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This is a summary of my analysis of the news from of the weekend press (August 19) – and radio and TV commentary – concerning the events in which 34 striking miners were killed by police last Thursday (August 16) at Lonmin’s Marikana mine in Northwest Province. (Written Sunday night, so some new facts might have come to light that I haven’t included – especially not Julius Malema’s “breathtaking political coup yesterday” – see Carol Paton’s lead story on front page of Business Day today … here is a link.)
The police shootings came after a week (starting August 12) in which workers launched a violent wildcat strike reportedly demanding a wage increase to R12500.00 p/m – from the current average of about R4500.00 p/m for Rock Drill Operators, who were the main constituents of the approximately 3000 workers who had gone on strike (the wage demand issue was dissected here – a story that points out that the real wage differential between what the workers were demanding and what they were getting was actually much narrower.)
During the course of the strike, prior to the police decision to remove the workers from a nearby hill they had occupied, approximately 10 people had been killed, including members of the police force, security guards, and ordinary workers – perhaps strikebreakers, although this is still unclear.
Julius Malema visited the area on Saturday and addressed the strikers – and is the only political leader who has been welcomed to do so. (Since I wrote this Zuma also managed to address the strikers).
President Jacob Zuma’s office has announced that a (judicial) inquiry into what happened will be established (see terms of reference and other details here.)
Minister of Mineral Resources Susan Shabangu together with Minister of Labour Mildred Olifant announced on Saturday they will be establishing a “task force” to address the problems at Marikana and deal with wider problems in the platinum sector.
It would be difficult to overstate the depth and variety of impacts of this event. Every news source reviewed here took the position that what had happened at Marikana was impossible to explain through any one category of cause and thus a multiplicity of causes was the approach taken across the board – although usually ending with the statement that the society and its top political leaders must, ultimately, carry the responsibility. Thus the commentary will be broken into the categories most commonly used in the Mail & Guardian, City Press, Sunday Times and Sunday Independent:
Marikana as union rivalry
All the weeklies placed the rivalry between the mainstay Cosatu union, the National Union of Mineworkers (Num) and the Association of Mining and Construction Union (Amcu) as the central explanation of what happened at Marikana. The consensus was that Num is slipping throughout the mining sector, having become too close to management (I doubt this is something with which either the union or management would agree) and increasingly representative of white-collar workers – and not RDOs and their assistants, and others who do much of the difficult physical work deep underground. “Amcu leaders and members launched ferocious attacks on Num members who were not prepared to go on strike”, said the Sunday Times lead editorial, summarising the most popular explanation for the central cause of what happened at Marikana. This ‘inter-union rivalry prism’ has much deeper implications when we consider the fact that Num is the key element of support for Jacob Zuma’s re-election at Mangaung in December this year, and Cosatu itself is three weeks away from its National Congress where its own leadership struggles – which are likely to be deeply influenced by what happened at Marikana – are being driven by those within the ANC – a matter explored under a headline below.
Marikana as Lonmin management failure
All the news sources reviewed here expresses the view that wages were unacceptably low in the platinum sector and that management was in some way culpable of feeding the conflict in the workforce by having attempted to make a separate deal with Rock Drill Operators at Marikana. These stories also tended to quote a 5 year study by the independent, “faith based”, Bench Mark Foundation – by chance (according to the foundation) released during the strike – that is sharply critical of the platinum mining companies for having failed to fulfill social obligations to workers and surrounding communities. (Sunday Times, Mail & Guardian, City Press)
Marikana as policing failure
There was unanimity throughout all the news sources reviewed here that the police had handled the situation badly – and that deaths were, in part, a result of improperly armed (with automatic rifles) and poorly led police forces on the scene. Most accounts went to some effort to explain that the police had been fired on by strikers, that (at least one) member had been hacked to death by strikers during the course of the action (City Press, Sunday Independent) and that at least one shot came from the strikers during the confrontation – although the only weapons collected by police after the action were pangas, sticks and iron bars … no guns (Philip de Wet corrects this in the comments sections below, saying police found 6 guns including the one taken from the murdered policeman … I am looking for a link to the Phiyega statement and will put it here when I find it.)
Most of the sources agree that “They were armed to the teeth and advancing on the police. This is not to justify the killing, but we must be aware that today we could just as easily have been talking about the massacre of policemen” – Mondli Makhanya, Sunday Times. However, the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) has announced that it will investigate the killings and ”will seek to establish if the police action was proportional to the threat posed by the miners” – Pierre De Vos in Constitutionally Speaking.
