MARIKANA ANNIVERSARY | Honour the Martyrs – Build a Mass Workers Party

The 2020 Memorial at the Site of the Massacre.

To honour the memory of the martyrs of Marikana….

Build a mass workers party on a socialist programme

by Weizmann Hamilton

It is eight years since the Marikana massacre. Although the number of dead, at 34, was just under half of the 69 slaughtered by the apartheid regime in the 1960 Sharpeville massacre, the Marikana bloodletting produced a far greater political shock. The Sharpeville killings were carried out by the apartheid government, a white minority regime baptised in the blood of colonial dispossession and conquest. The blood of the martyrs of Marikana was spilled by a government democratically elected with the support of the black majority.

The massacre, moreover, was premeditated. As the Emmy-award winning documentary “Miners Shot Down” proves, whilst frantic efforts were being made, courageously, for example, by the late radio presenter Xolani Gwala, who announced he had secured an agreement with the mine management and the unions, for a meeting to take place on the morning of that fateful day, the state had deployed mortuary vans the night before outside Marikana. Amcu’s Joseph Mathunjwa arrived for the meeting at the appointed time and waited. Management never came. The plan, to ensure in the sinister words of a senior woman police officer in charge of operations, that “this strike ends tomorrow” had been put into motion.

The famous “man in a green blanket”, the late comrade Mgcineni Noki, having realised from the movements of the public order police – the unrolling of a razor wire fence around the bottom of the hill the workers had occupied, as well as the deployment of armed vehicles and public order police armed with R-1 automatic rifles – that the state forces of the ANC regime were set on drowning the strike in blood, persuaded the workers to abandon the occupation, and started the descent toward the nearby village.

The police, behind the unfurled razor wire, hemmed the workers in, steering them like animals to where the maximum numbers could be targeted and opened fire. Half of the victims were gunned down at what came to be known as Scene One. The seventeen survivors were hunted down as they fled towards Scene Two, some executed in the back of the head as they hid amongst the rocks with their hands up in surrender.  In a mop-up operation, armed police using helicopters, like airborne gunships, scoured the hillside with sniper rifles to eliminate any survivors.

To add insult to injury, the National Prosecuting Authority arrested the survivors, and charged them with murder under the legislation the apartheid regime used against the masses, under the notorious “Doctrine of Common Purpose”.  Public outrage compelled them to drop the charges.

There has not been a prosecution of a single police officer or any politician.  With the terms of reference of the Commission of Inquiry amended whilst it was sitting to exonerate all members the Cabinet, retired Judge Farlam duly delivered a disgraceful and cowardly white wash.

Below, we reproduce excerpts from a discussion document written in preparation for the April 2014 Movement for Socialism Conference convened by Numsa (National Union of Metal Workers of SA). Authored by Weizmann Hamilton, then general secretary of the Workers and Socialist Party, and written in the form of theses, it analysed the political significance of the Marikana massacre, outlined the perspectives for the political events to unfold, and reaffirmed the call for a mass workers party on a socialist programme that the MWP continues to work towards establishing today.

We do so as our contribution towards the ideological and political re-arming of the working class movement. As Leon Trotsky, co-leader alongside Lenin, of the Russian Revolution, pointed out: Marxism is the science of perspectives; it provides the advantage of foresight over astonishment. 

Shocking as the Marikana massacre was, the Marxists in the Committee for a Workers International foresaw, and more importantly, prepared for these events. Peter Taaffe, following the earliest of several visits he paid to SA to in the early 1990s, to assist in building a section of the CWI, predicted in his pamphlet From Slavery to the Smashing of Apartheid, that the ANC government would one day turn its guns on the working class.

Perspectives have been central to the work of the MWP, throughout its evolution, from its beginnings as the Marxist Workers Tendency of the ANC, to the Democratic Socialist Movement, to the Workers and Socialist Party, and now the Marxist Workers Party today.

It is for this reason that the DSM was present in Rustenburg three years before the Marikana massacre, invited there by NUM members to assist with the struggle for the reinstatement of 4,000 workers dismissed by Murray & Roberts for continuing a strike in defiance of the mining bosses and the NUM which had signed a rotten agreement without a mandate. We had anticipated that the impact of the sharpening class contradictions created by the ANC’s neo-liberal capitalist policies would bring the ANC government into collision with the working class. We foresaw that these would find expression within the Tripartite Alliance. These would exert unbearable strains that had the potential to break the chain of this political and ideological prison of class collaboration, paradoxically, at its strongest link – the NUM.

