The best of South African literature
With every commemoration that will certainly be held in the coming years, Marikana will increasingly grow into a memory of betrayal, writes Mcebisi Ndletyana.
Johannesburg - The Marikana commemoration embodied the irony of our time. The date of the massacre – August 16, 2012 – signified how long we’ve dismantled apartheid institutions. Yet, what is supposedly new, happening here and now, is also reminiscent of our past.
The commemoration was new in occurrence, but old in symbolism.
On that day of remembrance, the party of liberation felt the awkwardness that was previously experienced by white parties over such events.
However much it claimed to be new after apartheid, the National Party, for instance, could never bring itself to attend events that remembered the atrocities of the past.
What made attendance difficult for the NP was that such activities contained a double meaning for it: commemorative, yet accusatory. Commemoration would have joined the party in solidarity to the rest of the mourners, while also singling it out for blame.
The ruling party was visited by that dilemma: how does it claim to empathise, when it is accused of culpability? Rather than confront, wrestle and attempt a resolution of the dilemma, it opted for what it thought was an easy route: the party snubbed the commemoration.
Every political party, even those that one thought no longer existed, was present at Marikana.
The ANC was conspicuous by its absence. It claims not to have received an invitation. This is bizarre. No one is ever invited to a mourning service. Mourning is not done by invitation, but is felt. You mourn with the bereaved because you empathise with their pain.
It is not lack of empathy, however, that caused the ruling party’s absentia. Rather it reflects a persistent problem of how the two components of the party, Luthuli House and Mahlambandlovu – one in government and the other outside of government – relate to each other.
Because the 34 workers were mowed down by police, under the charge of an ANC government, Luthuli House has felt somewhat restrained in its commentary on the tragedy. It neither condemned police brutality outright nor did it completely exonerate workers.
To condemn the police would have meant admission of culpability – that its own police killed
workers. And, that’s exactly what Julius Malema charged on that commemorative day: “Zuma sent the police to come kill you.”
To identify with the killed, maimed and traumatised workers would have implied endorsement of the new trade union, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu), which emerged popular in the aftermath of that tragic strike. Because it’s in an alliance with Amcu’s rival trade union, the National Union of Mine-workers (NUM), the ruling party would rather deride Amcu’s leadership as reckless instead of fully commiserating with the bereaved.
And the ruling party’s failure to be critical of its own government is a negation of its own commitment. Because it remains a mass-based party, the leadership undertook a while ago that its local branch-leadership should be the vanguard of their communities.
They should speak on behalf of residents in their communities, even if it is against an ANC-controlled municipality. In other words, the party outside of government should be a watchdog over the party in government.
This is partly the reason why the party bars its branch leaders from holding municipal positions. It correctly reasoned that fusing the two positions in one person inhibits oversight.
How the party has carried itself after the massacre, however, is a deviation from the vanguard principle. Its handling of the Marikana commission and the commemoration invites scorn over its claims that it represents the downtrodden.
The widows and orphans left behind by the dead at Marikana are also part of the downtrodden that the party purports to represent.
They seek the truth about how their loved ones died and justice for their murder. Through its formation of the commission, government promised both truth and justice. But the conduct of the commission threatens to deliver neither. Without competent legal representation to interrogate witnesses and the police, the whole truth shall not be established.
The odds are stacked up against victims ever finding out the truth or getting justice, while the alleged perpetrators are provided infinite resources to escape liability. What is certain, though, is that, because the state has secured them the best legal minds, the police stand a good chance of being exonerated of any wrongdoing.
This spectacle suggests a party leadership more embedded within state institutions than rooted within the people it supposedly represents. The preoccupation is less about championing the plight of the marginalised than reproducing itself in power. That is why it takes journalists and NGOs to expose uncovered toilets and non-delivery of books to schoolchildren halfway through the year.
The government has taken sides on the Marikana massacre. And it’s not alongside the victims. It is the clergy that is standing with the victims, side by side.
This is not a new sight. The South African Council of Churches has always sided with victims of police brutality, and the poor, some of whom are now in government, but seems incapable of empathising with today’s victims.
The clergy has now found new comrades to stand alongside them in their quest for relief.
The new opposition parties have taken the place of the ANC alongside the clergy in support of the victims of police brutality.
The target of their pleas is the ANC, which is now associated with an injustice. They may be new rulers, but show the insensitivity of the past.
It would be foolhardy, of course, to suggest that the opposition is not motivated by the prospect of picking political capital. Speaking in jest, Bantu Holomisa, leader of the UDM, reminded the mourners of the impending national elections.
He likened next year’s election to a Chiefs-Pirates game, insinuating that the mourners should look out for the opposition team as it would feature new stars, including Juju and Agang.
The suggestion was that the opposition would do a lot better in government than the incumbent.
And, it is quite possible that ANC representatives would have been booed, if not spontaneously by the crowd, Malema would have incited it by his stinging comments on the party.
In snubbing the commemoration, however, the party has effectively handed the Marikana commemoration to the opposition as an instrument of rebuke against itself.
Because they did not mourn with the bereaved, the opposition’s claims that the ruling party no longer cares, gain credence in popular imagination.
Consequently, with every commemoration that will certainly happen in the coming years, Marikana will increasingly grow into a memory of betrayal.
People are not supposed die in freedom. For free people to have been killed by the police suggests that freedom is a mirage.
This is the narrative that is gaining ground. And the ruling party is not offering a counter-narrative. Doing so would have demanded it humble itself by attending the commemoration and face up to the accusations of blame.
The experience would have been unpleasant, but its presence would have sent a message of a party that is willing to admit where it has erred. Humility would certainly have neutralised the attacks.
Maintaining a stoic posture smacks of arrogance of power, which repulses. Humility is not a sign of weakness, but is an admission of fallibility – a trait found in all of us.
* Mcebisi Ndletyana is head of the political economy faculty at the Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.