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Painful Legacy of the Marikana Massacre

On 16 August 2012, 34 miners of the Marikana platinum mines in South Africa were shot dead by the police. A decade later, the legacy
Protests in solidarity with South African miners
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In August 2022, South Africa commemorated the 10th anniversary of the Marikana Massacre. On 16 August 2012, South African Police shot down labourers of the Marikana platinum mine, owned by UK-based Lonmin Group, resulting in 34 deaths and 78 injuries. Located 90 kilometres northwest of Johannesburg, Marikana is one of the richest mineral belts in the world. Today,  South Africa and Russia meet 90% of the global demand for platinum, and most of the South African platinum comes from Marikana. 

The event was the culmination of protracted protests for over a week. By August 16, there had already been multiple acts of strike-related violence that claimed ten lives. During clashes between the police and mineworkers several police officers and security guards were hacked to death. There were violent clashes amongst different labourer groups as well. Four miners were killed by fellow workers for breaking the strike. In total, the circumstances leading up to the massacre claimed over 50 lives.

On August 14, when the Lonmin administration decided to stop production at the Marikana platinum mine, the three thousand odd miners gathered on a hill close to the Lonmin mine. After two days of unsuccessful negotiation between the police and miners, a full-frontal onslaught was launched on 16 August. The brutal shootout killed 34 people within three minutes. Even though the police defended its violent act in the name of self-defence as some of the miners had arms, the incident clearly reflects their ineptitude in controlling the mob.

President Jacob Zuma and miners
Erstwhile South African President Jacob Zuma addressing protesting miners in Marikana.

As a response, erstwhile South African President Jacob Zuma recruited an enquiry commission. Two years and spending a colossal R153 million later, no one has been punished by the law. Families of murdered labours received about R70 million as compensation for their loss. However, the state didn’t bother to pay a penny to the injured miners or their families. 

Concerning the cause of the Marikana massacre, opinions diverge. Although the miners killed in the incidents were all of African origin, the real reason behind the massacre was a vicious brand of capitalism that smothers labour rights. Though two decades have passed after the end of Apartheid, there has been no attempt to change the labour laws or labour rights prevalent during the Apartheid regime. The neoliberal economic policy, predominance of multinational corporations and privatisation prevails today as much as during the Apartheid regime. This was clear when the Lonmin administration ordered their miners back to work within a few days of the massacre without considering any of the workers’ demands.

The horror of the police shooting in Marikana will remain one of the darkest spots in South African history. However, it was not the first case of police violence against labourers in South Africa. In 1922, during the Rand Revolt, police killed over 150 gold miners. In 1946, police killed 12 native African mineworkers over a strike. Again in 1987, during the strike at South African Railways, at least six workers were killed by the police. 

Most of these murderous acts by the police have been framed as Apartheid crimes against African ethnic groups. But if that were correct, it was not supposed to continue after the democratic transition in 1994. Yet, in 2006, over 60 security guards were killed by the police, again during a protest. Similar violent conflicts and police killings have been common in many recent strikes, including the public sector strike in 2007, municipality strike in 2009, post office strike in 2014 and more.

The Apartheid ended in Africa in 1994. Yet, twenty years later, South African citizens lost their lives over police brutality. Indeed, the labourers’ deaths were caused by more than just their skin colour. It resulted from a deep-rooted social concern that no political leader bothered to correct despite the two decades since the end of Apartheid.

The horror of the police shooting in Marikana will remain one of the darkest spots in South African history. However, this was not the first case of police violence against labourers in South Africa. In 1922, during the Rand Revolt, police killed over 150 gold miners. In 1946, police killed 12 native African mineworkers over a strike.

Today the world remembers Marikana as a symbol of the rise of the oppressed against institutions of power. It also of course represents the brutal capitalism that designed the police brutality against the workers. The labourers and their families also believe the government and police colluded with the Lonmin Group to suppress the workers’ movement.   

However, the Marikana incident exposed the flaws ingrained in South Africa’s labour laws and the econoic discrimination that prevails in its system. Today, South Africa remains among the two most unequal societies in the world, along with Brazil. And therefore, even a decade later, the painful legacy of the Marikana massacre lingers on. 

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views and positions of thespace.ink management. 

All images used in this article are in the public domain

Samir Bhattacharya is a Research Associate at the VIF. He is also pursuing PhD on India-Africa economic relations from Jawaharlal Nehru University, India. He has done his graduate study from University of Auvergne 1, France on Environment Economics. Before resuming his higher studies, he has worked with different types of organizations such as French Embassy in New Delhi, Saciwaters (Research Organisation) and CUTS International (NGO). In addition to geopolitics of Africa, his research interests include climate politics, south-south cooperation, international trade and functioning of different multilateral institutions.

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