On the basis of the authority the DSM accumulated amongst the mineworkers, it was able to play a role in co-ordinating the independent strike committees the workers had established separately at different companies into a National Strike Committee. We mobilised, through the CWI, international support for the most politically significant strike in the post-apartheid era. The DSM and the strike committees together launched the Workers and Socialist Party on Sharpeville Day, 2013, as an all-inclusive party to unify working class struggles.

We have dealt elsewhere with the reasons that WASP did not obtain sufficient votes to win a seat. Disappointing as that outcome was, what is much more important was that it was the first avowedly revolutionary socialist party to challenge the ANC on the electoral plane since the end of apartheid. The flag of a mass workers party had been firmly planted to act as a point of reference for the entire working class in all three main theatres of struggle: the workplace, communities in service delivery protests, students and youth in the education sector.

For a Mass Workers Party on a Socialist Programme (April 2014)

Marikana and the Shift to the Left

That the Marikana massacre was a decisive turning point in SA’s post apartheid history is now commonly accepted. The earthquake detonated by the massacre opened up a fault line between two epochs: the first of hope in the new democratic order and illusions that the ANC government would spearhead a thoroughgoing transformation of society addressing problems of poverty, unemployment, education, health and housing; the second of abandoned hopes in a radical change in the lives of working people and shattered illusions in the ANC.

On 4 September 2012, analysing the political implications of the Marikana massacre we wrote:

“A line in the sand has been drawn by the bloodied bones of the martyrs of Marikana. Beyond this lies the disintegration of the ANC and the tripartite alliance on the one hand and the enormous possibilities … for the growth of socialist ideas and for support for the establishment of a mass workers party on a socialist programme.”

Events have confirmed this perspective. With the shattering of its most important pillar, Cosatu, and its two other components deeply divided, the Tripartite Alliance has itself disintegrated. The establishment of Wasp, the EFF the United Front, the Movement for Socialism have firmly located socialism in the centre of the debate about the way forward for society within the working class.

The strike wave that swept through the mines in 2012 was about far more than the outrageous levels of exploitation that prevailed in the industry. It was a political strike against not just the mining bosses, but against the NUM, Cosatu, the ANC government and Tripartite Alliance as a whole – a revolt against the very foundations of the post-apartheid political order agreed at Codesa which provided for democratic rights for the black majority and the perpetuation of the economic dictatorship of the capitalist class. The strike had to be drowned in blood precisely for that reason.

As we stated at the time:

“This was no mere wage strike. It was an unarmed insurrection. That certainly was the view taken by the Lonmin bosses and the entire capitalist class in the mining industry and beyond. In an extraordinary editorial on 17 August, Business Day issued what amounted to a declaration of class war against the Marikana workers. It spelt out in clear language the political implications of the workers’ action and why it was intolerable. It appealed for class unity across the entire capitalist class. In language breath-taking for its forthrightness, shorn of the normal euphemisms about the alleged common interest of all South Africans united across classes in the common endeavour to achieve prosperity, the editorial warned that what was at stake was the authority of the new political order itself.”

“The strike and the tragedy of Thursday will be with us for a very long time. It represented a failure of our new society on many levels, most strikingly the inability of the majority black establishment (of which the NUM and the ruling African National Congress and union umbrella Cosatu are leaders) to come to terms with the majority of black, marginalised, poor and desperate people.”

“Expressing the fear of the ruling class, the editorial warns that the ruling elite “…the NUM …. Cosatu and the ANC itself, must recognise the extremely uncomfortable truth that there is a power building in the land over which they have little or no influence, and which itself has little or no respect for the powers that be”.” (South Africa: Marikana Massacre Ignites the Mass Movement)

The Crisis of the Capitalist System and its Political Parties

Events since then have further confirmed our perspectives. Against the background of the Covid-19 global pandemic, capitalism worldwide has been plunged into its deepest crisis in the last hundred years. The catastrophic mishandling of the pandemic by especially the most advanced capitalist regimes has laid bare their criminal incompetence and moral bankruptcy in the orgy of theft and looting of pandemic funding. The complete incapacity of the capitalist system to overcome not just a health crisis but its disastrous social and economic consequences now demands its overthrow.

