Miners gesture as they pray during the one-year anniversary commemorations of the Marikana massacre.

Zuma’s absence from the commemoration of the Marikana massacre shows that we’re ruled by spoilt brats, says Max du Preez.

Durban - Callous. Petulant. Scandalous. Proof of the contempt with which our government and ruling alliance regard the citizens of this country if they’re not loyal party members.

These were the words that came to mind when I watched the commemoration of the Marikana Massacre last Friday and noticed the absence of the South African president, the deputy president of the ANC, the minister of safety and security, the minister of labour, the commissioner of police, the leadership of the biggest trade union federation and of the former liberation movement.

I was anticipating public outrage in the media on Saturday and Sunday at this cruel disregard of the victims, their families and the survivors of that history-changing event near Rustenburg a year ago. There was no outrage. It was as if it was simply normal behaviour. Have we all become immune to the insults to our fellow citizens’ humanity?

Marikana was the first massacre of civilians by police in the post-apartheid era. It will forever stand as a day drenched in blood next to Sharpeville and Boipatong. Thirty-four mineworkers died there. The mineworkers demanded better wages and living conditions. We saw the almost indiscriminate mowing down of workers on our television screens.

We know now that some of the workers were shot in the back by policemen. We saw evidence that some were executed in cold blood away from the main killing field.

We know that most of the dead workers were from elsewhere in the country; “migrant workers” as we still call that ugly colonialist and apartheid practice of taking workers from their homes and families to work on the mines and in the industries in the cities. We know they were all black.

The media have shown us the desperate circumstances under which those workers lived around the mine: rows and rows of shacks with limited or no water, electricity and sewerage systems. This was not supposed to happen 19 years after we cast off the shackles of apartheid and white domination and became a liberated nation and an open democracy.

Marikana was the day we as a nation got our final warning to wake up to the realities of the poor and underpaid: if we don’t do something drastic, we will see more blood spilled and we will see our stability and development drain like water in the sand.

More than six out of 10 voters have voted repeatedly for the ANC since 1994 because they promised freedom, dignity and fairness to the former oppressed.

And now these very same leaders show the dead, their families, the wounded and the traumatised of Marikana a thick middle finger by refusing to attend the national commemoration of this tragedy?

Like spoilt children they stayed away just because they didn’t organise the event. Cosatu and the National Union of Mineworkers, once the undisputed champions of the workers, didn’t attend because a rival trade union was now the top dog at Lonmin.

The SACP, the so-called vanguard of the class struggle, was absent. The president and his cabinet ministers found something else to do.

No wonder the nation’s rabble rouser-in-chief, Julius Malema, was treated as a hero by those who did attend.

“The ANC today is all about power, not the people,” a union organiser, Teboho Masiza, told a New York Times reporter as he listened to local preachers offer prayers for the dead.

“They are supposed to be here to listen to the problems of the people of South Africa. But they are nowhere to be seen. They only look after themselves.”

Jacob Zuma and his cabinet and fellow ANC leaders knew early enough that new union, Amcu, was going to be the main player at the commemoration. The Amcu president made it clear that government representatives would be welcome and 20 seats were reserved for them on the stage. Zuma’s office and representatives of his ministers in charge of mining and police could have negotiated a way in which their attendance would be dignified and safe. The most hated man at the mine, Lonmin chief executive Ben Magara, did attend and speak, and he was listened to and not attacked.

The now suspended general secretary of Cosatu, Zwelinzima Vavi, not only stayed away from the memorial, but staged his own sensational media conference in Joburg at the very same time as the Marikana ceremony.

The ANC in North West’s statement said it all, even though it was criticised by Luthuli House: the commemoration had been “organised by an illegitimate team” and therefore the ANC wouldn’t attend. They’re not our dead, so why should we care, is what I read into it.

That is the Zuma-ANC for you: a party that behaves like it is the state itself. If you’re not with them, they’ll treat you like the enemy.

* Max du Preez is an author and columnist.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.

The Mercury