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What really happened at the Lonmin Mine? The Story Beneath the Surface, Part I

The telling of the story: Part I


There is a dirty political story needing to be told beneath the horrible massacre of striking miners in the Lonmin mine in South Africa. A story not unlike many others involving post colonial regimes across the Global South, which have been unable or unwilling to truly realize their nation’s liberation and have instead held fast to neoliberal economics and neocolonialist social constructs.

No event since the end of Apartheid sums up the shallowness of the transformation in South Africa like the Marikana massacre has.

The story that emerges from this massacre is one of failure and betrayal by both the ruling African National Congress party (ANC) and the labor union leaderships; of party fragmentation and the vilification of legitimate opposition; of power struggles at the expense of the well being of the people and the workers; of self promotion, hypocrisy, ideological opportunism, lies, deceptions and corruption…In other words, not a story of leading a nation along a path of revolutionary transformation after centuries of colonialist racist exploitation, but a story about the machinations of the new administrators of the same illicit and brutal capitalist state set on advancing their own power and privilege.

Eighteen years after the ANC came to power, unemployment in South Africa among poor blacks is nearly 50%. Half of all employed workers in the country get no more than $2.50 a day. The modern urban infrastructure of roads, housing, services, recreational facilities, etc, that is enjoyed by the wealthy white population, and the new black middle class and ruling elite, has been built by the expropriation of millions of poor black labor hours, the nation’s progress but a distant mirage to those who produced it.In the black townships as well as in the worker squatter camps that have sprung around the rich South African mines, living conditions are often horrendous. Criminal activity and violence is endemic, HIV is epidemic, and prostitution and alcoholism are rampant. Residents are often forced to live without electricity or proper sanitary systems while their children fall ill from chronic diseases due to poor hygiene.

All of this represents leadership failure and betrayal for the oppressed and exploited black population of “free” South Africa, which is very conscious that it deserves much more after centuries of brutal colonialist rule. Neither the ANC government nor, in the case of the miners at Lonmin, their union, have been willing or capable of advancing and instituting the necessary changes to eliminate even the most crude manifestations of apartheid era systemic, and institutionalized mechanisms of oppression.

These words, by an unidentified Lonmin miner, may capture the story of millions of workers across South Africa, and the story that, I believe, the striking rock drillers set out to change at Lonmin:

“Even though I belong to a union, they underrepresent my needs. My concerns are not adequately voiced, and I have no influence. Decisions never seem to benefit me.“I am constantly violated; and have to work under subjective violence. Despite my strength, I am powerless.”

Coming Next:

The telling of the story: Part II

Digging Deeper at Lonmin

Posted by Adrián Boutureira

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Adrian Boutureira

Adrian Boutureira