The Congress of South African Trade Unions join workers and South Africans, in general, to commemorate the 9th Anniversary of the Marikana tragedy that left 44 workers dead during the 2012 Platinum sector strikes. Over 58 workers died during the 2012 Labour unrest in North West Province. The Marikana tragedy represented the beginning of the intense offensive against collective bargaining that continues to this day.
The tragic consequences of Marikana was the promotion of division amongst workers and the shifting of focus away from the real culprits and architects of the tragedy, the Platinum bosses. A new culture of political opportunism, populism and warlordism was introduced that not only undermined the right to Freedom of Association but also weakened the efforts to find lasting solutions to the problems that led to the tragedy in the first place.
The legacy of the Marikana tragedy should have been improved remuneration and working conditions for mineworkers and better accountability for mining companies for the environmental damage they have inflicted on communities for centuries. This is proving impossible because of the political bickering, scapegoating and disunity that followed the tragedy.
The employers were not held accountable and they have since become emboldened and intensified their offensive against collective bargaining. Nothing has been done to deal with the acid mine water problem that poses the biggest threat to our water sources in many mining provinces. The mines that were recklessly abandoned by mining companies have fallen into the hands of criminal syndicates ,and as result gang wars have erupted all over the country.
The health and safety of mineworkers continues to be an issue and mining fatalities remain unacceptably high. This precarious situation is exemplified by the fact that five years later the bodies of three Lily Mine employees remain trapped underground.
On the policing of protests and strikes, there is not much that has changed. In fact, the ongoing budget cuts have left many police officers poorly trained and ill-equipped to deal with massive crowds, as shown by the killing of an innocent bystander during the student protests at Wits University earlier this year.
As we commemorate the tragic events of August 2012, we need to intensify the push for radical interventions to resolve the problems of mass poverty, widespread unemployment and extreme inequality that remain prevalent in this country.
The Marikana tragedy is a grim reminder of our failure as a country to overthrow a system that has left workers shamelessly exploited and the majority of South Africans continuing to live subhuman lives that are a step above the grave.
Today, South African workers, like all other workers of the world, are suffering the effects of the global COVID-19 pandemic; and, as with every crisis before it, capital is rallying by attacking the working class. Attempts are being made to undermine trade union rights including collective bargaining, and the reduction or elimination of employer contributions to the social wage and to social security payments.
The only way to respond to this offensive is for workers to use the Marikana tragedy commemorations to build the foundations of sustainable worker unity. Trade unions need to aggressively drive the unity process by engaging in systematic and purposeful discussions, while also pushing for unity in action.
The lesson from Marikana is that no union or federation can take forward the current struggles alone and the unity of the workers is sacrosanct.
Issued by COSATU
Sizwe Pamla( COSATU National Spokesperson)