Marikana massacre: Structural failure of post-apartheid South Africa?

September 30, 2012

By Shiv Sethi

If post-apartheid South Africa was to be described by a single sentence, it could be: while the political battle against racist policies was won, the class war was lost.

The death of 34 mine workers in police shooting at the Marikana platinum mine, owned by a UK-based company Lonmin, in North-West South Africa, has drawn strong reactions from across the world. In a society as scarred as South Africa by the recent history of race-based exploitation, it is not lost on many that black poorly-paid miners were killed on behalf of the white mine owners based in a country directly responsible for imposing and sustaining the white-supremacist apartheid in South Africa. The only difference between Sharpeville and Soweto massacres, which symbolized black struggle against apartheid, and Marikana is that the massacre was carried out under a black-dominated government in the latter case. Marikana has simultaneously evoked memories of apartheid and a sense of betrayal by the post-apartheid state.

Is Marikana a stand alone incident that merits no deeper analysis? Or is it indicative of long term failure of the post-apartheid state?

On a short time scale, Marikana represents political unrest in South Africa in the aftermath of global financial crisis of 2008. After more than a decade of steady GDP growth, South African economy briefly shrank after 2008, which exacerbated long term social contradictions in the country. And a comprehensive look at these contradictions is needed to understand the raw violence unleashed on the miner at Marikana [1].

1. The transition from apartheid

The defeat of apartheid in South Africa in 1994 remains one of the most cel- ebrated events in international political affairs in the later part of 20th century. South Africa was special for many reasons. First, the end of apartheid marked the culmination of a decolonization process that started in 1940s. Second, the apartheid regime in Africa was notorious not only for its brutal- ity against blacks but also its open practice of legalized racism. This regime was also a regional hegemon: it colonized Namibia from 1919 to 1990; it militarily intervened in the civil wars in Angola and Mozambique, which resulted in over a million deaths from 1970s to early 1990s; it played the role of the local agent of European powers in sustaining and empowering other colonial regimes, e.g. Rhodesia (Zimbabwe after 1979). Needless to say, the power and longevity of this regime was enabled by the direct backing of powerful European colonial states, UK, France, Holland, and later the US. To get a rough sense of this support, one could look no further than the voting pattern of the US and Britain on any UN resolutions seeking to punish the apartheid policies of South Africa [2].

So barbaric was the practice of apartheid that any change that abolished it was a step in the right direction, especially if it meant ushering in the political domination of the most brutally oppressed black majority of South Africa. The principal catalyst of this radical change was the heroic resistance of the working classes in South Africa, sustained over so long that the broad masses of South Africa joined as did the civil society from around the world in 1970s and 1980s, resulting in international sanctions against South Africa. These actions were partly responsible for bringing the South African economy to its knees by early 1990s [3]. It was not lost on elements of the apartheid regime and its international sponsors that a change was inevitable. Even as the uprising in South Africa was suppressed by violence expected of the apartheid regime and minor concessions such as allowing Indians (and people of colour) voting rights and parliamentary representation were made, the apartheid regime entered into secret negotiations with a section of African National Congress (ANC) in mid-1980s.

The broad coalition of ANC, The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), and South African Communist Party (SACP) that rose to political power in 1994 had a fine balancing role to play. On that one hand was a majority of South Africans who looked to the Freedom Charter the ANC promulgated in 1950s as the guiding principle of the post-apartheid state. The Freedom Charter promised nationalization of industries and mines and redistribution of agricultural land to the working people, especially to the black majority. On the other hand, the white minority, with the full weight of Western imperial governments and their powerful corporations behind them, negotiated for the transition to be as seamless as possible without them hav- ing to make any large concessions. The result was what many major leaders of ANC, including Nelson Mandela, called ’historical compromise’. This, these leaders held, was the price to be paid to avoid large scale bloodshed that might otherwise have followed [4]; the murder of Chris Hani, the leader of SACP, by white supremacists in 1993 probably provided some evidence to support this claim.

And amidst these contradictions was born the post-apartheid rainbow state of south Africa.

2. The post-apartheid state

Even before the formal end of apartheid, it was clear to most close observers of the ongoing negotiations between ANC and the apartheid regime that ANC had dropped most of the demands contained in its Freedom Charter, which meant the grossly inequitable ownership structure in South Africa would remain untouched.

