A Platinum Spring
A sense of desperation and disillusionment has migrated south and settled among the downtrodden in the wake of North Africa’s ‘Arab Spring’, and it comes as no surprise.
It’s been fast as a swift seeking better climes, and examples of institutionalized mass murder perpetrated daily elsewhere in the world such as in Syria has instilled a sad cynicism that robs an otherwise compassionate observer of any real or lasting outrage. It’s now all par for the course.
Just a few months ago South Africans witnessed the slaying of Andries Tatane by police. Here it dealt with a single victim and drew media attention from across the globe. This time though 34 hapless miners set out three weeks ago to claim a greater slice of the platinum cake, but instead ended up dead at the hands of incompetent police.
It is just the beginning of more violent labour unrest ahead in South Africa and has provided manna from heaven for those with a personal political agenda keen to fan the flames of discontent among the disenfranchised. It is the stuff anarchy is made of, and activist threats of making the country ungovernable are gaining momentum with each atrocity committed by ill prepared police displaying a dismal level of training under poor leadership.
In this instance the police faced a hoard of angry workers imbued with a deeply ingrained cultural and social makeup. These played a massive role in their preparation for confrontation, none of which seem to have been taken into account by the authorities empowered to keep the peace in such circumstances.
Almost every miner had a traditional weapon clutched in his hand for the looming confrontation, and anyone with a simple understanding of conflict resolution among those nurtured in tribal South Africa will know that a sturdy stick or knobkerrie is often an extension of any black miners arm. This practice dates back hundreds of years, and has become an important and abiding cultural reality entirely forgotten or conveniently ignored by police in their planning to do deal with the sad confrontation at Marikana platinum mine.
It does not take a commission of enquiry to reach conclusions in this affair. The entire exercise was a catastrophic debacle and a perfect example of abysmal police preparation plus absurd leadership down the entire command chain.
In the nineteenth century special training was needed to deal with tribal faction fighting in remote parts of South Africa, and magistrates sat in special courts where consideration of circumstances surrounding this form of conflict resolution swayed all decision and judgement during proceedings.
To what extent this practice remains in force today is anyone’s guess, but judging by the clear lack of insight regarding the critical cultural factors inherent in any cross section of our black mining community the police leadership structure was completely out of touch in handling the Marikana crisis.
One must presume that president Jacob Zuma was deeply disturbed by what he witnessed at Marikana in the wake of the shootings, as he too walked the rugged valleys of remote Kwa-Zulu Natal as a young man clutching a traditional weapon, without which any Zulu preparing for adulthood was deemed naked. So it was with the Marikana miners who instinctively reached for their sticks when disillusionment set in regarding reliance on all forms of union negotiation that had either stalled or become futile.
So, without waiting for another decision from the endless stream of commissions empowered to study circumstances in the unfolding saga that is South Africa today, lets just agree that administration of the country is coming apart at the seams while every established guideline continues to be cast aside as it certainly was in this instance.
Consider also the nucleus of this particular dispute. Imagine you are a machinist drilling into the rock face deep underground on a daily basis at Marikana platinum mine, all the while relying on someone at union level to protect your interests when it comes to salary and benefits.
The allegation is that the national union of mineworkers (NUMSA) has become a toothless organization more concerned about personal issues at management level than the welfare of the miners it represents. A new union is now being formed and gaining momentum, but it too could become just another self serving group as alleged in this instance and will we see another Marikana type massacre before anything substantive is done to address the legitimate concerns of those working underground in the difficult and dangerous mining sector.
Will the road ahead be strewn with more Marikana’s, or is it a case of one swallow not making a summer. And, ultimately, is South Africa’s lasting winter of discontent just around the corner?.
Whatever the case, family members of the 34 slain miners are out in the cold and many children now go fatherless into the future.
That is a stark reality every policeman should consider carefully when next fingers are poised on a trigger.
A wise South African police instructor once told his class that when decision time arrived to use a weapon in the line of duty, first stick it where the monkeys stick their nuts before deciding to pull the trigger. Good thinking that, but what if it’s a monkey holding the gun?.
South Africa’s recently ousted police commissioner, Bheki (shoot to kill) Cele became an instant pariah with his ill-conceived utterance in the Annie Dewani murder case. He asked “Does he (the suspect) think we’re a bunch of monkeys”, or words to that effect. That remark sure takes on new meaning with the Marikana massacre, and should resound loudly in the ears of many.
From a purely political perspective events at Marikana have meant the rapid decline of Jacob Zuma as an effective president of South Africa, if ever he was. The buck stops at his doorstep in this instance and the death of 34 miners at Marikana platinum mine should indeed be the main reason for the nation to deny him any further part in governance of the country, plus certainly no chance of re-election for a second term of office at the helm.
As a parting thought, the relevance of fallen past president of the ANC youth league Julius Malema is now being seen in a completely new light by many in South Africa. He has been handed a massive vote of confidence in support of his calls for nationalization of the mines. Even at this early stage of his career he could quite easily seize political control of the country rather than simply continue as a king maker in support of any other alternative for Zuma’s position at the helm.
With Malema, at least you know exactly what you’re getting but whether his hands are clean enough to govern remains to be seen.
Do not be surprised now should ANC heavyweights fast track every effort to find enough dirt with which to proceed against Malema through judicial processes. Are the puppet masters frantically pulling every string as we speak?
-Mr. Rusty Van Druten is an award Winning retired Television news journalist that completed 2,800 assignments in Southern Africa as a camera reporter. Former Chief sub editor/Durban News Editor
Rusty van Druten contribution for The Hive Daily, September 2012.
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