And I thought: "Geez, if Fred has the same feeling as my various arch-enemies on Politicsweb, such as Plutarch (could Plutarch be Fred de Vries? Or could Plutarch be Denis Beckett?), well then, maybe I had better remember Hamlet's comment to Polonius (2.ii.462): "It shall to the barber's, with your beard." I.e., it's going to be bloody well trimmed, as is your beard. 

But, damn me, if I haven't already written 320 words - and I haven't even cleared my throat yet. Alright, well, let's get on - and I'll try to keep it tight, as the gusset man said to ... never mind. (Used to be a great English rugby player called Jeremy Gusset. Remember him? My deputy on Playboy, Shona Bagley, had a fat crush on him.)

Anyway, did you see The New Age (TNA) yesterday? Does anyone ever see The New Age?

It had as its page one headline yesterday the following:  "Unions in deadly ‘turf war'". The intro reads: "Nine lives have been lost in the latest ‘turf war' between the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) at Lonmin Platinum in North West."

Fascinating stuff, isn't it? Just like the good old days? It's as though it were yesterday (i.e. pre-1990).

When serious unrest, dismay and violence were the order of the day in the townships, when people wanted food or more money, what'd the Nats say? "Black on black violence". "The savages can't control themselves, you know." "A sjambok or two'll sort them out."

Are you with me? There's murder and death and dire, heart-wrenching unrest at the Lonmin mine/s - not because the conditions are lousy or because negotiations have broken down or because the miners and the local dwellers have come to the end of their tether - but merely because the union darkies are slugging it out.

No possibility, of course, that there might be some genuine grievances there. No possibility, of course, that there might be some real pain in that community. As I said, it's just those evil Marxist unions killing one another.

Plus ca change, plus c'est la même choseYebo baba.

And of course the presence of a new-style Seffrican representative of the capitalists, one Barnard Mokwena, who tells us in well-modulated English that he has absolutely no idea who the new union is - "no one has presented themselves to us, my goodness, I can't understand what's happening" - adds further fuel to one's feeling of déjà vu, although it's a sort of Kafkaesque feeling of déjà vu because Mr Barnard Mokwena, Executive Vice President for Human Capital and External Affairs, does not look at all like, say, the late Deon du Plessis (aka a caricature boer). He looks like, well, Mr Barnard Mokwena.

The point is that a publication such as TNA - a sycophantic, "good news" publication - can't blame the bosses because some of the fat cats on whom TNA and its owners rely on for largesse are the bosses these days (!); and they can't blame the workers because that's not done in Seffrica these days. So they get caught in this sort of no man's land of codswallop where it's all supposedly about unions struggling for turf.

By the way, for the record, according to Gertrude Makhafola of Sapa, "Management at the troubled Lonmin mine in the North West knew workers wanted higher wages, two employees said on Tuesday. ‘It is not true that the protest on Friday took them by surprise. Demands were brought to them last week,' Zamuxolo Matsheba said.

"He said rock drill operators approached management on Monday and Tuesday and presented the demand of a 12 percent salary increase. 'No one took time to listen to them. They then decided to march on Friday,' said Matsheba. Lonmin spokesman Barnard Mokwena said earlier on Tuesday that the company had not received demands from workers and was 'surprised' by the protests that started last Friday."

But - and now mark me, reader, mark me - having said all that, let me say I think that in a certain way the carnage at Marikana mine is about union warfare - and I think it is very significant.

I think that what we have before our eyes is the demise of the NUM (National Union of Mineworkers) hegemony. This is serious; it is from NUM that some of our major leaders have come (Kgalema Motlanthe, Gwede Mantashe). And NUM is part of Cosatu and so this is also the end, to some extent, of the Cosatu hegemony.

Why? I suspect that, just as those people living in townships that are the pits, have become seriously unhappy with the ANC - and the fat cats who sail in her - so too have certain miners and their poverty-ravaged communities had enough of Cosatu - and all the fat cats who sail in her.

Look at Zwelinzima Vavi, the Cosatu GS, and those around him, and look at those heading up NUM. What do they seem to be busy with? A lot of bombast; a lot of politicking. I don't think a rock-drill operator in an industry under pressure is much interested in their politicking. So he and his buddies decide to get their own union going. NUM doesn't like that; nor does Cosatu; nor does the ANC. I believe the claims by AMCU "officials' that Lonmin management has a cozy relationship with NUM; it's the way things have been done for quite a while now.

No wonder Mr Mokwena looks so dumbfounded. I suspect that if we could see the faces of the office bearers of NUM and Cosatu, they might be equally so.

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