Marikana Follies.

It is extremely difficult to discuss the Marikana massacre. The emotional resonance of the killing of thirty-four striking mineworkers by heavily-armed police officers in the context of South Africa’s history is too powerful; it obscures the judgement. But we should try. What factors led up to the Marikana massacre? There seem to be two parallel, separate, but possibly connected fields for study: the police themselves, and the evolution of the strike itself. Were the police ordered to carry out the killing by higher authority? If so, how high did the authority go, and why were the police willing and above to carry out such a killing when it is supposed to be against their ethos and training? If not, what led them to carry out the killing? Both possibilities point towards the police being badly trained and badly led and with a poor understanding of their duties, which were all enabling factors in the massacre. It is advisable to investigate these things, while simultaneously investigating whether the poor quality of the police force was the whole source of the massacre, or whether it was an enabling factor in the abuse of the police force either by the force’s local leadership, national leadership, or some political or economic entity which had power over the police force. To answer the latter question one would have to ask who profited from the massacre. So it would be natural to ask how the strike arose and therefore, who was most menaced by the strike. What exactly is AMCU? Why did AMCU discover such fertile ground for undermining NUM at Marikana? What led AMCU to advise workers to make such extreme demands? Why did the strike become so violent so quickly, with at least ten people killed in a few days? Why was the mining company so outwardly passive in the course of the strike? And also, incidentally, why were these questions not asked at the time by any observing commentators or officials of any of the entities involved? What was the relationship of the mining company with AMCU and the NUM? With the police? With the government? Where was the government while all this was happening? These are difficult questions to ask, but they could be investigated. Unfortunately, it seems likely that they are not going to be investigated. The format of the Commission of Inquiry is, essentially, one of inviting representatives of different parties to tell their stories. So far we have had the police and AMCU participating, and the results are not exactly encouraging. The police line is that they were obliged by circumstances to use what they call “excessive force”. It does not seem to have occurred to the police that this is a contradictory line. Excessive force, by definition, is too much force. The official police doctrine is supposed to be the application of the minimum level of force consistent with attaining desirable objectives in the circumstances. Excessive force would then be any level of force above that. Therefore the police could not have been obliged to use excessive force; what they were obliged to use was a level of force appropriate to conditions, and excessive force is necessarily greater than that level of force. Perhaps this is just a rhetorical point. What the police seem to be saying is that they could not have used less force than the force which they used, that circumstances made them fire rifles loaded with ball cartridge into a crowd predominantly armed with clubs and choppers. “Excessive force” in this case means “more force than the force we would have wanted to use, but unfortunately could not”. That clears matters up, except for the absence of the customary police policy of using stun grenades or shotgun-launched rubber bullets (or indeed teargas or birdshot, equipment rarely used nowadays but still on the potential menu). It seems that they did not try to disperse the crowd with these methods, and so far nobody has asked why not — perhaps because focussing on the massacre itself, rather than on what could have been used to avoid the massacre, is much more politically advantageous. This is becoming rather obvious when one looks at Dali Mpofu’s lawyerly performance on behalf of AMCU. His line is that the police action was part of a vast conspiracy. Well, that’s quite possible — there are so many vast conspiracies in South Africa, these days, that in tripping over one vast conspiracy you are extremely likely to tumble into the very heart of another one. However, in order to sustain this, it would be worthwhile to point out what the conspiracy consists of. Mpofu’s line was to release a bunch of e-mails from various management figures at Lonmin, e-mails which were demanding that the government do something about the violence which accompanied the Marikana strike. We don’t know whether these e-mails were sincerely sent, or whether they were sent so that Lonmin officials would be able to say afterwards that they had asked the government to do something. After all, Lonmin is hardly a weak organisation and could certainly have done a lot more to curb the violence had they wished to do so; that is what mine security officers are for. What matters is that under the circumstances, there was nothing unusual about them; they were the electronic equivalent of strolling down to the police station and asking