A crisis which the pandemic has merely served to accelerate, has also shone a spotlight on the deepening contradictions within the ruling capitalist elites and their political parties. At the same time it has exposed the crisis of working class representation.  For Marxists this has once again underlined the necessity for the overthrow of capitalism and the socialist transformation of society. This idea will increasingly find representation and support amongst greater and greater layers of the masses preparing the conditions for the emergence of mass workers parties. It is the responsibility of the Marxists not only to contribute towards the development of mass workers parties, but to be the foremost champions that they should be built on a socialist programme.

The ANC’s Crisis Deepens

In SA, the ANC’s continued decline was expressed most sharply, as we had anticipated, in the humiliating loss of the three most important metros in the 2016 local government elections: Nelson Mandela Bay, Tshwane and Johannesburg. This was followed by the steepest collapse ever of its electoral support in the 2019 general elections when its vote fell below 60% for the first time since 1994, and it came within one or two percent of losing Gauteng – the country’s economic heartland.

The crisis wracking the main parties of capitalism, the ANC and the DA, have deepened. In the ANC ironically, this has happened on the watch of the individual who had been elevated into its presidency and that of the county on an election war chest of anything between R400,000 and R1 billion – the premium the capitalist class had paid on their Ramaphosa insurance policy to safeguard their wealth and property. The waves of corruption Ramaphosa was supposed to have beaten back now turn out to be lapping around his ankles with his son, spokesperson and his staunchest factional supporters – the ANC Gauteng province – all soaked in politically and financially corrupt deals.

The truce, such as it was, in the ANC’s factional civil war is now well and truly over. As the pandemic funding corruption revelations elevate public revulsion towards the ANC to levels exceeding even those at the height of ant-Zuma demonstrations, the insoluble factional conflict has become even more inflamed. To save the ANC of the dominant faction of capital, Ramaphosa’s anti-corruption drive must succeed. To save the ANC of the Radical Economic Transformation faction, Ramaphosa must fail. Corruption is the oil that drives the engine of capitalism. Both factions are equally dependent on it differing from each other in their reliance on it only by method. More importantly, they are both representatives of a system and a class that is not only obsolete, but must be overthrown if humanity is not to be plunged into barbarism – environmental disaster, social and economic collapse, war and all its repugnant offshoots: xenophobia, gender-based violence, ethnic, religious and national conflict.    

The DA Staggers

If the capitalist class’ strategy of saving the ANC’s through Ramaphosa is blowing back in their faces, matters are not faring much better with their second eleven, the DA. Its own internal contradictions have consumed its supposed electoral saviour, Maimane, ousted only to be replaced at the helm of the party by the person he was installed to replace – Helen Zille. The embarrassment of his ousting has exceeded the Agang/DA marriage that collapsed so spectacularly. 

With the VBS corruption revelations now threatening to tear away the fast dwindling credibility of the EFF’s radical pretensions, the cohesion of its leadership cabal could disintegrate. Beneath Malema’s refusal to initiate an inquiry or any form of disciplinary action against chairperson Floyd Shivambu, is a cold calculation; should charges be brought there would be no alternative but to sacrifice him. Should charges be brought against the Commander-in-Chief himself, over corruption allegations in Limpopo, the future of the EFF as a party would be cast into serious doubt.

Struggle for a Workers Party Continues

Despite the significant changes that have occurred in the political landscape since 2012 as sketched out above, a mass workers party on a socialist programme has yet to come into being.
The political uprising that the mineworkers’ 2012 strikes represented – against the NUM, Cosatu, the SACP and the ANC, in fact the entire foundation of the post-apartheid political settlement for the preservation of capitalism – demands to be continued.

Unfortunately, as we explained elsewhere, over the last eight years, where workers unity and ideological clarity has been needed to do this, on the left, amongst those claiming to be continuing the mineworkers’ uprising, division and confusion has reigned. Steps forward, towards the creation of a new party have been taken, but they have been slow and unnecessarily complicated, and we have still not arrived at the destination. Unfortunately, the emergence of the Socialist Revolutionary Workers Party, far from clearing the way towards such a party, has become a complicating and obstructing factor.

The Marxist Workers Party continues the struggle for a mass workers party, guided by perspectives, and continuing the genuine Marxist thread that ran through our predecessors – Marxist Tendency of the ANC, DSM and WASP. All those wishing to honour the memory of the Marikana martyrs must do likewise.