What was offered instead was: the Reconstruction and Development Pro- gram (RDP), a seemingly ambitious program to provide education, health care, housing, and basic amenities such as water and electricity to a vast fraction deliberately deprived by the apartheid regime; Truth and Reconciliation Commission with a mandate to heal the deep social wounds of apartheid and affect reconciliation between the erstwhile oppressor and the oppressed by direct dialogue and suitable compensation; a complicated set of quota system (e.g. Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) programme) that enabled the blacks and other groups excluded by the previous regime to enter private businesses and various organs of the state and the civil society.

The net impact of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was more psychological than material. The commission handed out a mere 85 million US dollars to over 19000 victims of the apartheid regime [11]. In turn those responsible for committing those atrocities not only went unpunished but were even celebrated as ’honorable assassins’ [4]. More importantly, the post- apartheid government refused to pass laws that might have forced major corporations to pay compensation for their direct and indisputable role in sustaining apartheid [11].

The quota policies created new ’Rand Lords’ from the black community. But it did little to overturn the overall balance of economic power. The extreme right wing periodical, Time, while paying tribute to the new rich from the black community, noted in 2005 [5]:
Comprising only 10% of the nation’s 45 million people, whites (directly or through equity positions) control 69% of the companies listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange; 27% are in foreign hands, and just 4% are controlled by blacks. The imbalance is also pronounced among wage earners. Some 100,000 white South Africans earn more than $ 60,000 annually; just 5,000 blacks do.

The 9 largest companies of Africa are based in South Africa; all these companies are either foreign owned or are of apartheid vintage [6]. Also the creation of this black economic elite did little to alleviate the economic misery of the vast majority in the first decade following the end of apartheid [7] :
…is important because black households lost 1.8 percent of their income from 1995 to 2005, while white households gained 40.5 percent, and income inequality overtook Brazil as the worst for a major country.

Other studies claimed that while the incomes of black households fell by over 19%, white households enjoyed a 15% increase between 1995 and 2000 ([8],[9])

The Reconstruction and Development Program (RDP) always held the best hope of bringing about a radical social change in the post-apartheid South Africa. Given the extreme fiscal conservatism of the apartheid regime ably fed by an equally extreme racial bias, any expansion of government spending for social programs was a step in the right direction. The White paper on the RDP held [10]:
RDP takes the view that neither economic growth by itself or redistribution on its own will resolve the serious crisis in which South Africa finds itself…[Government policy] will involve the promotion of a more equitable pattern of growth, an equitable distribution of assets…[as well as] the maintenance of macro-economic stability. (RDP 1994, p. 22)

Or it was explicitly recognized that economic growth without a more equitable distribution of resources was not desirable. But given the economic policies that were forced owing to the ’historic compromise’, there were reasons to believe that the RDP would have a limited impact.

First, both the finance minister and the governor of the Reserve Bank of South Africa of the apartheid regime were retained by the ANC government. This was a clear indication that any radical change in monetary or fiscal pol- icy needed to fund social programs was going to be an uphill battle. Second, the post-apartheid government, in obvious renegation of its earlier promise, assumed the external debt of the apartheid regime. At least a part of this debt was contracted to suppress the resistance against the apartheid regime. The annual servicing on this, both internal and external, debt totalled 30 billion rands (4.5 billion dollars) when the ANC took over (compare this to 85 million dollars, the sum paid to the victims of apartheid). According to Nelson Mandela ([11], [12]):
That is 30 billion [rands] we did not have to build homes as we planned before we came into government, to make sure that our children go to the best school, that unemployment is properly addressed…we are limited by the debt we inherited.

The explosion of domestic debt in the post-apartheid era occurred owing to a policy change in 1989 when the apartheid regime moved to transform the pension funds from ’pay as you go’ to ’fully funded’ [13]. Governments partly fund social programs and spur economic activity by using social savings such as the pension contributions of their employees. In the ’pay as you go’ system, the pensions of the retirees are paid by the contributions of the currently employed and no large reserve fund is created. As the number of active workers far outstrips the number of retirees (even in Western Europe that has seen sharp rise in life expectancy in the past 50 years it is still 3 to 1; for South Africa it is in the excess of 10 to 1), governments are left with sufficient funds for other purposes. One of the hallmarks of neoliberalism is to limit social entitlements inherent in the ’pay as you go’ system to the financial returns of the ’fully funded’ pension funds. In a ’fully funded’ system, the pension contributions are kept in a separate fund and invested in government bonds, stock markets or other equities.

