The Marikana Massacre: The government that pulled the trigger and the workers who survived it

Revivifying what are only recent memories of massacres by the state during the apartheid era, the Marikana massacre occurred on 16th August 2012, when policemen shot down 112 striking mineworkers, killing 34. Resistance by the ANC and the press to label the incident a massacre (‘Marikana shootings’ was the preferred terminology) at once exposed the easy analogy between Marikana and previous mass shootings at Sharpeville or Soweto, the fraughtness of South Africa’s difficult reckoning with its past, and how violence and the covering up of violence remains an intrinsic part of South Africa’s political structures and institutions.

Luke Sinwell, co-author of The Spirit of Marikana  a fascinating recent history of post-Apartheid South Africa, emphasising the crucial role of workers in changing history – has written here about the fight for justice by the workers that survived the massacre and the prosecution of 72 police for their role in the events.

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The recent decision taken by the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) to prosecute 72 police for their role in the events related to South Africa’s Marikana massacre is welcome, but it may obscure the truth that the African National Congress (ANC) government pulled the trigger. The Sprit of Marikana: The Rise of Insurgent Trade Unionism tells the story of the agency of those workers who survived it.

On 16 August 2012, 34 black mineworkers were gunned down by the police in Marikana, a platinum mining community which is a two hour drive to the Northwest of Johannesburg. No police were killed or injured on the day and hence the event has been called a massacre. Judge Ian Farlam was tasked by the African National Congress (ANC) President Jacob Zuma to chair and subsequently provide the main findings and recommendations regarding the killings in Marikana which took place. The Marikana Commission of Inquiry then sat for 300 days.  By the end of June 2015, nearly three years after the historic killings, a final report was submitted by Farlam.lohmin mine

This report however was at best watered-down and failed to connect the dots regarding the chain reaction of government intervention which started from the top (through deputy President of the ANC Cyril Ramaphosa) and eventually led to an excessively forceful attack on thousands of striking mineworkers including the deployment of 782 policemen in Marikana, some of which were equipped with R5 rifles each capable of shooting 600 rounds of live ammunition per minute.

In evaluating the official evidence and findings, one is also struck by a certain liberal persuasion which infects the language of Farlam’s report, preventing him from seeing the evidence presented at the commission through the eyes of mineworkers.  Mineworkers are, throughout the report, homogenized into a mob intent on using violence, intimidation and killing as their main tactics of mobilization. While one cannot deny the existence of these tactics amongst what appears to be a minority of mineworkers, it is clear that this is a gross oversimplification given that, as the evidence indicates, the vast majority of mineworkers acted peacefully and simply sought to negotiate with those authorities who they came in contact with.

In this context, the IPID’s recent decision to prosecute 72 police for their role in killing the mineworkers is certainly welcome, but it does not get to the root cause of the killings. By now, I think most of those who look into what happened in Marikana will conclude that 16 August was no accident. It was a pre-meditated attempt to destroy the independent working class organization which was fermenting at Lonmin platinum mine in Marikana. At the commission of Inquiry, Ramaphosa claimed that ‘we are all to blame’. His testimony has unfortunately exemplified the government’s approach to dealing with killings at Marikana.marikana

As time passes this looks less and less like a diplomatic explanation that can reasonably be taken at face value and more like a malign attempt to over up the truth. From day one workers have known that truth. As the symbolic meaning of Marikana becomes sharpened and engrained in ordinary people’s minds, the idea that it was an unfortunate tragedy will become a thing of the past. What we need now is education campaigns as well as mass mobilisation in order to ensure that those who were responsible for the killings, are prosecuted and the justice for the mineworkers and their families is met.

Thirty-four mineworkers were massacred in Marikana, but that did not stop the determination of the mineworkers to remain united. Indeed, the infamous demand for R12,500 per month (equivalent to approximately $1000 per month and which workers were demanding from their employer when they were massacred), originated as a reasonable and hopeful request by Rock Drill Operators (RDOs) who undertake unbearable work, in extremely dangerous and scorching hot environment, only to arrive back in their homes in their corrugated iron shacks to await another tough day of work. My recent book, The Spirit of Marikana: The Rise of Insurgent Trade Unionism tells the story of the micro-processes through which mineworkers organized in order to emerge victorious despite the most extreme forms of state violence against civilians in the post-apartheid period. It brings the story to life through in-depth interviews with strike leaders who survived to tell their story.

To them the industrial action at Marikana and its surrounding areas the strikes were literally a matter of life and death. Many of the workers that I and my research team engaged with continue to vow that they would die, if not to realize their demand for a living wage, then for the rights of workers more generally. We have experienced Marikana and the platinum belt strike wave a step removed from these realities. Nevertheless we believe we have been closer to the action, both in physical proximity and in spirit, than virtually anyone else known to us who has done (or is likely to do) extensive research on this topic.

The Sprit of Marikana: The Rise of Insurgent Trade Unionism is a detailed ethnography story of the micro-politics of resistance that began prior to the massacre at Marikana and culminated in 2014 in the longest strike in South African mining history. It provides a classic example of how seemingly ordinary workers developed a critique of the hegemonic discourse of their employers, formed a counter-discourse based upon their lived experiences, and then undertook a series of actions in order to transform their reality and – unintentionally at first – the political face of South Africa.