Marikana as societal break-down – as a result of economic inequality
As mentioned, it is difficult to overstate the degree of anxiety and hand-wringing about the state of the South African democracy that came through in all the news sources reviewed here – and in television commentary throughout the weekend. The general point of concern was that the levels of inequality (raised in this case by low wages and poor working conditions of miners) will, here-on-out, be a constant destabilising element to this society. Commentary also focused on asserting that the mechanisms by which society negotiates clashes of interest – including the labour market collective bargaining regime – are broken (evidenced by this incident and the more-widespread-than-ever, and often violent, service delivery protests). Thus political stability was raised as a matter of concern in all 4 of the weeklies.
Marikana as driving exit of foreign investment
The business sections of the three Sunday newspapers all pointed out that the price of platinum rose sharply on the back of what had happened, but that Lonmin share prices fell precipitously. “Fear clashes will spread” was the lead Business Times headline and several stories suggested that “foreign investors” would exit because of endemic labour conflict and unrest. “The police killings … ‘have taken things to a new level, spreading the fear to currency and bond market investors’”, Business Times quoted Nomura’s Peter Montalt
Marikana through the prism of Mangaung.
Two issues lay the ground for Marikana to be perceived through the prism of the pervasive leadership contest in the ANC. The first is that Num itself is the key pillar of ANC support in the trade union movement (it’s the biggest union in Cosatu) and the force that swung Cosatu support for the ANC at the formation of the trade union federation in 1985. More specifically, Num, under the leadership of Frans Baleni, is backing Jacob Zuma’s bid for re-election at Mangaung in December. The powerful – and very left-wing – National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa (Numsa) under Irvin Jim – and backed by Cosatu Secretary General Zwelinzima Vavi – is opposed to giving carte blanche backing to Zuma (mostly because of corruption concerns) and it is speculated that this faction might back Kgalema Motlanthe against Zuma at, and in the lead-up to, Mangaung. Several newspapers – but particularly the better informed Mail & Guardian, suggested this dynamic will lead to an attempt (by pro-Zuma forces) to unseat Zwelinzima Vavi at Cosatu’s national congress in three weeks’ time.
Secondly, Julius Malema immediately stepped into the breach at Marikana – as he did at the comparable (because it was also driven by the Amcu/Num contest) Impala strike earlier this year. Speaking to the workers on Saturday 18 – and note he was the ONLY political leader who has been allowed, by the strikers, to address them and he received a warm reception – Malema called for the resignation of Nathi Mthethwa (Minister of Police and key Zuma ally) and Jacob Zuma himself.
The faction of which Malema is a part and the factions that have a tactical alliance with him are likely to make as much as possible of the Marikana killings, and attempt to lay the blame directly at Zuma’s door (as almost all news sources reported Malema doing on Saturday.)
- There is a risk that it spreads – to other platinum operations, to the mining sector more generally and even to the society at large. The transmission mechanisms would be Num trying to win back ground it is losing from Amcu as well as via the already restive squatter camps and township neighborhoods. Municipal IQ, an organisation that monitors various aspects of municipalities, but particularly service delivery protests, points out that we had already passed, in July, the highest yearly totals of such protests since 1994. This outcome would not be my first case scenario. What drove the violence and the series of errors (of commission and omission) of the unions, management, the police and government that led to the killings are unique to that incident. If it does spread, the most likely first stop would be other platinum mines, and therefore the first impacts would be on supply of the metal.
- The feed through into conflict between unions – obviously between Num and Amcu, but also within Cosatu, between Num and Numsa - could presage a generalised increase in levels of industrial unrest.
- Government is likely to turn its full attention to the “social” performance of the mining companies – under the Mining Charter. Expect a thicket of new regulations – and a generalised attempt to focus the blame on the companies.
- Jacob Zuma’s comfortable lead in the Mangaung contest (and this is purely my opinion) is gradually narrowing as we get closer to the December ANC National Conference. The Marikana incident is likely to weaken his position further – and this in the context of a series of defeats in the second biggest ANC province, the Eastern Cape – which until a year ago was considered safe ground for Zuma.
I comment on, and interpret, incidents like the shooting by police of at least 35 strikers at Marikana yesterday.
Even as the gunfire fell silent the price of Lonmin shares fell and the price of platinum spiked in response to supply concerns.
It’s what I do for a living – the people that pay my bills are paying for information or interpretation that might have an impact on the value of things they own, might sell and/or might buy in the future.
What I say to them is a tiny part of the universe of facts and opinions that these individuals and institutions consider when making investment decision to make money and/or prevent losses for the owners of the funds under their care.
But when I had finished my cursory analysis and sent it out – by 05h30 this morning – I busied myself with the difficult business of waking my children and preparing them for the school day.
