||Will millions of disgruntled South Africans one day generate a political force capable of breaking what are now disastrous sweetheart relations between state, ruling party, labour aristocrats, parasitical local capital and multinational corporate mining houses? Even if the Marikana massacre, the workers’ 22 percent wage settlement and subsequent wildcat strike wave are opening the largest cracks in the façade so far, nevertheless the various oppositional ideologies in civil society don’t yet cohere.
The loudest call for economic freedom, by expelled ANC Youth League leaders, shook the establishment when Julius Malema made several post-Marikana visits to mining towns. But his version of populist nationalism repels many, given the baggage of bling hypocrisy.
In competition, South Africa’s ‘independent left’ includes the Democratic Socialist Movement – whose activists are networking the mineworkers in spite of ongoing police harassment – and the relatively broad-based Democratic Left Front and Marikana Support Campaign. Another left faction led by Johannesburg’s Khanya College broke away with a ‘We are all Marikana’ movement, resolutely opposed to any legitimation of Cosatu’s Alliance relationship.
Though some socialist activists sense a ‘pre-revolutionary’ situation, given that communities and workers protest at amongst the highest rates in the world, the lack of connectivity is a crippling problem. As one reflection, international solidarity has been uncoordinated notwithstanding ripe conditions, witnessed by at least a dozen spontaneous protests which broke out at SA embassies and consulates after August 16, or by an international NGO demand that the World Bank divest its $150 million investment stake in Lonmin.
Although an impressive revival of the Black Consciousness tradition has occurred over the last decade, the sole public intervention on Marikana by the September National Imbizo was to visit two days after the massacre to begin the reconstruction of events, but without subsequent activism.
As for feminists, there is hope that Marikana women organising across the divides of labour and community can set the example so desperately needed to connect the dots elsewhere in the society, including on nearby terrains ranging from mining dorpies to land struggles.
There are also progressives long associated with the ANC, but who after 1994 continued liberation work mainly from civil society. Organisations which jumped into the political breech with much needed legal support to Marikana activists include the Socio-Economic Rights Institute and Section 27.
What of the official ‘left’? Business Day newspaper publisher Peter Bruce wrote shortly after the massacre, ‘What’s scary about Marikana is that, for the first time, for me, the fact that the ANC and its government do not have the handle they once did on the African majority has come home. The party is already losing the middle classes. If they are now also losing the marginal and the dispossessed, what is left? Ah yes, Cosatu and the communists – Zuma’s creditors.’
It is surreal to find trade union and communist leaders so anxious about worker revolt, reflected in Cosatu president Sidumo Dlamini’s recent chilling request to ANC war veterans to use ‘their guerrilla military skills to work with us on the ground to defend’ against ‘demagogues who are seeking political survival by all means and at all costs.’
Meanwhile, liberals just as frightened by Marikana appeal for a ‘social partnership’, because, as Business Day columnist Steven Friedman put it, such a strategy ‘has not failed us – it has not been tried.’
State, labour and business leaders did indeed meet in mid-October, issuing apparently meaningless statements against wildcat strikes. President Zuma followed up with an appeal to freeze executive salaries – already at obscene levels – but thanks to his Nkandla decorating splurge, the call was mainly ridiculed.
And such words don’t pay the bills facing workers, whose desperation continues, in mining, trucking, automobile production, municipal work and much in between. In a survey done just prior to Marikana, the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report placed South Africa in lead position for adverse employee-employer relations, rising from 7th place out of 144 countries last year in this measure of class struggle.
Reacting to the turmoil, major ratings agencies downgraded the country’s bond rating. The resulting higher interest rates will cause yet more state fiscal pressures as well as household and business repayment stress. Given South Africa’s vulnerability to Europe’s crisis and the ongoing refusal of the neoliberal Treasury and Reserve Bank to tighten exchange controls against massive capital outflow, the local economy could soon head into recession.
Politically, even if the contending ideologies appear inadequate to the tasks at hand on the platinum and gold mining belt and so many other workplaces and communities, the last few weeks demolished any remaining illusions that ‘national liberation’ forces can take South Africa to genuine economic freedom and a new society.
Marikana will continue to have that effect, I suspect, so long as protesters keep dodging police bullets and continue placing socio-economic contradictions on centre stage, from where the ‘Pretoria regime’ could either arrange a properly fascist backlash – a distinct possibility given the brutal state of SA policing – or simply shrink, under Zuma’s misrule, in confusion.
(Patrick Bond directs the UKZN Centre for Civil Society.)