AT ITS heart, the dispute that has turned violent at Lonmin’s Marikana mine in North West is really a fight between the haves and the have-nots.
The haves in this case have jobs, hope, a working union — the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) — and a future to look forward to, despite their relatively low wages.
The have-nots have none of these things. This is the real reason that it ended with so much bloodshed. At the centre of this problem is a lack of direction from the government, a lack of leadership from politicians, particularly in the African National Congress (ANC), and a growing lack of legitimacy in the state and the machinery of voting in particular.
In short, what happened last week could be just the first such incident. We must prepare for more.
That the people who brought shotguns to last Thursday’s protest are poor is, historically, the fault of apartheid. The fact that they are still poor is not the fault of Hendrik Verwoerd (as some might claim) but the fault of a lack of any kind of policy currently being implemented that would create jobs for them. Here, it appears blame can be laid squarely at the door of the ANC in general and perhaps President Jacob Zuma in particular.
The writing has been on the wall for some time. In June last year, a Transnet depot in Bloemfontein decided to hold interviews for 30 low-level jobs. They did not require any training. Transnet was planning for 4,000 applicants. When 10,000 arrived, there was a stampede and dozens of people were badly hurt.
At Lonmin, the situation is made worse: there are those with jobs, some better paid than others, some without jobs and a dispute between unions, all aggravated by extreme poverty in that area.
While the role played by the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) certainly needs to be examined closely, this is really a function of the breakdown of our politics.
In the past, when the ANC felt the need to calm down a fiery situation, it would send in Julius Malema.
He had the political street-credibility, as an "outsider" of some sort, to declare that the government of the day, the ANC, had not fixed these problems, and he would ensure that they did.
Now that he is out of the picture, the ANC has run out of people who can fulfil that role. Congress of South African Trade Unions general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi was able to for a time, but he could not act properly here as he is obviously seen as aligned to the NUM. This meant that the only people who could step in were from Amcu’s leadership, who eventually lost control of a situation that they have to take some of the blame for creating.
But politics, like nature, abhors a vacuum. If the ANC and the tripartite alliance are now unable to fulfil the hopes of Lonmin miners, organisations such as Amcu can hardly be blamed for stepping in. And once leaders find that a more populist message, such as doubling the wages for all miners, works, they will continue to use it. This will give them legitimacy, despite the fact that their plans are unworkable.
The fact is that once other people have seen that this message works at Lonmin, they are likely to try something similar elsewhere. This could lead to a new wave of populist organisations and leaders, who play on the fact that the ANC appears unable to offer any kind of hope to those without jobs.
What would remove the power from their message is if the economy literally started to work.
If the ANC and, crucially, the tripartite alliance were able to agree on actually implementing Planning Minister Trevor Manuel’s National Development Plan, then these people would start to see real progress in their lives. If the ANC had not allowed the Limpopo textbook scandal to happen, then perhaps the jobless would have placed their own hopes on hold, believing their children would indeed have a better life.
And if the ANC in general, and Zuma in particular, had been able to grasp the nettle on jobs and to simply agree on a policy such as the youth wage subsidy, there would have been fewer unemployed people for the populist Amcu to take advantage of.
But, as the situation stands at the moment, the ANC appears to be further from acting decisively than ever before. Which is bound to simply create more space for unworkable populism and, ultimately, more violence.
• Grootes is a contributing editor for Business Day and an Eyewitness News reporter.
More in this section
- Guptagate report shows manipulation, collusion and illegal blue lights
- SABC presenter Mbuli hailed as patriot and ‘zealous newshound’
- Karabus lawyer says South African nurse behind bars in UAE
- Eskom was ‘on the brink of a power shutdown’
- Iran ‘behind US cyber blitz’
- THICK END OF THE WEDGE: We can already write the NDP off