Thursday, 16 August 2012

The Night Before Lonmin's Explanation

by Richard Stupart, African Scene

As I write this, South Africa sits in a peculiar space. Poised in a moment of rage over the massacre that has taken place in Marikana, but with barely any facts through which to channel that fury at someone. Tomorrow – because some imbecile thought  this could wait – there is meant to be a press briefing, after which more information will be available, and we can begin to make sense of what happened. Can begin to find out who in the nation will bear the incandescent torrent of outrage bottling  up tonight.

Tomorrow we can begin to make sense. Which is as loaded a phrase as there ever was.
And before we make sense, it’s worth pausing for just a sweet moment to watch the storm clouds.
If Lonmin hadn’t happened today, it would have happened next month. Or a year from now.
If you’ve seen the footage, the police are the obvious target. So many guns and so much body armour unloading magazines in such an apparently undisciplined fashion. But what about the unions? The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), and the upstart Association of Mine Workers and Construction Union (AMWCU)? Firestarters responsible for making outrageous promises to the strikers, and fomenting their armed agression against the police. Behaving like gangs too concerned with pursuing their own cynical turf war to capture workers’ souls. And what about Lonmin? Company bosses refusing to compromise profits – ultimately sending in the police to enforce the will of capital? Or perhaps the state, with its increasing tendencies towards dealing violently with those who defy its sense of ‘order’?
In a way, all of these are responsible. The police surely did not go into the field with an intent to murder, and Lonmin doesn’t exist to kill people. No group, by themselves, would have wanted a massacre. But each, via their own path, brought together the situation that played out today. The state has made violence increasingly acceptable. And strikers were but one manifestation of the criminal levels of injustice and exploitation in South Africa – an ongoing, largely invisible war that grows more violent with each passing month.
If Lonmin hadn’t happened today, it would have happened next month. Or a year from now. It almost happened when the police killed Andries Tatane, but for ammunition and provocation. The truth is that the South African state is at war with its poor, to deny them lives equal to the people who get to watch Lonmin on YouTube.
But we can’t admit that. We can’t concede to failing so profoundly in our dream of equality, and the increasingly dirty tricks being dealt out to keep the castle together. Because to really, profoundly, acknowledge how morally compromised South Africa’s wealth has become, is to commit to acknowledging an ongoing moral crime of truly staggering proportions.
And so, while we need to make sense of what Lonmin means. That sense cannot include the profound sin of how we maintain the order of South Africa.
Sense must be something else. It cannot be the truth.
So when the press conference happens, and the policemen, unions, government and business describe today’s reality, pay attention to the way they spin the story. And the way we will almost certainly rush to affirm it. Perhaps it will be the union’s fault. Or the police. Or – if we feel equanimitous – both will have acted inappropriately.
Lonmin will be explained many ways. Will become many things. But it will never be us. Never be the inescapable consequence of the status quo we tolerate in the name of a country we love too much to clean the blood from.