South African Platinum Miner’s Struggle Creates Political Rupture

South African Platinum Miner’s Struggle Creates Political Rupture


PAUL JAY: Welcome to The Real News Network.
I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore. The struggle of the platinum miners in South
Africa has rocked the entire South African society. And it continues. Now joining us to bring us up to date on that
struggle is Vishwas Satgar. He’s a senior lecturer at the University of Witwatersrand–and
my apologies for having just butchered the name of that university. Thanks for joining us. VISHWAS SATGAR: Good evening. JAY: So bring us up to date. What’s been happening
with the miners? SATGAR: Okay. I mean, I think last year it
was the tail end. After the Marikana massacre on August 16 we witnessed a wave of strike
action that brought mining in South Africa to a halt. But it never stopped there. The
Marikana moment, which is spurred on by deep discontent, knocked on into our transport
sector. And then, of course, in late November into December, and actually just two weeks
ago, it was at the heart of a rebellion of wine workers in the Western Cape of South
Africa. So, basically, Marikana has become a rallying
point and emblematic point for fighting the deep inequalities in South Africa. It’s really
shifting consciousness on the ground. Of course, in the immediate struggles on the
grounds, there are various challenges coming to the fore. Currently, in mining, with most
of the strike having ended, a residue of worker committees still in place, the employers are
now going on the offensive. There’s a lot of talk of retrenchments. In Anglo Platinum,
one of the biggest platinum mines in the world, there’s currently a big dispute around retrenching
14,000 miners who were on strike. JAY: Yeah, retrenching, here we would say
laying off. Is that what you mean? SATGAR: Yeah, retrenching or laying off, using
operational restructuring arguments to justify this. Essentially they’re saying that, you
know, it is not profitable to keep some of these shafts open and so on. So that’s a big
contention in mining right now. And that is at the same time fueled by a massive
battle going on for union membership in the mining industry. The Marikana moment has displaced
the dominance of the National Union of Mineworkers in South Africa and has actually thrown up
a very serious opposition, the amalgamated mineworkers, AMCU. And they are basically
growing dramatically, exponentially. They have a membership now of over 100,000 mineworkers. But there are serious battles going on, physical.
And the past week in South Africa has really been about trying to defuse the open conflict
between these two unions. In addition, on the Winelands, the wine workers
there have been able to really disrupt and unsettle deep colonial labor relations that
have been in place in South Africa for centuries, actually. This is way beyond apartheid. And
these wine workers have in the course of their struggle been able to bring to the fore the
racialized nature of their work in the Cape Winelands. Now, the cape wine is known all over the world.
It’s one of our leading exports. And it’s a big money spinner, both for farmers, as
well as for foreign exchange with the South African state. And hence the response to these
workers has been extremely repressive. There have been vigilante attempts by farmers to
coerce them back in to work. The ANC police have been consistently beating back the workers’
rebellion. One worker died in one of the towns. And generally there’s been overall coercion
and harassment of these workers. Two and a half months, about, into the strike,
the government basically proclaims that it is increasing the minimum wage determination
in the Winelands from ZAR 65 to ZAR 105. This in a sense defuses the whole situation
in the Winelands, but it really has shifted consciousness amongst the workers. Currently,
there are various small unions organizing in the Winelands, and the long struggle that
they’ve been through has now thrown up the imperative of unifying, building strong, cohesive,
and dedicated union organization amongst these workers. Moreover, the racial dynamics of these towns,
of these farming communities, the deep racism that comes to the fore in these social orders,
in these spaces, has also been exposed. And workers and their families have taken open
declarations and decisions to stop shopping at certain racist shops, to keep away from
certain cultural spaces, etc. And in a sense, the struggle has been about an awakening of
people’s identities and a direct challenge to racism in addition to challenging inequality. JAY: If you go back to what you were talking
about earlier in the platinum mineworkers, the battle between the unions, the National
Union of Mineworkers is very linked to the ANC, the ANC government, and, if I understand
correctly, were even in on and calling for and in some way involved in the suppression
of the mineworkers’ battle that led to the murder of so many miners. To what extent is
that now changing the way workers think about the ANC, in the sense of is it now increasingly
more about class than it is about race, given that, you know, the ANC government is essentially
a black government? SATGAR: Well, we can look at this question
from below and from above. From below, clearly there is a lot of fluidity
and there’s a moment of realignment unfolding in South Africa, and hence you are seeing
the battle around the legitimacy of trade unions right now in mining, a very conflict-ridden
battle. And that in itself is expressing a shift in worker consciousness. I mean, the
rapid growth of AMCU does signal a rupture vis-à-vis the national liberation bloc and
political base in South Africa, and that is very dramatic, and that is very serious. How far that’s going to go politically is
an open question. Some of the left groups that have been involved in supporting the
mineworkers have formed what is called the Workers and Socialist Party, and by all accounts
it’s not growing dramatically. And some would argue that it was a big leap, too quickly,
too opportunistically, etc. So, anyway, there’s a whole lot of questions about where the realignment
is going to go from below. Having said that, if you think about the ANC
and the ANC state response to all of this, well, there’s a few things. One, the ANC went
to its national conference in December 2012, where it reelected a national leadership but
also took some very important policy decisions. At the heart of its economic thinking is an
affirmation of resource nationalism coming out of its conference. And that means there’s
an increasing salience and importance given to the mining sector for the development,
for the growth prospects of South Africa. This has been followed on, about two weeks
ago, by a government-convened mining summit in South Africa, where all leading mining
houses in the world were invited to this mining conference. And there again the ANC state
was emphatic, was unambiguous that South Africa is open for business, that the mining sector
is very crucial for the growth of the South African economy, and that investors are very
welcome into this sector. JAY: So a promise, essentially, that the South
African state will keep the miners under control and foreign investors shouldn’t worry. SATGAR: Yeah, I mean, to the extent that I
think there was a recognition in this conference that the social compact that has glued together
South Africa’s transition, some kind of consensus around deracializing South African capitalism,
has actually come unhinged, and that as part of going forward with the mining sector, the
ANC state is going to seek a renewed social compact, if you like. Now, what’s also very important in this context
is the election of Cyril Ramaphosa, one of South Africa’s leading plutocrats, the super
rich, who was a board member of the Lonmin mine at which you had the Marikana massacre. JAY: And owned a not insignificant amount
of stock in that company. SATGAR: No, absolutely. I mean, he ranks as
possibly one of the top five richest African men in South Africa today. He’s been elected
as the deputy president of the African National Congress coming out of its December conference.
And he is very vocal in the media and in the broader public sphere about clinching a new
social compact with capital, repairing the rift, repairing the damage in that relationship. So the ANC is increasingly from above going
to attempt to bring back stability into the South African mining industry. Again, if Marikana
is an indicator of how it’s going to rule–in other words, the use of coercion–then we
are definitely going to see further labor conflicts and violence unfolding in the South
African mining industry going forward. JAY: Alright. Thanks for joining us, Vishwas. SATGAR: Okay. JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real
News Network.

