Defend the South African Miners’ Struggle!
(see supplementary note at the end of this article)
On August 16, 2012, 34 striking miners at the Lonmin Platinum Mine in Marikana, South Africa were murdered by South African cops during a protest; 78 more workers were wounded. A wave of anger and outrage swept South Africa and the world labor movement. African National Congress (ANC) politicians, the South African Communist Party (SACP) and the “official” union federation, COSATU, placed the blame for the violence on the strikers and their independent union, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU). So far, 44 have died in this strike, including two policemen and two private security guards.
However, recent autopsy reports reveal that the majority of the dead were shot in the back while fleeing from police gunfire. Now, 270 miners arrested during protests face murder charges for the deaths of their comrades who were gunned down by cops!
Led by the rock drillers, who do the most dangerous work in the mine, the Lonmin miners, are demanding wage raises from 4000 Rand to 12,500 Rand per month. This works out in US dollars to a raise from $475 per month to $1486. Mining is dirty, dangerous work. Miners are exposed to dust and cave-ins — which can result in disease, injury or death. Dust-related diseases like silicosis and tuberculosis kill hundreds of miners and ex-miners annually. Many former miners have been permanently disabled by disease or injury.
These mines are highly profitable for the capitalists. The Marikana mine reportedly earns the bosses $3.5 million per day. South Africa produces 75 percent of the world’s platinum, which is used in high tech electronics and jewelry. While South Africa has the most developed economy in Africa, the vast majority of Black workers have not benefited from this wealth. The majority live in conditions that are little changed from the Apartheid era.
the crisis facing South African workers
Forty percent of South Africans live on less than $2.50 US per day — 25 percent live on less than $1.25. The official unemployment rate is 25 percent, more than 40 percent for Black workers. Sixty three percent of Black women are unemployed. Youth unemployment from ages 16-24 is higher than 50 percent.
The white unemployment rate is 5.1 percent. For South Africans of Indian descent the unemployment rate is 17.1 and for mixed race or “colored” South Africans unemployment is about 20 percent.
Half of the population lives on approximately 8 percent of the national income. Meanwhile, the white settler minority lives a comfortable existence.
60 percent of national income goes to the top 20 percent. The average black worker makes 12,000 rand per year ($1525 US). A white worker averages 65,400 rand ($8,270 US). A small layer of wealthy Blacks exists but income and wealth distribution is still largely along racial lines.
Dutch colonizers, called Afrikaners, created a horrific racial caste system that super-exploited the Black majority working class. Apartheid South Africa was the target of international human rights campaigners and the scene of mass struggles and strikes led by the ANC and its allies in the unions and the SACP. Heroic anti-apartheid fighters faced state repression, murder and imprisonment. The racist regime imprisoned thousands, including children. Massacres at Sharpeville and Soweto sent shock waves around the world.
The apartheid regime also acted as a proxy of imperialism, attacking the newly independent frontline states of Angola, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. The defeat of South African invaders, with the assistance of Cuban forces, at Cuito Cuanavale, Angola, contributed to the demise of apartheid.
The combination of an international campaign to isolate the regime through boycotts, sanctions and divestment and the mass struggles of the South African masses endangered the rule of the white settler ruling class. The expectation of many international solidarity activists, and of the South African people, was that the end of apartheid would result in the socialist transformation of the nation.
However, the ANC leadership negotiated a deal for a transition to democracy that left the property of white capitalists untouched and dropped the promise of socialism from the Freedom Charter. ANC cadres have enriched themselves and worked to dampen the expectations of the South African people. For example, there are allegations that President Zuma engaged in corruption, taking kickbacks when he was Vice-President. Also, Cyril Ramaphosa, former head of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), is now a millionaire businessman and is a director of Lonmin! Another former head of the NUM, James Matlatsi, became chairman of AngloGold and former NUM General Secretary, Marcel Golding, became a billionaire through involvement with the corporation, Hoskin Consolidated Investments.
Of course, some gains, in the form of clean drinking water and electricity provided to townships, have been won. But persistent poverty, rising costs of food and essentials and high unemployment make these small gains insignificant. Today only 18 percent of Black households have running water, compared to more than 85 percent of white homes.
permanent revolution versus “national democratic” revolution
The SACP and their allies justify this sell out with the Stalinist theory of a “two-stage” National Democratic Revolution. (NDR) The NDR must first achieve the national-democratic tasks of the revolution. The struggle for socialism is deferred to a time when conditions are ripe.
Revolutionary socialists reject this concept of self-limiting revolution and put forward a very different strategy. Trotsky’s Theory of Permanent Revolution states that revolutions in colonial and neo-colonial countries start out by mobilizing the masses around democratic demands, as in the struggle against the racist apartheid system. They are immediately confronted by national capitalist forces, supported by Imperialism, which oppose the mobilizations of the people and seek to reverse any gains. The working class must create a workers government and nationalize the economy to insure that the basic democratic tasks are implemented.
The leadership of these revolutions must be in the hands of the working class and oppressed, because of the national bourgeoisie are incapable, as in this case, South African capitalists, of acting independently of imperialism. This is seen clearly in the way the national capitalists, Black and white, moved to prevent land reform and the nationalization of the vast natural mineral wealth of South Africa.
Regardless of how one views the current ANC government in South Africa, or which way the course of the South African revolution proceeds, working people around the world must build solidarity with the miners. We should be demanding an independent investigation of the killings at Marikana and all criminal charges against strikers must be dropped immediately. We urge supporters of the South African miners in cities where there are South African consulates to build united front solidarity actions.
Strikes spread (see below)
Since this was posted, we have learned that miners in the world’s fourth biggest gold mine have walked off in solidarity with the Lonmin miners. This points to the potential for a broader class struggle in South Africa. Bullion maker Gold Fields said 12,000 miners have been on a “unlawful and unprotected” strike at the KDC mine near Johannesburg since Wednesday.
according to the New York Times,
“Now, as the shock of the killings reverberates through the nation, the party that liberated South Africa is facing perhaps its gravest challenge since it took power in the country’s first multiracial elections in 1994: seething rage from the poor in one of the world’s most unequal societies and a sense that the A.N.C. has created a wealthy black elite, including men like Mr. Ramaphosa, without changing the lives of ordinary people.
“South Africa is a social, political and economic disaster waiting to happen,” said Aubrey Matshiqi, a political analyst. “The anger is there. All you need is a spark, and then you will have social and political and economic veld fires burning out of control.”