Marikana – the sad truth

Nkutšoeu Motsau

Ster & Vaalweekblad’s blogger, Nkutšoeu Motsau, Chairperson of Azanla MVA, writes:
Marikana is the bedrock upon which the cornerstone of my beliefs in the future is enchored. Those men on the mount demonstrated to us what oneness, resilience, and resoluteness is. They showed us the power of the working people once they have set their mind upon a goal. Their demand was a pay of R12 500 a month. It is tragic that they were mowed down.

It is common knowledge that industrial wage negotiations are conducted through the bargaining chamber. The employers, the government and the unions comprise the bargaining chamber. This is stipulated by the law. However, this time around, those men on the amount did not want to be represented by the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), which had hitherto represented them. They didn’t want to hear anything about it. They wanted to represent themselves. They chose a delegation from amongst them that was going to negotiate on their behalf. Because of their determination, because of the duration of the strike until then, going for six months; the employers, the government and the unions (both Solidarity and NUM), agreed that the delegation be allowed in the bargaining chamber. That delegation went in and put their R12 500 demand on the table.

This was a different style of negotiation. It was simple and uncluttered. It was not about being sophisticated and drinking tea with their employers and the government officials. The two unions could not tell them anything. Their members would also benefit should this demand be acceded to. The company would not budge. And so the delegation returned to the mount to report back. In the meantime, it was reported that the CEO of Lohnmin then was earning R200 million per annum. That means, he was earning more than R1.5 million a month. That is to say, 370 times more than what the men on the mount earned. That is crazy? That is obscenely absurd! This is an irrational American practice. It has no justification. Last year they gave the CEO of ShopRite a bonus of R50 million! Early this year, they gave the CEO of ABSA bank R38 million! But let me not digress.

This was a protracted struggle, and it has been dubbed the longest industrial action in the history of South Africa. It was going for the sixth month! Anyone who has ever been involved in a tug of war will tell you that it hurts both sides. The Lohnmin management and Cyril Ramaphosa kept on piling pressure upon the police to act. They wanted the police to solve a legitimate industrial action. What happened? One morning, the police were issued with automatic rifles and live ammunition; they brought in lots and lots of razor wire; and they arranged with undertakers to come and collect corpses. Ambulances were considered much later! And so it was, the men on the mount were scattered and mercilessly mowed down.

The president, Jacob Zuma, was out of the country at the time. He was in Mozambique. He had to cut his visit short so he could attend to this tragedy. He went straight to the hospitals to visit those who were injured and hear for himself what happened. As he moved from one bed to the other, the workers explained what happened to them. They said they were not fighting. They were led into an ambush and shot down. Their cellphones were taken away from them, and so their families did not know where they were. Those who were seriously injured were finished off. And there was no immediate medical assistance for those who were injured. They complained to the president that even the apartheid government never did such a thing to them. They wanted to know how their own government could do such a thing to them. The president never uttered a single word.

Thereafter, some workers were arrested. They were charged with murder for the people who died. The men on the mount demanded that they be released by a certain date. Indeed, they where released.

Joseph Mathunjwa was disaffected by his cronies in NUM. They accused him while he was the chairman of a branch of NUM in Mpumalanga of bringing NUM into disrepute. They elbowed him out from the chairmanship, according to them, for mishandling the funds which were donated by the employers to a fund of employees. That turned him into a wily lone scavenger. When he realised that the workers rejected NUM he turned that into an opportunity to cash in on the tragedy of Marikana. He approached the leadership of The Black Allied Mining and Construction Workers Union (Bamcwu) with the proposal that they should take advantage of the situation in Marikana. He asked for a copy of the constitution of Bamcwu, saying he was going to prepare for the meeting the following day. That was the last time they saw him. Now he was insinuating himself among the striking workers, recruiting them into his own AMCU. He struck off the B and the W from the name of Bamcwu and anywhere it appeared in the constitution of Bamcwu and hey presto! that is how he got the AMCU constitution. What an enterprising union entrepreneur!

Those men on the mount did not want a trade union. That is what he gave them. Amcu is not different from NUM. The workers will yet get what they deserve.

* The writer of this column, Nkutšoeu Motsau, was born in Top Location in the Vaal Triangle in 1953. He grew up in Sharpeville. He is a tetraplegic as a result of a car accident in July 2005 in Sharpeville and now resides in Cape Town, but still feels a deep rooted connection with the Vaal. Nkutšoeu is Chairperson of Azanla MVA.

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