In South Africa, as elsewhere, the embrace of this neoliberal policy resulted in essentially two outcomes: (a) the government became more indebted as it had to replenish all the past pension contributions, (b) even as the present pension obligations were met from the budget, the government lost direct access to most of the current pension contributions. Or even as the debt and its servicing boomed, the government was deprived of funds it could use for other programs. In South Africa, the pension funds flowed through Government Employees Pension Fund (GEPF) for further investment to the Public Investment Corporation (PIC); the assets of PCI increased over 20 folds from 1989 to 2007. Even though these are public bodies, under the advice of institutions such as the world bank, they have increasingly gained autonomy through the years and a sizable fraction of pension funds are not spent on development programs but on the stock and money markets. In 2007, PCI had assets of over 600 billion Rands, about 30% of the GDP, and more than 40% was invested in stock and money markets [13].

The world bank has cited demographic necessity to advocate such pension ’reforms’ to both developed and developing countries. While the developed countries are deemed to have a large population of retirees and the follow- ing argument has been used in the case of developing countries: “developed countries got rich before they got old, developing countries are getting old before they get rich”. This argument has been shown to be flawed even for countries like the US where average life expectancy is over 75 years [14]; but it sounds grotesquely twisted for South Africa where the life expectancy has dropped sharply over the past 20 years (more on it below). The median age of a South African is less than 20 years and with an average life expectancy of less than 50, a fair fraction would never reach the retirement age. The apartheid regime altered the pension program partly to safeguard the interests of its civil servants. The post-apartheid regime, in spite of protesting against such changes during negotiations with the apartheid regime, acted to consolidate these regressive steps, which further fortified the class structure enacted during the apartheid era.

If this was not enough, the government of South Africa borrowed 850 million dollars from IMF in 1993 (compare this number with the annual debt servicing; it is clear that if the ANC had put a moratorium on apartheid debt, the IMF loan might not be needed). IMF loans came with very strict conditionalities: reduction of the budget deficit below 6%; control of spending but no increase in taxes; tight monetary policies to control inflation; restrain wage increase; no exchange controls; liberalization of trade, etc. It should be underlined that this loan was relatively small and the IMF could not have used its credit line to impose any of these condionalities on South Africa over a prolonged period. Like in many other countries around that time, e.g. India, the IMF loan became an excuse for a section of the ruling elite to usher in neoliberal policies. And every one of these policies was to have a negative impact on a vast section of South African society.

By 1996, the RDP had given way to the Growth, Employment and Redistribution strategy (GEAR). In spite of its fancy name, the GEAR was classical IMF recipe [10]:
In brief, government consumption expenditure should be cut back, private and public sector wage increases kept in check, tariff reform accelerated to compensate for the depreciation and domestic savings performance improved. These measures will counteract the inflationary impact of the exchange rate adjustment, permit fiscal deficit targets to be reached, establish a climate for continued investor confidence and facilitate the financing of both private sector investment and accelerated development expenditure. (GEAR 1996, sub-section “Accelerated Growth”)

The South Africa’s government did even better than IMF’s expectations as the budget deficit fell to less than 3% in 2000 and remained below it until 2010, further reducing its ability to fund expansionary programs envisaged in the RDP.

Early promised gains of RDP—rapid expansion of public services, e.g. public housing for over a million families, clean water and access to electricity in rural areas and for the urban poor, over 500 new clinics to provide affordable health care—were undercut by GEAR even before they could properly take off. The ’full recovery’ mantra adhered to under IMF’s edicts meant that a fair fraction of the early beneficiaries could not afford to pay for government’s ’subsidized’ services by early 2000s [15]:
If for example, 18 percent of the seven million people who are reported to have been given access to water since 1994 are unable to pay their water bills “no matter how hard [they] try,” then 1.26 million of these new recipients are unable to afford this water and an additional 1.2 million have to choose between paying for water and buying other essentials like food. Similar percentages apply to the 3.5 million South Africans who have been given access to electricity…
…Since 1994, some ten million South Africans have had their water and electricity cut-off for nonpayment, while two million have been evicted from their homes for the same reason.
…Twenty percent of urban households have no electricity and a quarter have no running water, while 80 percent of rural households have neither.

