01 October 2014

Day 265: We’ve Got Blood on our Hands

Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) leader Julius Malema and party chief whip Floyd Shivambu accused Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa during a question and answer session in the National Assembly on Wednesday of killing the 34 mineworkers police shot dead in August 2012 in Marikana, saying he has blood on his hands and calling on him to accept responsibility for the deaths.” (For the full article, see: http://mg.co.za/article/2014-09-17-eff-ramaphosa-has-blood-on-his-hands?utm_source=Mail+%26+Guardian&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Daily+newsletter&utm_term=http%3A%2F%2Fmg.co.za%2Farticle%2F2014-09-17-eff-ramaphosa-has-blood-on-his-hands )

For context on the Marikana shootings:

The Marikana miners' strike or Lonmin strike was a wildcat strike at a mine owned by Lonmin in the Marikana area, close to Rustenburg, South Africa in 2012. The event garnered international attention following a series of violent incidents between the South African Police Service, Lonmin security, and strikers themselves among who the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) emerged through intimidation, violence and killings that mostly affected the members and leaders of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM). The NUM attributed the decline it experienced to the intimidation, violence and killings, and as a result of these, also the displacements of workers from work and their communities. This resulted in the deaths of 44 people, the majority of whom (34) were striking mineworkers killed on 16 August while 10, including 2 police officers and 2 private security guards, were killed between 10 and 11 August. At least 78 additional workers were also injured on 16 August. The total number of injuries during the strike remains unknown. Killings did not stop, but continued up to 2014, mostly affecting NUM members and leaders. In addition to the Lonmin strikers, there has been a wave of wildcat strikes across the South African mining sector.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wildcat_strike_action)

EFF leadership is out on a witch-hunt to find the one responsible for the deaths of the mineworkers during the Marikana strike and bring about justice – more so, they believe they know who is at fault and are demanding Cyril Ramaphosa to take responsibility.

Is it so? Is the Deputy President of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa, a murderer? Does he have blood on his hands? Is he responsible for the deaths of 34 people?

Of course he is.

But then again, who isn’t?

Who is responsible for the killings during this violent strike? The policemen who did the shooting? The union workers who were striking without the authorization of the union leadership? The ANC as the party in power? The people who voted the ANC into power? The system that created the conditions in which mineworkers felt the need to go strike to demand better wages? Or… all of us? For not preventing conflict where it could have been foreseen, for not preventing harm where it could have been predicted, for not preventing desperation that would obviously lead to compromise?

Let me ask you this: for all those who are leading relatively comfortable lives – enough to sustain yourselves, your family, with means of transportation, a decent house, access to technology for easy communication such as phones, computers, internet, a job that may not be ideal but doesn’t pose a threat to your life – how much would someone need to pay you to take up a job as a mineworker? Is there any amount someone can offer you that would make you say ‘yes, cool, if you pay me that much, I’ll leave my current job and start working in a mine’?

Answering that question for myself: No, there is no amount high enough that would sway me to go and work underground, digging up materials in less than pleasant and potentially dangerous conditions. Of course, I can only make that statement because I have alternatives. If I had no alternatives, no other means to generate an income while perhaps having others depending on me for support – and working in a mine would provide me that income – then ‘hell yeah’, you do what you have to.  But is that acceptable? Is it acceptable that people find themselves in such a position, where it is desperation driving them to accept a job that, if they had other means of income, they would never place their lives and their health on the line?

It is possible of course that some genuinely love mine-working – I cannot say – but then wouldn’t you say that they require a salary worthy of heroes? Because in terms of South Africa’s economy – gold and platinum is what is keeping us going. And it is the mineworkers who herein have the toughest part to play – putting in the actual physical labor so that there is a mining industry that is really the backbone of our economy. Firefighters are considered heroes because they place their life on the line in the attempt to save others’ – which is really exactly the same for mineworkers. Why do they not have the same status in society and why is that not reflected in their wages?

With implementing a Living Income Guaranteed for all those who are unemployed – a living wage sufficient to take care of your living necessities – and placing the minimum wage at double the living income – here we have a first step towards both ensuring no one accepts a job that they wouldn’t do if they had alternatives as well as moving towards proper wages for those who do decide to continue working in a mine – giving them also more bargaining power, because hey, they can quit and receive a Living Income too – you better take care of your heroes.


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