Today marks the ninth anniversary of Marikana massacre. The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) is remembering the 34 workers who lost their lives on this day, on the 16th of August 2012. They were murdered by the state, for simply demanding a living wage of just R12500 per month. Ten workers were also killed in labour unrest in the days leading up to the massacre, bringing the total number of deaths to 44.
The ANC government committed the ultimate betrayal that day by defending white monopoly capital, against the workers’ just demands for a living wage. By sending in the army to resolve a wage dispute, they knew the only outcome would be bloodshed. Workers at Marikana were only demanding R12500 but their demands, cost them their lives, and their families are continuing to pay that price.
The ANC led government has also failed to live up to its promises to compensate the families of the victims. But perhaps, what is the most shameful, is the legacy which this government has created, after being elected into power in 1994.
Since the massacre in Marikana, the ANC government has continued its unrelenting attack on workers and their families. A poverty national minimum wage of R20 per hour was introduced to allow employers to justify paying as little as possible, even though innumerable studies have shown that the gap between CEO’s and the lowest paid workers in South Africa is unacceptably high. And there is no one who can raise their family whilst earning only R20 per hour, it is not the kind of income which can sustain life.
The ANC has also contributed directly to the job loss blood bath by restructuring and retrenching workers in sate owned entities. It is also breaking up SOE’s and it is selling them off for a song to its politically connected friends, as they seem to have done in the SAA deal. This brutal ANC government has implemented an austerity budget during a time of the covid-19 pandemic and it has slashed the budget for health and social spending. We are paying more for electricity so that the capitalist owners of Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer’s (REIPP’s) can get rich, whilst Eskom collapses further into debt. We recently experienced uprisings and lootings, driven partly by extreme hunger, poverty and frustration as people grow more and more fed up with government’s failure to deliver on basic services.
We must also never forget the 144 people who lost their lives at Life Health Esidimeni, because the Gauteng Health Department was neglectful and chose profits over taking proper care of vulnerable people. We dare not forget Andries Tatane who was murdered by police for simply participating in a service delivery protest to demand water for the residents of Ficksburg. Since 1994, this government has shown us in many different ways that it is anti-black, anti-poor and anti-working class by creating the most unequal country in the world, where more than 40% of the population languish in unemployment and poverty.
We have noted the statement by the ANC on the Marikana Massacre which was issued today where they say: “South Africans can take comfort from the fact that since the tragic events of that period, industrial relations in the mining sector continue to improve. We are heartened to note that stakeholders – workers, employers and the state – have taken to heart the harsh lessons learnt from Marikana. As South Africans, we must make a solemn pledge never to allow the eruption of another Marikana.”
We think members of the ANC leadership are living on another planet. They must show us evidence of how employers in the mining sector have learned lessons since Marikana. In our experience, there is little evidence to suggest that employers have learned any lessons or made any significant changes to improve conditions. If anything, things are the same, or they have worsened. Since covid-19 workers in some mining companies suffered because they were being denied UIF TERS payments, whilst at the same time mine bosses were violating health and safety regulations every day. It is only because of our intervention as a trade union, where we stood firm, and we were able to defend our members, and that is how some of those issues have now been resolved.
Workers in the mine sector continue to be exposed to appalling health and safety conditions, and their salaries, overall, remain low. They remain profoundly exploited, in some cases, just as they were under Apartheid. This is not surprising given that the South African capitalist economy is racist in character. It has its origins in colonialism and slavery and it has not transformed at all. This is at the heart of the ANC’s failure – the fact that it has refused to intervene in the economy in order to benefit the majority of people. Furthermore, it has refused to take on the bold task of nationalizing the land, the mines and all the mineral wealth, so that we can generate wealth for the benefit of our entire society, instead of only enriching only a few.
The sacrifices for a living wage which were made on this day, should not be in vain. The least we can do as a trade union to honour those who died, is to fight with all our power in every sector where we are organized, for a living wage because this is what the working class has been demanding since 1955.