As South Africa Reels from Mine Shootings, Social Inequality Threatens to Undo the Post-Apartheid ‘Miracle’

To the extent that the ANC becomes identified with injustice, rather than emancipation, the ruling party is in deep, deep trouble.

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SIPHIWE SIBEKO / Reuters

Striking miners listen to the ministerial task team,not pictured, outside a South African mine in Rustenburg, 100 km (62 miles) northwest of Johannesburg, Aug. 21, 2012.

Under apartheid, the ANC new exactly where it stood when miners went on strike: The workers were the most exploited sector of the working class, toiling in brutal conditions, their quiescence enforced by a violent white minority regime. When miners, or any other workers, found the courage to down tools, they could always count on the backing of the ANC. Things have changed. The perception has grown at the grassroots that the ANC, in government, is less responsive to its working class electorate than it is to the needs of a corporate leadership on whose investment the country’s prospects may depend. The National Union of Mineworkers — today a key political bloc within the ruling party, accused by even many sympathetic critics of having become too deeply embroiled in ANC factional rivalry at the expense of fighting its members’ corner — opposed the wildcat strike behind wage demands deemed “unrealistic.” Many ANC activists were also sympathetic to the plight of the police who fired in a moment of panic on a crowd of men charging them with machetes, who had hacked to death two policemen earlier in the strike, and who had been given potions by sangomas (traditional healers) that, they believed, made them invincible to police bullets.

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South Africa produces some 70% of the world’s platinum supply, and the mining sector remains at the heart of the South African economy. It is a sector whose profitability has long relied on keeping down labor costs. “This is a critical moment for South Africa’s mining industry,” noted the Financial Times‘ columnist Lex this week, describing falling profits and demand as a result of the slowdown of production in the European auto industry (platinum is used in the catalytic converters of diesel engines). “The financial rationale for platinum mining is fading… One reason is rising labor costs. Industry players say wages for miners have risen by 40 percent during the past five years, yet industrial unrest continues.” In a separate editorial, the FT urged Zuma’s government to get things in order: “With the slump in the European car industry depressing prices,” it wrote, “[mining companies] need to cut production and lay off thousands of workers to make their businesses sustainable – all but impossible in the current political climate.”

The FT, like the captains of South African industry, are increasingly worried about the “political climate” created by the ANC. The unspoken deal between the liberation movement and the white corporate elite wasn’t simply that the ANC would leave the basic structure of the apartheid-era economy untouched in exchange for a few seats in the boardroom; it was also that the ANC would — to borrow a phrase from economist Moeletsi Mbeki, brother of the more famous president but a scathing critic of his economic policies — “placate the poor” through directing tax revenues to social spending and development efforts. Placate the poor, Mbeki noted, and also buy their votes.

The violence at Marikana was a dramatic illustration of how badly that deal has gone awry, producing images of reminiscent of the turmoil of the late-apartheid era that will have fueled unease among many in the ANC, and also in the white-dominated corporate power centers reliant on the ANC’s ability to maintain the social stability necessary to protect their investments. “If the ANC is perceived by the impoverished majority as having failed them because of being corrupt and self-serving,” warns Borain, “and if those tax revenues are not reaching the poor but instead are bolstering an elite, the political risk for investors grows.”

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The political risk to the ANC may be even more acute. It’s only August, but his year has already seen more street protests in South Africa than any year since the ANC was voted into power in 1994 — and most of those protests have targeted ANC-run local authorities (many of them corrupt) over failure to deliver on services. Corruption by township-level ANC leaders may also be fueled by a perception that the party’s top dogs are enriching themselves. And the economic policies to which the movement remains wedded offer little prospect of raising the majority of its supporters out of poverty. The erstwhile liberation movement and global icon of racial reconciliation finds itself adrift in uncharted waters, as the ruling party of a dangerously unequal society whose inequalities can no longer credibly be blamed on white minority rule — at least not in the eyes of a post-apartheid generation that has known only ANC rule, and increasingly sees its failures as a product of the self-aggrandizement of its leaders.

It was fear of exactly the sort of popular backlash now brewing that led to Mbeki’s 2007 ouster by a coalition that rallied behind Zuma — himself once the subject of a high-profile corruption investigation that was eventually dropped — ostensibly in order to save the ANC. “They accused Mbeki of having abandoned the poor,” says Borain. “But those who toppled him haven’t changed much, creating the impression that they championed the cause of the marginalized simply to win control for themselves over the patronage networks. ” Now, as the party prepares for its December conference, Zuma faces a similar revolt, and may well suffer the same fate that he and his supporters inflicted on Mbeki. But there’s no reason to believe that his departure would change anything but the personnel at the top, given the track record of many of those leading the charge.

Still, the bloodbath at Marikana may have served as a wake-up call: Maintaining the inequalities in wealth and economic power of the apartheid era leads, inevitably, to a violence born of despair. To the extent that, in the eyes of a new generation, the ANC becomes identified with injustice and inequality rather than emancipation, the ruling party is in deep, deep trouble — as is the society around it. Addressing the issue of social inequality equality was, as Zuma noted in June, essentially postponed in the interests of economic stability during the ’90s. If anything, economic conditions today are even less auspicious for a renegotiation of South Africa’s social contract. When people are being killed in what are essentially clashes over the distribution of wealth, a new national conversation can’t wait.

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26 comments
drdov
drdov

If you do a survey asking black south africans if they were happier under a white government, many people will be surprised and shocked with the result.

agarron
agarron

Economic Apartheidt.....that's what's going on here.

But, South Africa isn't to blame for this apartheit.

Altus Pienaar
Altus Pienaar

When will we realize that it is not a battle between black and white but one between rich and poor and another between we the people and they the government oligarchy.