the man at the charge-office why the hell they don’t put someone out watching that dangerous corner of the park where people are getting mugged. However, Mpofu not only denied this obvious point, he focussed his attention on an e-mail which contained a message from Cyril Ramaphosa. Ramaphosa is at least nominally a shareholder in Lonmin (he supposedly has about 9% of the shares, although it’s likely that he simply administers these on behalf of his principal, Anglo American) and therefore would be expected to side with management. Indeed, in the e-mail he was calling for the government to do something about the violence which accompanies the Marikana strike. Mpofu declared that this proved that Ramaphosa was responsible for the Marikana massacre. Why was Mpofu doing this? Nothing Ramaphosa said had not been said by the actual management of Lonmin. Nothing indicated that Ramaphosa had any special influence with the government’s response to the Marikana crisis — he is not a particularly significant player in the government at the moment, although he might become so given that various factions in the run-up to the Mangaung conference are putting him forward as a compromise candidate, much as Sexwale was put forward in the run-up to Polokwane. Most particularly, nothing Ramaphosa said called on the government to massacre mineworkers on the slopes of Wonderkoppie. So, what’s going on here? The obvious object is to distract attention away from the actions of the mine bosses and onto the shoulders of Ramaphosa, who is identified as an ANC polician much more than as a mine boss in the eyes of the general public. By pretending that this is a sinister ANC conspiracy, Mpofu is able to protect his real principals, who are almost certainly mine bosses. Just as Ramaphosa has protected the mine bosses by serving as a black ANC front so that blacks (and the ANC) can be blamed for the obscene disparities of wealth in the country, so he can now serve as a black ANC front so that blacks (and the ANC) can be blamed for police brutality and capitalist collusion in the violent oppression of the workers. This is pretty much in line with the Trotskyist approach, which is to blame capitalism, the NUM and the ANC so as to avoid blaming capitalists. Another interesting possibility, however, is that Mpofu is aware of the smear campaign against Ramaphosa being waged in the run-up to Mangaung. The cartoonist Jonathan Shapiro has been attacking Ramaphosa — obviously the section of the ruling class served by Shapiro wants to undermine him. He has been attacked particularly in the Mail and Guardian (though its business section has defended him, using the hagiography Ramaphosa commissioned for himself) and defended in the Sunday Times (owned by the company which employs Ramaphosa). It’s entirely possible that Mpofu was acting as an agent of this campaign. What’s much more certain is that the real interests of Mpofu’s supposed customers, the suffering workers of Marikana, are not being served, and nor, for that matter, is the cause of truth, whatever that might mean in Zuma’s South Africa. It is, incidentally, extremely likely that the Marikana massacre was pre-planned, though the most likely planners were the South African Police Service generals. The paramilitary forces which were deployed at Marikana were comically unsuited to the job of riot prevention, but they make up a big part of the police budget, and to sustain that budget in a time of financial cutbacks, it made sense to deploy them. Having deployed ill-trained trigger-happy gunmen to a crisis zone, matters might have been expected to take their course — but also, the fact that two police officers were murdered by the Marikana miners was, very probably, a factor. Wherever it happens that a police service is very poorly managed, it tends to devolve into a kind of official street-gang, and the business of street-gangs is to teach people respect for them. You don’t show respect for the dudes wearing the colours, you got to expect comebacks — in the form of 5,56mm bullets. Much of the evidence led by the SAPS — video footage which appears to contradict the footage shot on the same scene by journalists, or video footage which provides no useful information at all even though the officer taking the video was trained to collect evidence, together with forensic evidence which contradicts other evidence and sometimes contradicts itself, led by an officer with no knowledge of forensic procedures — suggests an agency in complete chaos. This is an organisation which could not arrange an effectual cover-up. Most likely, the leaders who arrange circumstances so that there could be a massacre, or even gave verbal permission for the massacre to take place, were not thinking about consequences or how they might someday be asked to please explain their actions — but they have had two months to cook up a good story, and instead they are falling over themselves to accidentally implicate each other. But then, this could also be said of Lonmin, and the Zuma administration, and AMCU, and the NUM, and the miners and their legal representatives. Marikana exposes what a rotten society, root and branch, we live in today. Unfortunately, exposure is not the same as the cure.

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