It has taken me a long time to come to grips with the Aug. 16 murders of the South African miners at the Marikana mine. Thirty-four workers were killed by the police during a demonstration in which the workers were demanding an improvement in their pay and working conditions. The police alleged that the demonstrating miners were threatening and that this justified the use of deadly force. I have heard this argument all too often from across the globe.
As someone who was active in the movement in the U.S.A. to oppose the racist, apartheid regime that dominated South Africa from 1948-1994, and as the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum, the organization that, under the leadership of its founder Randall Robinson, championed the South African freedom struggle, the events in Marikana were mindboggling.
Regardless of the alleged threat level, the police had guns, the miners did not. Too many reports indicated that the miners were running away from the police at the time of the killings. These were not accidental killings – this was murder.
The South African government has reacted in contradictory ways. They are conducting an investigation, though one branch of the government initially charged some of the mine workers with complicity in the killings of their co-workers (this was later dropped).
The events in South Africa are illustrative of a larger problem that has faced the continent. Since the end of formal colonialism and White minority-rule, some of the same forces that led the freedom struggle either became complacent or corrupt when they replaced the former oppressors in the seats of power.
Wealth disparity in South Africa remains extreme and the people have been very patient for change.
If the government, led by the African National Congress, cannot go beyond an investigation into the Marikana murders but truly grapple with the need to continue what they themselves describe as a national democratic revolution, South Africa may soon be at the proverbial crossroads between spiraling violence and repression vs. the emergence of a new leadership and organization(s) that becomes the voices of the dispossessed.
The clock is ticking.
Bill Fletcher, Jr. is the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum and the author of “They’re Bankrupting Us” – And Twenty Other Myths about Unions.