Donate to Links


Click on Links masthead to clear previous query from search box

Read Green Left Weekly, our sister publication





Syndicate

Syndicate content

South Africa: Politics, profits and policing after the Marikana Massacre

Lover of fast cars, vintage wine, trout fishing and game farming and the second richest black businessperson in South Africa (global financial publication Forbes puts his wealth at $675 million or £416 million), Cyril Ramaphosa (left) celebrates his election as deputy president of the ANC with South Africa's President Jacob Zuma. Ramaphosa demanded that police break the Marikana mineworkers' strike; police massacred 34 minerworkers and wounded 78 others.

By Patrick Bond

December 20, 2012 -- Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- As the official judicial investigating commission into the Marikana Massacre draws to a close in 2012, with many weeks of testimony in 2013 still ahead, what did the South African Police Service (SAPS) learn from their behaviour?

SAPS Brigadier Zephania Mkhwanazi – who heads "public order policing" and hence control of demonstrations – was asked this by commission chair Ian Farlam last week, and judging by his four answers, the SAPS has not begun to grasp the reality of the crime they committed on August 16, 2012:

  • First, “Operational commanders and overall commanders rely on tactical commanders to give information”, and the latter’s communications broke down, so “We need to work that.”
  • Second, Mkhwanazi recommended “less lethal” weapons in future. Tear gas, stun grenades and water cannons were used to move thousands of striking workers off the hill on the outskirts of Marikana where each day they had gathered. The semi-automatic rifles that killed 34 minerworkers and wounded 78 others should be accompanied by “more options”. Reflecting police unpreparedness, while tear gas was being used on miners, forcing dozens of them down the mountain into a five-metre gap in barbed wire where the first 16 were killed, the police were not issued with gas masks.
  • Third, the operation “could have been conducted at night when there were fewer protesters on the koppie”.
  • Fourth, the disarming of protesters was not attempted in the migrant labour hostels where wretched workers live in apartheid-era conditions. “It is important to know where firearms are kept”, said Mkhwanazi, yet “a hostel has a lot of rooms”. SAPS failed to search the hostels. (Actually, the police gave evidence of only one striking worker using a firearm against the police on August 16. The police suffered no casualties that day, although two of their members were killed by the striking workers a few days earlier.)

During a famous service delivery protest in the small farming town of Ficksburg more than a year earlier, the televised police murder of community leader Andries Tatane traumatised viewers and gave the police a bloody nose. Many other failed public-order policing experiences required a rethink, and in August, SAPS were on the verge of banning sometimes-lethal rubber bullets from their armaments. But a resurgence of gung-ho cowboy policing took hold under the "shoot to kill" leadership of recent commissioner Bheki Cele, judging by the testimony of Mkhwanazi, who joined the old South African Police back in the bad old days of 1986, when President P.W. Botha was at the peak of his racist tyranny and thousands were killed, injured or jailed by apartheid cops.

Here are 19 other Marikana lessons that Mkhwanazi apparently didn’t consider:

  • If 3000 people are on a mountain nowhere near Lonmin property and not blocking anybody or anything, just leave them there.
  • Don’t allow your leading on-the-scene official to suddenly become unavailable – even by phone – so that she can attend a purely political event.
  • Don’t send police to a scene if they are irrationally hyped up with intent for revenge.
  • Don’t hire police video experts who are old-guard idiots and don’t send them to the investigating commission with utterly useless tape.
  • If your troops are guilty of murdering unarmed people who are fleeing, then they should be charged and investigated as soon as possible instead of being told they did "the right thing".

If the head of the unit responsible is unable to consider such obvious reactions, then the vital tasks of analysis, contrition and reform will apparently not be undertaken within the SAPS.

Meanwhile, Ramaphosa was elected deputy president of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) and at some stage within the next 18 months, will take the #2 political position in the country. The firm in which he is the leading South African-based shareholder, Lonmin, continues to repatriate profits to London where in 1973 British Tory prime minister Edward Heath termed it "the unacceptable face of capitalism".

With the exception of a few whiners, big business is delighted that the ANC team elected at this week’s Mangaung national leadership conference beat back the challenge by Julius Malema [former ANC Youth League leader amd populist] and it poses no danger of nationalising anything.

With a few exceptions, trade union leadership appears paralysed. And backed by a Communist Party whose roots and current shoots reek of Stalinism, the ruling party has re-elected a sloppy, ultra-hedonist leader [Jacob Zuma] who apparently can be bought by even the sleaziest French or German arms dealer.

There’s a word for the political direction in which South Africa is headed, and it begins with F.

[Patrick Bond directs the University of KwaZulu-Natal Centre for Civil Society in Durban.]

Powered by Drupal - Design by Artinet