Driven by desperation

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sa mine pic 3 REUTERS BELIEVING THE IMPROBABLE: Thousands of striking miners armed with machetes and sticks faced off with South African police on Wednesday at Lonmin's Marikana mine PICTURE: Reuters /Siphiwe Sibekoe

The tragedy at Lonmin’s Marikana mine reminded us of a past we all would rather not relive.

The death of 34 miners at the hands of the police left SA shell-shocked. It was as if we were reading reports from the apartheid era.

In some ways, the events of the last week resemble a Greek tragedy; a government freed its people so that they should never again be subjected to mindless loss of life at the hands of their government – and then they lost their lives to their government.

This is the reason people are so angry.

It is also the reason that the poor believe that the ANC takes notice of them only during election time or when they demand to be noticed through violent protest.

The violence of the last week has certainly reminded us of the marginalised.

There are so many facets to the story that we don’t quite know who to be angry at. The instinctive reaction of many was to direct anger at the police for firing live rounds at protesters for three long minutes.

We know that just two weeks ago, Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa instructed police not to use live ammunition when controlling a protest march.

Yet 34 people lay dead around a koppie in North West.

We also don’t know if we should be mad at the striking mine workers who were brandishing dangerous weapons. There was blood on their hands too; two policemen had died in the preceding days. Did the police react the way they did subconsciously because their own had been killed?

Should we be mad at the mine bosses who were paying the workers so little for such dangerous work in the first place? What about the games that the mine bosses played? They promised to negotiate but later refused to do so. Could this bloodbath have been prevented had they sat around the bargaining table?

Then there are reports that the mineworkers consulted a sangoma who claimed that he could protect them against bullets from the policemen if it had to come to that.

Unfortunately it did come to that, with tragic consequences for the believers. Some are very quick to point to their stupidity. What we can blame here is the stupidity of apartheid, of a system that denied them an education. An education would never have left them in such a desperate position.

They were so desperate that they were willing to believe the improbable. The poor and uneducated are crippled by their desperation.

There is not much difference between them and the Xhosas who believed the teenager Nonqawuse in 1854, who had a vision and told the Xhosa nation to slaughter all its cattle – for, she prophesied, this would lead to white people being driven back to where they came from. The nation listened, which resulted in starvation and deaths.

The mineworkers will go back underground and will be forgotten because that is what we do. We forget the poor. The mine bosses and shareholders will continue making money and getting bonuses.

What led to this is not the cops, not mine bosses, not the miners, but the violence that is poverty and inequality,


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