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ANC gets rich while miners live in poverty

When police gunned down striking Marikana platinum miners, killing at least 34 and wounding many more, they also blew apart the façade of post-apartheid politics in South Africa.

Despite 18 years of black majority rule, the country remains among the most unequal in terms of wealth in the world alongside Brazil. Nearly 40% of the population lives on less than $3 a day.

The elite in the ruling African National Congress have, by contrast, enriched themselves beyond their wildest dreams. Khulubuse Zuma, the president’s nephew and Zondwa Mandela, the former president’s grandchild, and many others with close family ties to politicians have become mining tycoons overnight.

So too have the present and former leaders of the National Union of Mineworkers who went from fighting the employers under apartheid to siding with the state against the workers after the ANC came to power.

Mine owners Lonmin, whose shares trade on the London stock exchange, felt confident enough yesterday to issue an ultimatum to the 3,000 striking workers to return to work today or face the sack. A former NUM general secretary sits on the corporation’s board.

The present secretary Frans Baleni is close to the Chamber of Mines and is a strident opponent of nationalisation. Baleni, was awarded a salary increase of more than 40% last year and his total salary package is over £8,000 a month.

Platinum sells for about $1,440 an ounce but a worker drilling underground at tonnes of rock face to extract it makes less than $500 a month. With the NUM refusing to fight for proper wage rises, workers at Marikana formed the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union to represent them. The demand for a substantial wage rise won massive support for the AMCU.

Throughout South Africa, the ANC regime unashamedly deploys state force to enforce its political rule. Critics like Ayanda Kota, chair of the Unemployed Peoples' Movement in Grahamstown, are arrested on trumped up charges, beaten and detained for months. Commenting on the Marikana Massacre, he insisted:

South Africa is the most unequal country in the world. The amount of poverty is excessive. In every township there are shacks with no sanitation and electricity. Unemployment is hovering around 40%. Economic inequality is matched with political inequality. Everywhere activists are facing serious repression from the police and from local party structures.

Mining has been central to the history of repression in South Africa. Mining made Sandton [wealthy area of Johannesburg] to be Sandton and the Bantustans of the Eastern Cape to be the desolate places that they still are. Mining in South Africa also made the elites in England rich by exploiting workers in South Africa. You cannot understand why the rural Eastern Cape is poor without understanding why Sandton and the City of London are rich.

Kota described South African society as one “based on each according to his political connections with the elite that has captured the ANC and its alliance partners”.

As the global crisis hits firms like Lonmin – demand for platinum is falling, along with the price of the metal – so the crackdown on workers intensifies. The South African state machine remains the same as it was before apartheid. It serves capital, with the only difference that the majority of its personnel are black.

Justice Malala, journalist turned political analyst, noted that the AMCU is also organising among poor workers and their shack dwellings. “For these settlements, this is a strike against the state and the haves, not just a union matter.” President Jacob Zuma’s reaction bears him out. He tried to reassure investors their money would be safe, saying at a tour of the Marikana mine on Friday: "We remain committed to ensuring that this country remains a peaceful, stable, productive and thriving nation."

His words, and the actions of the police, surely indicate that it is time to renew the South African revolution, giving it the social and economic dimension that was blocked by the ANC.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor
20 August 2012

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