The Smashing of a Strike

By Gillian Schutte · 21 Sep 2012

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Picture: Gillian Schutte
Picture: Gillian Schutte
It was with utter disbelief that we witnessed, on national television, yet another brutal assault from the police force on the Marikana community who were still reeling from the massacre, which took place less than a month earlier when more than 34 miners were mowed down with live ammunition in what can be described as a snuff movie for public consumption.

This second major assault happened on Saturday, September 15, on the eve of the Cosatu Congress, when police moved into the community and let leash a hail of rubber bullets to disarm mine workers of their knopkierries, spears and machetes.

Community members later reported that the police broke into their homes and shacks at night and shot at them, sometimes in the presence of children. Reports of traumatized children and women wounded by rubber bullets were vaguely shown on television. But human rights filmmaker Sipho Singiswa, who was there, says it was much worse than the media indicated. He interviewed scores of residents who were in deep shock and emotionally traumatized.

One such interview was with the group of women who were standing with ANC Councillor Paulina Masuhlo when the police shot at them from a nyala. “They came at us very quickly with all this dust around the car and in the air. The next thing we were being shot at and then it disappeared so quickly no one could get the number plate,” says a woman who asked not to be named for fear of police reprisal.

Masuhlo, in great pain and bleeding profusely from her knee, was taken to hospital.  She had agreed to meet Singiswa on Thursday, September 19 for an in-depth interview on the plight of women in Marikana. But a day before the scheduled interview, Singiswa received a phone call from the community informing him that she had died.

Devastated by the news he said, “When marginalised South Africans demand human rights and dignity, it is met with police brutality, which is sanctioned by government and corporate giants. Women and children become collateral damage. We are no longer living in a democracy.”

Paulina Masuhlo is one of 46 victims of the violence that unfolded in Marikana over the past six weeks. In this dustbowl littered with substandard shacks, no services and a network of power lines, a spectacle of the abuse of state power played itself out in the form of the brutal repression of a strike. There is no doubt that the violence unleashed by the state was a vital factor that influenced the decision of the striking Lonmin miners to accept the deal offered by the mine bosses in the days after the army moved into Marikana.

What’s been most disappointing to observe is the media’s unquestioning acceptance of the official position that the “violent” strikes had to be contained.

This was evident in file footage being played repeatedly on television news programmes, which showed the close-up of a miner licking the tip of his spear with a glint in his eye. It was a sight that is likely to bring to the fore the deeply held beliefs on which white fear is premised - that of the black man as savage and a potential killer. Cut from that scene to a wide shot of thousands of men with various cultural weapons and we were given the message that masses of black men were on the loose, wild and uncontrollable and therefore needed to be contained, disarmed and suppressed.

Mainstream society bought this story hook, line and sinker and breathed a sigh of relief when they watched police going in and disarming men of symbolic cultural weapons that posed no real threat to the armed police force, or army, or the general public for that matter.

Even for the less analytical, it was surely hard not to notice the cosy partnership between the state, business and the media, as it became starkly clear in the reportage of the Marikana strike that a great effort to demonise the mineworkers was made. The word “violent” was repeatedly used to describe the strikes that spread in the region when in fact; the practically leaderless mass action was highly organized and remarkably free of violence.

From where we were sitting as independent filmmakers in the field, the violence came predominantly from the police. Bringing in the army was the state’s last-ditch attempt to portray the miners as ungovernable and out of control to justify a brutal attack on them.

At this point, police also demanded press cards for entry into the area. Aid organisation, Gift of the Givers, was told that they would not be allowed in as gatherings of more than ten people were outlawed. This meant that children, women and men were to go hungry yet again – a gross violation of human rights.

It was clear to those with political knowhow that this was a total onslaught designed to smash the strike. It became a bizarre spectacle, which played out similar to apartheid era police and army raids on struggle comrades in the 70’s and 80’s. Only this time, the faces that spin doctored and blatantly lied to the public about what was actually taking place were those of former struggle veterans. Trade union leaders Frans Baleni, Senzeni Zokwane, Zwelinzima Vavi to name a few, made disingenuous commentary. Jeff Radebe, Pravin Ghordan, Nathi Mthetwa and other ANC leaders joined the cacophony.

Mac Maharaj appeared on television to assure the general public that this was not an attack on democracy or in contravention of any human rights. No, he said, rather it was a necessity to bring stability back to South Africa. He said it with a straight face seemingly unconcerned about echoing the same sentiments expressed by Pik Botha when calling for a state of emergency almost two decades ago. 

There was little sympathy for the community who were both traumatized and on the verge of starvation.

However, social media exploded amongst activists who were compelled to speak of the atrocities we were witnessing right before our eyes by a party that ironically prides itself in its struggle history.

In response to my emailed question about why the strike was smashed, Bench Marks Foundation chief researcher, David van Wyk said:

"The events of 16 August as well as subsequent state repression represent an attempt to smash the strike at Lonmin's Marikana mines.

South Africa is being ruled by a corporatist state that believes that all of society should be structured in such a way as to serve the interests of monopoly capital in general and mining capital in particular. Corporatism, which has its roots in Mussolini's fascist state in Italy, organises society into a tripartite arrangement composed of the state, capital and state-controlled labour.

All workers are organised into a single trade union federation that takes its cue from the ruling party and the state, instead of from the working class. In such an arrangement both the union bosses and the ruling party are richly rewarded and even share in the spoils of capital.

Capital welcomes the situation because they are guaranteed a passive and tightly policed working class. In effect, the working class is nationalised and sold to capital. Profits and wealth are privatised while the costs of production are socialised. What better conditions for investment can capital ask for? 

The Marikana strike had to be quickly resolved or crushed exactly because workers were acting outside of this cosy relationship."

What has become apparent is the governments fear and tyrannical response to the uprising of workers - in particular, in the mining sector.

As van Wyk put it, “The Marikana victory has struck fear into hearts of corporatists who have dominated recent politics. The first horizontal movement where people represented themselves and showed their power has sent shivers down the spines of those who believe that society can only be organised in parasitical hierarchical structures.”
Schutte is an award winning independent filmmaker, writer and social justice activist. She is a founding member of Media for Justice and co-producer at Handheld Films.

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21 Sep

Smashing of a Strike

All very well pointing out the police brutality. But what about the people that were savagely attacked, mutilated and killed by the strikers? For instance, I saw pictures of how they hacked away a security guard's jaw before killing him. And why strike armed to the teeth with pangas, spears, etc. if your intentions are not evil? Don't give me the lie that that was for "self defence"! What about the two policemen they savagely beat and shot to death? I don't condone violence and attacks on human rights and dignity by either side, but perhaps one can also understand the anger of the police officers who came under attack from these "dignified" thugs.

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22 Sep

Police Protocols

I do not support killing. I respect all life forms. still , There is a huge difference between individuals killing - whether workers, psychotic or criminal - and police killing. Police are specifically trained to protect and serve. To know how to respond to threats by people who may want to attack them. So when they massacre so many people you must understand that either they were ordered to or all of them forgot their training. It just is not the same as people who are miners killing someone.

21 Sep

Wonderfully Uncompromising

Well done. This is no democracy and we need to say it loudly and clearly.

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