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.

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South Africa’s Massacre: An Ethnography in the Midst of Militancy

Luke Sinwell went to a small mining town in Marikana to understand the massacre of thirty-four black mineworkers who were gunned down by police on 16 August 2012, nearly twenty years into the post-apartheid South African period. He observed the sociological dynamics of the massacre from the perspective of the mineworkers and developed relationships with the heroic figures who led the longest strike in South African mining history, and thereby changed the course of the country’s politics. Today, for the four year commemoration of the massacre, he reflects on what it was like doing ethnography during this tumultuous period and what makes his new book The Spirit of Marikana so unique.

‘I first went to the Rustenburg platinum belt, and more specifically Marikana, on 18 August 2012 – Spirit of Marikana
two days following the massacre. The mineworkers were still on strike. They had decided to continue the strike so that their colleagues would not have died in vain. Before leaving, I recall being asked whether it was wise to go to Marikana in the midst of the ongoing violence. I responded that it was my right to go, and that if the workers told me to leave, I would do so. If the police forced me to exit the area where I was stationed to do research, then I would comply. As it turned out, the police never did, neither did the workers (though there were certain instances whereby we were clearly not welcome). Over time, I built strong relationships with key leaders who remained committed and even ready to die for the economic freedom and dignity of mineworkers. This is indeed the most significant quality of my research, and these relationships lie at the heart of the book The Spirit of Marikana.

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Reading List: Left Wing African Movements

We have compiled a list of books that explore Left Wing Social Movements from the African continent or by African people. We chronicle the diverse labour movements, social thoughts and political economies of Botswana, South Africa, Nigeria and Zanzibar and follow the fight for political freedoms across the rest of the world.

The Unchosen: The Lives of Israel’s New Others by Mya Guarnieri Jaradat

Jaradat TU

Drawing on a decade of courageous and pioneering reporting, Mya Guarnieri Jaradat brings us an unprecedented and compelling look at the lives of asylum seekers and migrant workers in Israel, who hail mainly from Africa and Asia.

From illegal kindergartens to anti-immigrant rallies, from detention centres to workers’ living quarters, from family homes to the high court, The Unchosen sheds light on one of the most little-known but increasingly significant aspects of Israeli society. We hear of Sudanese hunger strikers in Israeli detention centres, Eritrean refugees staging non-violent protests calling for Israel to process asylum applications and agitations opposing poor medical care and educational provisions. By highlighting Israel’s harsh and worsening treatment of African migrants, The Unchosen presents a fresh angle on the Israel-Palestine conflict, calling into question the state’s perennial justification for mistreatment of Palestinians: ‘national security’.

Related titles:

Israeli Apartheid: A Beginner’s Guide by Ben White

Popular Protest in Palestine: The Uncertain Future of Unarmed Resistance by Marwan Darweish and Andrew Rigby

Activestills: Photography as Protest in Palestine/Israel by the Activestills Collective

 

The Spirit of Marikana: The Rise of Insurgent Trade Unionism in South Africa by Luke Sinwell and Siphiwe MbathaSinwell SOM cropped

On the 16th August 2012 on a platinum mine in Marikana, the South African Police Service opened fire on thirty-four protesting black mine workers. This would come to be known as the Marikana massacre; one of the most lethal uses of force by South African security services since the apartheid era.

Through oral testimonies and exhaustive fieldwork, Sinwell and Mbatha create a gripping account of the incidents that followed. What began as a simple dispute over pay became an emblem of working class resistance in South Africa. The Spirit of Marikana is a testament to the mine workers’ heroic resistance against the cronyism of mine bosses, the government authorities and the crooked union establishment. Continue reading

Immanuel Ness – Southern Insurgency: The Coming of the Global Working Class

Earlier this month at the Historical Materialism conference in London, we caught up with Manny Ness,  Professor of Political Science at CUNY, New York, co-editor of our new Wildcat book series, and author of Southern Insurgency: The Coming of the Global Working Class.

In this video Manny talks about his new book, and the exciting developments in workers’ movements around the world – specifically focusing on China, India and South Africa.

 

Immanuel Ness is Professor of Political Science at City University of New York. He is author of Guest Workers and U.S. Corporate Despotism and Immigrants, Unions, and the New U.S. Labour Market and numerous other works. He is editor of the International Encyclopaedia of Revolution and Working USA: The Journal of Labour and Society.

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Southern Insurgency is available to buy from Pluto Press here.