What Marikana Reveals About SA

On August 16th South African police fired into a crowd of striking miners resulting in deaths of 36 mine workers, two police officers, four other unidentified persons and the injury of an additional 78 other workers and police. The event has dominated the national discourse here and thrust South Africa into international headlines. It’s almost impossible to have any real sense of what happened that day. The police, journalist, and miners accounts share little in common. An official inquiry into the shooting has been launched and hopefully in due time some truth will emerge as to what actually transpired that day.

Whatever the outcome of the inquiry, the incident at Marikana and subsequent events reveal a tremendous amount of the current state of South Africa.

First, these disruptions are a function of gross income inequity. South Africa ranks 4th in the world on the Gini Index, a quantified representation of a nation’s Lorenz curve. What is the Lorenz curve you ask? In economics the Lorenz curve is a graphical representation of the cumulative distribution function of the empirical probability distribution of wealth. More simply, it’s a graphical interpretation of wealth distribution. Now being a die hard capitalist this wasn’t an easy conclusion to reach. After all didn’t God create private ownership of the means of production on the 8th day? So how you ask was Marikana first and foremost an issue of income inequity? Well let’s look at the players involved … The workers (or should I say proletariat since I’m wandering into the world of socialism), the mine ownership, and the unions. First the workers .. South Africa has a vast pool of uneducated, black workers. Offically unemployement is 25%, while unoffical unemployement is closer to 40%. This means workers hold very little power in negotiations as there’s a vast and willing pool of workers ready to replace them. Second mine ownership .. As is the case in Marikana, most mine ownership is foreign (predominately British and American). The mines are a huge component of GDP and repersent a huge employer for South Africa. However, I would argue the mines have neglected some stakeholders (mainly the workers). Third the unions .. NUM repersented the maub union active at Marikana. Long along they neglected their first duty to repersent miners. Instead, the unions have used their position as a means to enrich themselves. In a typical dispute over pay increases the interest of the ownership are pitted against those of the workers represented by their unions and a equilibrium is reached. In the case of Marikana, the unions (NUM) were merely an extension of the ANC (the ruling party in South Africa). Unfortunately, NUM and the ANC it seems enriched themselves at the expense of the works … more importantly at the expense of maintaining an equilibrium amongst interest. Once that mechanism broke down, it was almost inevitable that negotiations would fail and tensions escalate.

Second, police in South Africa are still viewed as the enemy due to the lingering impact of apartheid. The police have unfairly taken the brunt of the blame after being placed into an untenable position. Police were seen as the enemy during the apartheid era (at times rightly so). They were used as an extension of the white government to surpress black protest and maintain the status quo (see Soweto uprising). However, today’s police force is largly transformed. Most of the police I see patroling Cape Town are black and many of the police involved in Marikana were as well. Yet, a growing number of people blame the police for what happened at Marikana. They assume the police were protecting the white man’s (mine ownership) interest. For them, the massacare harkens back to apartheid and the days of police brutality. I honestly don’t know anything regarding the relationship between the police and the mine owership. However, based on some of the agreed upon events leading up to and including the Marikana shooting we evaluate the position the police were placed in. The miners marched with machetes and spears as apart of their illegal ‘wildcat’ strike. In the days leading up to the shooting, police had intervened in a dispute and were promptly hacked to death by the workers. This lends insight into the atmosphere and tension that exisited at the time of the shooting and the clear and present danager the police faced. Seconds before the shooting happened, the miners launched a charge at the police with these machettes and spears (and at least one gun seen on video footage of the event). Could the police have used less lethal means … maybe. Could the police have just fired a warning shot .. maybe. I wasn’t there, but I when faced with a charging mob armed with deadly weapon I believe they were completely justified in their response.


Well this is my 2nd draft of the entry. I received some feedback from several people and I feel I’m still just sratching the surface of this complex issue. Keep sending feedback and I’ll try and post a final draft here soon.

As always I want to provide credit where credit is due. My 2nd draft of this entry was heavily influenced by South Africa: Over the Rainbow, an article in the Economist (Link Below).


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