The deaths at the Lonmin platinum mine at Marikana in South Africa have shocked people in the country and around the world. Some are arguing that this is an existential crisis for the rainbow nation. On Friday, the tripartite alliance which has governed South Africa since the collapse of apartheid – the African National Congress, the South African Communist Party and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) – produced a considered opinion on the issues raised that is bound to guide the TUC next week when we discuss the issue through a General Council statement to Congress.
There is no substitute for reading the full alliance statement. But some of what it says is worth repeating. Firstly, of course, it’s important to remember that no amount of statements can encapsulate everything that has happened at Marikana, and the alliance recognises the need to await the findings of the Judicial Commission of Inquiry: something we should all take on board.
However, the alliance rightly warns that key aspects of the developments in the platinum minefields are already clear. One is the danger that divisions among the workforce will only lead to conflict and worse terms and conditions. As the statement puts it:
“The fact that the platinum industry has refused to be part of centralised bargaining either as the platinum industry or the mining industry broadly tells the story of the power and belief in divide and rule.”
A second warning focuses on the way people outside the workforce have intervened to pursue their political agendas on the back of the dispute:
“Agitating workers and giving them false promises is dangerous and may take [a] long time to correct.”
COSATU holds its Congress the week after ours, and, although Marikana will overshadow the very serious debates COSATU has planned, they will also provide an essential context to the debates, providing a concrete example of what is happening in South Africa today.