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.



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.

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Patrick Bond, “South Africa’s Resource Curses and Growing Social Resistance”

The following article appeared as “Review of the Month” in Monthly Review’s April edition and is kindly reproduced with their permission. Patrick Bond is the author of Elite Transition (Pluto, 2000), a fully revised and updated Second Edition of which will be published later this year.


The African National Congress (ANC), led during the 1990s by the late Nelson Mandela, is projected to be reelected in South Africa’s May 7, 2014 national election by a wide margin, probably with between 50 and 60 percent of the vote. But underneath the ruling party’s apparent popularity, the society is seething with fury, partly at the mismanagement of vast mineral wealth. The political and economic rulers’ increasingly venal policies and practices are so bad that not only did ANC elites play a direct role in massacring striking mineworkers in August 2012, but corporate South Africa was soon rated by PriceWaterhouseCoopers as “world leader in money-laundering, bribery and corruption, procurement fraud, asset misappropriation and cybercrime,” with internal management responsible for more than three quarters of what was termed “mind-boggling” levels of theft.1

With such degeneration from above, the country’s impotent socialist left was pleasantly surprised last December when the largest union in Africa, the 342,000-strong National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (“Numsa”) split away from the ANC. Numsa pledged to organize mineworkers and any other disgruntled workers, and steadily to reconstruct a new South African left from below, including radical social movements once derided as “ultraleft” (because from the early 2000s they had already broken with the ANC). The “Numsa Moment”—which I think can be contrasted to some local trade unionists’ “Lula Moment” advocacy, akin to Brazilian labor corporatism—is of enormous importance, especially if it leads to a “united front approach” and the “movement towards socialism” as promised in Numsa’s “Breaking New Ground” congress of 1,300 shop stewards, just a week after Mandela’s death.2 However, up against such a strong and prestigious national liberation movement, whose most famous leader stayed in the ANC until the end of his life, Numsa and its new allies are not yet contesting power in the next election. They must work hard on local alliance-building, and the underlying socioeconomic conditions must continue to deteriorate, if Numsa is to rekindle the confidence of older revolutionaries and create a new generation of activists. Continue reading

A Flawed Freedom: John S. Saul on Nelson Mandela

Last week Pluto authors Marcelle Dawson and Patrick Bond offered their reflections on the leadership and legacy of Nelson Mandela. This week we asked John S. Saul, author of A Flawed Freedom: Rethinking Southern African Liberation (Pluto, 2014) for his comments on Mandela’s leadership and legacy. We’ve produced John’s comments in full below.

A Flawed Freedom will be published by Pluto in March next year. For More information about the book, or to preorder your copy online, go to our website or click on the cover image below.

John S. Saul

Has the time come when it might be possible to move past the well-deserved praise-song phase of the marking of Nelson Mandela’s death in order to strike a more careful balance-sheet on the meaning for present-day South Africa of his storied career?

Saul T02841Of course, it remains extremely difficult to speak dispassionately on such matters this close to his impressive funeral. Nor can there be any real debate about the quality of the man or as to the crucial importance of the role he played, especially in his early years of defiance and in his long, unbending period in prison. He was, in fact, a leader of real substance, dignity and power, a giant among other politicians of his time – coming, as much as anyone in South Africa, to exemplify uncompromisingly the strength of the popularly-held conviction that racist rule, with all its enormities, could not be allowed to stand.

And yet his latter-day role – as he moved from prison into the Presidency of an ostensibly “new” South Africa – was a much more debatable one. True, in his first moments of freedom in 1990, at the very moment that he emerged from captivity, he spoke, in a kind of radical short-hand, of the need for multiple “nationalizations” and also, more generally, of the necessary injection of genuine social purpose into a reclaiming of the realms of society and economy on behalf of the people of South Africa.

Nonetheless, Mandela – never a man of the socio-economic left – soon found his commitment to a radical socio-economic policy shift to be fading fast. Moreover, in this his position was merely coming into line with that of most of the ANC’s upper echelon as they returned from exile.