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The Spirit of Marikana: The Rise of Insurgent Trade Unionism in South Africa by Luke Sinwell and Siphiwe Mbatha is available to buy from Pluto Press.

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Luke Sinwell is a Senior Researcher at the University of Johannesburg. He is co-author of Marikana: A View from the Mountain and a Case to Answer, co-editor of Contesting Transformation: Popular Resistance in Twenty-First-Century South Africa and the author of numerous articles on participatory democracy and contentious politics in South Africa. He is the General Secretary of the South African Sociological Association (SASA).

Israel, Migrants and the right to nationhood

Mya Guarnieri Jaradat’s new book, The Unchosenexamines Israel’s harsh and worsening treatment of these newcomers and in doing so presents a fresh angle on the Israel-Palestine conflict, calling into question the state’s perennial justification for mistreatment of Palestinians: ‘national security’. As we stand witness to mass deportations and charter flights, Guarnieri Jaradat’s blog forces us to confront the exclusionary and dispassionate preconditions imposed on those seeking to belong to a nation.

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The Unchosen: The Lives of Israel’s New Others, is a culmination of a decade’s worth of reporting on the lives of Southeast Asian migrant workers and African asylum seekers protest, Tel Aviv, Israel, 13.2.2014African asylum seekers in Israel. Studying these two groups of non-Jewish ‘others’ throws the Israeli claim that its treatment of Palestinians is predicated on security into harsh light; rather, it shows that Israel’s relationship with Palestinians and other non-Jews is predicated on racial separatism and couched in its overriding concern about maintaining a Jewish demographic majority. The treatment of non-Jews can be understood as a feature of Israel’s particular brand of settler
colonialism. Put best by Drs. Neve Gordon and Nicola Perugini in their book, The Human Right to Dominate:

‘Not unlike other forms of settler colonialism, in the Israeli case colonial power is exerted also through the coloniser’s desire of appropriating the position of the native, of “going native.” … the coloniser’s nativeness can, so to speak, be achieved only through a twofold process, beginning with the dispossession of the colonised and followed by protecting the coloniser from a presumed invasion carried out by the colonised.’

The initial dispossession, happened in 1948 with the displacement of some 700,000 Palestinians. As for the ‘invasion’, many Israelis imagine this happening not militarily but demographically; they worry that they’ll be outnumbered. In recent years, the Israeli obsession with demographics—which Dr. Tally Kritzman-Amir, an Israeli lecturer and legal expert in immigration, refugee, and international law, refers to as the ‘fear of numbers’—has been extended beyond the indigenous population to non-Jews in general. Separation is one manifestation of this ‘fear of numbers.’

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Pluto Podcast Episode 1 – ‘Footwork’ with Tom Hall

Our first podcast is with Tom Hall, the author of Footwork: Urban Outreach and Hidden Lives. A street-corner ethnography of the homeless living in Cardiff, drawing on the themes of urban regeneration, lost space and the 24-hour city. It’s an insightful and at times very funny portrait of hidden lives, an ‘erudite book about city life that exudes a deep but irreverent sense of humanity.’ Do have a listen…

Richard Falk: The UN Report Controversy

Former United Nations Special Rapporteur for Palestine and Pluto author Richard Falk found himself in the midst of a controversy this week over a report that he co-authored RICHARD-FALKwith fellow Pluto author Virginia Tilley, which concluded that ‘beyond a reasonable doubt … Israel is guilty of imposing an apartheid regime on the Palestinian people’. Following mounting pressure and outrage from the United States and Israel, the UN Secretary-General ordered it retracted and Rima Khalaf, the head of the UN agency which had commissioned the report, resigned in protest.

According to Falk, the language around Israel’s ‘occupation’ of Palestine must change, if
Israel’s claim to the land is to be seriously challenged and in order to move towards a more meaningful peace process. Rather than an ‘occupation’, which he views as an inaccurate term partly due to the length of time that Israel has now held on to the territories conquered in the 1967 war, he affirms that instead Israel should now be called an ‘apartheid state’.

The report has prompted heated debate and smears towards Falk and others involved in its preparation.

Below we link to the report and to coverage of the events that followed.

Richard Falk’s new book Palestine’s Horizon: Toward a Just Peace has just been published.

The UN report

Vijay Prashad on Falk’s UN report in the Hindu

‘UN Report Establishes Israeli Apartheid; Fallout Begins’ in Jadaliyya

‘U.N. Diplomat Behind Report Accusing Israel of Apartheid Quits’ in the New York Times

And the open letter to Theresa May demanding Falk be expelled from the UK

(Let’s not forget Theresa May’s recent statements on the Balfour Declaration, of course)

 

International Women’s Day Reading List

From feminist theory, to history and contemporary politics, these are some of Pluto’s best books, old and new, that celebrate radical women.

