The causes of the Marikana tragedy were long in the making, going back at least a few centuries.
The underlying causes of the tragedy stem from a history of colonial oppression overlaid with the exploitation of natural resources. They also stem from successive failures to address the living conditions of mine workers and their families.
As a country, we must use the Marikana tragedy as a lesson and a wake-up call.
The tools and weapons of colonial expansion were trained on the exploitation of South Africa’s natural resources, using cheap labour as the means
Land dispossession, forced removals, influx control, poor education for black people and a sophisticated security apparatus were used to exploit our mineral wealth.
Later, the migrant labour system, the homeland system and Bantu education were added to the lexicon of exploitation with a single purpose in mind: exploit the land while denying black people their rightful share.
The causes of the Marikana tragedy stem from this history and pattern of exploitation.
In one of Ruth First’s earlier and most incisive pieces, she described the conditions of workers on the potato plantations around Bethal in what is today Mpumalanga.
The exposé into the shocking conditions under which workers toiled led to the famous Potato Boycott.
Later in life, Ruth led a research project, involving more than 40 researchers, into the lives and living conditions of Mozambican mine workers in South Africa. In many ways, the issues raised by Ruth in these exposés are not too different from the deep causes which gave rise to the Marikana tragedy.
Mining, by its nature, depends on a system of labour drawn from elsewhere.
Despite attempts by some mining companies to provide better quality accommodation, the system of migrant labour has not changed substantially and the vestiges of alienation persist. The performance of local municipalities and other spheres of government should also take some of the blame.
Communities where miners live often have no schools, police stations, recreation areas, crèches and other basics that family life requires as a necessity. While it would be near-impossible to reverse the effects of urbanisation and informal settlements in a single generation, the frustration of many is that progress is so exceedingly slow.
On the face of it, providing housing and infrastructure to ensure decent living conditions should be a straightforward task.
The municipality should be the entity that coordinates the contributions of the different authorities, but this does not happen for a myriad reasons, including capacity constraints and limited intergovernmental cooperation.
Throw into this mix the role of traditional leaders. In the case of Marikana, Lonmin is leasing the land from the Bapo Ba Mogale traditional authorities.
The community is divided between the new arrivals, who mostly live in informal settlements, and traditional communities from whom the land is leased and who have certain entitlements.
The tragic events in Marikana also indicate the worst effects of poor coordination between the actions and circumstances of mining houses, the workers and government.
Mining houses are not able to provide decent accommodation for all their workers, and government cannot meet the growing demand for low-cost housing.
Faced with pressure on their income, mine workers who receive living-out allowances use these to supplement their income by living in informal dwellings. Understanding the complexity of the challenge is necessary to enable us to engineer lasting solutions.
Our Constitution recognises that the state, broadly defined, has to champion the causes of the poor and disadvantaged.
It sees a state that has to intervene to correct the historical injustices by effecting redress.
The National Development Plan (NDP) identifies six pillars that need to underpin our efforts to eliminate poverty and reduce inequality.
The first task is to unite all South Africans around a common programme, to unleash the talents and energies of all our people towards the common goal of fighting poverty and inequality and to foster a unity of spirit.
The second pillar is active citizenry. Working individually and collectively with others in society, citizens have a critical role to play in their own development and in the development of our country.
The third pillar is a growing an inclusive economy. Without faster and more inclusive economic growth, it will not be possible to deliver on the socioeconomic objectives that we have set for ourselves.
The fourth pillar of the plan addresses the need to build capabilities, which apply to both people and the country.
The fifth pillar is a capable and developmental state. We define a developmental state as one that is capable of intervening to correct historical inequalities and to create opportunities for more people.
The sixth and final pillar is the responsibility of leaders throughout society to work together to solve our problems. South Africa requires its leaders to put the country first and to put the future ahead of today.
Right at the heart of the challenge that confronts us is our collective responsibility to work tirelessly for the realisation of the values articulated in our Constitution.
These will not appear as a cataclysmic reality one fine day. The lessons of Marikana speak to what remains undone in our democracy. Repair demands a much greater effort, especially from the elite in our country.
The NDP is a vision for a better tomorrow, and this better future will not materialise on its own.
The plan is just a piece of paper. It has to be given life, meaning and substance through continued action in every facet of our society – be it by the Cabinet, in the boardroom, down a mine shaft or at a book club.
A better tomorrow requires sacrifice and action from all of us, even in a democracy.
» This is an edited version of Manuel’s Ruth First Memorial Lecture, which he delivered at Wits on August 29
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