22 Comments

  1. Any form of resistance against any government in the world has my RESPECT, FRIENDSHIP, HOSPITALITY and above all, they have our SWORDS! Fuck the world of fools from Switzerland!

  2. With its modern infrastructure and "first" world communications system, the Republic of South Africa has the most sophisticated free-market economy in Africa. Accounting for 40 percent of Africa's industrial output and Africa's busiest port (Durban), South Africa is a gateway through which more than 500 U.S. corporations venture.

  3. These struggles happened in the US to, which led to years of prosperity followed by an exit of business and resulting lack of jobs for workers. But where will the next wave of low cost workers come from, there is almost no where to go. What will we do, start using racoons to construct low cost sneakers? The racial inflection was purposeful, but not as an indication of capability, but rather perception.

  4. Well done on reading wiki articles about South Africa, there is much better infrastucture there than the rest of Africa that is for sure but mining is not a free market enterprise in South Africa it is controlled by monopolistic mining companies and they mesh with the present government also the mining unions dont make life easy for the few people that are not part of a union especially if you are black, by the way the old trade unions have a significant history with the present government.

  5. Well of course, free markets are a breeding ground for wars and corruption. Whenever people are allowed to own it all, or allowed to starve to death, you get insanely greedy people . There's just so much incentive to be greedy. Such a selfish environment is a battle ground. Nothing good comes of it. Pigs get slaughtered. Stop encouraging people to be pigs.

  6. Free markets are a way for people to trade so that they can make a living through production keeping the market free is what allows everybody to participate insanely greedy people usually gravitate to whatever structure power resides in whether it be a monopolistic corporation or a large centralised government or a combination of the two. Just because monopolists call something free market capitalism or a free market does not make it so. You simply have to look beyond their definitions.

  7. Depending on one's view point, every market can be seen as a free or enslaved market. However, wherever competition is encouraged….so is war. There is no peace in a competitive situation..The more competitive the situation…the uglier things get. That's why governments were created….so there could be some peace. Rules make life more peaceful. Without rules we have anarchy. There is little peace in nature for there are few rules. Competition is not really such a healthy thing to have.

  8. Competition is inevitable especially for biological organisms when fighting for resources the free market is a way of distributing resources by means of trade as opposed to actual fighting by not having a free market there is less of what each person needs which leads to war and conflict. Competition is healthy in the free market as concerns efficiency of production not as concerns competition through force of arms.

  9. Your thoughts are common. War too is common. Can you make the connection? You have a warrior mentality. Competition is war. What is healthy about competition then? It's breeds a fiercer beast is all. It certainly does not bring about peace. If you value peace you will not value war. If peace is nothing to you, then you acting as a fool.

  10. Free Trade is not war neither is it competition it is an exchange of goods. The fact that people that have become materially rich as a result of trade and then decide to forego trading and pursue conquest is not an inditement of free trade it is an inditement of human greed. Gaining the use of another method through the initial use of one method does not mean that the two methods have a similar philosophical identity it simply means both methods are effective.

  11. Doesn't free trade stipulate unregulated trading? Isn't a monopoly a nature effect of free trade? How can you be for free trade and also for regulations against monopolies? Aren't those conflicting ideals?

  12. A monopoly is the exact opposite of free trade, most regulations are actually for the benefit of monopolies take De Beers for instance a South African mining monopoly who maintains their monopoly through regulations initiated by them for their express advantage in South Africa only De Beers or De Beers mandated traders are allowed to deal in diamonds anybody else not affiliated goes to jail this is the law of the land in South Africa.

  13. Well, a free market is supposed to be free of monopolies, but famous economist Adam Smith contended that an unregulated market was prone to the rise of monopolies and was therefore not "free" in this sense.
    Of course unregulated corporations are going to rise up into monopolies. Even with regulations it's hard to stop them. Look at the oil companies. You know they are one giant monopoly. It's not like you or I can drill for oil, refine it into gasoline and then sell it.

  14. It is not possible for a corporation to become a monopoly purely by financial means monopolies have always been attained by means of regulations, laws and the means of a sovereign government. The oil companies are not limited by government they are enhanced by government, which is different to the rhetoric spouted by government and monopolies, what they say and what they do are very different. Regulations and laws are the domain of sovereign governments and the sum total equals a helping hand.

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