Over 40% of telephone lines connected in the previous four years had been disconnected by 2003 [15].

If the squeeze on government spending assured its failure to provide essen- tial services to a vast brutally exploited population, its other macroeconomics policies, in line with IMF’s desires, were no less damaging.

Since the onset of neoliberalism in 1990s, governments have often resorted to a variety of subterfuge to hide the extent of damage it has caused (e.g. definition of poverty line in India). For South Africa, it suffices to look at the government data to gauge the sense of misery of a vast majority since 1994, e.g. the statistics of employment and health care.

2.1 Employment
One of the predictable outcomes of neoliberal policies is the creation of informal jobs even in the formal sector and the destruction of jobs with security and long term benefits. According to National Labor and Economic Development Institute (NALEDI), over 400000 formal jobs were lost between 1996 and 1999. Such a process sometimes results in a reduction in unemployment, to the joyous chorus of proponents of neoliberalism. However, in South Africa, the process of informalization of labour was accompanied by a sharp increase in unemployment rates.

The official unemployment rates soared from 16% in 1994 to over 30% in 2000; it stands at over 25% in 2011 and has stubbornly remained around 25% in the past 15 years.

But the official unemployment rate gives only a partial picture. A detailed look at the work force data released by the South African government is needed to understand the more complete picture.

The unemployment rate is defined as the ratio of those who are unemployed but actively seeking work to the total labour force. In 2011, the population in the age group 15-64 was 32.3 million. The labour force (employed plus the unemployed) constituted 17.4 million (13.1 employed and 4.1 unemployed) [16]. The difference between the two numbers (14.8 million) is the economically inactive population.

Three numbers often quoted for the employment status of a population are: the unemployment rate (25%; 4.1/17.4), the labour absorption rate (40.6%; 13.1/32.3) and the labour participation rate (54%; 17.4/32.3). Any of these two numbers are independent and can be used to derive the third. And two of these numbers are needed to assess the level of labour activity in a population.

The labour absorption rate in South Africa, 40.6%, is one of the lowest in the world; for instance it is 25% smaller than Brazil, Indonesia, or Thailand, countries of not very different or lower per capita incomes [17]. In other words, the unemployment rate is very high in South Africa in spite of the fact that a much smaller fraction of the population is working.
This also means that the effective rates of unemployment are likely far higher. And one needs to look at the categories of economically inactive population, and not just the unemployed, to throw further light on this issue. Also racial break up of these numbers is needed to find vestiges of apartheid. Table 1 gives a summary of these employment indicators for blacks (80% of the population) and Whites (9% of the population).

The economically inactive population (total 14.8 million) contains categories such as students (6 million) and homemaker (2.9 million). Even though these categories could contain elements of disguised unemployment, we shall treat them here as a population that has voluntarily opted not to seek employment.

Another category, discouraged workers (2.2 million), refers to the population that has stopped looking for jobs because there are none available (over 68% of these workers are unemployed for more than one year [16]). Clearly, this category should be included in the computation of effective unemployment, and it often is. This increases the unemployment rate to over 33% (and over 38% for Blacks if it is assumed that their fraction in discouraged workers is the same as it is in the unemployed population, 85%).

Other categories such as ’too ill to work/disability’ (1.7 million) or ’too young/too old to work’ (1.2 million) also lend themselves, under reasonable assumptions, to an interpretation. The first clearly is owing to the ongoing AIDS pandemic in South Africa (more on this in the next subsection). If this category is included in the potential workforce the effective unemployment rates edge above 40%.

The other category (too young/too old to work) is not straightforward to interpret but it is clear it is not a voluntary category. The very fact that those categorised as ’too young to work’ are not counted as students means they are school or college drop-outs. Those ’too old to work’ (over 60% of population in the age group between 55 to 64 is inactive) could be either laid off workers who are unemployable or were in occupations that prevent people to work up to an older age. And this fact is crucially linked to the socioeconomic status of this section of the population. People with lower incomes are in occupations that require physically strenuous work, which lowers their life expectancy and retirement age [18].

To complete the picture, one can add to this fraction roughly 3% of the work force that is reported to be underemployed, or working less than 40 hours a week. This pushes the effective unemployment rate of blacks close to 50% (Table 1)
Also the employment statistics show a continuing sharp racial divide in South Africa. One indicator of high unemployment and stark income in- equalities in South Africa is that while roughly 6 million pay taxes nearly 15 million subscribe to highly inadequate welfare programs run by the government.


