Marikana: Statement by South African Social Scientists

As social scientists we share with the public of South Africa the sense of shock and outrage that followed the recent massacre at Marikana. We offer our heartfelt condolences to the families and friends of those who died.
As social scientists we also respond to what has happened in a particular way. Our disciplines avoid episodic description and uncritical acceptance of official statements. Through our research and teaching, we aim to contribute to an examination of social structures, social processes and social context, making sense of these historically and with awareness that they have political significance. Our research aims to reveal phenomena that are hidden, rather than rely on reports of what is immediately visible.

Our analyses are leading us to a recognition of continuities from our apartheid past, with these exposed through events at Marikana. These include:

  • massive inequalities that impact adversely on all aspects of the social life of people who are poorer;
  • widespread prevalence of low wages (with the persistence of migrant labour and the expansion of outsourcing, subcontracting and informal employment, all of which exacerbate pre-existing problems);
  • increased levels of unemployment, especially among young people;
  • a system of production based on private profit at the expense of people’s needs;
  • domination of the economy by the mining industry, and, with this, repatriation of profits by foreign investors;
  • racism that is structural as well as interpersonal;
  • growing violence, including hidden violence associated with poverty;
  • the prevalence of shacks and other low-cost housing, generally accompanied by the poor provision of basic services; and
  • highly repressive forms of public order policing and administration (including the use of the doctrine of common purpose).

Popular perceptions of the Lonmin Marikana mine massacre were initially shaped by TV footage of a single part of the massacre, viewed from the standpoint of the police. This account was reinforced by media briefings, prejudiced reporting, and opinions that blamed the violence on inter-union rivalries. Social scientific research giving weight to accounts by workers has emphasised the culpability of the police, flawed and biased official versions of events, sympathetic treatment of popular culture, and the unity of workers around a demand for a living wage.

Moreover, as social scientists we have a normative concern with defending truth, justice and democracy. And from this stance, we join others in civil society, in calling for:   

  • condemnation of the killing of strikers by the police, and the threat to the right to strike that this implies;
  • recognition of the complicity of Lonmin, which has responded to workers with intransigence and insensitivity;
  • appreciation that the gross inequality of rewards that exists at Lonmin, as elsewhere in mining and beyond, is indefensible;
  • support for the legitimate demands of workers for substantially improved pay;
  • a welcoming of the Judicial Commission of Enquiry and the investigation by the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID);
  • consideration of demands by civil society organisations for expansion of its terms of reference of the Commission of Enquiry;
  • full and sympathetic consideration of evidence by Lonmin strikers and community members in the areas around Marikana;
  • determination of who authorised the use of live ammunition at Marikana;
  • an IPID-led inquest or investigation into each individual death;
  • careful monitoring of the Commission of Enquiry by independent civil society researchers;
  • criminal charges to be brought against any police officer who terminated or endangered the lives of civilians by ordering or implementing orders to use live ammunition, or who tortured protesters while they were held in custody;
  • disbanding the task forces that carried out the massacre;
  • suspending those responsible for mismanagement of the processing of the crime screen;
  • dismissal of  the Acting Director of the National Prosecuting Authority, who accepted the use of ‘common purpose’ in charging all those arrested with murder;
  • dismissal of those who authorised a violent assault on the mine workers;  
  • the unfettered right of workers to belong to a union of their choice, combined with the promotion of strong, democratic unions; and
  • immediate lump-sum payments and ongoing support to the families of miners and others killed at Marikana, and full compensation for those who were injured.

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