Underlying lessons of the Marikana massacre

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 25 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 25 August, 2012, 2:14am


If the Sharpeville massacre of blacks by whites in 1960 marked a turning point for South Africa, the Marikana massacre of blacks by blacks is a wake-up call 18 years after the African National Congress came to power. The Sharpeville killings of 69 unarmed people who protested against repressive "pass laws" led to armed struggle against the white apartheid regime. The Marikana killings of 34 poor miners striking for better pay prompted President Jacob Zuma to promise that an inquiry would establish the real cause and the lessons to be learned if there are not to be more tragedies like it.

Sadly, it is not uncommon for protests to turn violent in modern South Africa. What sets them apart now is that they are no longer about political freedom, but more often a cry for a better life from desperately poor, uneducated people who lack decent government services or much hope of improvement.

Zuma's inquiry will look at the immediate causes, but not the underlying one. If the country's modern leaders really want to know why millions of their people are so disillusioned with the promise of a better life under majority rule, they need look no further than perceptions of a government with an overwhelming mandate that is characterised by division, factional squabbling and policy paralysis at a critical juncture for the multiracial nation's economy and social stability.

Mining remains a foundation stone of South Africa's economy. Now it faces uncertainty amid debate on whether to nationalise mines or curb their owners' power, and mining unions are fighting among themselves for members. The ANC must resolve it soon so that it can focus on restoring confidence and economic development.

The ANC Youth League argues that nationalisation of the country's mines and farms is the only way to redress past injustices. The league's expelled leader Julius Malema received an enthusiastic reception when he visited Marikana after the massacre. But nationalisation or government intervention would do nothing for the industry - or the country -when the rest of Africa is competing for investment.