Jeremy Cronin and the Systemic Factors behind the Marikana Tragedy

Jeremy Cronin, the Deputy General-Secretary of the South African Communist Party (SACP) took to the party’s online journal, Umsebenzi Online, this week to explain some of what the SACP believes are systemic factors behind the Marikana tragedy.

Cronin begins by saying that while some politicians have used the public outrage for their own short-term goals, the SACP has remained a much more quiet presence on the side-lines, not because they don’t care, but rather because they feel care should be taken with the matter. This may have been a good approach for the party to take as there have been vocal members of the public who have been revolted by the “vulture-like” behaviour of some of the more opportunistic. This, Cronin points out, is actually a silver lining in the dark cloud that is Marikana.

The SACP say that they are welcoming the Presidential Judicial Commission of Inquiry into the events that occurred at the Lonmin mine, however, there are some constructive lessons to be learned from these events and, Cronin says, we need to understand them in a wider systemic context.

Systemic Factors

The systemic factors he points out begin with what he calls the folly of union-bashing. The origins of AMCU can be traced back to BHP Billiton Coal at Witbank; a move which Cronin said was a deliberate attempt to undermine the strength of NUM by mine bosses. Then there are the bargaining arrangements with the unions themselves.

The platinum mining corporations don’t bother with collective bargaining arrangements, Cronin says, instead they “compete amongst themselves”. While we can see this in effect at Marikana, it also occurred at Implats near Rustenberg earlier this year when workers were angry because Implats were offering higher salaries to workers with blasting certificates after telling the workers that there was “no more money.” In this case, 9000 workers ended up being dismissed after tensions between NUM and AMCU and a strike.

Cronin says that in the aftermath of the Marikana tragedy, the platinum industry is considering moving toward collective bargaining, a move the SACP supports wholeheartedly. That being said though, the platinum industry is currently suffering and companies are trying to protect their profits.

Despite South Africa possessing 86% of known platinum reserves, the country does not set the prices of the metal and with the global economic crisis occurring at the moment, platinum has dropped sharply in value. In this case, many companies decide to retrench workers to protect their profits. Cronin believes this is simply a symptom of the fact that despite almost 20 years of democracy, South Africa is still locked in “the same apartheid-colonial growth path dominated by the mineral-energy and financial oligopolies.”

Investment Accompanied By Degrading Social Conditions

While platinum sales are at a halt now, just a short time ago the industry was booming. Investors clamoured to be involved but their investment and profits have come at a price.

According to a report by the Bench Marks Foundation entitled Communities in the Platinum Minefields while profits have soured, the social conditions of mine-communities have degraded. Most of the mining houses are not meeting their social responsibility commitments and “shanty-towns” surround most of the mines with district municipalities and local traditional leadership being too overwhelmed to provide a basic social infrastructure. It is because of this vacuum of power that “warlord” and “vigilante” structures have been able to rise to the top and there is evidence that this is what happened at Lonmin’s Marikana mine.

Cronin believes that all these points had a role to play in the tragedy and they also all indicate that we have to forge a new path for our economy. Cronin finishes his article by writing:

“We need to ensure that our mineral resources are used to drive upstream and down-stream industrialisation, but also sustainable, non-racial urbanisation. This will require an effective and determined developmental state, nationally, provincially and locally; a united and effective trade union movement linked to local progressive civil structures; and the political will to ensure effective state intervention into mining.”

You can view the entire article on PoliticsWeb here.

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