2.2 Health care
Probably the strongest indictment against the post-apartheid regime is that the average life expectancy in South Africa fell by over ten years from 1994 to 2012.

No one seriously doubts that this catastrophic fall in the average life expectancy is largely owing to the AIDS pandemic that has ravaged parts of Africa since mid-1990s. Over 10% of South Africans are HIV infected (5.6 million) and AIDS continues to cause more than 300000 deaths each year.

Also there is the baggage of apartheid: in early 1990s, the life expectancy of whites in South Africa was over 73 years while it was only 53 years for blacks. The highly privatized health system in South Africa was geared towards the exclusion of Blacks and the people of colour. Even as the government launched ambitious public health programs under the RDP, it faced insurmountable challenges to introduce even the universal primary health care, let alone countering the monster of AIDS.

It is hardly surprising that the AIDS pandemic also affected the black population disproportionately. While the the white community was largely untouched, the life expectancy of Blacks fell by more than 12 years. This means the difference of average life expectancy between the two groups is more than 30 years now. This fact was underlined by Julius Malema, an important youth leader of ANC, expelled by ANC in 2012 [19]:
The fact that the average life expectancy of white South Africans is more than thirty years higher than the life expectancy of their black counterparts is evidence that our people are facing extinction because of racialized poverty inherited from apartheid.

How did the ANC government respond to this crisis? Some of the main leaders of ANC, including the president Thabo Mbeki, simply denied the extent of the crisis; this denial came to be symbolized by the outlook of South Africa’s health minister Tshabalala-Msimang from 1999 to 2008 under Mbeki.

While this outlook came to be highlighted and criticized in the international media and by NGOs working in South Africa, the tactics of Western governments to protect the interests of their companies was not often subjected to the same value judgement. The first AIDS anti-Retroviral (ARV) drugs became available in 1990s in Western countries and they were very expensive (more than 10000 US dollars a year) to ensure high profits for private drug companies such as the UK-based company Glaxo-SmithKline [21]. Western governments put pressure on countries reeling under the AIDS endemic to prevent them from either developing or importing generic drugs available at a fraction of the cost of patented drugs. The US government invoked intellectual property rights under WTO agreement to threaten South African government in 1998; the latter yielded to the pressure in 1999 [20].

In 1999, over 3.6 million people were infected with HIV in South Africa (8.6% of the population) and the health ministry openly admitted their in- ability to treat so many patients with the expensive patented drugs [20]. In 2003, fewer than 20000 South Africans, who could afford private health insurance, were being treated with ARVs [22]. This abject surrender of the South African government to the wishes of Western governments, pharmaceutical companies, and their local partner in South Africa, meant no effective measures could be taken to counter the worsening crisis until 2004, even after such drugs were being produced in other countries such as India at less than 300 dollars a year in 2001. The number of HIV infected people in South Africa has increased from 4.2 to 5.6 million since 2000.

In 2008, only 0.7 million, out of a total of 5.2 HIV infected, were receiving life-saving ARVs. Ever since the number of people getting ARV treatment has doubled. More than one million additional people are expected to receive this treatment by 2014 [23].

Over 300000 HIV-infected people die prematurely each year in South Africa. This number slowly increased since 2000 and then gradually started falling after 2008, probably owing to more effective policies. This trend should be contrasted to India: the number of AIDS related deaths steadily fell from 300000 per annum to 170000 in 2010. India’s public spending on health is less than 1% of its GDP (one of the lowest in the world) while South Africa spends over 4%. South Africa’s per capita income (PPP) is over three times that of India (in 2000 it was 4 times that of India). Even given the scale of AIDS pandemic in South Africa, this strongly indicates that South Africa’s claimed inability in not being able to afford AIDS medication to a majority for so long should be questioned. According to William Gumede [22]:
In Europe, North America and Brazil, ARVs have reduced mortality due to HIV/AIDS-related illnesses by between 50 and 80 per cent. In South Africa, two critical barriers remain to the widespread availability of these life-saving medicines and a possible net saving on the health budget in the long run: lack of political will, and resistance on the part of patent holders to generic competition…
…generic anti-AIDS drugs are sold in India for a quarter of the price charged by the big pharmaceutical companies, and have the added advantage of Thabo Mbeki and the battle for the soul of the ANC combining three drugs in a single pill that has to be taken twice a day. The Western ARV protocol requires patients to take up to twelve pills—all produced by different companies—a day, at different times, some with water, some without. Despite the obvious advantages of a simplified regimen, South Africa succumbed to pressure from the West and opted for the more expensive and complex therapy …

3. South Africa: A classical Marxist case study

If the post-apartheid South Africa was to be described by a single sentence, it could be: while the political battle against racist policies was won, the class war was lost. One of the fundamental tenets of classical Marxist theory has been to emphasize the precedence of class conflict over other social divides.

