Johannesburg — From demonstrations against racism at the University of the Free State to accidents, court cases, floods, fires and well-organised protests against paintings exposing the president's genitals, the ANC provides support to the victims. Not so at the scene of the massacre of 34 people five days ago, where levels of distress and misery are rising.
Are the people of Marikana the wretched of the earth?
If there is anyone who knows the pain of being abandoned by the ANC in his time of need it is, ironically, the man who is now its president.
When Jacob Zuma was fired as deputy state president in 2005 and subsequently charged with corruption and later rape, he was abandoned by the ANC senior leadership and left to fight his legal battles on his own.
Thabo Mbeki was then ANC president, and apart from then-Secretary General Kgalema Motlanthe, who would occasionally visit him, ANC officials kept their distance. It hurt Zuma immensely that his former comrades turned their backs on him when he needed their support and advice the most.
Into the breach stepped his friends from KwaZulu-Natal, Cosatu, the ANC Youth League, the SACP and the Young Communist League. The Friends of Jacob Zuma was launched to mobilise support for him during the trials.
But until the tide turned at the ANC's Polokwane conference and the national executive committee elected there rallied around him, Zuma felt the sting of being spurned by his organisation.
Five days after a wildcat strike at the Lonmin platinum mine resulted in police shooting at mineworkers, killing 34 and injuring 78, there has been no sign of the ANC in the area. The province is governed by the ANC and Marikana falls under the Rustenburg municipality, which the ANC controls through 55 of the 74 council seats. The workers in the platinum belt are a major ANC constituency.
As is the case when tragedy affects its communities, it was expected that the ANC would be on hand to offer humanitarian support and comfort to the families of those who died. No ANC or alliance leaders appeared.
They were further shown up by the arrival of a delegation of opposition party leaders on Monday to address residents at the Wonderkop informal settlement where many of the Lonmin mineworkers live.
The delegation was led by the Congress of the People President Mosiuoa Lekota. He was joined by Democratic Alliance MP and National Chairman Wilmot James, United Democratic Movement leader Bantu Holomisa and African Christian Democratic Party leader Kenneth Meshoe.
The ANC Chief Whip Mathole Motshekga announced that MPs from all political parties, together with church leaders, would hold a memorial service at Parliament Tuesday in honour of the victims of the violent protests. The National Assembly will also hold a special sitting later in the day to reflect on the tragedy.
But for some still unexplained reason, the ANC is keeping its distance from Marikana. Even the ANC Women's League, which usually turns up to support women and children affected by violence or in court cases, was nowhere to be seen at the Ga-Rankuwa Magistrate's Court where 259 of the Lonmin mineworkers appeared on charges of public violence.
Wives, mothers and sisters of the mineworkers had been highly distressed since Thursday's massacre as many of them had been unable to establish whether their missing loved ones were dead, in hospital or in jail.
There was further anguish outside the court on Monday as the women were not allowed in to see their family members. They wailed and collapsed in frustration and grief, not knowing what to do next. There was no one there to comfort them.
While the inter-ministerial committee appointed by Zuma to offer assistance to the community was still dealing with logistical arrangements in Rustenburg, former ANC Youth League spokesman Floyd Shivambu was on hand at the court to assist the women.
"We came to pledge solidarity to the workers and the women because they have been struggling to get access to information on who's arrested in which police station and most can't allocate their relatives and spouses.
"We also came to give support to the legal team because we arranged for legal representation for all the arrested workers and we need to be here to give support," Shivambu told Daily Maverick.
Expelled ANC Youth League President Julius Malema's visit to Marikana on Saturday, when he addressed the mineworkers and demanded that Zuma and police minister Nathi Mthethwa step down, has been slammed in several quarters.
Presidential spokesman Mac Maharaj told the eNews Channel Africa last night that some people were using the massacre to "opportunistically raise temper and emotion". Maharaj said that "in desperation to regain credibility", these people were seeking to "stoke anger".
Cosatu also condemned Malema's "blatant opportunism", particularly his attack on its biggest affiliate, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM).
"The former ANC Youth league leader is reported to have called on the striking mineworkers gathered at Wonderkop at the weekend to 'form a militant union that would represent their interests'. He claimed that NUM 'was no longer a union that represented the interests of the workers but interested in making more money. NUM is not a union, it's a company.
They hold shares in mining companies, that is why when there are problems in the mines they are the first to sell out the workers'," Cosatu said in a statement.
The federation said this was a "scandalous insult" to the NUM. "We appeal to workers to listen to its true leaders and refuse to be dictated to by self-appointed leaders like Malema. The federation deplores Malema's blatant opportunism in seeking to exploit the understandable concerns of the Marikana workers to score cheap political points."
Asked why he and Malema intervened at Marikana, Shivambu said they were invited by "the leaders of the workers" to help, but had been planning to do so anyway. "Our approach is that we help all people who need assistance and are in need."
Shivambu said they had not held meetings with the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU), which is at the centre of the dispute between the workers and Lonmin.
"AMCU joined the protest after it had started by workers who were leading themselves. On many occasions the workers said the strike is not organised by any union and we found that to be true when we were there," Shivambu said.
He said the situation of the 259 workers who were arrested on Thursday and taken back to police stations until their case comes before the court again next Monday was "so sad".
It is a struggle to find anyone in the ANC who can speak with authority and knowledge of the situation at Marikana. It remains inexplicable why the ANC is surrendering Marikana to Malema and the opposition. Even for the week of national mourning declared by the president, the ANC has not yet announced any activity in remembrance of the victims of the violence.
The ANC's National Working Committee was meeting at the party's Johannesburg headquarters Luthuli House Monday afternoon, but ANC Secretary General Gwede Mantashe refused to confirm to the media whether the Marikana issue would be discussed.
ANC national spokesman Keith Khoza could also not say by yesterday evening whether the party would issue a statement after the meeting and if so, whether there would be any comment about the massacre.
Asked why the ANC had not gone to Marikana to offer humanitarian support, Khoza said: "Government is handling it. The inter-ministerial committee will determine what assistance is needed."
Khoza said he was not aware if local or regional ANC structures had been activated to assist the bereaved families. Asked if the party was aware that opposition parties were visiting the community, Khoza said the ANC did not plan visits around what the opposition does.
Khoza said the ANC was not prepared to respond to Malema's comments about Zuma. He said the party had not picked up any anti-ANC sentiment coming from the community at Marikana.
Malema is expected in the area again on Tuesday when he will accompany Lonmin workers to the Marikana police station to open a case against the police officers who shot dead the 34 workers on Thursday.
Expedient or not, Malema has found a new platform to operate on and it fits neatly with his campaign for the nationalisation of mines. He has the ANC to thank for unwittingly allowing him the space to provide leadership at Marikana, when the party itself failed to do so.