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Revolutionary Learning: Marxism, Feminism and Knowledge by Sara Carpenter and Shahrzad Mojab Carpenter T03129

Revolutionary Learning by Sara Carpenter and Shahrzad Mojab explores the Marxist and feminist theorisation of knowledge production and learning. From an explicitly feminist perspective, the authors reconsider the contributions of Marx, Gramsci and Freire to educational theory, expanding Marxist analyses of education by considering it in relation to patriarchal and imperialist capitalism.  The reproductive nature of institutions is revealed through an ethnography of schools and pushed further by the authors who go on to examine how education and consciousness connects with the broader environment of public policy, civil society, the market, and other instruments of ‘public pedagogy.’

The book’s use of work by feminist, anti-racist and anti-colonial scholars means it will have significant implications for critical education scholarship, but its use value extends beyond educational praxis; providing the tools dissect, theorize, resist and transform capitalist social relations.

 

Captive Revolution: Palestinian Women’s Anti-Colonial Struggle within the Israeli Prison System by Nahla AbdoAbdo T02851

Throughout the world, women have played a part in struggles against colonialism, imperialism and other forms of oppression, but their vital contributions to revolutions, national liberation and anti-colonial resistance are rarely chronicled.

Nahla Abdo’s Captive Revolution seeks to break the silence on Palestinian women political detainees. Based on stories of the women themselves, as well as her own experiences as a former political prisoner, Abdo draws on a wealth of oral history and primary research in order to analyse their anti-colonial struggle, their agency and their appalling treatment as political detainees. Through crucial comparisons between the experiences of female political detainees in other conflict; a history of female activism emerges.

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Leila Khaled: The Poster Girl of Palestinian Militancy’ International Woman’s Day

We’re celebrating International Woman’s Day with ‘the poster girl of Palestinian militancy’ and subject of Sarah Irving’s biography: Leila Khaled. Leila Khaled: Icon of Palestinian Liberation tells the story of Khaled’s remarkable life as a female activist in a man’s movement. From hijacking planes, to her involvement in radical sects, Leila Khaled’s activism made her as era-defining as Che Guevara.

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When Leila Khaled hijacked her first plane, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine was a left-wing organization with international links and the declared intention of winning the return of the Palestinian people to the lands they had left only 20 years before. This was the era of Che Guevara, killed in Bolivia just two years earlier, and of liberation struggles in South East Asia. The right of oppressed peoples to resist by armed means was discussed worldwide, and the heroes of these movements decorated the walls of student bedrooms and left-wing homes. The second wave of feminism was also breaking, adding another aspect to the environment in which news of this young female hijacker would be received.

In Leila’s Middle East home, Israel had just defeated the combined armies of Egypt, Jordan, and Syria in the Six Day War, humiliating the Arab world militarily and capturing the remaining Palestinian territories west of the River Jordan and north of the Sinai. Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, including thousands of refugees from the initial establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, had been living under Jordanian and Egyptian rule, but were now subject to Israeli military occupation. Despite this, the world’s attention to the Palestinians themselves was minimal. They were seen by the West as a small, dispossessed refugee people, caught up in the hostility between Jews and Arabs in the Middle East, and of little importance except as an excuse for aggression by Arab powers. Amongst the Palestinians of the refugee camps of Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria, discontent had been brewing. A resistance movement, which had been growing since the mid 1960s, had been further radicalized and popularized by the Six Day War and by Palestinians’ increasing suspicion of the hollow support voiced by Arab regimes. As Rosemary Sayigh, who lived in Lebanon throughout the 1970s, puts it:

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‘Feminism is for Everybody’ bell hooks for International Woman’s Day

bell hooks’ Feminism is for Everybody is the antidote to every ‘when’s international men’s day?!’ tweet. Designed to be read by all genders, this short, accessible introduction to feminist theory, by one of its liveliest and most influential practitioners, seeks to rescue feminism from esoterism and academic jargon; simplifying, arguing and convincing.

 

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Everywhere I go I proudly tell folks who want to know who I am and what I do that I am a writer, a feminist theorist, a cultural critic. I tell them I write about movies and popular culture, analysing the message in the medium. Most people find this exciting and want to know more. Everyone goes to movies, watches television, glances through magazines, and everyone has thoughts about the messages they receive, about the images they look at. It is easy for the diverse public I encounter to understand what I do as a cultural critic, to understand my passion for writing (lots of folks want to write, and do). But feminist theory — that’s the place where the questions stop. In- stead I tend to hear all about the evil of feminism and the bad feminists: how “they” hate men; how “they” want to go against nature — and god; how “they” are all lesbians; how “they” are taking all the jobs and making the world hard for white men, who do not stand a chance. When I ask these same folks about the feminist books or magazines they read, when I ask them about the feminist talks they have heard, about the feminist activists they know, they respond by let- ting me know that everything they know about feminism has come into their lives thirdhand, that they really have not come close enough to feminist movement to know what really happens, what it’s really about. Mostly they think feminism is a bunch of angry women who want to be like men. They do not even think about feminism as being about rights — about women gaining equal rights. When I talk about the feminism I know — up close and personal — they willingly listen, although when our conversations end, they are quick to tell me I am different, not like the “real” feminists who hate men, who are angry. I assure them I am as a real and as radical a feminist as one can be, and if they dare to come closer to feminism they will see it is not how they have imagined it.

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