In just a few horrific minutes, on 16 August 2012 - in a scene which will always remain etched in our memory - 34 lives were lost when police opened fire on striking mine workers at the Wonderkop in Marikana.
Combined with the murder of at least 24 other workers in the areas around the platinum mines before and after this fateful day, it added up to the worst disaster in the history of the South African working class for decades, certainly the worst since the advent of democracy in 1994.
COSATU's 11th National Congress, which met five weeks later, declared its solidarity with the working class communities in the areas whose lives had been shattered by the ongoing violence:
“We condemn violence, warlordism and intimidation from any quarter... Membership of any union or any party should never cost a life. COSATU will do everything possible to help prevent any further deaths.”
There was an overwhelming concern that never again must we see such killings in our democratic South Africa. Tragically however, one year later, we cannot say that there have been no further deaths. Just days before the anniversary, NUM woman shop steward, comrade Nobongile Madolo, was murdered near the Lonmin mine, the latest victim of a wave of politically motivated killings in the area around Rustenburg.
The 11th Congress welcomed the Independent Judicial Commission of Inquiry appointed by the government to investigate all the events leading to that fateful day. It is therefore bitterly disappointing that one year later, the Farlam Commission is bogged down in procedural arguments and still far from reaching any conclusive verdict on why the massacre occurred, who was responsible or what measures are needed to prevent any occurrence.
COSATU also welcomed the Framework Agreement for a Sustainable Mining Industry, signed by organised labour (with the exception of Nactu and Amcu), organised business and government on 3 July 2013. It committed all role-players to both fundamental transformation of the whole mining industry, and immediate steps to stop the killings and bring those responsible to justice.
These however remain words on paper. No-one has been arrested for any of the deaths before, during or since the Marikana massacre. A culture of impunity remains throughout the area. Workers and communities live in constant fear. Our fundamental human right to move freely without fear of attack has been shattered.
This led the National union of Mineworkers (NUM)'s demand for proper policing, investigations, arrests, prosecutions and convictions of those responsible for violence against NUM members or workers in general, is still as relevant today as it was a year ago.
But that means only that the law must be strictly and fairly enforced, not that the police can take the law into their own hands, as they did on 16 August 2012, when they opened fire on unarmed protesters. There must be mo more Marikanas.
As well as the lack of any progress on the restoration of law and order, we still face the same underlying problems - the deplorable employment and social conditions of workers in the mining industry identified by the 11th Congress Declaration, which resolved that this needed an investigation by a second Independent Commission of Inquiry, to run parallel to the Farlam Commission.
“We are extremely concerned,” declared the Congress, “that the events of 16th August and the ongoing violence, whose main victims remain the exploited masses, has shifted the focus and blame from the platinum bosses who have systematically undermined collective bargaining and promoted division amongst workers, and who have been sitting in the shadows enjoying profits from the very workers whose families have now been robbed of their only breadwinners.”
If anything, these problems have got even worse in the mining industry, especially the platinum sector, where employers have threatened and in some cases implemented, mass retrenchments, resisted legitimate workers' demands and ruthlessly used the old divide-and-rule tactic to weaken the power of the unions, especially the NUM, which has been systematically sabotaged by employers collaborating to set up a divisive breakaway union.
The South African mining industry directly employs around half a million workers, with another 400,000 employed indirectly by suppliers of goods and services. Its combined direct and indirect contribution to our gross domestic product is around 18%. Mining also accounts for over half South Africa's foreign exchange earnings.
But the industry has what the NUM has described as a “killing face”, revealed in the number of fatal accidents, occupational diseases, environmental degradation, squalid living conditions for many mine workers, and now the escalation of violence in mining communities.
Between 1900 and 1994, 69,000 mine workers died in accidents and over a million were seriously injured. 2301 workers lost their lives in the ten years between 2001 and 2011, and nearly 43,000 were seriously injured. While the rate of fatalities and injuries has slowly declined, it is still totally unacceptable, and has led the NUM to call many strikes on safety.
Thousands have died from TB, silicosis, caused by inhaling silica dust underground, and HIV and AIDS, all of them made worse by poor living and working conditions. As the NUM has put it “Many mining workers employed underground will not live to see retirement without bodily harm. They will either be killed, injured or fall sickly.”
The mining industry is also characterised by remnants of apartheid. For decades employers exploited and promoted tribalism, racial segregation and discrimination, which are still to be found in many mines. Racism is institutionally entrenched through continued occupational segregation. While 83.7% of the total workforce in the industry is black, 84% of top management remains white! 72% of middle management is white, and 68% of professional workers and artisans are white. It is not unusual even to find white workers using separate shaft lifts.
