Marikana a sad tale of a betrayed working class

Children play on the Koppie in Marikana using plastic bottles to slide down after the 6th anniversary commemoration service to remember the 34 mineworkers who were killed in 2012.
Children play on the Koppie in Marikana using plastic bottles to slide down after the 6th anniversary commemoration service to remember the 34 mineworkers who were killed in 2012.
Image: Thulani Mbele

Last week the nation paused to remember Marikana. As with every commemoration since that massacre in 2012, the government has failed to be part of the event, let alone organise an official gathering to recognise the importance of that day.

Marikana has become a political football. The Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union has appropriated the day and frames it annually as a reminder of how the ANC government and its alliance partners failed the workers at Lonmin, in particular, and the people of Marikana in general.

Marikana is a microcosm of a sad tale of the deferred dream and betrayed promise of a new South Africa where all would be equal and all would be free. It is a glaring example of how the political leadership can disregard the citizens of this country rather than to cross the strong arm of the capitalist and corporatist powers that be.

It is ironic that the new dawn coined by President Cyril Ramaphosa, a man who is inextricably linked to the tragedy, did not rise over Marikana as a symbol of change he has promised under his leadership.

In truth, promises of change and of realising the ideal of an inclusive and equal society, everything that the colonial and apartheid states were not, will remain hollow for good reason. South Africa is a constitutional democracy. South Africa is also a capitalist society.

The two function on contradictory logics.

Democracy espouses political equality, the protection of rights, broad participation wherein every citizen has an equal opportunity to influence decision-making as well as the value of accountability that denotes that those who hold power are answerable to the citizenry.

Capitalism operates on the profit motive and on the principle of rewarding individual prowess, a preference for the free market with the belief that it is able to distribute the proceeds of the system efficiently, giving to each what they deserve.

In truth, the capitalist logic results in inequality. It is not an impartial system which accrues benefits and privileges meritoriously.

As Sampie Terreblanche puts it in his book Lost in Transformation (2012): "Capitalism attempts to maximize efficiency and profit through merciless competition in a free market system in which the strong, skilful, and property owner wins, and the weaker and less cunning lose."

It therefore stands to reason that "it is the task of a democratically elected government to attempt to reconcile the conflicting 'logics' of democracy and capitalism, but also to reconcile the 'power' with which democratic governments and capitalist institutions exert themselves".

Marikana demonstrated how South Africa's democratically elected government has failed drastically to act as a check on the capitalist logic.

The scenes that played themselves out at Marikana six years ago illustrated so vividly that capitalist corporations remain a dominant force over political authority in a "new" South Africa.

As Terreblanche notes further: "There has never been a political-economic system in place in South Africa in which the political side of the dual system was powerful enough [and representative enough] to restrain the capitalist/ corporatist side effectively enough or hold it accountable to ensure that the general wellbeing of society would be promoted.

"Relatively small capitalist/corporatist elite groups were always powerful enough to promote their narrow corporate class interests."

The political leadership in South Africa has instead of breaking the trend been content with being co-opted in this system of elite accumulation at the expense of the weak and the poor.

While the livelihoods of the capitalist and political elite have seen improvement in the past two decades, it is the marginalised workers at Marikana and other mines and industries across the country, and the masses of unemployed, who continue to suffer exploitation and exclusion.

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