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.