While progress has been made in recruiting and training women in the industry, the environment remains hostile. Discrimination, violence and even rape are not uncommon. Pinkie Moisane, an NUM comrade in the platinum sector, was last year raped and murdered underground. She is now tragically joined by Nobongile Madolo.
Inequality is at its most extreme in the mining industry. The highest paid executive directors in South Africa in 2009 were in mining companies - BHP Billiton (average R41m a year), Anglo American (average R20.5m), Lonmin (average R20m) and Anglo Gold Ashanti (average R17.5m).
Yet the same CEOs join in the chorus of outrage when the NUM demands that the Chamber of Mines pay surface workers a minimum of R7000 a month (R84 000 a year and underground and opencast workers a minimum of R8000 (R96 000 a year).
These “excessive” demands would, if achieved, still leave the top executive of BHI Billiton taking home 427 times the amount paid to skilled workers toiling in dangerous, unhealthy, hot and damp conditions kilometres underground!
This is the context in which the NUM organises. 30 years ago the industry was notorious for paying the very lowest wages, tribal factionalism, physical abuse of workers, dismissals without hearings and squalid single-sex hostels. The industry was almost inaccessible to trade unions.
Through struggles in the trenches, however, the NUM has made huge strides over its 31 years of existence and won massive improvements in pay and conditions.
But much remains unchanged, not because of the NUM's weaknesses, but to the employers' resistance to the transformation of the industry, which the union has consistently called for. The bosses have encouraged splinter unions, resuscitated tribalism in some areas, and used labour brokers to undermine the conditions of the permanent workers.
In the platinum sector, the problems have been aggravated by the employers' resistance to engage in centralised bargaining.
Some of these problems were also identified by the Framework Agreement for a Sustainable Mining Industry, which recognised that “the working and living conditions of many mine workers are not optimal. Housing and community development remains a key concern. Workers have to see rapid changes in their working and living conditions and visibly improved career prospects. We need to take urgent steps to build integrated communities with adequate social amenities, including labour sending areas.
“We further recognise that we have not reached optimal levels of transformation. We therefore recommit ourselves to accelerate progress in transformation, including the areas of ownership, procurement, employment, beneficiation, human resource development as well as health and safety in line with the targets set in the Mining Charter.”
Government, employers and most unions signed this agreement. We now need to see it honoured as quickly as possible if we are to begin to restore stability to the industry and prevent any more Marikanas
The final words of the 11th Congress Declaration are as relevant today as in September last year: “We remain committed to doing whatever it will take to rebuild the confidence of the working class in the mines in the NUM and the unity of the Federation. We will work with the NUM to ensure that the mine workers who have left the NUM are brought back into the COSATU fold and to the home where they belong, and that their legitimate concerns about working and living conditions in the industry are addressed with maximum solidarity from all workers in the Federation.”
The conditions in the mines have to be seen in the context of South Africa's broader triple crisis of mass poverty, widespread unemployment and extreme inequalities, which leads to the desperation, anger and frustration of the majority of the South African working class, a crisis compounded by the impact of the global crisis of the capitalist system.
COSATU has consistently warned that this crisis is creating ticking time bombs and that Marikana was just the biggest one to explode, so far. But it was by no means the only one, as we have seen in the number of strikes and community protests.
It is to tackle this crisis that the federation has submitted a Section 77 Notice on the slow pace of socioeconomic transformation in South Africa, so that we can embark on protests to demand a radical transformation of the economy in order to benefit the majority of our people as South Africa concludes the second decade of democracy.
The notice bases its demands on those of the Freedom Charter, which remains as valid today as when it was written nearly sixty years ago. In fact not one of its socioeconomic demands has been won, for example:
The People do not “Share in the Country's Wealth"!
Men and women of all races do not receive equal pay for equal work.
All workers do not have a forty-hour working week, a national minimum wage, paid annual leave, and sick leave for all workers, and maternity leave on full pay for all working mothers; miners, domestic workers, farm workers and civil servants do not all have the same rights as all others who work.
The national wealth of our country, the heritage of South Africans, has not been restored to the people; the mineral wealth beneath the soil, the banks and monopoly industry has not been transferred to the ownership of the people as a whole.
The land has not beenshared among those who work it.
There is not work and security for all.
Food is not plentiful and thousands still go hungry".
On all these areas the Notice makes detailed demands in line with the Freedom Charter which if all fully implemented would permanently and dramatically transform the lives of workers and the poor and put us firmly on the road to a socialist South Africa.
COSATU repeats the pledge made at the 11th Congress, “that we will continue to strive to unite all workers in the struggle against poverty and exploitation, and for safe working conditions, decent and quality jobs, comprehensive social security and comprehensive social services”.