Following the SACP`s highly successful July national congress, the newly elected SACP Central Committee met for the first time in Johannesburg over the weekend of August 17th to 19th.
The CC began its meeting by observing a moment of silence and expressing condolences to all those who have lost family members and colleagues in the tragic events at Marikana this past week, and our well wishes to those who have been injured, workers and police. The CC welcomes President Zuma`s announcement of a commission of inquiry. It is important that the mandate of the inquiry should be broad in scope. It is impossible to understand the tragedy without understanding the underlying factors.
The inquiry should, amongst other things, build on the 167-page report from the church-sponsored Bench Marks Foundation, "Communities in the Platinum Minefields", which was coincidentally released last week. The report paints a grim picture of how all the major platinum mining corporations have made billions of rands out of the world`s richest platinum deposits in the Bojanala District of the North West province, while leaving a trail of misery, death, poverty, illness, and environmental pollution in the surrounding communities. The report finds that Lonmin`s operations at Marikana, for instance, "include high levels of fatalities" and that the "residential conditions under which Lonmin…employees live are appalling." The report further attributes the high level of fatalities at Lonmin and other platinum company mines in the district to the extensive use of sub-contracted labour (nearly one-third of the work-force in the case of Lonmin`s Marikana operations). "Sub-contracted labour is usually poorly paid, poorly trained and educated, and poorly accommodated", the report notes, and adds: "Therefore sub-contracted workers compromise the health and safety of other workers."
Our own SACP members from the district, most of them mine-workers, have of course been telling the Party about these realities for many years and we have been raising them publicly, but we refer to the Bench Marks Foundation to avoid the allegation of partisanship. Importantly, the report points out that the practice of sub-contracting by the mining houses dates back to the immediate post-1994 period as a cost-cutting measure and an attempt to "break the power of NUM" (p.36), to undercut the collective bargaining rights that the organized working class had finally achieved after decades of struggle. Furthermore, the report notes that the expanded use of sub-contracted labourers from other localities, including from the Eastern Cape, has created community tensions between "insiders" and "outsiders". Last year, for instance, there were violent protests from local community, unemployed youth in Marikana, angry that jobs on the mines were being provided to "outsiders".
The Presidential Commission of Inquiry must also consider the pattern of violence associated with the pseudo-trade union AMCU wherever it seeks to implant itself. Launched in Witbank by two former NUM members, expelled for anarchic behavior, AMCU was funded by BHP Billiton in a deliberate attempt to undermine NUM. The Commission should, in particular, investigate its leader Joseph Mathunjwa.
The violence associated with AMCU spread to the Rustenburg platinum mines last year when the management of Impala Platinum deliberately undercut collective bargaining agreements reached with NUM by opportunistically seeking to attract, with higher wages, mineworkers with blasting certificates from other companies – this naturally created a grievance among the less-skilled rock-drillers. It was a grievance demagogically exploited by AMCU which ultimately led to the dismissal of thousands of workers.
At Marikana, last week, AMCU leadership was once more exploiting the credulity and desperation of the most marginalized sectors of the Lonmin work-force, "outsiders", contracted-workers many from Eastern Pondoland. SACP members from the area confirm newspaper reports today that the armed workers who gathered on the hill were misled into believing they would be invulnerable to police bullets because they had used ‘intelezi`, and provided they isolated themselves from women, and provided that did not turn their backs on the police.
In short, it is impossible to understand the tragedy of last week without an appreciation of how the major platinum mining corporations, sitting on top of over 80% of the world`s platinum resources, have created desperate community poverty, divisive tensions, and a fatalistic attitude towards danger and death. It is also not possible to understand the tragedy without understanding how profit-maximising corporate greed has deliberately sought to undercut an established trade union and collective bargaining by conniving with demagogic forces. This strategy has now back-fired on the platinum companies` profits themselves.
For all of these reasons the SACP firmly rejects the attempt to portray the events of last week as being essentially rooted in trade union rivalry. This narrative is no different to that developed during the final years of apartheid, when armed vigilantes, fomented, trained and escorted by the apartheid regime, were unleashed on our UDF, COSATU and ANC supporting communities and this was portrayed as "black on black violence".
There are many lessons to be learnt from this tragedy. A proper understanding of its underlying causes should shame all of those who seek to undermine our current collective bargaining dispensation by calling for a "more flexible labour market", by defending labour-brokering and the extensive use of other forms of "a-typical" labour, and by seeking to portray COSATU and its affiliates as the source of all evil.