Marikana now needs no introduction anywhere in the world - it endures infamy as the platinum treasure-trove where people were mown down with machine guns.
Deep down, the need to vocalize or otherwise put into words thoughts and feelings after the Marikana Massacre was always there. And the unfolding of events following this tragedy has now given expression to this urge. Now, the comfort zone is no more.
To most of us in S.Africa the Marikana/Lonmin strike was at best at the fringes of our consciousness in the days preceding the shootings. The common view earlier on was that it was a protracted mine strike gone wrong, especially after the death of the two policemen and ten miners. But even then there was something somewhat different about this one. We felt a sense of rising unease, a sense of recognition of a prior time in our history... sadly vindicated by the sight and sounds of machine guns and bodies which fell, never to rise again, in our television screens.
Before, we saw just another failed public negotiation fiasco, What would be the cost this time, we asked. The breakdown in communication between business and labour, government and workers, healthcare workers and the relevant department, garbage collectors and municipalities, dock workers and Harbour Authorities – the list could go on, but you get my drift- is as causal now as are our traditional social and racial inequality. We’re used to it, to the garbage-strewn city-centres, to patients being turned away from hospitals and dying because staff are on strike, to schools with children but no teachers, to service-delivery protests, we’re used to it all.
But, like all the rest of them, the Marikana shootings would not have happened if the negotiation process had not broken down. Like Marikana, many of our past protracted strikes happened because those in power would not, or did not know how to negotiate. This speaks of an ingrained lack of appreciation of the mutual dependency that exists between the parties involved - and of arrogance.
We simply have poor leadership at Lonmin, in the police force, the unions, and broadly in government. And we have not yet even touched the silent twin of venal corruption in high places.
Clearly, were the responsibility, if not blame for this myopia apportioned, the preponderance would remain with those in power. For they repeatedly fail to prevent encounters based on clear interdependence from being clouded by egotistical power dynamics.
More specifically, those in the spotlight this time are, inter alia, those in the Lonmin body corporate who include , but do not end with eminent business-politicians . A true irony was the presence, high up in this body corporate of one who helped negotiate our post-Apartheid country into being.
That there were probably murderers among the miners on the hill, could never justify the massacre of many whose only ‘crime’ was to strike for higher wages and better working conditions.
The crux of our problem is that the old South Africa lives on in much of what we indulgently refer to as ‘the democratic dispensation’. Some would say the Apartheid substance was left largely intact,and the new order draped over its superstructure. For instance, the economic infrastructure, which is based on the migrant labour system, remains our fiscal backbone. And many of those in authority have been co-opted into it, and enjoy the perks of a socio-economic system which hasn’t changed for over two centuries.
Media reports by many commentators touched on several of these points. But arguably the epitaph quotation was by Johny Steinberg ( The Free Agent , Sunday Times 26/08/2012), who closes by saying: “...as the machinery through which we deal with one another does its work, we see that it might grind away the very (my word) organisations that liberated South Africa.”
There was a time when many of those in power in our land provided unparalleled human leadership. That time is no more. Whether they are still capable is moot.
The resulting vacuum must be filled by those with an appreciation of how to properly conduct negotiations: those who recognize that negotiations are a necessary part of ongoing communication - for mutual benefit -in all relationships, especially those in the national power divide.
Copyright 2012. Thabo Seseane