This message was often lost in many post-colonial societies that were born in the early phase of decolonization. These societies came into existence when the dominant form of capitalism followed Keynesian policies, which underlined the important role of government spending in building industrial infrastructure, education and the health care systems and even public sector industries. This gave progressive policy makers much hope, served to keep the most predatory form of capitalism under check, and attracted sections of even the radical left to the process of ’nation building’.

Under neoliberalism, every one of these policies came under attack. Some- what belatedly, it dawned upon those who had enthusiastically immersed themselves in the class-neutral nation building process that the main beneficiaries under neoliberalism were more or less the same classes that benefited from ’nationalist’ policies. But the fog of nationalist rhetoric served to relegate a discourse on class politics from the mainstream, and effectively set it back by several decades.
Post-apartheid South Africa, on the other hand, was born under the harsh, sunny noon of neoliberalism. From day one its choices were extremely limited. In many ways, it was a outstanding triumph of international capitalism: a very tricky and potentially explosive political change was affected without ceding effective economic control. This change was so expertly man- aged that the only section to gain was a collaborator class of the new black elite, whose self-interest matched almost exactly the interests of the erstwhile ruling class.

While the political basis of racism was destroyed almost overnight the economic relations imposed by the apartheid regime not only lingered but even deepened. It is important to underline that the post-apartheid South Africa, unlike in the decade preceding the end of apartheid, did not witness any major economic upheavals. During the entire post-apartheid period, South Africa remained a model of macroeconomic stability: GDP growth, small public and private debts, manageable government budgets and deficits, low inflation, booming stocks markets, inflow of FDI indicating high investor confidence, currency stability, etc. One of the most common practice of neoliberalism is to invoke the ’acceptable range’ of these parameters to block any government action, e.g. nationalization of industries, basic income grants, or redistribution of land might undermine investor’s confidence and increase budget deficits, potentially leading to stock market/currency collapse, etc. How this played out in post-apartheid South Africa is well recorded [16]. So, unlike a large number of countries that underwent recurrent debt crises in 1980s and 1990s and were under much greater pressure to adopt neoliberal policies, the post-apartheid South could be managed by not something tangible but by invoking ghosts of race-neutral macro-economic instability.

Not surprisingly, most protests in the post-apartheid era have been along class line and not race lines [7].
As the June-July 2010 World Cup draws the world’s attention to South Africa, the country’s poor and working-class people will continue protesting, at what is now among the highest rates per person in the world. Since 2005, the police have conservatively measured an annual aver- age of more than eight thousand “Gatherings Act” incidents (public demonstrations legally defined as involving upwards of fifteen demonstrators) by an angry urban populace, which remains un-intimidated by the year-old government of Jacob Zuma. This general urban uprising has included resistance to the commodification of life—e.g., commercialization of municipal services—and to rising poverty and inequality in the country’s slums.

Marikana massacre should be seen as one possible culmination of these protests. It is significant that it occurred in the mining sector in South Africa. It is the mining riches of South African that attracted the white settlers to South Africa over 150 years ago, in particular the second wave of settlers from England. South Africa is one of the largest producer and exporter of gold and platinum in the world. South Africa accounts for over 50% of gold ever mined from the earth. It is also a major producer of chrome, coal, manganese, diamond, uranium and other elements such as vanadium. While these exports have allowed South Africa to build a more diversified economy, the mining exports still accounts for over 50% of its foreign exchange earnings. More importantly, it is the mining wealth of South Africa that connects it to major imperial powers.

