THE Government was simply found with its collective pants down when the Marikana strike turned violent last week. It is, unfortunately, a post-democratic Boipatong or Sharpeville.
But agonisingly, the government continued to hide behind a mask of needing to focus on a week of mourning that was called by President Jacob Zuma in honour of those killed at the Lonmin mine.
Wednesday’s briefing on this week’s cabinet meeting was an exercise in obfuscation by cabinet spokesman Jimmy Manyi.
He was asked pointedly what steps the government was taking to prevent the unrest from spilling over to other mines in the Rustenburg area and whether the government had done anything to protect the already deeply troubled platinum sector?
Manyi kept repeating the mantra that the press should not be seeking headlines and news snippets. “Let me put it this way: right now the president has declared this whole week [one] of mourning. A team of ministers under Minister [in the Presidency Collins] Chabane have gone to assist the families of the bereaved The loss of life is a very serious matter. Families who have lost their loved ones must be supported.”
In a weak attempt at answering the questions, he said: “Cabinet is wary to make statements that are not thoroughly analysed and processed.” It rather wanted to wait for the facts, which will presumably come when the judicial commission of inquiry finally reports next year.
When pressed again on what the government was planning to do about “spillover effects”, Manyi said: “You do sound very angry. In government… you know well… when the president has spoken we listen. The president has been clear on mourning… I understand your anger, your requirement for news and all of that.”
Ministers haven’t been crowning themselves in glory. Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu told Parliament that before the incidents, she had never heard of the Association for Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu), which appears to be implicated in much of the trouble.
She said she would not talk to any union that was not recognised in terms of the Labour Relations Act. It is quite clear that the government simply ignored pleas by the Chamber of Mines for all unions – including Amcu – to be included in talks in the immediate aftermath of the killings.
Amcu was deliberately excluded from a meeting with the minister at the weekend. Cope leader Mosiuoa Lekota is quite right to point out that Amcu unionists will feel that they are being treated unfairly.
There is evidence that Amcu was the fulcrum of the trouble by fuelling the resentment of the 3 000 rock drillers who started a wildcat strike. It is still not entirely clear whether the bulk of the workers were current Lonmin employees and if they had real grievances. Lonmin said it paid rock drill operators about R10 500 a month, not the R4 000 initially reported.
Yet, what is clear is that the alliance of Cosatu, the ANC and the SACP is starting to crack. Cosatu no longer represents majorities of the workforce everywhere.
Author Jonny Steinberg told a Washington audience this week that the emergence of a popular opposition would not necessarily be a genteel affair. It was a process “that spills blood”, such as that spilled at Marikana.
He may be right that Marikana is the start of an unleashed – and angry – opposition which will break all sorts of things that have been carefully built up.
By refusing to deal with this new political creature on the block, the government may actually be hastening its own demise.