Winston Smith
Winston Smith

End the monetary system. We all have the same basic needs. The current system is morally indefensible assures the destruction of all resources while covering the needs of just a few. Perpetual wars for greed. One billion people are starving on the planet right now and 10 thousand children will die today simply for lack of sewage/clean water. It is time. It is past time.

borisIII
borisIII

As long as government officials can have side businesses there will always be this kind of problems.  And they will never give up there money making government jobs easily.

funnyboy911
funnyboy911

anywhere you have blacks in your country you going have 

Social Inequality. They are just lazy and not that smart of people.

drorbenami
drorbenami

Hey Tony Baloney, I forgot:

The throats of syrian children are being cut and south african miners are been shot down in cold blood....why do 9 out of 10 of your tweets have to do with football???

When Israel fires a phosphourus shell to light up the night sky you become absolutely hysterical !!!

drorbenami
drorbenami

hey Tony Baloney,

You haven't been in South Africa for 20 years , right.? Since that time almost a million south africans have died of aids, yet you haven't written one word. Tens of thousands of south african women have been ganged raped, so many that they even have a name for it: "jack rolling", yet you don't write about that either.

All of a sudden, because you friends in the ANC are under attack, you spring into action....

But  tell me Tony Baloney, I 'm curious:who has a higher standard of living: 1) a black person living under the ANC or 2) a Palestinian living under Israeli occupation?

AlJezza says that "In Ramallah it's like a boom town" and they should know, because, unlike yourself a reporter for Al Jazerra has actually been in Ramallah....

Fatah says an un skilled worker in the west bank earns 22 dollars a day. How much does an unsilled worker in South Africa earn, Tony Baloney???

robert10001
robert10001

Gee, there's a surprise; the new ruling class is worse than the old ruling class.

julis123
julis123

SA has simply benefited from good press since Apartheid ended. The minister of health due to his wacko ideas about the causes of AIDS was directly responsible for the death of hundreds of thousands. In addition over 30% of all SA males have committed at least 1 act of rape. These facts are rarely reported in the Western press.

Samian
Samian

What 'miracle'?  South Africa went from a developed nation into a middle-developing nation over a decade. 

YehudaElyada
YehudaElyada

Shame on you, Tony! You too fell to this Zionist propaganda! Everyone (namely everyone from Abu Mazen to Jacob Zuma) knows that these so-called miners were undercover Mossad operators, in SA to spread HIV! Shooting them was an act of solidarity with the oppressed Palestinians, the evergreen victims of Zionism.

Colnef
Colnef

Please note the South African Government and the ANC are perpetuating the social inequalities in South Africa.Why is it that previously disadvantaged Indians and Coloureds are doing well, on average, in SA. The ANC promote a 'can't do' attitude and 'beggar' mentality with their voters, who are mainly Black.  This in turn shifts focus way from their failings, which includes racism, which is causing large scale unemployment and lost opportunities for their voters. If the ANC focussed the Black population positively on the available opportunities and got their 'house in order' their voters would be much better served. A Government that cannot even deliver textbooks to school-children has a lot to answer for.

keitha917
keitha917

Nothing (for a black person) is worse than the Apartheid regime. Nothing

keitha917
keitha917

Please provide proof of your rape statistic from a well noted report / source (not wikipedia). Or at least admit that you got that fact from an anti African (anti black) website and you are simply regurgitating it as fact. 

keitha917
keitha917

Please provide proof of your rape stat from a well noted source or admit to the fact that you are simply regurgitating a "fact" you saw on some neo - nazi, anti black person website.

keitha917
keitha917

Developed for you maybe, at the expense of 80% of the actual population.

keitha917
keitha917

Please qualify what doing well means? The only population actually doing well was and remains the white minority and a select few connected black people who effectively shook hands with the devil. That's a simple fact. 

No doubt the ANC has its problems and the people of SA would be better served by a more competent government but the fact remains that there was no real reckoning at the end of Apartheid and the only thing that changed was the complexion of those in office. 

RontheEvilCanadian
RontheEvilCanadian

http://www.time.com/time/world...

Over 1/4 South African men in this study carried out by South Africa's own Medical Research Council admitted to being rapists. The number of actual rapists (including those who will not admit to it) is doubtlessly higher. If TIME magazine is too "anti-African" for your liking, here are some alternate sources on South Africa's rape crisis:

The BBC: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/afr...

The Root (a WaPo owned site founded by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.): http://www.theroot.com/views/r...

Al Jazeera: http://stream.aljazeera.com/st...

Samian
Samian

Now in South Africa, 90% of the population is struggling. How is that better?

temzil
temzil

Keith....you admit the ANC is a dismal failure. Profess that "whities" still have a strangle hold on the economy...what is your say to improvement.

Remember when Zuma visited a white township on the outskirts of Pretoria...yes shacks n' all...no RDP houses for these outcast "whities"

Perhaps Keith you are over sensitive...perhaps you are a closset Jimmy Manyi.

keitha917
keitha917

I did not say rape is endemic in SA and it is a national shame. HOWEVER your stat of saying 30% of men have done is WRONG. Even the 1 in 4 is not a proper sample - rural and urban (read squatter camps) of the Eastern Cape and Kwazulu Natal . Until you can show me their methodology I will have to disagree with you based on pure logic.

DrJM
DrJM

Keith, you must be one of the politically connected individuals, have you bothered to get out of your BMW to look at the rural areas or have your stake in the mines blinded you to the inequality in education, HIV statistics etc?

keitha917
keitha917

90 Percent? Are you sure about that? As a black South African I can most definitely see the improvements in the previously disadvantaged areas and I can attest to the fact that the black middle class is growing. Go sprout your lies somewhere else.