Abayomi Azikiwe, editor of the Pan-African News Wire, pictured at the Michigan Roundtable Festival on Belle Isle in Detroit during the summer of 2008. Azikiwe has written extensively on Pan-African and world affairs over the years. (Photo: Alan Pollock), a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
National Prosecuting Authority Backs Off Murder Charges Against 270 Jailed Miners
Workers are being released from jails pending outcome of inquiry
By Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire
270 miners have been released from jail in the Marikana mining unrest. Some 50 workers celebrated outside the detention facilities on September 3 after the charges of murder were temporarily dropped.
All of the jailed workers were scheduled to be released by September 6. The rock drill operators have been blocking production at the platinum facility for weeks.
South African miners from the Lonmin Platinum PLC facilities at Marikana are continuing to pressure the bosses on demands for higher pay and better working conditions. Last month 10 people were killed in clashes between workers represented by two rival unions and 34 were massacred by police in failed efforts to break up the occupation of a hill near the mines.
In the aftermath of the unrest and shootings, the prosecuting authorities in the Northwest Province charged 270 mineworkers with murder. The charges were based on an old apartheid-era law related to “common purpose,” where any form of unrest resulting in deaths could provide the state with a justification for prosecuting those who were fighting against injustice.
The use of “common purpose” legal provisions in the cases of the mineworkers at Marikana caused outrage among broad sections of the South African public. Consequently, on September 3, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) announced that it would suspend the murder charges pending the completion of an investigation launched by a commission of inquiry ordered by South African President Jacob Zuma in the immediate aftermath of the massacre on August 16.
South African Minister of Justice Jeff Radebe on August 31 demanded that the NPA provide sound legal reasons for the charging of the mineworkers with murder. Radebe noted that the charges had sparked “shock, panic and confusion” inside the country. (Wall Street Journal, August 31)
The continued detention and charges of murder were egregious since it was the miners who were fired on by the police. Most of the workers were only armed with traditional weapons, whereas the police were using automatic rifles, teargas and water cannon.
Mathew Phosa, the secretary treasurer of the ruling African National Congress (ANC), spoke out on September 1 saying that “Charging some of the role players in the face of a Commission of Inquiry is reckless, incongruous and almost absurd—the consequences too ghastly to contemplate.” (Wall Street Journal, September 1)
Weighing in on the situation as well was ANC chief whip in Parliament, Mathole Motshekga, who indicated on September 2 that he was glad to see the charges dismissed for now. Nonetheless, the NPA suggested that the prosecution of the miners may resume if the Commission of Inquiry unearthed evidence that wrong doing on the part of the workers did take place.
Acting Director of the NPA, Nongcobo Jita, revealed that those jailed miners who could prove their places of residence would be released pending the outcome of the government inquiry. She blamed the initial charges of murder on the Northwest Province prosecutor Johan Smit.
The Marikana mines are located in the Northwest Province. Smit continued to defend the filing of murder charges against the miners saying the decision had legal merit.
Unrest Continues in Other Mines
Since the killings at Marikana, unrest has continued at other mining facilities throughout the country. The Royal Bafokeng mines experienced three days of work stoppages and in the gold sector strikes and other disturbances have occurred in late August and September.
Four workers were injured when police opened fire with rubber bullets at the Gold One mine located in Modder East on September 3. Julius Malema, the expelled ANC Youth League president had spoken at the Aurora Mines just four days before where workers from Gold One had been present. (Mail & Guardian, September 3)
Malema blamed the government for what he called collaboration between ANC officials and mining bosses. However, the unrest at Gold One had been taking place since June.
At Gold One some 1,000 workers were dismissed from their jobs in June for participation in what the bosses say was an “illegal strike.” Of the fired workers, some 300 have been rehired and mine executives claim that others can be taken back if they apply and go through an interview process.
Gold One bosses also said that two of its employees were killed in the unrest due to intimidation from wildcat strikers against other workers. In addition, another employee has been seriously injured.
The company said that it has offered an award for the identification of those responsible for the killing and injuring of the workers. In the September 3 incident, the Gold One bosses said that production was slightly disrupted but that most employees have reported to work.
Nevertheless, the low pay rates and unfavorable conditions of employment is what most people attribute to sparking outbreaks of wildcat strikes throughout the mining sector in South Africa. At Marikana, rock drill operators are making less than $US500 per month which cannot sustain the workers and their families.
Mineworkers Reflect Need for Fundamental Change
The ongoing problems in the mining sector of the South African economy are largely resulting from the lack of fundamental economic transformation within the relations of production. The ANC government, which has been in power since 1994, is coming under tremendous pressure to institute reforms that provide for ownership of the mines and other sectors of the economy to the workers and the communities in which they live.
The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) claims two million members as the largest federation of workers inside the country. Founded in 1985 during the struggle against white-minority rule, the federation was instrumental in building support for the ANC in the struggle against apartheid and the first democratic elections that were held in 1994 that resulted in an overwhelming victory by the party of Nelson Mandela who became the first president under the new dispensation.
However, the world capitalist crisis has had a tremendous impact on the Africa’s largest economy. Unemployment remains high and the rates of poverty are totally unacceptable to the majority of people.
The inability of the ANC to institute sweeping industrial and agricultural reforms has resulted in internal struggles even within the union movement itself. The breakaway Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) is a reflection of this crisis within labor.
The problem of the declining wages of the working class is not confined to South Africa. In Kenya, the national teachers union has been on strike demanding better salaries.
Teachers in the East African state of Kenya, where the government has close ties with the United States, educators say that they are not making enough money to send their own children to schools and universities. (BBC News, September 3)
The economic crisis is in fact worldwide. Even within the imperialist states, workers are facing similar challenges with declining wages, high unemployment and an all-out onslaught on unions within both the private and public sectors.
These developments in Africa and in the West illustrate the need for a total break with the capitalist system. Socialism, where the workers control the means of production, is the only real solution to overproduction and the decline in real wages.
Socialism can only be won through the building of a revolutionary party of the working class and the oppressed. World socialism will be realized when these revolutionary organizations are allied through a process of struggle that places the most oppressed at the center of the fight for equality and self-determination.