The first lesson of the massacre is this – the time of celebrating past anti-apartheid heroism is over. The irony of having the former National Union of Mineworkers and ANC General Secretary, Cyril Ramaphosa, as a director on the LONMIN board just says it all. In respect of the traditional importance of burying the dead near their ancestors and families, his R2million offer towards their funerals will be helpful, but not enough. Non-executive director or not, Ramaphosa should commit himself to investigate and correct all mis-management that led to this disaster, under conditions of full transparency, or if he cannot, divest himself of any further interest in the company. That’s taking real responsibility, as a shareholder representative.
This leads us to the culpability of the mine management, who bypassed the collective bargaining processes to establish differentiated conditions amongst its workforce, sparking the wild-cat protests. Many, many lives have been lost in the establishment of our industrial relations system. our system has many flaws, not the least that it is inherently structurally unstable due to the grave differentials between the ceiling and floor of earnings within the country, company and workplace. The arrogance and disrespect shown by LONMIN management to this reality should not go unrecognised. Whoever was responsible for this decision should resign, and issue a statement acknowledging culpability. Furthermore, their replacements at LONMIN management should recognise whomever the strikers elect as their leaders. The ability to recognise a crisis and respond accordingly is an essential requirement of management. LONMIN failed dismally in this respect.
Then there are the police. This massacre and the total disregard for the protection of lives, even of those who were aggressive and armed (although the exact extend of this has to be established), is a direct result of the modelling of the police as an armed force rather than a service. A judicial enquiry may reveal the actual culpability of those who made the decision and took action, but as citizens we are entitled to hold our elected representatives accountable for the decisions and actions of those under their command. The appointment of Cele, the introduction of military titles and the blatant culture of use of force as a first resort has taken place under the watch of the current minister of police and his deputy. They should resign with immediate effect and be replaced by politicians committed to a police service that holds the protection of human life supreme.
Last, but by no means least, there are the unions. As the largest COSATU affiliate, the NUM is “kingmaker” amongst our unions. It influences every ANC party election, and through this, parliamentary and cabinet positioning. Yet it is as vulnerable on the workplace as any other union. It cannot afford to neglect consistent and comprehensive grassroots organisation and voice at the workplace. This is no easy task, because it requires the union to at all-time have its primary articulation being that which furthers the interests of its workers, even at the cost of its king-making role.
The massacre has brought home the political reality, which should not be too difficult for the NUM leadership to openly face and acknowledge, that the class interests of the NUM are easier shared with the leaders of its bitter rival at LONMIN, AMCO, than with their allies in the ANC NEC. If they have the courage to do this openly the will destroy the spurious argument that NUM or COSATU officials, by virtue of earning a decent wage (contrary to the workers whose conditions their life’s work is dedicated to improve) and perhaps even, horror of horrors, by residing in the suburbs, are losing touch with the rank and file.
For if this were true, how could Julius Malema, king of bling, just fly in from London and address the striking workers to welcome applause? Do these commentators really think those strikers are not aware that Malema’s wealth is one hundred times greater than any union official? Populist demagogue par excellence, Malema tells them what they want to hear, and they welcome him because of this. As a union official or leader, you cannot always do this. Even the leader of AMCO tried to dissuade the strikers and failed. There are no easy solutions, but one thing is very clear. As labour the NUM and COSATU have to unambiguously condemn the firing and killing of striking workers, and not exempt any power broker, whether their allies in the ANC leadership battle; mine management or the police from culpability in this regard.
- Sahra Ryklief is Secretary General of IFWEA, and an experienced South African labour activist and educator
See our coverage on Snip.It here.
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