Little has changed since Marikana

IN MEMORIAM: Crosses dot the koppie near Nkaneng informal settlement in Marikana where 34 miners were killed
Picture: DANIEL BORN

On August 16 2012, hundreds of platinum miners working in the Lonmin-owned mines in Marikana, North West Province, gathered to protest against poor living conditions and low pay.

By the time the day was over, 34 were dead and 74 injured after police opened fire with live ammunition.

It was the most lethal use of deadly force by police officers in SA’s democratic history.

The Marikana Massacre, I’d say more so than any other event, represents the perfect embodiment of post-1994 SA’s internal contradictions.

With the fall of apartheid and the introduction of full representative democracy, we as a country were supposed to move into a new phase of history, one where all citizens were meant to be granted equal access to resources and opportunities.

However, 25 years later, almost half of the population live in poverty, living in appalling conditions and struggling to put food on the table. Millions remain unemployed, while millions more work in jobs that often don’t pay a living wage.

For millions of South Africans, the promise of the democratic transition remains completely out of their reach.

It is this reality that forces people to take to the streets on an almost daily basis, just like it as it did to the miners seven years ago.

Marikana also exposed the glaring flaws in our country’s policing methods.

While the role of the police is to protect civilians and uphold the law, there are far too many examples of the police resorting to violent – and sometimes lethal – force.

The year before Marikana, Andries Tatane was beaten by police and shot twice in the chest during a strike in Ficksburg. Police were recently exposed using live ammunition on protesting students.

This isn’t to say that the police were solely to blame for what happened at Marikana. While the police response was definitely excessive, they had good reason to be wary of the miners they were confronting.

Between August 12 and 16, ten people had already been killed, allegedly by strikers. Two of those people were police officers.

Even Ian Farlam, the chairperson chair of the official commission of inquiry into the massacre, said the miners were mainly responsible for escalating the situation.

“The police tried to deal with it the right way, by co-operating with the strikes. But the miners wouldn’t listen. They were not assembling peacefully nor were they unarmed,” he said.

And thus we see another contradiction in today’s society. As protesters become more aggressive, so in turn do the police the police inevitably become more aggressive in response. However, the increased violence from police encourages protesters to become more violent, and so on and so on.

We seem to be stuck in a cycle of violence, one fuelled by inequality and poverty.

There are no easy answers to any of it, but at the same time we can’t just ignore the fact that we are trapped in a system with whose inherent contradictions that are fuelling this cycle.

If it is allowed to continue, then tragedies such as like Marikana will continue to happen.

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