At some point I shouted across the room for the younger one to switch the channel from Phineas and Ferb to eNews so I could catch the latest from Marikana.
The timing was perfect. We all watched as a line of flack-jacketed, SWAT-style policemen advanced. Suddenly a group of tatty men stormed around an object … a car perhaps … towards the police.
The police opened fire, rifles on full automatic, and the men running towards them simply collapsed in the exploding dust, loose limbed, their ragged bodies sprawling.
A voice, a white Afrikaans voice – but I am not sure why that is significant aside from the fact that no-one I could see amongst the police or the protesters was white – shouted repeatedly: “cease fire, cease fire, cease fire”.
I was horrified. I looked towards my 12 year old son. His mouth was frozen wide open, his face a study of incomprehension.
It was over too quickly for me to do anything about it … I was, frankly, too shocked myself to ameliorate or in some way decode what we had seen.
Sometimes it’s not the facts that count, but how we line them up:
The massacre yesterday has no precedent in the new South Africa.
The precedents are all in the bad old days, when the National Party’s security establishment fired on those taking to the streets and threatening the political elite of the day.
Throughout the platinum sector there is militant and growing opposition to the hegemony of National Union of Mineworkers (Num).
Num has drifted towards representing white-collar workers – the traditional terrain of Solidarity and Uasa.
Num is the backbone of Cosatu’s support for the ANC and that union is also a key pillar of support for Jacob Zuma’s re-election at Mangaung.
It doesn’t matter how ‘true’ the implicit story implicating the political elite in this particular incident is.
It’s clear the workers on the hill were armed. They fired at police. And at a helicopter.
Who can blame the command structure for arming the officers with automatic weapons in this environment?
Can you imagine how scared – and angry – the individual members of the force were as the panga and iron bar carrying strikers rushed towards them?
But those facts are not going to be important over the next few weeks and months.
What’s going to matter is that Num has successfully been portrayed as a sweetheart union, increasingly concerned with white-collar workers, and increasingly comfortably with the benefits that come from being romanced by management.
It is going to matter that Zuma-supporting Num appears to have abandoned the least sophisticated workers – workers that use muti from sangomas to protect themselves from police bullets – to a violent, millennial-style organisation like Amcu.
This is what I Here are a few paragraphs from the conclusion of what I said to my clients this morning:
- It appears to me that this is the prism through which the public and the press is likely to understand what happened yesterday. In this narrative Jacob Zuma will be portrayed as the villain, presiding over the gradual abandonment by the ANC of the most marginalised and vulnerable citizens. When political formations inevitably emerge to give voice to those disaffected groups, policemen armed for war will be ordered to use all necessary force to defend the support base of the incumbent political elite.
- Expect anxiety about the breakdown of the political and social mechanisms that have traditionally allowed our society to negotiate the complicated disagreements and clashes of interest with which it is beset.
- Finally, this incident is likely to be used against Jacob Zuma in the run-up to the political contest at Mangaung. It might not be strictly fair, but the narrative is compelling, and Zuma’s enemies and competitors will make everything they can of his vulnerability here.
There is little I can say of any use to the child with whom I watched the visuals on eNews.
Nedbank chairman Reuel Khoza provides the lead headline in today’s Business Day as “warning of a rogue state future for SA”.
So imagine if you could, for a moment, that you are playing a sports game.
As in a dream, you suddenly realise you don’t know the rules; you don’t know how to score, who’s on your side or what the parameters of the field are.
This could be a comical situation – and I am sure I remember boys from my school days whose mystification on the rugby, cricket or hockey fields would bring a gentle smile to our (his team mates’) faces.
But this is also the stuff of nightmares: an inscrutable world where what happens happens for reasons entirely mysterious, where people are motivated by incomprehensible impulses and the dread of the unknown builds and builds.
I am sure I am not alone in having worked in a dysfunctional institution?
I mean something worse than a j0b in which you are poorly paid and have a psychopath for a boss (entry level experience requirements for human adulthood as far as I can make out).
A dysfunctional institution is one in which the sum total of what the organisation achieves appears to be at-odds with its explicit mission.
I am suggesting something worse than an organisation that doesn’t achieve what it is designed to achieve. I am suggesting that in some instances a deeply dysfunctional organisation can, when everything is aggregated, achieve the very opposite to its stated purpose is.
Which brings me to the institutions of the South African state.
I am occasionally lucky enough to get hold of some excellent economic commentary written by Sanlam Group Economist Jac Laubscher and published on that company’s website. In his most recent contribution (which appears here) he takes some concepts from Why Nations Fail: the Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty by Daron Acemoglu and James A Robinson (book I haven’t yet read, but will do so on the back of Jac’s comments) and hints at how they might be applicable to South Africa.
