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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marikana

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).

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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‘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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Frantz Fanon for Our Times: Reflections on Peter Hudis’ Biography of Fanon

fanon3Tithi Bhattacharya writes on Peter Hudis’ new biography of Frantz Fanon.

‘To Peter we owe a particular gratitude.  He did not write a simple narrative biography of Fanon— that would have been a historicist exercise in which the past of Fanon would connect seamlessly to our present and we ‘draw lessons’ from it.

The past is a tricky customer and both Fanon and Peter understand that well.  So following the methodology that Walter Benjamin recommends, Peter has blasted Fanon out of linear, empty time and has constellated for us moments in Fanon that are necessary to consider for our present.

These distilled Fanonian moments that Peter offers us may have been important or not so important for those seeking to change the world in Fanon’s own time.  But they are recognizably relevant for our times and what is significant is how Peter has captured these fugitive concepts to help change the world for a new generation.

So I will outline a few of those moments that Peter has picked, that have flashed for him, in our ‘moment of danger’ and explore their significance.

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Taking What’s Ours – A review of The Squatters’ Movement in Europe

Anitra Nelson, author of Life Without Money (Pluto, 2011) has reviewed two new books for the online publication Overland. One of them, The Squatters’ Movement in Europe, was published by Pluto in May this year. You can read the review, as well as some other great content, on Overland – we’ve also reproduced it below.

Anitra Nelson

Kollective T02744In general, the laws of capitalism protect the interests of property owners and big bosses, particularly the one per cent. As capitalism expands and intensifies, the laws multiply. Writers have difficulty claiming copyright and earning their just rewards. Australian federal court judges recently threw out an appeal from Cancer Voices Australia about a decision that DNA and RNA can be patented. Bailiffs turf you out when you stop paying your rent or mortgage off. If the bosses decide, thousands of us can be made redundant – essentially, forced not to work.

But capitalists’ exploitation of nature and people is the subject of increasing resistance, as life on earth is threatened by the climate change caused by capitalism. Two very readable recent books explore anti-capitalist practices: The Squatters’ Movement in Europe: Commons and Autonomy as Alternatives to Capitalism, written by scholar-activists of the Squatting Europe Kollective (SqEK) and edited by Claudio Cattaneo and Miguel Martínez López, and The Village Against the World by Dan Hancox.

The first is a pioneering work on a relatively neglected topic: squatting as a political action and to fulfil otherwise unmet needs for housing. Despite the book’s European focus, some chapters draw on examples from the US, with authors discussing the cultural diversity within squats, their meaning for our urban environmental crises and legal codes.

The observations and experiences are easily transferable, except that Australian squats are neither as extensive nor as visible: see the Australian Museum of Squatting created by squatter enthusiasts Iain McIntyre and Shane McGrath who run 3CR’s SUWA (Squatters and Unwaged Airwaves) show, and the international site Squat!net for SqEK and recent Australian news. Continue reading

From Subalternity to Autonomy

A new review of Massimo Modonesi’s book Subalternity, Antagonism, Autonomy (Pluto, 2013) has been published in Antipode. The reviewer has kindly granted us permission to reproduce it here.

For more information about the book, go to our website, or click on the cover image.

Chris Hesketh

Modonesi T02749In this new text published in Pluto Press’ “Reading Gramsci Series”, Massimo Modonesi seeks to explore the theoretical genesis of three core concepts that make up the title of the book – namely, subalternity, antagonism and autonomy – and the problems that the usage of these pose for Marxist debates. The concepts in question, as first revealed in my review for Antipode online, are explicitly linked to the process of political subjectivation (or subject formation) in terms of the experiences of subordination, insubordination and emancipation. Each concept is also linked to a key author associated with its development. Antonio Gramsci’s writings are therefore explored in relation to subalternity; Antonio Negri’s in regards to antagonism; and those of Cornelius Castoriadis in connection with autonomy. Scholars of each respective thinker are likely to find merit in various individual chapters of the book as it traces in detail the development of their intellectual trajectories.

Importantly, the main concepts are not simply explored in the abstract, but rather are  linked to concrete periods of history, including: the defeat of the Factory Council movement  and the rise of Fascism in Italy inspiring Gramsci’s thoughts on subalternity; the emergence of “workerism” and various forms of mobilization that rocked Italy in the 1960s and 1970s that influenced Negri; and finally the experience of the French student uprisings in 1968 and subsequent debates about autogestion for Castoriadis. The book makes a useful contribution therefore to critical geography in that it demonstrates the place-based nature of revolutionary theory and praxis. In other words, it combines “lived experience”, to coin a phrase from Henri Lefebvre’s The Survival of Capitalism, with conceptual development. We therefore get a keen sense of how each concept serves as a form of “militant particularism”, forged out of the experiences of one particular time and place but subsequently generalised to wider locales, as detailed by David Harvey in Justice, Nature and the Geography of Difference. Continue reading

‘She never represents fashion as the sigh of the soul in a soulless world. Stitched Up instead disapproves of the idea of fashion itself’

Stitched Up - Available from Pluto Press with 10% discount

Stitched Up: The Anti-Capitalist Book of Fashion – review in the Guardian

‘Tansy E Hoskins’s book suggests the entire fashion industry is a dangerous trick, and needs to be overthrown

Setting up the terms of her polemic against the fashion industry, Tansy Hoskins defines fashion in utilitarian terms as “changing styles of dress and appearance adopted by groups of people”, and the industry as one in which there is “a shrinking distinction between high fashion and high street fashion”. She does acknowledge that the whole business is both “glorious and enthralling, as well as exasperating and terrible”, though she doesn’t come close to conveying its appeal as well as Diana Vreeland once did: “Fashion must be the most intoxicating release from the banality of the world.

As fashion editor of Harper’s Bazaar and then as editor of Vogue, Vreeland was once the ultimate fashion insider. Hoskins is an interested outsider, determined to change minds. So even though her intention is to show us what Karl Lagerfeld has to do with Karl Marx, she never represents fashion as the sigh of the soul in a soulless world. Stitched Up instead disapproves of the idea of fashion itself. And for good reasons: it focuses on the social consequences of the industry, from the conditions of workers to its disastrous environmental costs, collecting a number of useful, at times horrifying, facts in one place.

It is nearly a year since 1,133 garment workers died and 2,500 were injured in Bangladesh, when a poorly constructed factory collapsed just north-west of the capital, Dhaka. The discovery of the labels of western manufacturers in the rubble highlighted long supply chains and the practice of subcontracting at every stage. Amid the shocked reactions, some of the retailers could plausibly claim that they had no idea their clothes were made at Rana Plaza, or about the state of a building they didn’t know existed. What happened in Bangladesh is a perfect starting point for Hoskins’s attack, but she hasn’t set out only to condemn the consumers of cheap fashion; she wants to show how the entire system is a trick to divert attention from how clothes are made, who actually wears them, and who makes all the money.

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