IT’S HARD to settle on a single descriptor for the current crisis. It’s more than mining, labour, ANC leadership or economic recession generally if you take each on its own, but it’s less than all of them together. It will pass, as crises do, and with luck no more citizens are hurt or killed. But what happens afterwards? How do we become a better place, learning from what has happened?
We would all have our own answers to that. A million remedies from a million people. But there is, for me, one obvious thing that would have to be at the heart of every rational answer; we must become a much more accountable democracy. As citizens, rich or poor, black or white, we are excluded from the heart of the processes that create all levels of government around us.
None of us is more excluded than the migrant Tembu and Pondo miners of places like Marikana. They have literally nothing, for not even the land on which they leave their families behind can ever belong to them, thanks to a disgraceful political bargain made by the ANC with traditional leaders, entrenching the power of chiefs to control the allocation of land in territories under their authority.
The decision may have bought the ANC a degree of political support in Transkei for a decade, but it cannot possibly be fair or democratic to make a man or woman incapable of owning (or trading) the land they were born on. Apartheid made the accident of birth a burden for life. The ANC still does the same to people born on tribal lands.
Surely, in the conversation that must follow the crisis, the continued disenfranchisement of the people who make up most of the mining industry’s local workforce must feature prominently?
It gets worse for the migrant when he gets to his mine. He cannot choose his trade union because only certain unions can represent him. If he gets a plot of land he cannot improve the delivery of municipal services to it because he cannot hold the local mayor to account. The mayor is appointed by the party. He can’t complain to his MP because he doesn’t really have one and even if he knew his or her name they also would have been appointed by the party. He can’t get rid of the president because he wasn’t required to elect him in the first place.
But the more we directly elect, the safer and stronger we will be. The ANC and its governments have to become more directly accountable. If they don’t, they will destroy themselves and possibly the country. Unfortunately, prospects for introspection are not good. Gwede Mantashe, the ANC secretary-general, claimed yesterday self-introspection in the ruling party was constant. City Press yesterday published an ANC national working committee report blaming the British media, counterrevolutionaries, Julius Malema, internal opportunists and the new mining union Amcu for the platinum crisis. Like the man says, self-introspection.
Apparently he was on the John Robbie show on Radio 702 the other day and had a go at me. I never heard it and although I asked the show what he had said I have not yet had the courtesy of a reply. But I expect it was about a TV interview I did a night or two earlier. In it, I suggested, tongue in cheek, that while R12,500 for rock drillers would drive mining companies into loss and that they would thus not be able to pay taxes (governments tax profits, not losses), putting the money directly into the pockets of the poor might be better than paying taxes to be misspent or stolen by the state.
Mantashe can check the official estimates of state inefficiency or corruption with the auditor-general or Willie Hofmeyr but, meanwhile, I think I might be on to something; sharply cut mining taxes, pay miners more. Get the useless middleman, the state, out of the way. As Steve Biko said to a judge questioning him about Black Consciousness, "What’s the matter my lord, are you scared of ideas?"
I AM young enough to be around for the 50th commemoration of Steve Biko’s murder by police. Last week was the 35th. I knew him a bit. Easily the most charismatic figure I have ever met, he was at home in any situation, all of which he would effortlessly dominate.
He was one of those clever, tall, good-looking, loose-limbed charmers who could get you to do almost anything; and be genuinely concerned for your safety while you did it. All the while you were aware that this was an extraordinarily courageous man. Not just in a crowd of supporters, but alone, too, when courage matters most.
The bastards who killed him were probably too stupid to appreciate what manner of leader we would end up with if they murdered our authentic leaders back then.