According to Laubscher, Acemoglu and Robinson suggest that the dominance of “inclusive institutions” over “extractive institutions” is the difference between success or failure of nations.
Inclusive institutions harness and unleash human creativity and incentivise citizens and workers to give of their best.
As Jac Laubscher summarises:
Inclusive institutions are characterised by guaranteed property rights (vital for investment and productivity growth), an impartial legal system that upholds contracts, the effective provision of public services to create a level playing field, space to create new businesses, and the freedom to choose one’s career.
“Extractive institutions” in the words of Jac Laubscher:
… are aimed at extracting income and wealth from one section of society to the benefit of another section of society, usually the elite. In fact, extractive political institutions are the means by which the elite enrich themselves and consolidate their political dominance.
It is a fairly simple matter to demonstrate that to some degree key state and semi-state institutions and processes in South Africa have become mechanisms for extracting wealth by the politically connected elite.
But a key qualifier here is “to some degree”. I don’t think the state has yet, unambiguously, become an extractive tool of the political elite. But it is obvious that at least part of the political elite is struggling mightily to shape our institutions to and for that purpose.
Yesterday I listened to Trevor Manuel deliver the National Development Plan to a joint sitting of parliament. At the same time the the Constitutional Court was hearing an application by the Treasury and Sanral to set aside the April interim interdict granted by North Gauteng High Court halting e-tolling and mandating a full review of the system.
My views on both Trevor Manuel and e-tolling are ambiguous – they both have their good and bad points – but I appreciate the subtlety and complexity of what the National Planning Commission has tried to achieve … and I celebrate the fact that we have a Constitutional Court we can trust with decisions like the one it was busy with yesterday*.
But the institutions of our society are not yet the corridors of the predators’ labyrinth – but we’d be foolish to ignore the signs.
* The Concourt matter is important for a number of reasons, but the aspect that interests me professionally, is part of what is happening is driven by the fact that the Treasury feels the need to defend its credibility as a borrower. I suspect that the rating agencies are happy that the Treasury is fighting this matter but are anxious that they might lose. The lender wants to be certain that the entity to whom it lends is properly able to make the agreement to pay the money back. The Treasury is ultimately arguing that the North Gauteng High Court ruling means no lender to the South African government can be sure that the courts might not declare, in effect, that government was legally incompetent to make the decision in the first place – significantly increasing default risk.
Some of the things we think we know about revolts and revolutions - but that do not always apply:
- Where there are adequate elective processes dissatisfied people believe they can influence outcomes through voting and therefore are unlikely to make the sacrifices required of a revolution.
- Revolts are generally lead and organised by the middle classes - a degree of education is required - thus where the middle class is linked to the ruling elite through patronage or ethnicity, its members are less likely to lead a revolution.
It is no easy matter to explain how a paragraph from Michael Ondaatje’s poem “The Cinnamon Peeler” speaks to me about the ANC’s economic policy process.
The poem is a sensual delight – quite unlike the ANC’s policy discussion.
Anyway … here is the relevant paragraph:
what good is it to be the lime burner's daughter left with no trace as if not spoken to in the act of love as if wounded without the pleasure of a scar.
(Catch the whole poem here – you will be glad you did)
Who could have believed anything other than that the ANC’s recent policy conference was a momentous event, a sharp delineation between one stage and another?
The promise was in the ‘economic freedom in our lifetime’ campaign, the calls for nationalisation of land and mines, the National Development Plan and the ANC’s policy discussion documents themselves.
The sense that some big change was imminent built towards the conference and then the news flow from the event spoke of deep geological shifts; shudders that shook the body politic.
And then … nothing.
Or rather the shifts were so subtle that it all felt like a new version of Kremlin watching (that popular art – masquerading as science – peddled by professional Western political analysts and historians circa 1955-1988 of predicting the future of global politics from who stood where on Soviet platforms).
Carol Paton, writer at large at Business Day, covered the recent ANC policy conference in a piece that should be required reading for anyone who wants to understand the subtleties – and intrinsic weaknesses – of the process.
She argues that little has actually changed in ANC economic policy since the first conference after the unbanning in 1992 – and what has changed is slight and nuanced.
Paton’s more general point is that the discussion is inherently flawed:
Economic debate in the ANC occurs in a strange, abstract and ahistoric vacuum without reference to what really happens in an economy. For most of those involved in the discussion — who are delegates from branches but also often public representatives — the sole reference point for how change might be effected in society is through the exercise of political power.