Marikana massacre contains all the elements of the transition from the apartheid era. The interests of mine workers were systematically compromised by National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), an important constituent of COSATU. Not ironically, the ex-leader of NUM, Cyril Ramaphosa, is one of the richest persons in South Africa, and currently serves on the board of Lonmin. After the Marikana massacre, the mine owners and the state machinery showed brazenness very reminiscent of the apartheid era. The state authorities arrested over 270 workers and charged them with the murder of their fellow mine workers using a draconian apartheid law; the president Zuma refused to intervene [24]. The mine administration threatened to terminate the striking workers if they did not return to work just a few days after the massacre. While both these threats were later withdrawn and the workers were released, such acts demonstrated that the present ruling elite do not view striking workers any differently from the days of apartheid.

Marikana resistance spread to other mines and mining operations were suspended in many mines. The government threatened to intervene with more violence and raided workers’ hostels at Marikana to confiscate ’dangerous weapons’ like machetes and sticks.

Given the mammoth imbalance of power, Marikana strike was ended with minor wage concessions. However, it retains the potential to become a marker to unite wide sections of working classes in South Africa for a larger battle for radical social transformation.

[1] Autopsies of many miners killed in the Marikana massacre show they were shot in the back while fleeing,
[2] e.g. this article and the list of UN resolutions on South Africa
[3] The impact of these sanctions is often overstated. For instance, arms embargo against the apartheid regime was trivially overcome by countries such as the US by re-routing weapons through other pariah states like Israel. All the major Western companies such as mining conglomerate Anglo-American and the world’s largest diamond company de Beers were also protected against international sanctions by Western countries.
[4] see this video that contains interviews of many ANC leaders with John Pilger.
[6] list-of-continents-top-companies/16109/
[7] Patrick Bond:
[9] According to Terreblanche (S. Terreblanche, The History of Inequality in South Africa, 1652- 2002), who traced the historic evolution of income inequality in South Africa, the per capita income of Blacks as a percentage of White incomes rose from 7% in 1970 to 15% in 2000. However, most of these gains were for the upper economic sections. The poorest 40% of Blacks lost nearly 60% from 1975 to 2003. While most of this lose was during the apartheid era, their incomes continued to fall in the post apartheid era. In 1996 prices, the average per capita annual income of the poorest 40% blacks fell from 5400 Rands to 2240 Rands from 1975 to 2003;
[10] as cited in; p5, 7
[11] as cited in The Shock Doctrine, Noami Klein, Penguin Books, 2005, p194–218
[12] In this regard it should be noted that South Africa had put a moratorium on external debt repayment in 1985 while facing current account deficits and a failing currency. South African economy had remained a classical settler colony in spite of its ’political’ stability and impressive economic growth as compared to the rest of colonial south in 20th century; gold accounted for over 40% its exports in 1980s and when the price of gold crashed in 1980s, the economy went into a tailspin
[13] for a detailed discussion on the transformation of the pension system and its implications for domestic debt and social spending see this paper.
[14] see e.g. this article by Dean Baker.
[15] See articles by Ashwin Desai and David McDonald. McDonald discusses in detail the reports on water, electricity and telephone disconnection.
[16] e.g. on of 2112 quarterly report on labour force survey available here.
[17] One reason for this difference could be that South Africa has barely 1.1 million self-employed [12], less than 10% of the total employed. This fraction is generally much higher in other countries dubbed ’emerging economies’, e.g. 37% for Thailand and 25% for Brazil. As self-employment is a perfect category for disguised unemployment, it could well mean that what gets hidden behind a hazy contour of self-employment in other countries, manifests itself as open unemployment and low labour participation rates in South Africa. In South Africa, over 91% of the self-employed are black, over two third are involved in trade; 95% of such businesses are run by a single person and almost none of the businesses receive any bank credits. More than two-third became self-employed because they could not get a job. For surveys on self-employed labour in South Africa go here.
[18] That life expectancy and retirement age is directly linked to physical activity in an occupation is well known, but often not emphasized. For details on such statistics from Switzerland see this site. For data from the US see this.
[19] as cited here.
[20] E.g. see this article. Western countries continue to put pressure on developing countries to limit production of generic AIDS drugs. India is the largest producer and exporter of generic AIDS drugs. the UN has warned that the EU-India free trade agreement could limit India’s choices and might jeopardize millions of lives across the world.
[21] The development and patenting of AIDS drugs conformed to the usual trend in the US which allows public research and investment to be usurped by private companies to make windfall profits. E.g. see this article.
[22] William Gumede, Mbeki’s AIDS denial–Grace or folly
[23] E.g.

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