The sequels to the Marikana massacre continue to develop in a number of different directions. It looks worse and worse for the police as evidence comes to light suggesting that several of the 34 miners killed by the police were cornered and shot in cold blood quite separately from those the world saw mown down in a rifle fusillade. This has now been further supported by the tales told by the 270 miners just released from the police cells.
From the first the government has adopted a position of complete protection of the police. It has uttered no word of criticism for the initial shootings, and has made no comment on these later reports of cold-blooded murder, or on the 194 cases brought against the police by the detained miners for torture and attempted murder. The police are clearly out of control but the government dare not admit it because the unavoidable implication is that it has lost the ability to govern.
The Zuma administration’s first attempt at damage control involved trying to embrace the dead miners as victims – with memorial services, flags at half-mast etc – and suggesting that ‘today is not an occasion for blame, finger-pointing or recrimination’. But the surviving miners have been in no mood to accept such words and have instead provided an enthusiastic audience for Julius Malema, the expelled ANC youth leader, who has accused the government of murder and demanded the resignations of Zuma and his police minister.
The government accepted the logic that if there were victims then somewhere villains had to be found and since these couldn’t be the police, we had the pantomime of the 270 jailed miners being charged with murder under the apartheid doctrine of ‘common purpose’. This was so ludicrous that it had to be dropped, though the fiction had to be maintained that this was an independent decision by the National Prosecution Authority, although there’s little reason for the NPA to have either brought the charges or dropped them unless it was being manipulated by Zuma.
Zuma’s blundering has had two dolorous effects. First, the president has been reduced to a one-to-one confrontation with Malema, returning to Marikana to answer his charges as best he could. Any debate referee would award the contest so far to Malema. It emerges, unsurprisingly, that the police have been stirred to frantic activity to find evidence that Malema is guilty of corruption and tax evasion, so that he may be arrested and removed from the scene – though Zuma has managed things so badly that Malema would now go to jail a martyr.
Second, labour trouble has been spreading to other platinum mines and to the gold mining industry. Everywhere workers are rising up against the National Union of Mineworkers, and supporting Malema and the breakaway AMCU union. This is a huge challenge to the whole ANC power structure. But the miners, cheered on by Trotskyite groups and Left NGOs, are also asking for large wage increases. Yet the platinum price has been falling for a year and the gold industry is close to the rocks: there could not be a worse time to ask for higher wages. Already Lonmin may have to shut down as many as half its mineshafts. The whole mining industry is staggering under these stresses and the government has chosen this moment to demand much higher levels of Black Economic Empowerment in the mining industry, which basically means handing cut-price shares over to a few well-connected black partners. It is a comprehensive mess and there is no sign, on any hand, of the sort of leadership required to save the situation.