Paton argues that almost none of the ANC members and leaders involved in policy discussion “have had the experience of running or managing an operational business or even of operating in the economy in any way other than as a public representative or government official.”
The article is well worth a read – catch it here.
For me the important bit is the disjuncture between the promise/threat of radical change and the actual outcomes.
As we head towards Mangaung it is likely that noise arising from the ANC internal politics will once again begin to imply that we might be heading towards some radical discontinuity in economic policy.
Obviously our markets will be weaker than they otherwise would have been because of this sense of uncertainty.
I am fairly certain that come the morning after Mangaung we will comb our body for a trace of the change we thought must be a consequence of that event that presents itself as so profound … but we will find that we have been wounded without the pleasure of a scar.
I am sure no-one has failed to notice the flood of South African high achievers passing through the United Kingdom over the last week or so.
A golfer was there recently, some swimmers, a group of cricketers … and, oh yes, Julius Malema.
Julius told BBC and Sky News that he was in London working hard and meeting investors behind closed doors – to explain the ‘economic freedom campaign’ – and to give nuances on the nationalisation call.
He – charmingly – defended the racial make-up of the South African Olympic team: “we are proud of our athletes”, he said; and he came clean on his support for Kgalema Motlanthe to succeed Jacob Zuma at Mangaung in December.
This is his Mangaung prediction:
“I am coming back to the ANC in December; once we have removed president Jacob Zuma – because we are going to remove him successfully in December … and then I will walk into that conference, shake his hand and proceed to occupy my rightful seat.” (Catch that BBC clip here.)
It is difficult not to admire the audacity … and delight in the anxiety that those who conducted the Polokwane Putsch must be feeling.
But to my mind things swerve away from the comic and towards the dark when I think about this a little more.
It is a series of small things that worry me.
He pitched up at the Chingford Rugby Club and joined a group of Zimbabweans for a braai – and was apparently welcomed with open arms. He dined with Lenox Lewis
and spoke to a group called the Pan African Congress (not our PAC – but it has some similarities) and was covered in a spooky online journal called The Zimdiaspora under the headline “We are inspired by Mugabe – Malema” as follows:
Turning to … Zimbabwe and its politics of land and mineral wealth redistribution, Malema had glowing praise for the president of Zimbabwe Robert Gabriel Mugabe for confiscating land from the whites and giving it to blacks. He stated they found inspiration from the actions of Mugabe as an African leader and were grateful to see him standing up against whites and their economic enslavement of blacks.
Glowing praise for president of Zimbabwe Robert Gabriel Mugabe? Sounds like a writer constrained by the diktats of belonging to a government department, something like, say … hmm … the Zimbabwe Central Intelligence Organisation?
What would covert aspects of the Zimbabwean state get from promoting the increasingly virulently, anti-Zuma Malema in London ? (I am not unaware that there is a wild leap in that last sentence … but still am going to just take it and move along.)
It’s a tenuous link but my nose is twitching: Zanu-PF’s preparation to hold off the MDC challenge is multifaceted and very sophisticated. A significant part of the pressure on Zanu-PF to meet its obligations under the Global Political Agreement and move towards democratic elections is coming from the SADC facilitation under the leadership of Jacob Zuma.
The next Zimbabwean election is going to be won or lost on the precise wording of the laws and constitution that set the conditions for elections – including how the security apparatuses will be controlled.
That wording is being finalised as I write this …. as Julius Malema takes his campaign against Zuma to the world stage, during the Olympics … no expenses spared.
I realise I have to be cautious; it is not as if the Malema ANC Youth League faction is not brilliant at self-promotion and has an almost preternatural ability to play into the current media obsessions.
Malema was quoted in the Zimbabwe Sunday Mail in June saying that Jacob Zuma was not the right person to be the SADC mediator in Zimbabwe because ‘he hates Robert Mugabe.’
I think that the possibility that Malema is acting as an asset for a (partially) hostile foreign power will play against him in the ANC’s internecine strife … or at least his enemies will try and make that case to his detriment. (Note added on 03/08/2012: I am not suggesting that there is necessarily any intention on Malema’s part … the point is rather that in effect he might be fulfilling Bob’s/Zanu-PF’s agenda as opposed to ‘the national interest’ as embodied – supposedly – by the South African president … or even more narrowly that the possibility of this being true will probably been used against Malema by the incumbents he is campaigning against.)
We must guard against paranoia and the instinct to see everything we can’t quite explain as evidence of the hidden hand of spies, aliens or the Elders of Zion – but equally we would have to be very naive to believe that the hundreds of billions of real dollars spent each years on espionage and dirty tricks just disappears into the ether, leaving no imprint on the world.