New forces will ensure that there is no return to business as usual after the mine strike, writes Richard Pithouse.
The name Marikana and the date August 16, 2012, have been carved into our history with the same brutality, blood and resolve that have shaped so many of the events that have brought us to where we are.
Around the world massacres and long and bitter strikes have often been decisive turning points in societies.
From Algeria to India and Zimbabwe, the first massacre after independence from colonialism has often come to mark the point at which the collective innocence about the claims of parties that were once national liberation movements to incarnate the national interest has begun to unravel. In many cases it has also begun a turn from above and, important, sometimes also from below, away from democratic modes of politics.
The defeat of the miners’ strike that shook Britain 30 years ago broke the power of organised labour and enabled the undoing of the social democratic consensus forged after World War II.
At the conclusion of the strike on our platinum mines the bosses announced, in Melrose Arch, that there were no winners in the great strike of our generation.
Even through the mediation of a television screen it was clear that at Marikana there was a different view among the workers and their families. In striking contrast to Gwede Mantashe’s colonial fantasy about white agency animating African struggles, many of the workers, and their families, spoke of their pride at having successfully taken on some of the most powerful forces in our society. “We will not,” one worker insisted, “be their dogs”.
The political imagination at work in the strike was not confined to the mines. As more sophisticated academic work has shown, its repertoire of political action stretched back to the Mpondo Revolts in 1960.
Its concerns reached into the eNkanini shack settlement in Marikana and the villages in the hills of the Eastern Cape – spaces that remain zones of exclusion and subordination in the new order.
It will take many years, perhaps a generation, before the full consequences of all that has happened are evident. But it is clear that the standing of the ANC, as well as the dynamics animating electoral politics and trade unions, will not be the same again. Given the way in which the rebellion at Marikana ignited the farmworkers’ strike in the Western Cape, and was seized on in new land occupations in cities and towns across the country, it is also clear that it made a profound impact on the popular political consciousness.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s shack settlements were often given names like “Joe Slovo”, “Chris Hani” or “Lusaka”. This placed the land occupation, and its protagonists, in a national drama.
Even when times were tough there was a clear, and sometimes millennial sense, that this drama was heading towards some sort of collective redemption.
As it has become clear that the nation is not going to be for all, and that capitalism will not enable wealth to trickle down, names like “Nomzamo”, or “eNkanini”, names that speak to a certain striving and resilience, became more common.
After the massacre in 2012, “Marikana”, a name that speaks to a new kind of collective imagination, but one that is at a clear distance from elite nationalism, has become common. In Durban, the Marikana Land Occupation in Cato Crest has two sections – one named for Nkululeko Gwala and the other for Nqobile Nzuza, both murdered in the struggle to hold this land.
This marks a political imagination that is saturated with an awareness of death. It carries a strong sense of resolve, but it does not carry a sense that there will, in time, necessarily be some sort of collective redemption.
In shack settlements across the city the old call and response slogan Amandla! and then Awethu! is now often rendered as Amandla! and then Awethu Ngenkani! It is inkani, a stubborn and forceful determination, to which people increasingly look as the means to take what place they can in the world.
Political discussions that used to centre on how to access the relevant officials, or a lawyer, or to develop a better understanding of policy, now often focus primarily on how to acquire this resolve.
Although this is inevitably a collective discussion it is also often deeply personal. People find their resilience in different ways. For some the spiritual realm is important, for others it is family and for most a sense of community, sometimes inherited, but often forged in struggle.
Women are often central to this politic and it is not unusual for them to tell the story of how they acquired their resolve in a manner that centres on surviving traumatic experiences in the family.
In 2014, it is difficult to believe that in time everyone will have a place in the nation. It is equally difficult to believe that in time everyone will have any kind of job, let alone the kind of job that enables the sort of political leverage that can bend the arc of time towards justice.
But “Marikana” is now the name of land occupations around the country, as well as a workers’ rebellion, a massacre and an extraordinary strike. And from the platinum belt around Rustenburg to the shacklands of Durban and beyond people are increasingly putting their primary political investment in their own resilience.
New forces are stirring. Elite nationalism is beginning to lose its hold on an increasingly militant citizenry. Many people are looking for new organisations to advance their interests.
Relations to the legal system and electoral politics are increasingly instrumental. None of us knows where this will end.
It is clear that there will be no return to business as usual at the end of this strike. The deal that carried us through the past 20 years is over.