It is no secret that this past Thursday, blood was spilt on a scale which our nation has not seen this publically for years. Strikes, protests and even riots are now seen as the norm in South Africa – so much so, that we have become accustomed to them as much as a citizen of another nation may grow used to reading about the weather.
Like many, this situation began like any usual protest with the aim of higher wages. Most know that being a miner is not a well-paid job, but many people do not realize why, and direct their anger for this ‘exploitation of workers’ to the mines themselves.
Before I continue with the main article, the wages of these miners must be put into perspective. A mine recruits many workers, and as such, needs to balance out low wages for large quantities of workers. We cannot forget that the sole reason companies will mine is to make a profit. You cannot sugar coat the fact that mine owners may be incentivized otherwise.
As a result of this, they need to find a balance between recruiting large quantities of workers to fulfil the demands of our large unemployed population and giving them reasonable salaries. The miners at Lonmin are paid relatively little, and they reserve the right to ask for more, but it is the manner and amount of money which they are demanding which makes it unreasonable.
More is at stake than simple wage negotiations and striking, however, as it has become obvious that an undertone of union conflict is playing a large role in this predicament. The labyrinth of backroom negotiations and disagreements is one of the reasons this event has become so confusing to the public, but not the reason that it has become so drastic.
As I said earlier, strikes are an almost daily occurrence in SA, but not of the violent calibre that we saw at Marikana. Our history is rife with stories of violence and police oppression and, perhaps in another nation, this would not be so close to home, but after 34 (reported) miners were killed at the hands of heavily armed policemen, we are unfortunately reminded of such days as Sharpeville and the Soweto Uprising where many were killed in similar ways.
If one is to watch the footage, they would see something akin to a violent video game or film as miners charge towards (or flee from) lines of policemen who open fire, mowing them down like dominos. The footage is graphic and shocking, and most who watch it would have a strong opinion of who is in the right.
It is not that simple, however. Footage shows a massacre, but a closer look can reveal that no side is clean. The miners were armed. Maybe not as well armed as the police, but they had the intent to cause violence as they wielded spears, pangas and reportedly, even firearms.
We cannot forget that police are humans too, and as humans, want and need to defend themselves. Many protesters had the intent to cause harm, and for that very reason, the police had a right to defend themselves. The violence is shocking and horrendous, but we cannot simply condemn the police.
Much more is at stake than a fight for higher wages or the violent actions of police and protesters. As has been happening for a while, investors continue to flee the nation’s economy, severely hurting local business. The protest itself has caused trust in our economy to falter further – the violence adds to this.
Over and above that, foreign governments encourage tourists, one of the main sources of income for much of our nation, to stay away from SA, as violence has become too widespread to risk the lives of their citizens.
One can look at it from many angles. Some may look and see citizens, wishing for the opportunity to grow in society, being oppressed and murdered, while others may see violence-doers being rightfully punished.
Overall, the only thing which is certain is that many people lost their lives, and regardless of the reason, that is something to be mourned. This was a violent day, one which may be the beginning of some kind of change in South Africa, for better or for worse.