After all the struggle against apartheid had been waged much more threateningly by mass popular organizations on the shop floor and in the townships than it had by any military resistance mounted from exile by the ANC. And, increasingly, what was most feared by the South African business and state establishments was the possibility of a popularly–based “revolutionary force” becoming ever more deeply radicalized by a sustained confrontation with the combined oppressions of both apartheid and of international capitalism.

Indeed, it was just such a possible mass upheaval that business guru Zac de Beer had once warned defenders of capital’s stake in South Africa to guard against: the danger that “the baby of free enterprise” could be “thrown out with the bathwater of apartheid”! Soon such leaders as Malcolm Fraser of Australia and Brian Mulroney of Canada also saw that apartheid itself – long a profitable partner of capital, with racial oppression helping to keep labour cheap – had became dispensable. Better now simply to decapitate any “dangerous” popular movements in order to safeguard the existing pattern of class rule and socio-economic power.

And here they found willing listeners in those ANC notables who had actually spent their own 1980s informally negotiating with both the South African state and with South African national and global capital – while promising the latter a very tame transition indeed. It was with this vision that Mandela was now firmly in agreement, ready to accept a “freedom” firmly founded on the embrace of a neo-liberal version of South Africa, one in line with global capitalism’s own priorities.

As a result it is not surprising how very little change in the impoverished substance of their lives has actually been delivered by the ANC to the vast mass of South Africans, this providing a sad anti-climax to the once proud anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa. True, for a Mulroney, his own sense of the need for a shift away from apartheid was qualified by his continuing suspicion, until quite late in the day, that the freedom-fighters of the ANC, including Mandela himself, were mere “terrorists.” However, more savvy guardians of corporate power closer to the scene had grasped the fact that only the cooptation of the ANC into a formal position of power could forestall a revolution – and that it was perfectly possible to so co-opt it.

This is, in fact, exactly what now happened. The ANC passed into power, and, as the party of “liberation,” it proceeded actively both to demobilize the people and to seal a deal with global capital. The predictable result: though the economic gap between black and white has shrunk somewhat (as some blacks have become very wealthy indeed) the gap between rich and poor (still mainly black) has widened dramatically. Crime rates have risen as a reflex of this gross, class-defined imbalance in personal incomes, while among Mandela’s successors – Zuma and his cronies  – corruption flourishes.

More promising is the fact that there are also signs of rather more militant resistance to all of this. Indeed, while it is true that a genuinely effective and credible counter-hegemonic national alternative to the ANC has been slow to emerge, the level of social resistance to the state – by means of demonstrations, protests and other forms of social disobedience – that is so evident at the local level is now, in fact, the very highest in the world!

And here too may also lie the silver lining in Mandela’s own passing from the scene. For, after an initial and fully understandable period of general mourning, one can imagine that the removal from the ANC of the brilliant lustre of Madiba’s public image and the halo of his almost supra-historical resonance could mean a further diminishing of the once seemingly impregnable image that the ANC, at least at the national level, had managed to sustain. In fact, with this, a further beneficial levelling of the playing field of political contestation could occur: then, after Mandela, the struggle for a more genuine liberation might well further intensify in South Africa.

The Mandela Years: Reflections from Two Pluto Authors

With Nelson Mandela’s death last week, we asked two Pluto authors for their reflections on the lionised leader of the ANC. In contrast to the global championing of Mandela’s leadership, Marcelle Dawson and Patrick Bond each offer an alternative view.


Writing in CounterpunchPatrick Bond, author of Elite Transition: From Apartheid to Neoliberalism in South Africa (Pluto, 2000), provides an in-depth analysis of the Mandela years, arguing that:

There had been only two basic paths that the ANC could have followed. One was to mobilize the people and all their enthusiasm, energy, and hard work, use a larger share of the economic surplus (through state-directed investments and higher taxes), and stop the flow of capital abroad, including the repayment of illegitimate apartheid-era debt. The other, which was ultimately the one chosen, was to trudge down the neoliberal capitalist path, with merely a small reform here or there to permit superficial claims to the sustaining of a “National Democratic Revolution.

You can read the full article in Counterpunch here. Continue reading