Thursday, August 16, 2012

Massacre of striking miners in South Africa

In the past week, there have been a few photojournalist reports of the violence in Rustenburg, South Africa, at the Lonmin platinum mine (the third largest in the world). No explanation was given with the photos of schoolchildren passing dead bodies on the road or of striking mine workers wielding bats & “machetes” (their mining tools) & the cast of the photos was distinctly white supremacist, as we are accustomed to seeing in reports about African peoples. When lengthy reports did appear, every subtle effort was made to have the Lonmin mine owners appear a rational force embattled by an irrational workforce. As the Boston Globe reported yesterday, company officials continue to meet with police regarding the violence. An executive VP said, ‘‘Until we know why 3,000 people are under this influence to kill ... it’s hard for us to believe this is a genuine complaint about the rights of workers.” Plays nicely to white supremacism but chock full of racist innuendo! In fact, trouble erupted at the Lonmin mine on August 10th, when 3,000 workers walked off the job in what the company described as an “illegal strike”. The range of issues impelling an extraordinary action like 3,000 desperately poor workers walking off their jobs has not yet been elaborated in western media--except to say it was over low wages. But over the following days, in a series of scuffles between riot cops & strikers, 9 people were killed including two cops, some scabs, & striking miners. Media & mine management conveniently blame the violence on a turf war between two competing unions, the long-established National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) & the newly-formed Association of Mineworkers & Construction Union (AMCU), which some analysts claim is more militant. The conflict between these two unions may certainly have been a provocation & the leadership of the unions reckless (the head of NUM called for police intervention) but the source of this uprising lies entirely with the violent exploitation of the mining company & the riot police who intervened on its behalf. On Tuesday, The Bench Marks Foundation (a group founded by Bishop Desmond Tutu in 2001, which monitors international mining operations) issued a report on the Lonmin mining operation, saying workers (many of whom are migrants) live in makeshift shacks without electricity or indoor plumbing, children suffer chronic illnesses from exposure to raw sewage, & there is lack of education & employment especially for youth & women. And that’s just the short list of volatile issues. Today, heavily armed riot cops attacked strikers with water cannons, stun grenades, tear gas, & then opened fire with automatic rifles & pistols. So far, 18 miners are reported massacred. (Top photo of striking miners with only weapons they have (their mining tools) by Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters; bottom photo of police massacre of miners today by AFP)

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