Marikana: The Massacre After the Massacre

A year after violence escalated in South Africa, conflicts still persist. 

It has been a year since 34 striking miners were shot dead by police at Lonmin's platinum mine in Marikana, South Africa. What appeared to be a conflict between miners and police was in reality more complex: It was a war between miners themselves. That war, tragically, continues today.

I visited Marikana on Monday, to research a story about life at the mines one year after the massacre. By 11am that morning, a mineworker had been shot dead outside her home within the mine's married quarters. The mineworker was a mother of three, and a foster mother to a further three children, who worked as a shop steward for the National Union of Mineworkers. Her colleagues told me they have little doubt she was killed for her role in the union.

The murder is the latest in a string of tit for tat killings between the established National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and the radical Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU). Several union members have been shot on both sides, as the two unions vie for power.

Ongoing Conflict

The NUM is part of COSATU, the group of unions that forms the tripartite alliance with the ANC and the South African Communist Party. Trade unions such as NUM played a massive role in the fight against apartheid. Yet the hope and unity of those days has degenerated into the inter-union rivalry we see today.

It is easily forgotten that the police intervened last year because of violence between the unions. Ten people died in the days preceding the massacre on August 16, 2012, in a dispute over a wildcat strike, which AMCU supported but NUM did not.

That divide is as deep as ever — and is becoming increasingly violent. Tension between the two unions has intensified in recent months, as the AMCU toppled the NUM as the biggest union in the platinum industry. The AMCU is now officially the majority union at Lonmin, with over 60 percent of the miners on its books. How it achieved this success is questionable, however.

Fear and Intimidation

"One of the strategies of these people is to instil fear on our members, for them to be scared to belong to NUM," said Mxhasi Sithethi, NUM's regional organizer. "That's why they keep terrorizing people."

It is not just NUM members being terrorized. AMCU members are also being threatened and killed. But no matter which side the miners fall on, they are united in one aspect: fear.

"Everybody's scared, everybody's scared," said Thandi Mateyisa, the latest victim's niece. "You start talking, you start doing anything, so you don't know what might happen to you."

As a result of this fear, witnesses are too scared to speak out and perpetrators go unpunished. The atmosphere after Monday's shooting was eery. Neighbors stood quietly around the body of their friend, refusing to testify against the person who had shot her in broad daylight. One of the reasons for keeping quiet is a lack of trust in the police.

"We don't see any reaction from the police. There is no security, we are not secure," said Adelaide Mfana, a friend of the dead woman.

In public, the leaders of both unions have been calling for an end to the killings. AMCU President Joseph Mathunjwa recently invited his NUM counterpart to help lead a memorial for the victims of the Marikana massacre, "to preach peace and demonstrate that workers' unity is a strength." Yet their soothing words have made little difference so far.

More than Random Violence

It is impossible to know how much violence at a grassroots level is coordinated from the top, since police have failed to charge anyone in relation to these murders. But I find it hard to believe that union leaders are unaware of the intimidation, abuse, and killings that go on between their members on a daily basis.

A disturbing factor has been how many of the killings have been carried out in an "execution style" with a single bullet. Monday's victim was shot once, through her back, according to police on the ground.

Could these murders be carried out by random criminal elements? Or are they in fact orchestrated? And where is Lonmin in all this? Should they not be doing more?

The question is where we go from here. Union leaders are making the right noises, but now is the time to take action. Something needs to be done to stop these killings, and bring an end to the fear which pervades the homes and mines of Marikana.

Would it not be a fitting memorial to those 34 miners if, instead of planting crosses and singing hymns, we found a way to stop more lives being claimed? 

*[Note: This article represents the views of the author and not the perspectives of AFP.]

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

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